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Brendan Guy’s Blog

Countries Call for a New Implementation Architecture for Sustainability

Brendan Guy

Posted March 12, 2014 in Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Nuclear Weapons, Waste and Energy, Reviving the World's Oceans

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The United Nations process to establish a set of sustainable development goals for the world by 2015 reached a turning point last week. For over a year, nations have deeply delved into specific issues areas such as energy, health, and food. However, last week was the first time countries stepped back to look at the structure for how the goals can actually be implemented in practice. Many countries showed real leadership and expressed encouraging ideas for enhancing action, including through partnerships and initiatives involving the full range of stakeholders in society.

Many of the countries most immediately at risk from unsustainable practices are the most vocal in terms of supporting a new architecture for action. The Ambassador of Papua New Guinea, on behalf of 9 small island countries in the Pacific Ocean, called for a “means of implementation architecture” that recognizes the role not only of national governments, but the necessity of cooperation with all stakeholders – including regional and local governments, businesses, foundations, and non-profits – on concrete sustainability actions. The Ambassador also recognized the current system of regular monitoring and reporting on the results of partnerships and initiatives with all stakeholders is insufficient. NRDC is actively involved in furthering this focus on accountability through its Cloud of Commitments Initiative.

OWG9.jpgAmbassador Macharia Kamau, the Kenyan co-chair of the group on sustainable development goals, also joined the call for “paradigms to be reconsidered fundamentally.” He observed that the old paradigm was based around official development assistance (ODA) where developed countries transfer financial and technological resources to developing countries. While ODA is necessary for addressing poverty and finishing the business of the Millennium Development Goals, he stressed the new agenda must “go way beyond ODA.” The new paradigm requires an implementation architecture with more innovative partnerships and initiatives across all stakeholders.

Paula Caballero, the representative from Colombia who is regarded by many as the ‘mother of the sustainable development goals,’ also strongly stated the need for a new implementation architecture with global partnerships around each sustainable development goal and target. She cited the example of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a global partnership of governments, businesses, international organizations, and civil society organizations that fund and deliver vaccines in developing countries. She emphasized the GAVI Alliance could not have achieved such results and scale through working with governments alone, and that this multiplier model could be replicated for the sustainable development goals. NRDC has called for a similar new architecture with commitments to action, including partnerships, linked to each sustainable development goal in addition to national plans and objectives.

The African countries also called for “action-oriented” means of implementation linked to each goal. The Nigerian representative made the analogy that, without means of implementation around each goal, the agenda will be “like a beautiful car without an engine.”

Developed countries including the European Union and United States also called for a renewed global partnership that is inclusive of all stakeholders in order to mobilize the broadest spectrum of resources to deliver on the goals.

Whether the progressive calls by many countries for a new implementation architecture will be fulfilled remains to be seen. Many countries strongly value ODA, and see engaging other stakeholders in the implementation agenda as a way for other countries to deflect their ODA commitments. However, partnerships and initiatives are additional and complementary to ODA and a means to multiply the impact of limited public dollars.

Perhaps Ms. Caballero from Colombia summed it up best when calling for a paradigm shift in the implementation architecture because “realities on the ground demand flexibility.” And in an increasingly interdependent world such flexibility, and ultimately impact, can only come from engaging all partners in action-oriented and accountable sustainable development goals.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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