Negotiating the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda

Wednesday, June 10 &
Tuesday, May 16, 2017
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaks during a closing ceremony of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development summit in Rio de Janeiro June 22, 2012. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Elizabeth M. Cousens

Deputy Chief Executive Officer, United Nations Foundation

Thomas Gass

Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Interagency Affairs, UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs


Senior Fellow and Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

This ExxonMobil roundtable discussion provides a preview of what to expect as the new sustainable development goals are finalized over the next few months and adopted at the United Nations in September 2015.

Thomas Gass, assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and inter-agency affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations, and Elizabeth Cousens, deputy chief executive officer, UN Foundation, and former U.S. chief negotiator on the sustainable development goals, share their insights on prioritization, financing, accountability, measurement of progress, and the role of gender equality in the future of the global development agenda.


VOGELSTEIN: ... which has worked with leading scholars for more than a decade to analyze how elevating the status of women and girls advances U.S. foreign policy objectives, including prosperity and stability.

I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to Noa Gimelli, the director of the Women's Economic Opportunity Initiative at ExxonMobil for her incomparable leadership on women and economic development, and also for her ongoing support for the council's work, and for our roundtable here today. So thank you, Noa.

Today's meeting is focused negotiating the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. And it comes at an auspicious moment in global development, on the eve of the third International Financing for Development Conference, which is coming up in Addis, in the midst of ongoing negotiations over the sustainable development goals here in New York, which will be adopted at the United Nations in September.

And this afternoon, we will talk about what to expect over the next several months as the goals are finalized, and analyze questions about prioritization, about financing, accountability, measurement of progress, and importantly, the role of gender equality in the future of the global development agenda.

And we are very fortunate to have with us two preeminent experts today. First, we are so pleased to be joined by Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Thomas Gass, who has graciously joined us in place of Amina Mohammed, who could not be here today due to an unforeseen event, and will join us at a future opportunity.

Mr. Gass was appointed by the secretary-general as assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and interagency affairs in the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs in 2013. He brings with him wide-ranging experience in bilateral and multilateral development cooperation; previously served as the head of Mission of Switzerland to Nepal, where he served as ambassador, and as country director of the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation. And before that, was the head of the Economic and Development Section of the permanent Mission of Switzerland, the United Nations here in New York.

We are also very fortunate to be joined by Ambassador Elizabeth Cousens, the deputy chief executive officer at the U.N. Foundation. Before joining the U.N. Foundation, Ambassador Cousens served as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, and as alternate representative to the U.N. General Assembly, and previously served as the principal policy adviser and counselor to the permanent representative of the U.S. to the United Nations, Ambassador Susan Rice. And in that capacity, she was the lead U.S. negotiator on the post-2015 development agenda, including representing the United States in the open working group process on sustainable development.

Please join me in welcoming Mr. Gass and Ambassador Cousens.


VOGELSTEIN: So I'd like to start by talking about where we are at this moment in the run-up to the fall on sustainable development, and reflecting back on the road that really got us here. In 2000, as we know, the world agreed to eight goals, the Millennium Development Goals, which really guided the international community over the last 15 years. And we've seen more progress in some areas than in others.

But it's undeniable that the MDG set the agenda in, really, unprecedented way. And the process that got to the MDGs was not as inclusive as the one that's currently underway for the SDGs. And there were concerns expressed that the MDGs arguably left out some important issues that were overlooked.

The process to develop the SDGs, as you well know, has been markedly different. The open working group process that took place last year has resulted in a proposal with 17 goals, 169 targets, considerably more than what we saw in the MDGs. And today, the concern voiced by many is less about what has been left out, and more about whether the SDGs require too much, and how countries will be able to implement them.

So, Mr. Gass, I wonder if we could start with you and ask you to reflect a little bit on the distance we've traveled from the MDGs to the SDGs, and talk about what's different at this moment than what we saw in 2000, what's the same, and why do the differences matter?

GASS: Thank you very much, Ms. Vogelstein. And thank you for having me here. Bon appetit to you all.

I think the question puts it really to the point. About two years ago -- two months ago -- the Economist released an article that said the sustainable development goals are stupid. It said they are stupid because 169 targets would require 5 percent of global GDP to implement, or 15 percent of global savings.

Now, either the international community went on a tangent, or there is some problem of communication of understanding. And this -- this is the -- this is the important challenge that we face, those of us who come from the development community.

I consider myself a development cooperation practitioner. You know, I grew up with log (ph) frames. I have log (ph) frames in my DNA. I learned that if you have more than three objectives, then you're confused.

So what is this? What happened when the Rio+20 conference went and asked the member states -- or when the member states decided they were going to go into this exercise and come up with a successful arrangement for the Millennium Development Goals, those goals that helped focus their attention through 15 years that were, frankly, not easy, an easy ride, and focus attention on combating poverty, on reducing malaria, tuberculosis, bringing kids to school, et cetera.

So these member states give themselves the task to go back and do another exercise. And the result is such a broad agenda. Why? Because I believe -- and I've had, as I said, as a practitioner, I've had to -- I've had to wrap my mind around this.

I believe what has happened here is that when you take 193 countries, and you put them around the table, and you bring around the civil society, and you interview 7 million people by way of a survey, then what you get is not a simple log (ph) frame. What you get is a framework, is a shared vision of humanity. And that may leave us, let's say, somewhat wanting those of us who like log (ph) frames. But -- and who like focus and prioritization.

But perhaps what we have here is something that can become a solid basis for a new social contract between governments and their people. Because everyone was involved. I mean, everyone -- a much bigger involvement. And I believe that that's what we need to look at. That's what we need to understand.

It doesn't mean that we won't have to do strategic frameworks anymore. It doesn't mean that log (ph) frames are no longer good. Institutions, countries, will have to -- will have to discuss what this means.

But the big, big difference is that here we have now a framework of boxes that everyone wants to take (ph) by 2030. And the interesting thing is not only the comprehensiveness of the agenda. I mean, it's been a redefinition of sustainable development. I mean, those of you who studied sustainable development, well, it's interesting that now good governance, access to justice, legal empowerment, let's say at least legal identity, economic empowerment of the poor, is right there.

And I think the biggest shift of definition regarding sustainable development is this commitment that we have in this new agenda of leaving no one behind, because that wasn't there. Basically, what the international community is telling itself -- and I'm very aware that this is an emerging agenda -- is that if someone -- if a significant group of people are left behind, then our development is not sustainable.

VOGELSTEIN: So less of a strategic framework, more of a social contract.

Ambassador Cousens, I wonder if we could have you weigh in. You were the chief negotiator for the U.S. during the open working group process. Can you reflect on some of the tradeoffs, and what you grappled with, with respect to over- versus under-inclusivity, and comment on how that SDGs differ from the MDGs?

COUSENS: Sure, happily, and very happy to be here on the day with Thomas, and to see so many old friends around the room. And the economists can partly blame me, so I will take full responsibility for my piece of those negotiations.

So let me step back a little and say a few things in response to this. I think the first is to look at the horizon of this year, 2015. There were three milestone events that we have on the international calendar: The first is in Addis, Financing for Development; the second is the summit in September around the SDGs; and the third is the Conference of Parties on Climate Change.

Now those are different venues, there are different issues self-evidently. But they are also issues where both the substance of the issues, and the politics of them, intersect. And so first thing, I look at this year as one where each piece, each milestone event, is going to contribute to the ability to succeed in the others.

So they all go to questions about building confidence across some pretty fundamental political divides; geographic, economic and otherwise. And so they're connected. That's the sort of first point I would make about why this is a different moment in time, and the consequence of this moment in time.

Second thing, and this amplifies I think, or elaborates on Thomas's point about 193 countries. This is a fundamentally different exercise that we are undertaking now than in the year 2000.

First of all, the year 2000 was very different. If you think about the growth of the economies in the developing world, and the kind of assertion on the world stage of a lot of those countries, it's a very different time for a whole variety of reasons.

And that's generated expectations to have some say in the development agenda that we craft. And that say is not just coming from countries, it's as Thomas said; coming from civil society, it's coming from business community, it's coming from a lot of stakeholders.

So I think there's a tension automatically between the value of engagement and buy-in and participation, and sometimes that complicates discussions. But I think we have to think about that quite -- quite openly.

If you had asked me two years ago before the open working group, of you could get 193 countries together around the table, with all of those other stakeholders weighing in, and come out with something as economical as 17 goals and 169 targets, I actually would not have taken that bet.

So -- and in addition, not only 17 and 169, but some of the issues that evidence profoundly shows us matter to development outcomes, but that are very sensitive in a U.N. context, issues of women's economic and broader empowerment, issues of economic growth --that's a kind of flashpoint issue in development debates going way back, whether you talk about economic growth centrally in the middle of a development agenda -- issues of peace and governance, that you could also get those embedded into this. Again, I think it's -- you know, that's something that is in the half-full category to my mind.

The last thing I would say to this, are they too many -- and I'll speak to some of the tradeoffs perhaps further. But just at a general level, if we had 10 goals and 30 targets, we would still face choices about how to prioritize effort. We'd still have to figure out where to start. We'd have to think about implementation, et cetera.

So to me -- we did that with the MDGs, by the way, where a couple of the Millennium Development Goals really had the kind of effect that I think everyone is often looking for; time-bound, quantitative targets, prioritizes investments, particularly from the official development assistance. And then you can see the needle move in some big issues.

But some of the other goals have a different kind of effect. I mean, I think MDG-1, poverty and hunger, mostly had the effect of keeping poverty on the international agenda. It was a different kind of effect that it had, which was a very positive one, but a different one than the ones on health and education.

So I think we need to bring some of that perspective into thinking about not just what we're doing this year in these milestone events, but most importantly, what we do the day after, when we start to think about implementation.

VOGELSTEIN: That's a perfect segue to the day after. And I want to turn now to the question of how we pay for the SDGs, instead of how we prioritize them. And as we head into the Addis conference, Mr. Gass, what do you think a realistic vision of success is?

You know, the goal of a 0.7 commitment of official development assistance may not be achieved. And if it's not, how do we measure success at the Financing for Development conference? Issues like domestic resource mobilization, or private investment, how does all of that factor into the discussion that you expect to take place?

GASS: Well, I'd first like to just underscore what Elizabeth has just said about these conferences being linked. And I think it is crucial. There's not enough realization, especially in western countries that there's this high level of ambition for what would come out of Paris, out of the climate change conference, and sometimes not a realization so much that for many countries in the world, climate change is becoming an important issue, but economic growth is absolutely vital.

And therefore, they would like to see a degree of ambition in Addis that is commensurate with the degree of ambition for Paris. So Addis, Paris, that balance needs to be there.

Now, I started my earlier comment by referring to the economists' article. Evidently, it's not about the 4 percent, but about the 100 percent. If I took just goal 13 for example, about climate change, I think everyone would understand that if we want to get the climate change curve back under control, we need to leverage 100 percent of our economy. It's something more than just -- than just mobilizing 0.7 percent of GNI.

The agenda is over different scale and magnitude than the MDGs were. And that is why it is so important to bring everyone on deck; every organization, every actor. And what that means for financing is that it's no longer just about ODA, but that it's all about public flows in the way public flows are managed, but also about domestic -- about private flows and how private flows are used and invested in order to create decent jobs, in order to build livelihoods in countries.

It's about how countries are able to raise taxes, and use their power to raise taxes, and the management of these -- of these public funds. It is about the oversight of the people of what governments and municipalities, and local governments, are doing with that funding.

You see, it's much more. It's about how money is invested by those who have it so that it can -- so that it can have a positive impact where it is invested.

So what does that mean for the conference in Addis? I think the classic donor countries are not let off the hook. And I definitely believe that, as the secretary representative, I can probably say there needs to be some kind of endorsement of the 0.7 target. I mean, this is something that's been there. It's a modest recognition of solidarity of the need of solidarity between countries.

But there needs to be other things. I mean, Elizabeth just mentioned that this exercise is very different because countries are expecting to be treated equally. Well, why is it -- why is it impossible to have a policy space, for example, at a U.N. that discusses taxes, for example; or a policy space that discusses ODA definition?

I mean, these are -- in my country, we say these kind of decisions would not eat any hay. But they are crucial in order to help to level this playing field. And so I think that the outcome of Addis, it will be successful.

It will have some of these policy decisions that translate into political reality, the spirit of a more level playing field. It will have certainly some kind of endorsement of the 0.7 goal. And it will hopefully have some solid review mechanism to move forward, just as this -- just the same as all the other goals.

We'll be speaking of goal five, I guess, later. In a sense, goal five is a proxy for the Beijing Platform. And we have review mechanisms for that. Goal 13, which is about climate change, is a proxy for what will come out of the COP21 in December, the climate change conference.

And in the same way, of course, some member states with the hope that goal 17, which is about the partnership, about the mutual engagement, would also have its reflection in the international calendar, some deeper process that can ensure that these goals are moving forward.

VOGELSTEIN: So it's about more than ODA. Ambassador, do you agree with that? What do you see as success coming out of the Addis conference?

COUSENS: I think -- so I think this is tricky precisely -- well, for many reasons, but in part because of the calendar, where the first time -- the first big occasion of the year leads people also to think about the second and the third.

And so I think there's going to be a bit of a question about how much gets done at Addis versus how much gets done in particular in September. And that's -- but the conceptual challenge, a political one, and a technical one. So I think there's a bit of that.

I think, to me, what success at Addis looks like is -- first, just to say to those to be clear, what formally comes out of Addis on the one hand is outcome, document, an outcome that's been inter-governmentally negotiated is currently (inaudible). And then there's what happens around that. So it's various kinds of announcements, initiatives, that could be taken, tabled, et cetera, around Addis as a moment in time.

And I think it's important to look at both of those things, not just to be focused on the document that's getting negotiated here. Commitments can be made in a lot of different ways.

To me, what would be success is if Addis manages to start to reframe our understanding of how you invest in developments. So yes, it's about ODA, and it's about using ODA more smartly than we've used it perhaps in the past.

I mean, ODA is always going to be a small piece of the overall potential range of flows to development. But let's use it in the most developmentally-smart way possible, and let's use it to catalyze other flows. There's a lot of discussion about that now. Some of that's about issues of how you blend public and private finance, how you might use ODA to reduce the risk for private investment in particular ways.

So that's a really interesting stream of thought about how to use ODA better. Alongside that, it's all of these other flows that already dwarf ODA. So if you look at the average domestic resource -- and I should have the numbers in my head. I don't, but I could send them to you. The domestic resources mobilized in most African economies, they already dwarf ODA, even in some of the worst countries.

And that's in a context where revenue-generation systems are not very -- are not very effective, where you have very porous borders, where you have a lot of illicit flows. So if you could make headway on some of those issues, you could already get a lot more -- mobilize a lot more resources for development. There's all of the issues about private investment and flows.

So then there's the question of also how you maximize the developmental impact of those flows. And there's a lot of very interesting conversation going on in the private sector at large, and in different parts of it about how you think about sustainable development in relation to investments.

So if we can reframe the conversation, have a few big commitments in areas that really count, I'm among those who -- I understand the article of faith that is 0.7 percent. And I'm sure that it will be there in some fashion.

I, frankly, don't think it's the most important piece of the story, precisely because it is a very old piece of the story, and some of these more innovative conversations and possibilities are much more exciting, and probably much more impactful down the road. And then that, to me, will already constitute success.

And I think we have to also see Addis as a start. It doesn't have to answer every question. It has to start with the right kind of conversation, so that we have a little wind in our sails going into the fall.

VOGELSTEIN: So we're really talking about scaling our ambition, whether it's moving from strategic priorities to a social contract, whether it's moving beyond a conversation about just ODA, to other more innovative, and different forms of thinking about financing.

I wonder if we could turn that conversation to the issue of gender equality, which, Mr. Gass, you raised earlier. The current draft of the Sustainable Development Goals includes, goal 5, a dedicated goal on gender equality. And there are also gender considerations that have been integrated into many of the other goals as well.

The proposed gender goal includes targets on a host of issues that were arguably overlooked in the MDGs; issues that many folks in the room work on from child marriage, to gender-based violence, to ensuring the women have access to bank accounts, and on and on.

And yet, there's still a concern, despite, I think, the optimism about what is reflected in that goal, about how and whether countries will really hold themselves accountable to what's articulated in the SDG framework.

Are countries going to pick and choose what it is that they'll focus on? And that's a question that runs throughout the document. Thinking about gender equality in particular, how can we ensure that these issues are not ignored, or siloed, or marginalized over the next 15 years?

GASS: I mean, this is a voluntary framework. The U.N., in the economic and social realm, works with this consensual agreement, kind of an opt-in system where countries say, "OK, this is what we want to do, but we don't want to be told by other countries what to do, and we don't want to be policed by other countries as to whether we are doing it."

That is a very fundamental, let's say, characteristic of this program. So -- so the word "accountability" in the U.N., I would say countries are prepared to use it when it comes to the accountability at the national level, when it's about accountability of governments to their people.

But otherwise than that, it will have to be incentives. It will have to be a nudging, a gentle nudging. And, frankly, that's how we worked also with the MDGs. So will it achieve the objective? If we work the same way as with the MDGs, no.

And that's why we have to change the approach. And that's why I said that this paradigm shift from -- and making this into new social contract is so important. When our heads of state and head of government are coming to New York here in September, it's really important that it's not just for the handshake.

They have to come here -- or for the photo op. They have to come here to make a promise to their people back home that this vision, this shared vision of humanity is for them. Because that's where the accountability is going to work, if it's going to work at some level.

I believe that in future, those of us who are working in development cooperation, we will have to not just look whether we've delivered on the goods, in a sense, but whether we have contributed towards strengthening the relationship between duty bearers and rights-holders, between governments and their people.

That will have to become one of our criteria of success in future, otherwise we will not reach the SDGs. And the review mechanism -- and that's one part that I have more responsibility for, that we put in place, including for goal 5, is going to have to be designed in such a way that it strengthens this ability of everyone to participate.

I can give an example. The process actually foresees that there will be a high-level political forum that will meet every year, and that will be taking stock of progress; geographical progress, but also thematic progress.

Now, we could imagine a review of goal five on the women's empowerment, girls' empowerment, and gender equality, whereby we invite all those who feel that they have got some -- that they've done something substantial to come on the podium and say what they have done.

Or we could ask the chair of the commission on the status of women to come and report on what she or he has done over the last four years to mobilize all the actors who are contributing towards the implementation of the Beijing Platform; and in doing so, create an active and a dynamic link between this agenda and those frameworks that are -- part of them -- some of them are more legally binding, because they relate to international conventions, or because they relate to human rights -- between those frameworks and this framework.

VOGELSTEIN: Thinking about the interaction between this and some of the other international agreements on these issues, Ambassador, I wonder if you could weigh in on how to realize the promise of -- focus on gender equality, and also talk a little bit about the issue of women's health, which has proven to be a fault line in recent years when we think about the Rio+20 conference, or even the failed consensus at the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women a few years ago.

Is that issue likely to come up as we head towards September, and how can we ensure progress on these issues?

COUSENS: Great. No, and you were reminding me of my former life in that question, and I'm happy to speak to it. I mean, I think first I would say a couple of things about -- about where women's equality empowerment has landed in this -- in this agenda so far.

First to say, as Thomas laid out, the targets that are in this draft proposal are very serious, very concrete, and they all speak to issues not only that are in Beijing, but that are widely recognized to be fundamental as the either bottlenecks or the enablers of women's empowerment.

So it's property rights. It's violence in various forms. It's economic empowerment. It's equal political participation. So pretty fundamental, very crunchy targets and very much distinct from, I think, what was in -- was in the earlier MDG framework.

The second thing that I would say really gives me some hope, notwithstanding that there are real debates around a lot of these issues -- sexual, reproductive health and reproductive rights, not least -- is that this was the goal that commanded the earliest cross-regional visible support.

So in these negotiations that went on in the open working group, there was a great deal of tentativeness. No one wanted to kind of go first to say what goal they wanted because everyone was talking about the whole thing; nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. And so no one wanted to kind of put a stake in the ground and say, "Well, actually, I want something on X."

The first one that people did that with was on women, and I think that's for a couple of reasons. First, there is just a weight of evidence now that is out there in the world that you cannot deny that women's economic empowerment is not only important in its own right, or women's empowerment generally -- not only important in its own right -- but a pathway to a whole bunch of other goods that we care about in our societies. So that's one.

And two, that helped enormously, I think, empower a cross-regional coalition of countries here at the U.N. to say this matters. It has to be fundamental and it's such a priority that we are going to talk about it first. So I mean, I see some of my colleagues from the open working group around the table. You can correct me if I am mis-remembering the history, but it was early-on the one that commanded support, and that to me is quite powerful.

So to me the task is, coming out of this crazy year that we are all in, how do we maintain the political coalition we've got and deepen and broaden it. Because I think this goes to the question of this being a voluntary framework. Of course it's voluntary. People will implement this and make their choices based on what's relevant and interesting to them, at every level, whether they are a government, a company, a city, et cetera.

So I think the task is to capture, you know, the tremendous energy and interest that there has been leading up to this year, to bank it, to deepen it and to make sure we don't take our eye off of the need to maintain the kind of political support, for want of a better term, behind some of the commitments that are being made in this agenda.

VOGELSTEIN: So, a lot of work to do, but the glass is half full. Please, jump in.

GASS: If I might just jump in on this, because I think that so far the discussion could have been exactly the same, would have been exactly the same if we had just spoken of developing countries. And I think this, you know -- speaking on goal five and on gender equality, I think it's important to just realize that there is a universality that underpins this new agenda.

I'm just going to read two targets because not all of you have probably, you know, been working with this as much as Elizabeth and myself. Target 5.4, it says, "Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate."

And another one, 5.5, "Make sure woman's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life."

So just -- I mean, I just want to remind here, this is not just for developing countries. This is a new universal agenda, and it is universal in more ways than one, because when you see the strong commitment that says, you know, eliminate all forms of violence against women, and all forms of discrimination, this word "all" has universality all over it.

It is basically saying we want to leave no one behind. And that also challenges all of the countries in the world because it means that we can no longer hide behind averages. It means that we have to identify the most vulnerable groups ahead of time, before the exercise starts. We have to understand what are the threats, the risks that these, whether economic, social, environmental, the risks that these vulnerable groups face and how they can be mitigated.

You see, because, and I can quote the secretary-general in the report that he prepared at the beginning of the year, the so-called Synthesis Report that was kind of taking stock of the process of the previous two years, when he said, "We should not consider a goal or a target to be achieved unless it is achieved for all economic and social groups."

VOGELSTEIN: That universality point, on these issues in particular, notable in this 20th anniversary year of the Beijing Platform for Action, and that's a point very well taken when we think about the unfinished business on gender equality in every country in the world.

So I'd like to now open the discussion to questions. Please raise your placard and state your name and affiliation and we will get to as many questions as we can.


QUESTION: Thank you, Rachel. It's been a very illuminating discussion. Just two days ago we had heard Elizabeth at the U.N. Association annual meeting in Washington, firing up a group to try to go talk to members of Congress yesterday.

And I must say, we did the rounds yesterday, and talking to foreign-policy staff. If they weren't -- their member wasn't on the Foreign Affairs or Relations Committee, it's kind of, when this issue came up, it was like talking to a blank. And I wonder whether in other capitals that might still also be true, whether this is really U.N.-centric.

But I wanted to pick up on two things that Thomas had raised. One of the issues is, quote, "how private flows are invested in order to create decent jobs." And this leads me to the question: What has been the interest, the engagement of the business community, of the private sector, has it been in this whole process? Essentially defensive? We don't want to get stuck with any bills or any expectations? Or proactive?

What are the things in which American, European, perhaps other corporations -- parts of the corporate business sector, have had an interest, if any really in this? You look at Chinese state corporations' investments in Africa and you don't see too much social conscience there. So the private sector.

And the second -- Thomas, you had asked why there shouldn't be space at the U.N. to talk about taxes, tax harmonization and all that. An important issue, but I can think of at least one capital where there would be a very high allergy to such a discussion. What space do you see is there for space to talk about taxes? And what might be the roles (ph) on it in that field?

VOGELSTEIN: Private sector, taxes. Do you care to begin?

GASS: Yes, and then hopefully Elizabeth can complete. I mean, some of the questions, I think she would be better able to respond to.

I mean, I think that the agenda definitely needs more mainstreaming, and you heard from what I said that the drum roll is extremely important, you know, and that's why when I was asked to stand in for Amina (ph), I didn't hesitate a second.

I mean, we need to talk about this. It's really important that the people know why their leaders are coming to New York, not just that they discover it on CNN, but that they know ahead of time. Because that's where that expectation will be built. You see, it's not so -- I would argue it's not so important that every human being knows the whole of this agenda by heart. What is important is that the farmer who needs a road to the nearby town knows that the road is here, and that the on who needs -- and that the people who need toilets, that they know those toilets are there, and the health (inaudible), et cetera.

And it's the coming together of all these expectations that will build the energy. Previously that energy was mainly -- mainly between donors and recipient countries, so this is a big change.

The private sector, I would say it's been many champions of the private sector that have been involved in this through the Global Compact. The Global Compact has been very active. I mean, it's about 8,000 companies that have been supporting that.

I'm not sure that the full implications have yet been measured, especially of value chains and what value chains mean. I mean, you may now think -- in our thinking, we still tend to compartmentalize, you know, what happens in our own country versus what happens in the other countries, whether it's carbon, whether it's value chains, whether it's responsibility about decent jobs, we tend to kind of say, "OK, my responsibility ends at the border and then let's see what happens over there." So there is definitely more that needs to be done.

And space, I mean, there is a committee of experts on taxes, but it's a committee that is more -- that has more of a think-tank nature right now and is definitely a majority of member states that would like to have more of a policy discussion about taxes.

Now interestingly, within the OECD, the discussion about taxes and information sharing is broadening and is becoming much more inclusive of other countries. So I think the space is probably more there than it used to be. Also because countries that 15 years ago used to be extremely defensive of their corporations are now trying to get them to pay taxes as well.

VOGELSTEIN: Ambassador, can you weigh in?

COUSENS: Just a couple of thoughts, and I want to put in one plug for gender disaggregated data from the last round of discussions, that part of leaving no one behind is being able to count them. And it's really important to be thinking about that with respect to women and girls in particular.

Just on the business community, I think from our interactions with a lot of companies in a lot of different sectors, and we do quite a lot of work with the private sector, we don't see defensiveness at all. We see actually quite an appetite, but sometimes a question about how to plug into U.N. systems and processes. And I think there are definitely some mechanisms like the Global Compact. I think there are also ones that probably need to be created and invented, whether they are -- in my mind ideally they are problem-and-solution focused rather than generic. But I think there's a lot of scope and a lot of appetite.

I think it's also worth distinguishing between whether people know about the processes underway in New York and whether they care about sustainable development, because people might not talk about it in the same way, but if they are interested in resource use and environmental stewardship, if they are interested in a whole range of social issues related to their labor force, the communities they work in, et cetera, you are talking about a lot of the same things. And so I wouldn't get overly hung up on whether people know about 17 goals as much as if they care about the issues, and then figure out how to make some of those connections.

I'm not touching taxes. Sorry.


VOGELSTEIN: Fair enough.

Ellen, please.

QUESTION: I also want to thank you for not only the thoughtfulness of your remarks, but also the passion you bring to this work. Having said that, I want to ask you a little more granular questions, and particularly Elizabeth.

I think there's a lot of concern in this room for exactly who will constitute the U.S. delegations, both in Addis as well as in the fall. You're gone. I assume your successor will replace your role, but we all know that John Podesta was taking a lead role from the White House. Is there somebody there now, others from the State Department? Will there be NGO participation?

There seems to be a bit of a cloud over the U.S. participation. I mean, I shouldn't say "cloud," just kind of a fog is maybe the right image. So can you-- I don't know -- you're now not in the government, but you're a person we're asking.

And similarly, from the U.N. perspective or the European Union perspective, you know, this is located in the south. There's a tremendous effort to engage the G-77, but will that necessarily cause a withdrawal of leadership from the traditional or the classic, as you put it, donor countries? Dilute their sense of accountability and responsibility?

And, you know, everything in the end is politics and a little bit of policy, and are the politics overwhelming the good intentions and the thoughtfulness of this process that you have both been engaged in for the last two years?

VOGELSTEIN: A question about politics. I wonder if we could start with the U.S., Elizabeth?

COUSENS: Not the U.S. anymore, but I am in my person, but not in my role.

Just two thoughts. I mean, first on the politics point. I mean, I think one thing that's worth really reflecting on, and we all talk about it in various ways, is the distinction between the politics as they play out in New York and the political interests and disposition of capitals, and in capitals it's a wide variety of ministries, not just foreign ministries, and it's not just capitals, but cities and regions, et cetera.

So, you know, again, I see this year as the starting gun on a bunch of -- on all of these issues. And one where there is going to be continuing spade work needed on a whole lot of different levels, and opportunities, I think, for that. So that the more that capitals catch up to what is happening here in New York, and the more that they shape what is happening here in New York, I think that starts get pretty exciting pretty fast.

On the U.S. side, I mean, to my observation, there has been -- there has been, going back some time now, you mentioned John Podesta, who is an important part of it, but not the only part of it. A very strong U.S. commitment to getting a strong outcome out of the events of this year, particularly around the ability to mobilize global support to eradicate extreme poverty in a generation, which is something that President Obama talked about a couple of years ago.

To mobilize support around some of these strategic issues that we do know, again evidence-driven, are so impactful for development outcomes, starting with women's empowerment, including peace, including governance, including economic growth. Those have been long-standing U.S. priorities in general and in relation to development, and they remain so.

And so I think this a tremendous platform to mobilize support from a wide variety of countries and other stakeholders around some of those ideas. And I don't see that changing. I don't know details about the delegations, I'm afraid. I'll leave it at that.

VOGELSTEIN: Mr. Gass, donor country accountability and politics.

GASS: I mean, it's difficult to speak to that question right now because the negotiations are really at a very crucial point, and obviously, as those kind of negotiations usually are, countries tend to not, you know, say where the redlines are, their final intentions. So we definitely hope that, and that's for the secretary -- for the secretary-general, that this sense of responsibility for the world community, for the planet, but also for future generations will prevail.

This is a unique window of opportunity for the global community right now, to look beyond the diplomacy of emergencies, I think, as Angela Merkel called it just prior to the G-7 summit. So this has to be done. And it's really important that everyone, you know, gets out of the trenches, you know, that some of them are still there from 15 years ago, and realize that compromises need to be done and that new ground has to be covered, that this is a different world, as Elizabeth has been saying, and that there are windows of opportunities where with regard to, for example, the whole issue of inequality.

I mean, 15 years ago, inequality was the -- was like a specialist -- a word for specialists. I mean, you had the GINI index. Who knew what the GINI index was? And then you had the UNDP, U.N. (inaudible), maybe a few think tanks. But now everyone speaks about it.

I think the economic crisis showed us what that can mean also in an industrialized world -- inequality and how heavy that can be. And so there is the whole goal on inequality, on reducing inequality. So we hope that member states will really engage on that basis.

VOGELSTEIN: Question in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you. I am so happy to be here. I am Jimena Roesch (ph), and I was involved in the negotiations of the LPG (ph), so I'm happy to hear this story and sit back from here.

I think that in order to get this agenda moving, we will have to resolve the basic question in the charter, which is whether "we the peoples" and "we the states." I think the SDGs is a "we the peoples" kind of document. The only way that we will be able to launch and implement this agenda is if we move beyond the U.N. that is built only for member states, because it's an agenda that is too broad and too ambitious to even think that governments are able to do it alone.

And the SDGs process was by its nature a process that involved many, many voices beyond member states. So this forum -- the forums like this are very important because we need to socialize the SDGs and we need to really get people excited about the new agenda. So I thank you for this opportunity.

My only kind of other comment is that the three outcomes that we've been discussing have very different levels of maturity. The SDGs outcome, we had a lot of time to sit and talk and negotiate and refine, whereas the SSE (ph) outcome, we are only now starting to negotiate, and the outcome for climate change is a much more complex treaty that will only come into enforce in 2020. So we do need to manage certain expectations.

And whereas I do agree that the links are there and that we need to link them at the implementation level, linking them at the political or negotiation level carries certain concerns. So thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: So how do we think about these three processes when they are in such different stages of development, then when they are so linked?

COUSENS: I fully -- I agree completely with Jimena (ph) about the reasons -- ways in which the connections can be not fruitful, as well as ways in which they can be. I think to me they just are linked. It's not a question of there can be purpose that you make out of that, but I think in the politics, frankly, of each basket of issues there are a lot of commonalities.

And so I think you see -- I think you see a kind of chess game unfolding over the course of this year, to be very honest, which is, you know, which is partly driven by some of those kind of underlying concerns, interests and values. So I don't think we have a choice but to be aware of that. And then it's a question of finding the ways to create space for conversations that do need their own oxygen, as well as being mindful of where there are connections.


GASS: Well, I fully agree with what Elizabeth has just said. I think that -- I mean, climate change is one of the SDGs, is one of the goals, so there is a link. But then as you are aware, there will be the outcomes for the climate change are already there, are quite quantitative. I mean, and there is certainly an expectation by some countries that the outcomes of Addis would be just as ambitious, just as precise, as concrete.

And so it's not so much a question of comparing them, literally comparing them to each other, as to comparing the degree of ambition that is there between the two.

VOGELSTEIN: Why don't we take two questions, and then we will respond to both of them, so we'll make sure to get in as many as we can before we need to close.

Brad, can you go ahead and start?

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. It's nice to see everyone here. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your comments.

My question has to do around the issue of the universality of the goals, which I think is a real strength of the goals. But as I advocate in my role on global poverty, one of the issues that I come up against constantly when I speak to audiences in the United States is: Why should we be concerned about people there when we have such difficult issues here with global poverty and inequality?

And I wonder about the risk that this universality context will open up a door for the United States to become even more inward-focused on its own domestic poverty issues, as opposed to embracing the broader global agenda on fighting global poverty.

And I also, related to that, is the 0.7. I thought it was interesting when you drill down on the 0.7 that there is some parsing out of pieces of that 0.7. I'd be interested in understanding a little bit about some of the thinking of the sort of the certain percentages of that 0.7 going to various issues. Thank you.

VOGELSTEIN: Thank you for that question.

Marisa, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I'm Marisa Viana (ph). I'm with research -- in the (inaudible) section of (inaudible) Justice Alliance. And we are working with the women's major group at the U.N. doing advocacy specifically on women's human rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

We talked about the agenda overall -- the goals are there now, the targets. We also talked about the financing and how we are going to pay for this agenda. But the other piece which would be good to hear from you is on the indicators. How do we then measure all this ambitiousness both in the goals and the targets?

And specifically, as Mr. Gass had mentioned, those two targets on gender equality, and how do we make sure that those indicators exist and we develop them that are much more ambitious than what we currently have in terms of available data.

And I think there is a lot of discussions now. It's a long-term process, but it is one of our concerns of what is the type of accountability -- maybe not accountability, because there seems to be a bit of allergy around that. But in the followup and review, how do we make sure that we are not leaving one behind when we do an implementation at the national level?

VOGELSTEIN: See if we can fit in one more question here in the back, and then we'll go ahead and answer.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ramu Damodaran, from the United Nations Academic Impact. Thank you for a fascinating presentation.

I just wanted to anchor (ph) the fact that the MDGs, unlike the SDGs, were not sold as a separate package, but were part of the Millennium Declaration. And it's really thanks to the energy of organizations, many of which are represented in this room, that the MDGs took a life of their own and the other aspects of the Millennium Report were more or less relegated.

Now we have a situation where a number of states are concerned that the SDGs will overwhelm what they see as a necessary peace and security agenda. Already South Africa, on behalf of the G-77, and Nigeria on behalf of the African group have called for a high-level thematic (ph) debate on the first and second of October on peace and security.

So I wonder if that is a concern, whether in the specific isolation we have not endangered global commitment to the SDG cause?

VOGELSTEIN: So questions on universality, on indicators, peace and security.


COUSENS: These are big questions. In rapid order, so on universality, I think -- I think it's fair to look at that tension and to be aware of that potential risk of whether having domestic implications of this agenda distract from also looking at the international side. To me, there is more of value in the kind of unifying themes across countries around some of these issues than there is a risk, but I think it is certainly one worth being mindful of. And there are a lot of different dimensions of it that would be interesting to talk about further.

I think on indicators, and this is really more Thomas's world than mine, I would just say a few very quick things. I think it's very important to build on metrics we already have, rather than creating afresh. To me it's very important to leave open the possibility that we will need to -- that we don't always have the best metrics for some of the things in this agenda, and part of what this agenda will do will drive better metrics and better methodologies for tracking some of these issues.

And we have to create review and other mechanisms that create space, to learn as we go, to change indicators if we find that we need different ones, and not be overly locked into a set of initial indicators that people try to come to grips with quite quickly.

And then last, on -- I never thought I'd hear the fear that development might overwhelm security coming from developing countries at the United Nations. Usually it's always the opposite concern, that security trumps development. So I'm struggling with the irony in the question.

I don't see much of a risk. I think there we can walk and chew gum at the same time. There are a lot of issues on the international agenda. Every country represented here in New York is comfortable dealing with all of them, and so we need whatever opportunities we can craft to deal with the issues that we need to, which include certainly some of the governance and peace and security questions alongside development.

But I'd hate to see the oxygen taken away from the development issues when to me it's actually quite an achievement that we've got a summit dedicated singularly to those. Thanks.

VOGELSTEIN: Mr. Gass, you have the final word. Your thoughts?

GASS: Thank you. And on the concerns of domestic agenda versus the international, I think it is very important that the political leadership takes this on as well. And organizations such as this Council has an important role to play. I mean, this agenda speaks to the interconnectedness, and as Jimena (ph) said, to the fact that this is about we the people, and that whether it's goods, whether it's people, whether it's problems, they tend -- but also opportunities tend to go across borders.

And so when countries are trying to strike deals with each other or between regions, you know, for trade, this is a recognition of that same interconnectedness. So we need to use that agenda for this.

The use of ODA is a debate that is going on. I mean, there's a certain concern that the least-developed countries, those that most need a public support to tackle their poverty, and in which the proportion of ODA represents the most significant part of their budgets, that those are receiving reducing proportions of the existing ODA cake. So that is one part of the concern.

The other concern is, of course, one of definitions, and I already mentioned the fact that some developing countries would like to have a more equal partner discussion about what these definitions are.

And regarding indicators, I agree that we need to build on existing indicators, but we have many more possibilities, and especially if we use what I like to call existing or new intergovernmental thematic platforms, and I'm thinking of the Commission on the Status of Women, et cetera. These platforms can use that which the high-level political forum might not be able to use.

I mean obviously, at the apex of this (inaudible), I mean, we'll probably be relying on formal indicators that are now being discussed by the Commission of Statistics, et cetera. But these platforms that have to bring the energy up, but also especially help with the implementation, they can use soft data, they can use big data, they can intergovernmentalize that in a way which I think we are not yet estimating how much they can do.

And then I think you alluded to the point of building capacity. This is crucial. We can't solve everything with technology. Just because everyone has a cell phone doesn't mean that our statistics are in a good way. We need statistics offices in every country that are really capable of going to the last village and to understand what is happening there.

And finally, on the issue of the peace and security agenda being crowded out by sustainable development goals, I have a little bit the same sentiment. Finally -- finally we are getting at the root causes because I really believe that in this new agenda, we are touching on some of the root causes. Of course not maybe in a way which the Security Council would deal with it, but perhaps that's also how it should be, you know. In a way where that proposes, as we said, maybe a basis for a new social contract between people and their governments.

VOGELSTEIN: Well, there is clearly much more to be decided between now and July and September and beyond, but there is no doubt that the conversation today has enlightened all of us as to what we might expect. So our gratitude to Ambassador Cousens and Mr. Gass for joining us.


And thanks again to ExxonMobil for facilitating this discussion today.

Thank you all so much. Good afternoon.

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