During the last week of August the UN headquarters in New York was effectively taken over by civil society. Over 4000 participants from non-governmental organisations around the world gathered for a three-day conference aiming to ensure that all voices are heard in the Post-2015 development process.
The conference participants laid out a critical view of the Millennium Development Goals, and approached Post-2015 Development-related issues from various perspectives. A central underlying aim of the conference was the drafting of a Declaration that ‘defines an ambitious, inspiring, and concrete action agenda’ for the intergovernmental political negotiations beginning in September.
The Declaration was successfully drafted through a consultation process during the three days – not least due to hard work of the drafting committee that was composed of over twenty civil society representatives. The Declaration highlights that civil society organisations’ ‘vision for the post-2015 Development Agenda is that of an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable world where every person is safe, resilient, lives well, and enjoys their human rights, and where political and economic systems deliver well-being for all people within the limits of our planet’s resources’.
The Declaration also included a detailed statement on how each of the 17 Goals identified in the Open Working Group ‘Zero Draft’ document should be revised and developed in the final stages of the Post-2015 Development process.
One of the main questions looming large at the conference was the ability of civil society organisations to have an impact on the goals that – in all likelihood – will be adopted in September 2015.
The Declaration adopted in the conference will now be passed on to the member states engaging in political negotiations as well as to the UN Secretary-General. Yet, there is no certainty what – if any – impact these actions will have in the final decision-making process.
During the last year of the process there is an important shift from development discussions to international political negotiations. As generally is the case in international relations, also in the upcoming Post-2015 negotiations there is a strong presumption that national interests will have a key influence in the final goals.
So why talk about development and adopt a Declaration when you have no right to vote and influence the final stages of the process? At the conference the spirit of civil society appeared strong in the face of political realism. This is centrally because there was a sense of recognition that the only way to influence international development is not by sitting at international decision-making tables.
With the Declaration civil society organisations sent a reminder to governments around the world. While the Declaration stated that civil society organisations are ‘committed to working hand in hand with governments in this universal quest for a life of dignity for all within planetary boundaries’, they are also committed to holding governments accountable. They also declared: ‘We are here… and here to stay’.