In June 2012, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) provided for an Open Working Group (OWG) of 30 Member States to be inaugurated at the beginning of the 67th session of the General Assembly in September 2012 (United Nations, A/66/288). The OWG is tasked with submitting a report to the 68th session of the General Assembly containing a proposal for a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs). According to the outcome document (para 249), the SDG process “needs to be coordinated and coherent with the process leading to the post-2015 development agenda”. In order to provide technical support to this process and to the work of the working group, the Secretary-General was asked to ensure all necessary input and support to this work from the UN system including through the establishment of an inter-agency technical support team (TST, of which UNIDO is a member agency) and expert panels as needed, drawing on all relevant expert advice. Reports on the progress of work will be made regularly to the General Assembly.
In addition to the above, there are a range of formal and informal processes, publications and events that are seeking to influence the agenda beyond 2015, many of which are taking place at the country level. From the side of the United Nations, there is a determination to make sure that accusations of lack of inclusiveness cannot be levelled this time. However, this is tempered by the experience of how the actionable MDGs, whatever their faults, were derived from a more exclusive process than that which led to the Millennium Declaration. One potential solution to this conundrum is to recognize and embrace the multi-polarity of the development landscape, building an ecosystem of decentralized and flexible networks for development knowledge and development results. In essence, this means building the post-2015 agenda around an improved version of the maligned MDG 8, instead of merely viewing partnership as supportive of other goals.
Although the MDG conception of a global partnership was framed as incentivizing stakeholders in all countries, the subtext was mostly about a compact between the industrialized North (through official development assistance (ODA), debt relief, extensions to market access, and established private sector entities making technologies more accessible) and a poor South. This framing is increasingly losing its relevance as the lines between country typologies blur, and new modes of cooperation become more important. Southern-led or triangular development initiatives, knowledge exchange activities and partnerships to address poverty and other socio-economic issues can become a determining feature of the international development architecture in a multi-polar world.
There are already some clear instances of how the international community is using networks to deal with complex facets of the post-2015 agenda. The decision by the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the World Bank to further a global initiative on Sustainable Energy for All through establishing a ‘network of networks’, building on expertise residing in the public sector, private sector, civil society and academia, is one such example.
For pragmatic as well as for ethical reasons, the world very much needs the benefits of international cooperation in economic and industrial development, and developing countries need the positive developmental outcomes that flow from structural change and economic diversification. Historical experience proves that socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable industrial development fosters technological change and innovation, promotes knowledge transfer and knowledge networking, builds capacity to enter into international trade, strengthens the position of women, youth and vulnerable communities, and fosters resilience to the effects of environmental and other shocks.