Monday, July 28, 2014

New book out - The Plain Language Guide to Rio+20: Preparing for the New Development Agenda

On Monday 28th of July 2014, Felix Dodds[1] Jorge Laguna-Celis[2] and Liz Thompson’s [3]  book “From Rio+20 to a New Development Agenda” will have a much-awaited companion “The Plain Language Guide to Rio+20: Preparing for the New Development Agenda”  released in E-book form; thus constituting the definitive and most authoritative appraisal of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, otherwise known as Rio+20. Since before the Rio+20 conference, through Rio+20, and continuing today, many organizations have dedicated their input, thoughts, and work to improving the world we live in today.

This book is designed to help people from all backgrounds understand what was agreed at Rio+20 and the relevant UN Commissions, Conferences and Summit that laid the foundation for Rio+20 and the new sustainable development goals which are expected to be agreed upon in September 2015.

The book itself is divided into three core parts:

Part one entitled “A Resource Guide to the Future We Want,” is broken into twenty-one sections focused on the key elements of the Rio+20 document’s section 5 which deals with the thematic areas and cross sectorial issues.

Every section includes the context for which the issue was identified, a conversation about how these issues have been approached in the past, and biographies to organizations that are focused on the individual issue, as well as infographics that take a look at the statistics, targets that have been set in the past, indicators, and partnership examples.

Part two examines the hundreds of non-globally-negotiated  commitments to action made at Rio+20 by governments at all levels, corporations, and civil society.  It explores the role such commitments have played since the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and provides some thoughts for the future. This section was written by Jacob Scherr, Chelsea Phipps, and Brendan Guy [4] of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Part three makes some recommendations for implementing Rio+20 and the new development agenda it makes ten solid recommendations which the authors hope governments will consider. 
The goal of this book is to allow policy makers, government officials, think-tanks, and anyone else who wishes to learn and understand the issues we face in a quick and easy manner.

The book has already gained positive reviews from many, including the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Ibrahim Thiaw, who was inspired in his forward to say:

“This very timely and practical publication will help to empower all stakeholders to take an active role in what must be a global partnership to implement the next, universal and transformative agenda to accelerate our transition to inclusive and sustainable societies.”

The book is built on two previous editions one by Chip Lindner of the Center for Our Common Future (1993) and by Rosalie Callway, Janet R. Strachan and Georgina Ayre for Stakeholder Forum and the Commonwealth.

This book is brought to you by the Global Research Institute at the University of North Carolina, Stakeholder Forum and New World Frontiers publishing.
The book will be released on and linked through our website:

The book is a companion book to: From Rio+20 to the New Development Agenda by Felix Dodds, Jorge Laguna Celis and Liz Thompson publisher Routledge (2014)

"I often say that sustainability is about effective management at the intersection of financial, natural, social and human systems.  It is so difficult because we don’t understand very well how these systems intersect, the context keeps changing, there is a confusion of ends and means, and the future is random and chaotic.  After reading The Plain Language Guide to Rio+20: Preparing for the New Development Agenda, however, I can no longer say that the attributes of Agenda 21 and the evolution of policy guidance from within the UN system are too complex to grasp.  This book is a great service to those within the systems and anyone that is adjacent to but not within the system itself.  It is clear, concise and a great service to historians of sustainability and those who must operationalize an agenda to optimize conditions for human development through time."
Gary Lawrence Chief Sustainability Officer AECOM
"The Plain Language Guide to Rio+20: Preparing for the New Development Agenda is a reader-friendly gateway to Rio +20 resources and outcomes that can equally guide the 'new comer' while also serving as a memo to the already engaged"
Maruxa Cardama Executive Project Coordinator, Communitas Coalition
"Unfortunately, our global aspirations remain limited by a few remarkably change-resistant barriers: insufficient funding of international institutions, mendacity on the part of national leaders and too-many military flash points. 
Fortunately, in the face of such intransigence, we have the latest book from Felix Dodds, Jorge Laguna- Celis and Liz Thompson.  Of all his publications, The Plain Language Guide is Felix's most accessible and encouraging. Dodds continues to work with other sustainable development advocates from the UN, governments and stakeholders to produce the indispensable resources for the serious global actor. I cannot imagine where we'd be across the world without him.“
Don Edwards, Chief Executive Officer, Justice and Sustainability Associates
This is the first book for New World Frontiers.

[1] Felix Dodds was Executive Director of Stakeholder Forum for Rio+20
[2] Jorge Laguna-Celis was a Mexican Government negotiator for Rio+20
[3] Liz Thompson was one of the two executive coordinators for Rio+20 and an Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations
[4] Jacob Scherr, Chelsea Phipps and Brendan Guy are with the Natural Resource Defence Council 

Friday, July 25, 2014

A few final comments before the last meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development

The last meeting is on the 4th to the 8th of August and I haven't yet seen a copy of the draft going to that but look forward to getting a copy from governments.As a number of them also find the idea of a secret committee goes against the grain. I guess we could have asked NSA for a copy of the proceedings. :-)

How different it could have been a real opportunity to link the discussion in the SDG OWG MOI to what was being suggested in the finance committee. Knowing some of the key negotiators who set the committee up they are appalled by how it has been run.  

It is clear that developing countries were unimpressed with the content and conduct of the ICESD to date and they expressed that in the SDG OWG. Original the text before the SDG OWG has a footnote that read:
“To be aligned with the outcomes of the report of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing and the third International Conference on Financing for Development in July 2015.”

This was taken out and really underlines the mistaken strategy of the Committee. I did attend the briefing the co-chairs had with stakeholders in New York on the 18th of July and was unimpressed with what they were saying. Of course if we had a copy of the latest draft report then we could have really focused the discussion.

So lets see what happens when the report comes out. Will there be any clear recommendations? See my previous blogs to see what i suggested. I do expect on the more traditional FfD areas that it will speak to those reasonable well. But on the sustainable development finance, which of course, it was set up to do I don't have any confidence. 

The lesson from this is NO MORE closed meetings. This should have been about the best ideas coming forward and a text being developed together. The SDG OWG showed how it is possible for that to happen.

Monday, July 21, 2014

UN PGA EVENT changes its dates in September

The UN PGA has just changed the date for the Stocktaking Event to the 11th and 12th of September.

The concept note and agenda can be found here:  


Participants will have the opportunity to: 

  1. Reflect on the key messages from all the high-level events/ thematic debates, and interactive dialogue/briefing, convened by the President of the General Assembly 
  2. Discuss the outcomes of the various Rio+20 processes including the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG), the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing (ICESDF), the Structured Dialogues on a Technology Facilitation Mechanism and the updates on the High-Level Political Forum 
  3.  Highlight critical internal processes and events that have an impact on the design of the post-2015 development agenda, such as the 2014 substantive session of ECOSOC, including the Annual Ministerial Review and the Development Cooperation Forum, the 2014 High-level Political Forum under the auspices of ECOSOC, as well as the first session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly. 
  4. Highlight critical external processes and events that have an impact on the design and implementation of the post-2015 development agenda 

The agenda is


10:00 am – 11:00 am Opening Session 

H. E. Mr. John Ashe, President of the General Assembly 
H. E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Keynote Addresses 
Civil Society Representatives 

Video Messages 
The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage 

11:00 am – 1:00 pm Discussion 1: Outcomes and key messages 

a) PGA high-level events and thematic debates
b) High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
c) United Nations Environment Assembly
d) My World
e) Global Youth Call

15:00 am – 18:00 pm Discussion 2: 

Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals 


10:00 pm - 13:00 pm Discussion 3: 

Means of implementation of the post-2015 development  agenda 
 - Financing the Post-2015 development agenda 
 - Structured Dialogues on a Technology Facilitation Mechanism

3:00 pm – 5:30 pm Discussion 4: 

Monitoring and Review Framework 

5.30 pm – 5.45 pm Presentation 

5:45 pm – 6:00 pm Closing Session 

H. E. Mr. John Ashe, President of the General Assembly 
H. E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The final SDG OWG Finishes with Consensus

SDG OWG process Ends on Saturday morning

There is, I think, complete consensus among governments and stakeholders that the two co-chairs of the SDG OWG have been amazing. Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya and Ambassador Csaba Korosiof Hungary have steered the Sustainable Development Goals Open Working Group to a final consensus document in the late morning of Saturday the 19th of July 2014.

(photo IISD-ENB)
I was reflecting on how in over the twenty years that I have been involved in sustainable development the only time that an Ambassadors had managed such a feat was when Malaysian Ambassador Razali Ismail, who played a key role in Rio in 1992, chaired the first Commission on Sustainable Development which established stakeholders as a partner of the post Rio process. In 1997, he was President of UNGA and oversaw Rio+5 or the UN General Assembly Special Session. 

Like Ambassadors Kamau and Korosiof he ensured that stakeholders not only attended the preparatory meetings but spoke in the informal sessions. It was nice of Sweden, Tanzania and a few countries to also thank stakeholders for their contribution to the successful finishing of the SDG OWG.

The final goals at the end of SDG OWG 13 are:

Goal 1:                  End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2:                  End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture   
Goal 3:                  Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4:                  Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
Goal 5:                 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6:                  Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7:                  Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all 
Goal 8:                  Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9:                  Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10:               Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11:               Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable .
Goal 12:               Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13:               Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14:               Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15:               Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16:               Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17:               Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development


Some difficult issues were dealt with here. These included reaffirming previous commitments including the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, the key actions for the further implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, and the outcome documents of their review conferences. The preamble also addressed the issue of human rights, saying:

“reaffirmed the importance of freedom, peace and security, respect for all human rights, including the right to development and the right to an adequate standard of living, including the right to food and water, the rule of law, good governance, gender equality, women’s empowerment and the overall commitment to just and democratic societies for development. It also reaffirmed the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other international instruments relating to human rights and international law.


“noted with grave concern the significant gap between the aggregate effect of mitigation pledges by parties in terms of global annual emissions of greenhouse gases by 2020 and aggregate emission pathways consistent with having a likely chance of holding the increase in global average temperature below 2° C, or 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels and it reaffirmed that the ultimate objective under the UNFCCC is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

There were disagreements in particular over sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), climate change and much in the governance section.

What needs to be understood before I go on is that what has been agreed here isn’t the final product. It is a vital stage to the final product. I have argued in previous blogs that we should not put this forth as a final product because there is still a need to reflect upon on what had been negotiated before moving to agree to new goals. In the last month many governments did not have a chance to really consult across departments and ensure that we have the best targets. The same applies to stakeholders that now have time over the next 4 months, before the Secretary Generals synthesis report comes out in late November or early December, to look at what is on the table and what could be done to improve them further.   

The Present Text

I have been engaged in a number of places with the text and in some of the areas I am very pleased with the progress we have made. In particular, goal 11:  Human Settlements, much of what Communitas put forward is found in one way or another in the text. I mentioned in a previous blog the role that WSPA (now World Animal Protection) was playing. I thought they brought some very interesting ideas to the table, some of which are now reflected. One that wasn’t but I think will by September 2015 is the issue of antibiotic resistance (goal 3) - something that is critical to humans as well as animals as all species are becoming increasingly resistant.

In the area of science and research, there are more mentions than in the previous text and it was very good to see the issue of anthropogenic interference with the climate system in the preamble.
For SRHR, the text says:

“by 2030 ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This will continue to be a key issue next year and the text on gender is a retrograde step (5a for example) that needs to be seriously challenged. If only Bella were here! 

The Women's Major Group stated, “To those who are still denying our rights we reaffirm, again, that we will always refuse to have our lives used as bargaining chips. No agenda should be traded off. The entire world is at stake because of the narrow ways in which policies and actions are implemented. The significant global challenges we face requires a comprehensive ambitious agenda.”

On water (goal 6) I was happy to see the re-introduction of text on aquifers and ecosystems:

“6.6 by 2020 protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests,
wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes.”

 but still unhappy not to see the old 6.2 :

“(old) 6.2 by 2030 provide universal access to safe and affordable sanitation and hygiene including at home, schools, health centers and refugee camps, paying special  attention to the needs of women and girls.”

This has become:

“6.2 by 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all, and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations.”

Replacing the examples with ‘vulnerable situations’ perhaps this can be picked up in the indicators.
This would have been a good target as it enables a focus on schools, health centers, as such protecting the young and the ill. It is a great nexus target, recognizing the role that water plays in other sectors. 

On the issue of governance (goal 16) there is still much work to be done. There is no mention to the role of the media, there is increased mentions on ICT, we are missing the issue of free and easy access to information, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Thus, still work to be done – these should be expressed as rights.

Means of Implementation (goal 17) will need further work once the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Finance and the Technology Facility Report comes out.

Stakeholders and behavior

Stakeholder views: The work of stakeholders in this process has been a mixed bag. We lost a significant number of the people who shepherded stakeholders for Rio+20  as they moved on to other work and were not there for most of the SDGs. Some of the major NGOs and other stakeholders did not attend. When they did, they often seemed more interested in listening to the discussion than actually talking to governments. I will be doing two things help address this:

1.       A two hour workshop during the UN DPI NGO Conference on engaging with United Nations decision makers.

2.       On the 26th or 27th of September, I with a number of other people from government, UN and media relations will be running a full day workshop on lobbying at the UN. This will be limited to 40 paying participants – more on this very soon.

Behavior: That brings me to the incident this last SDG OWG where a couple harangued the governments and nearly lost access for all of us. We had no ‘rights’ to be in a closed meeting of the SDG OWG, it was the co-chairs authority that ensured that we were there. Only 2 governments spoke up in favor of us being in the room when asked in plenary. If a government doesn’t support your views then it is unacceptable to go and have a go at them. Not only is that unlikely to change their minds but can color the view of all stakeholders in their mind…therefore damaging the work of other stakeholders.

Major Groups: I am a huge supporter of the Major Groups concept. It enables women, youth, etc. to have their own space and not grouped together in this meaningless term ‘civil society’ which often is a front for large northern NGOs. But……. things have not been good in the world of Major Groups during the SDG OWG process. I’d have to say the most impressive were the youth Major Groups. Some of the others were not even there for the sessions of the SDG OWG and clearly there was no strategy by some. Others just had their Organizing Partners there and not a representative number of their members. Some seemed to operate at gatekeepers. This is a long way from how it operated in the first ten years after the 1992 Rio+20 conference and there clearly needs to be some discussion on the way forward for stakeholders.

I believe that we need an open space for that discussion supported by academic research on the impact of stakeholder democracy models on policy decisions at all levels of governance.
I will be looking to host a workshop on this in North Carolina in the coming six months and would welcome any support.

The Way Forward

So what happens now? The SDG OWG will report to the UN General Assembly and the level of government support will be indicated at that stage, is it welcomed, adopted, notes. I expect it to be welcomed. The report is full of red lines that have been crossed by different governments and so it is the package which has been accepted and there is intention to go back to look at issues next year by many governments…and stakeholders.

1.       UN DPI NGO Conference: Over 2000 stakeholders have already registered for this (27-29th August UN in New York). Here a Declaration will be adopted and it will be the first substantive stakeholder review of what is in the SDG report. It will form the major stakeholder input to the UN President of the General Assembly Stocktaking event and the UN Secretary General’s Report. If you have not registered yet and are interested in the SDGs then this is where you need to register.

2.      UN PGA Stocktaking Event:  This will be held to review the outcome from the SDG OWG, the PGA’s events and the secret workings of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Finance (ICESDF). I and many believe that the ICESDF has no credibility as it has been held in secrete and its findings should not be considered as a major contribution to the 2015 process for the Financing for Development Conference or the 2015 Summit. The way it has been conducted contrasts so badly with the SDG OWG and perhaps that is why the drafts have been so bad. That and the committee is dominated by development ministries who are occupying a perspective that is ten years out of date. If only Clare Short was still the UK Secretary of State, things would be different.

3.      The Secretary Generals Synthesis Report: Once the final text is released from the SDG OWG then organizations should reflect on the material and any input should be to Assistant Secretary General Amina Mohamed.

4.      Modalities for the preparatory process for 2015: This will be set up by the incoming Uganda President of the UNGA. I have already argued that this should be similar to Rio+5 UNGASS or the Conferences of the 1990s with proper two week prepcoms – I would suggest three. This will enable capitals to be engaged from the government side which is critical and stakeholders.  I think the two co-chairs of the SDG OWG should be asked to continue their work this time as co-facilitators of the preparatory process for the 2015 Summit.  The Civil Society Hearing is a waste of time what we should have is the first day of the preparatory sessions being a multistakeholder dialogue with member states. The outcome feeding into the text.

Final thought

This has been a very open and transparent process that the co-chairs have run and has enabled the participation of stakeholders throughout. I hope this shows those governments that have expressed problems with having stakeholders there that we can contribute positively to a process.

This last year has seen a number of key government officials leave and I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to work with them. This includes Farrukh Khan (Pakistan), Paula Caballero Gomez (Colombia) Selwyn Hart (Barbados), Kitty Vander-Heijden (Netherlands), Alexandra Tohmé (Lebanon) and soon Mohamed Khalil (Egypt). Without these people I doubt we would have ever got to the final place we have.

Of course a huge thanks to Colombia and Guatemala for putting the SDGs on the table in July 2011 at the Solo (Indonesia) informal meeting. That vision has helped to redefine the development agenda to a sustainable development agenda and by doing so give us hope that this time we can change our paths of development to a much more sustainable one. It will of course come down to helping those less developed countries jump away from old forms of industrialization.  The 1992 promise from developed countries was broken by globalization and funding democracy in Eastern Europe and the hope of 2002 was destroyed by 9/11. We have been at this point twice before and this is really our last great chance to ensure we do it together.

The 2015 process should unlock the huge potential for change and the engine of that will be people engaging in the process of the final agreement and then in the delivery of that agreement. To build that we need an agenda for change. The next step on creating that will be the UN DPI NGO Conference 27-29th of August. I will see you there. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Interview on National Public Radio on Climate Change and SDGs

I had the pleasure of being interviewed on National Public Radio by Sara Nics for the show Eco Optimism on climate change and Sustainable Development Goals.

It is part of the Series 'To the Best of Our Knowledge'. 

It will go out this weekend nation wide but you can listen to my  interview: 

and to the entire show: 

Please tweet it .

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reprinted from GRIST my question to Liz Cheney

This is republished from GRIST
Darth Vader and his Sith apprentice — a.k.a. Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz — are totally in synch about climate change. Here’s how they responded to a question on the topic during a conversation with Politico’s Mike Allen on Monday:
Mike Allen: Here’s a question from Felix Dodds. What should the Republican Party do about climate change?
Dick Cheney: Liz?
Liz Cheney: Nothing. [Scornful guffaw.] I mean … [Shrug.] Look, I think that what’s happening now with respect to this president and this EPA and using something like climate change as an excuse to kill the coal industry nationwide — and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They’ve been open about it. They even admit that the emissions from coal aren’t actually causing any kind of a heating of the planet. But this is an opportunity to go in, and they’re killing coal. You know, Wyoming is the leading coal-producing state in the nation. But you don’t have to be from Wyoming to understand that your electricity is gonna be directly affected by that. It is bad policy. It’s bad science. We’re seeing increasingly that it’s bad science.
And a much greater threat to us, frankly, is this massive expansion and growth of the bureaucratic state here in Washington — the EPA, the use of things like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to go directly at people’s private property rights in a way that clearly, frankly, is unconstitutional and is a real threat to our freedom.
That Liz is following in her father’s jackbooted footsteps should come as no surprise. She demonstrated her denier cred during a failed bid for the U.S. Senate last year. She told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that “the science is just simply bogus, you know, we know that temperatures have been stable for the last 15 years.” She tweeted that Obama’s climate policy is “using phony science to kill real jobs. This is a war on coal, a war on jobs, a war on American families.” And she tweeted a photo of a snowy scene as though it were a clever rejoinder to the whole body of climate science:
Good morning from Wilson, Wyoming. Global warming? Not so much. (Liz Cheney)
Embedded image permalink

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

BRICS Development Bank announced with $100 billion

It probably isn't surprising that the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) should fulfill their promise or threat to create their own development bank. They have been arging for many years for the World Bank and IMF to change their voting rules to increase the number of votes for developing countries without much advancement.

This new development bank will be based in Shanghai in China it was also announced that the first president for the bank will come from India. 

the Bank will initially have a fund of $50 billion and will focus on supporting infrastructure projects in developing countries. As the Fortaleza Declaration from the 6th BRICS Summit says:

"We, the leaders of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of South Africa, met in Fortaleza, Brazil, on 15 July 2014 at the Sixth BRICS Summit. To inaugurate the second cycle of BRICS Summits, the theme chosen for our discussions was “Inclusive Growth: Sustainable Solutions”, in keeping with the inclusive macroeconomic and social policies carried out by our governments and the imperative to address challenges to humankind posed by the need to simultaneously achieve growth, inclusiveness, protection and preservation.

 In the aftermath of the first cycle of five Summits, hosted by every BRICS member, our coordination is well established in various multilateral and plurilateral initiatives and intra-BRICS cooperation is expanding to encompass new areas. Our shared views and commitment to international law and to multilateralism, with the United Nations at its center and foundation, are widely recognized and constitute a major contribution to global peace, economic stability, social inclusion, equality, sustainable development and mutually beneficial cooperation with all countries."

This continues to show the leadership that is now coming from key developing countries in the post Rio+20 landscape and offers real hope for the post 2015 agenda being implemented.