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Editor's Note: Implementation Challenges 

Issue #209 | 13 June 2013

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By: Lynn Wagner, Ph.D., Group Director, SDG Knowledge, IISD <>

On the eve of the first anniversary of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20) as well as the close of the June 2013 Bonn Climate Change Conference, many of the challenges associated with implementing negotiated agreements have been apparent.

In Bonn, our Earth Negotiations Bulletinteam has reported on the debates leading to the conclusion that the Subsidiary Body for Implementation will not launch its substantive work there, as well as the progress made in the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. Our coverage has included our newest product: video “In the Corridors” summaries of each day's events. These negotiations have provided a window on the challenges of interpreting equity concerns in the face of scientific recommendations and economic implications.

In another negotiation stream, a survey of the activities that have followed up on the agreed document from Rio+20, ‘The Future We Want,' reveals that there has been a great deal of effort during the past year to implement that outcome's recommendations. A few months ago, Achim Steiner, Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), reflected on the impact of Rio+20 on international cooperation and highlighted the “new wave” of cooperative action sparked by Rio+20, but underscored the challenge of maintaining momentum. More recently, during the 12 June UN General Assembly (UNGA) thematic debate on Culture and Development, UNGA President Vuk Jeremić recalled that ‘The Future We Want' gave the UNGA a mandate to craft "a new, ambitious universal framework that will define much of the UN's work for decades to come," and he highlighted that fewer than 1,000 days remain to carry out these assignments, including developing and adopting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), designing options for financing them, and creating an arrangement to monitor their implementation.

On Monday, 17 June 2013, delegates will gather for the fourth session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs, to further their work, with agenda items to include: employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture; and health and population dynamics. Delegates will also hear a presentation on the report of the Secretary-General's High-level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and have an opportunity to comment on it. In the coming months, in addition to identifying the topics to be included, the international community will be focusing on how these two streams could come together. At the UNGA briefing on the HLP report, Jeremić noted the need to address how to make a smooth transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the SDGs, and highlighted the forthcoming UNGA Special Event to follow up on efforts toward achieving the MDGs, on 25 September 2013, which he said will be the final occasion for leaders to decide on actions that need to be taken to complete the MDG process.

In these and other sustainable development processes, many aspects of each agreement are implemented through further negotiations. And reaching a negotiated outcome is seen as a mark of whether delegates have accomplished their objectives, despite the increasing complexity and attendant challenges in achieving consensus as the number of actors, level of domestic obligations and network of overlapping commitments grows. Challenges related to appreciating equity concerns, meeting deadlines and maintaining momentum add to the competing demands that negotiators face. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin reporting and Policy & Practice knowledgebases seek to help put a name to the challenges that policy makers are facing, as a contribution to the process of moving beyond them.