From Paper to Practice

The implementation of the Post-2015 development agenda goals

As the international community reaches the crucial stages of negotiation in the adoption of the post-2015 development, much has been said about the need for goals that are visionary, ambitious and transformative. It is equally important, however, that the goals are actionable, and that adequate means of implementation are mobilised. If the agenda is to truly have an impact on the lives of people and communities, we must ensure effective implementation of the post-2015 vision.

In recognition of this, the President of the 69th UN General Assembly (UNGA), Sam Kutesa, convened a High Level Thematic Debate on the Means of Implementation for a Transformative post-2015 Development Agenda in February this year, which focused on how to mobilise resources to turn aspirations for the post-2015 development agenda into realities. In addition, the third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 13 to 16 July 2015.

Member States will therefore be grappling with finding linkages between these tracks and with developing a comprehensive framework for the means of implementation, including financing. Financial resources, technology development and transfer and capacity-building will be critical to delivering on and implementing a truly transformative and ambitious post-2015 development agenda.

One of the biggest challenges of the new development agenda will be to scale up the mobilisation of financial resources, and to ensure that they are efficiently used. Given that the SDGs cover a much greater breadth and scope than the MDGs, more resources will be required. Emerging estimates indicate, for instance, that additional financing needed to eradicate extreme poverty will range from US$ 135 billion to 195 billion every two years[1]. Therefore, agreement on mobilising fair and adequate international and domestic resources in Addis Ababa will be a prerequisite for the successful implementation of the SDGs.

The conference will take place in a context where many donors have failed to deliver on previous commitments. While MDG 8 on global partnerships for development galvanised broad support for the international development agenda, it did fall short in delivering on many of its aspects. This lack of progress in MDG 8 is largely attributed to a lack of precisely defined targets and commitments on many of the dimensions of the global partnership for development. [2]

Official development assistance (ODA) hit a record high of $134.8 billion in 2013, but $179.8 billion remains to be delivered in order to meet the UN target of 0.7% of GNI devoted to ODA by 2015.[3] During the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 agenda, the Africa Group called on development partners who are yet to honour their commitments to developing countries to do so. Any undertaking in Addis Ababa that is perceived to lack ambition or clarity is likely to undermine the confidence of developing countries, and reduce the likelihood of progress in the future.

The new agenda will seek to produce new partnership models and innovative financing above and beyond ODA and trade, and to move away from traditional dichotomies of developed versus developing countries and donors versus recipients. The full range of stakeholders, including actors at a global, regional and local level, should contribute to realising the goals. The private sector, an important actor particularly in developing countries, where it employs 70 to 90% of the workforce, should be provided with incentives to align with national and international development priorities.

It is crucial, however, that these partnerships be seen as complementing ODA rather than replacing it. Some developing countries, particularly Brazil, have argued during the OWG negotiations that although exploring new avenues of support for sustainable development should be encouraged; this should not facilitate an evasion of government responsibility, or a means of compensating for unmet commitments in ODA, from both developed and developing countries.[4]

Make money concept.

The scale of the ‘financing gap’ for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals means that the agenda should go beyond business as usual and address systemic problems. The Group of 77 and China, which South Africa chairs this year, has stressed the need for the international community to urgently address systemic fragilities and imbalances inherent in the international financial institutions.[5] Developed countries have increasingly provided more access to exports from developing countries but there remains a need to advance progress towards an open rule-based multilateral trading system that delivers more benefits to developing countries.[6]

Technology development and transfer as well as capacity-building will be critical to achieving many of the SDGs once adopted. Developing countries continue to struggle with accessing, adapting and diffusing environmentally sound technology, and there is a need for a mechanism to facilitate this. This is an important issue that impacts socio-economic development and environmental protection.

While an enabling international environment will be essential for the achievement of the goals, discussion of the goals has widely acknowledged that national ownership will also be pivotal for success. In particular, the Report of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing has emphasised that effective national government policies will be the “linchpin” of a sustainable development financing strategy, aseffective institutions and policies and good governance are central for the efficient use of resources and for unlocking additional resources for sustainable development.” [7]

Civil society will have an important role to play in pushing for national governments to use these resources effectively and to incorporate the agenda into national development strategies. The implementation of the agenda will require input from all stakeholders amongst the governmental and nongovernmental communities, whether in academia, business, or civil society, and the formation of partnerships for action. A people-centred and inclusive approach will be needed to achieve tangible results on the ground, as consultations with all stakeholders, including civil society and the private sector, will enable governments and policymakers to better appreciate the diverse needs and concerns of people in the formulation and implementation of sustainable development policies at all levels.

Civil society has played an unprecedented role in the development of the agenda thus far. When it comes to implementation then, precisely defined targets and commitments will be crucial for the success of the agenda. But beyond that, in the years to come, civil society can be influential in ensuring that donors honour their commitments with regard to ODA; engaging the private sector, while ensuring that this does not result in an outsourcing of development; and demanding structural change and a move towards a rule-based multilateral trading system. Its most important role, however, will be to ensure that the agenda is implemented in a way that is people-centred, and that will ultimately make a tangible difference for the grassroots communities at whom it is aimed.

Hands of man with paper

Photo above right by Donna Winton on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

Holly McGurk is a National Project Coordinator at the United Nations Association of South Africa (UNASA), where she works to build a strong public voice for the inclusion of a goal on peaceful societies in the post-2015 development agenda. She has a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Cape Town.


Remarks by. H.E. Mr. John W. Ashe. President of the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, General Assembly and ECOSOC Joint Thematic Debate/Forum on Partnerships “The role of partnerships in the implementation of the post-2015 Development Agenda” ( 9 April 2014)

UN System Task Team on the post-2015 UN Development Agenda, “Thematic Think Piece: Assessment of MDG 8 and Lessons Learnt” (January, 2013)

United Nations Millennium Project, “The 0.7% Target: An in Depth Look,” (2013), available from

United Nations, General Assembly, Report of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing A/69/315 (15 August, 2014), available from

Statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China by H.E. Ambassador Jeremiah Nyamane Kingsley Mamabolo, Permanent Representative of the Republic Of South Africa to the United Nations, Chair of the Group Of 77, at the High Level Thematic Debate on Means of Implementation for a Transformative post-2015 Development Agenda (New York, 9 February 2015)

Muchhala, Bhumika, “SDG negotiations reveal the hard fight for means of implementation”, Third World Network (24 July, 2014) available from



[1] Ashe, Remarks at the General Assembly and ECOSOC Joint Thematic Debate/Forum on Partnerships
[2] UN System Task Team, “Thematic Think Piece: Assessment of MDG 8 and Lessons Learnt”
[3] United Nations Millennium Project, “The 0.7% Target: An in Depth Look”
[4] Muchhala, Bhumika, SDG negotiations reveal the hard fight for means of implementation


[5] Mamabolo, Kingsley, Statement at the High Level Thematic Debate on Means of Implementation
[6] UN System Task Team, “Thematic Think Piece: Assessment of MDG 8 and Lessons Learnt”
[7] Report of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing

Up Next

Related Posts