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John Romano’s Blog

A New Global Partnership: Mounting optimism for global action on sustainable development

John Romano

Posted December 18, 2013

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With the holidays upon us and the new year quickly approaching, we are in the season of both reflection and new beginnings. Looking back on this year, we’ve seen a seismic shift in momentum build around our work at the United Nations to encourage partnerships and concrete commitments to action on a wide range of sustainability issues. But much work remains in the new year ahead, where discussions are in full swing on forging a new set of global sustainable development goals (SDGs) and countries are marching forward towards a new global treaty on climate change; with both processes set to culminate in 2015.

Last week I joined key ministers, diplomats, and thought-leaders who came together at United Nations Headquarters in New York for the sixth session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) – the UN body deliberating on a universal set of global goals to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. In the spirit of the holiday season, we saw promising signs that give us plenty of hope and optimism for our collective work in the new year.

What was encouraging last week was the group’s discussion on the “architecture” for “a new global partnership” to drive transformative action needed to provide any hope to today’s young people like myself that there will be a brighter and more sustainable future.

Previously, the OWG has focused largely on specific issues – such as energy, poverty eradication, water, health, food security and many others. However, last week’s session instead focused on “how” this new agenda will be implemented through a new global partnership for sustainable development involving all actors – including governments at all levels, the private sector and civil society – which is the main focus of NRDC’s work on this new agenda.

These discussions on the new sustainable development agenda over the past several months have made it abundantly clear that we must re-think traditional approaches to action, implementation and accountability if we are to collectively achieve the goals set out by this new agenda. We must move beyond using purely traditional approaches and means of implementation like Official Development Assistance (ODA) and foreign aid and harness the full potential of partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. We must shift our mindset from the typical “donor-recipient” relationship to forge an inclusive and action-oriented global partnership that will deliver the transformative change that is so desperately needed. And finally, the new global partnership must foster a sense of ownership with the billions of young people around the world that are desperate for change and a fair shot at an equitable and sustainable future.

Peter Lehner moderates NRDC side-event at UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals

On December 10th, NRDC co-hosted the marquee side-event alongside the Open Working Group discussions on the topic of “global partnership,” with the Permanent Mission of Romania to the UN. The event, entitled “A New Global Partnership Architecture: Catalyzing Action on the Post-2015 Development Agenda”, featured a diverse range of speakers who provided perspectives from national governments from the global north and south, local authorities, the private sector, civil society and the UN system, and was moderated by NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner.

The panel called for an architecture for the new global partnership that ensures accountability on commitments to action, and for a stronger focus on commitments as a means of implementation on sustainable development. They also expressed the belief that countries do have an appetite for designing the structures for the SDGs in dramatically different ways from the MDGs — both in implementation and follow up.

Mrs. Anca Jurcan, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Romania to the UN elegantly stated that “daily life in the global village requests all neighbors not only to pay attention to each other, but also to come and work together towards sustainability.” Dr. Yanuar Nugroho, Director and Special Advisor to the President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring and Oversight for the Republic of Indonesia mentioned that “the new global partnership is the enabler; the new agenda can’t occur without it.”

Jacob ScherrThat same day, Jacob Scherr, NRDC’s director of Global Strategy & Advocacy, presented NRDC’s proposal for a new architecture for a new global partnership during the Stakeholders Meeting with the OWG co-chairs, Ambassador Csaba Kőrösi of Hungary and Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya.  The proposal is a contribution to an ongoing conversation to define and design the architecture for a “new global partnership” to engage millions of leaders from every sector around the world in the implementation of this new agenda. NRDC is advocating for new structures which will support, encourage, and hold accountable these partnerships and commitments to action, to deliver more effective action on the ground.  This “partnerships” and “commitments to action” approach should be seen as a new form of the means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda, and should indeed complement the traditional approaches like ODA and intergovernmental agreements.

The proposal builds on the discussions begun at NRDC’s “Rio+20 to 2015: A New Architecture for a Sustainable New World” Conference last month at Yale University, which brought together more than 180 officials, scholars, practitioners, and students to discuss these issues.

Later in the day, Unilever CEO Paul Polman spoke on the keynote panel for the discussions on “a new global partnership,” and noted that “the issues we face are simply too big for any one party to solve it themselves” and that “we shouldn’t put these goals out there without talking about the partnership mechanism that brings all these stakeholders together for delivery.” Indeed, what has been made clear from these discussions last week is the criticality of the supporting architecture for this “new global partnership” to deliver on this new agenda.

While last week's events presented encouraging signs and mounting optimism, much work remains in the new year ahead of us; including our work to establish a “Partnership on Partnerships”, our work around sustainable cities and our ongoing work to institute a new global partnership architecture for the post-2015 development agenda. 

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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

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