Strengthening multilateral diplomacy and sustainable development.

Author:Srivastava, Leena

Sustainable development is by definition extremely wide in scope. It could embrace any number of multilateral agreements above and beyond the process currently under way for defining post-2015 sustainable development goals. Issues that are being addressed in diverse forums on climate change, international trade, ozone protection, conflict prevention, and population, among others, all contribute in some way to sustainable development. Similarly, multilateral diplomacy has been taking place at several levels--based on geographies, natural resource boundaries, common economic interests, development status, and specific sectors--with varying degrees of success.

The United Nations has been spearheading two major ongoing diplomatic efforts: to define a sustainable development agenda for the world, and to protect the planet from the deleterious effects of climate change. Both issues build on decades of concern and concerted efforts to address them; in addition, they are interlinked intrinsically. Both also are of universal interest and implication; yet, the paths that they have followed have been different, and have been based on different structures and the nature of participation of all the stakeholders, leaving room for various interpretations on gaps and success factors.

The ongoing negotiations on sustainable development goals (SDGs) are building on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the articulation and acceptance of which have been the subject of significant controversy and debate. The MDGs, though non-binding in nature and criticized for having a poor analytical base, over a period of time have found great legitimacy and ownership. The progress towards achieving these goals, which can be considered as aspirational ones, has been impressive, while also decidedly uneven, in both form and substance. Having said that, the increasing pressures of climate change as well as the interconnected nature of the solutions and adaptations, other environmental stresses and the financial situation in the world have resulted in a call for expanding the scope of the MDGs in the post-2015 era to cover these issues and aim for goals that would address sustainable development in the context of all its three pillars (social, economic and environmental). As such, the new framework being developed under the SDG process would be universally applicable and not limited to focusing solely on the challenges of developing countries.

The process of defining the scope and goals for the post-2015 era, with an issue coverage wider than that in climate change negotiations and with many more stakeholders, started as late as 2010, and the SDG process began only in 2012 after Rio+20...

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