Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

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The eighth session of the United Nations’ (UN) Open Working Group (OWG) took place at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York from 3 February to  7 February 2014 . OWG is one of the main outcomes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, and member states agreed to launch a process to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) (UN, 2014). The OWG was formally established on 22nd of January 2013 by decision 67/555 of the General Assembly, and a 30-member OWG of the General Assembly is tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs to bring about coherence and integration sustainable development programs in the post-2015 development agenda (UN, 2014).

During OWG’s eighth session, the assembly considered policy briefings and recommendations from development experts , scientists, civil society organizations (CSOs) leaders, educators and development practitioners. Among these are the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) policy briefing on oceans and seas.

To read more on UN-NGLS policy briefs to the OWG click here

The Eighth session of the OWG on Sustainable Development Goals will deal with the following topics:

  • Oceans and seas, forests, biodiversity

  • Promoting equality, including social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment

  • Conflict prevention, post-conflict peacebuilding and the promotion of durable peace, rule of law and governance

To read and download statements and presentations on the 8th session of the OWG on sustainable development, click here

The following are few summaries of the past seven OWG sessions (Adopted from OWG Co-Chairs Summary)

First OWG Session (14 March 2013 – 14 March 2013)

  • Member States’  responses  to  questions  on  priority  areas  and  underpinning  principles;  balancing  the economic, social  and environmental dimensions of sustainable development; applying  global, universally applicable goals at the country level; and incorporating existing goals and targets into the SDGs while ensuring coherence with the post 2015 development agenda.

  • Members agreed that discussions  must  be  open, transparent and inclusive, and that civil society, the private sector, and other groups have much to  contribute.

  • Sustainability venn diagram

    Many statements reaffirmed the criteria for SDGs mandated by the Rio+20 outcome: that the SDGs should be coherent with and integrated into the UN post-2015 development agenda and harmonize with efforts to achieve the MDGs without diverting attention or resources for their achievement.

Second OWG Session (17 Apr 2013 – 19 Apr 2013)

  • Members agreed that the MDGs are the point of departure for their work to develop SDGs, and completion of the unfinished business of the MDGs on poverty eradication and other important social objectives must figure centrally in the post-2015 agenda, and SDGs must be universal and applicable to all countries, which means that they must be flexible  enough  to  have  ownership  of  countries  at  different  levels  of  development  and with different national priorities

  • SDGs  will  need  strong  bottom-up  engagement  through  broad  consultation  in  their formulation. The voices of the poor and vulnerable need to be heard.

  • It  was  suggested  that  in  a  sustainable  development context , poverty  eradication  can  be seen in relation to the three dimensions – in terms of access to essential social goods and services  (health,  education,  water  and  sanitation),access  to economic  opportunities  and productive assets, and access to natural assets, or resources, and their benefits.

Session 3 (22 May 2013 – 24 May 2013) : Food security and nutrition; sustainable agriculture; desertification, land degradation, and drought, and Water and Sanitation

  • Recognition of need for a holistic approach to the close interdependency among food, land and water,as well as between these and others not yet discussed,, health, biodiversity and climate change.

  • Smallholders,  including  importantly  women  farmers, pastoralists  and  indigenous  peoples,  deserve particular focus when crafting agricultural policies; access to land and credit need attention

  • Addressing  the  drivers  of  land  degradation,  including  unsustainable  agricultural  and  livestock management  practices  as  well  as  mining  and  industrial  pollution,  yields  multiple  benefits

  • Universal access would greatly reduce the burden of disease in many developing countries, especially in reducing child mortality. Need to attain universal coverage of safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in an ambitious timeframe.

Session 4 ( 17 Jun  2013 – 19 Jun 2013 ) : Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture

  • Reminded of the universality of the post-2015 agenda and the SDGs.  Some lessons from the MDGs –equitable access to services and going beyond aggregate measures Access is not enough – quality must also be addressed

  • Decent and productive work is the most direct route out of poverty, based on robust, inclusive, job-creating growth. Enterprises and entrepreneurs are principal job creators. Unemployment, especially among youth, is a serious problem. A goal or targets related to jobs would need to address the situation of the working poor as well as the unemployed

Health, Population Dynamics

  • Reference was made to universal health coverage; equitable access to quality basic health services; health  promotion,  prevention,  treatment,  and  financial  risk  protection.  Health  MDGs  could  be integrated as targets under an overarching universal health goal.

  • The discussions highlighted the importance of equal access of women and girls to health-care services, including addressing women’s sexual and reproductive health, and ensuring universal access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable modern methods of family planning.

Session Five (25 Nov 2013 – 27 Nov 2013 ) : Sustained and inclusive economic growth, macroeconomic policy questions (including international trade, international financial system and external debt sustainability), infrastructure development and industrialization

  • Economic growth is a prerequisite for poverty eradication, which remains our overriding priority, and growth needs to be inclusive, sustained and sustainable, and cognizant of the need to promote harmony with nature. Reducing inequalities within and between countries facilitates the goals of poverty eradication and shared prosperity.

  • Many countries particularly in Africa highlighted the need for economic diversification, moving from reliance on primary commodity exports to value addition. For this, productive capacities and technological capabilities need to be strengthened. Small- and medium enterprises (SMEs) are engines for job creation, requiring  better integration into national and global value chains.

  • Sound domestic macroeconomic policies are essential for sustained, inclusive and sustainable growth and development. They need to be supported by means of implementation, including a global partnership, as well as an enabling international environment.

  • Trade is a growth driver and, in this regard, an open, fair, rule-based, predictable, and non-discriminatory trading system needs to be maintained and enhanced.

  • Access to safe, affordable and reliable energy is a prerequisite for growth and poverty eradication.  Universal access to modern energy services enjoys broad support as target,including electricity and clean cooking fuels where benefits accrue especially to women and children.

Session Six (9 Dec 2013 -13 Dec 2013) : Means of implementation

  • Means of implementation are crucial for the achievement of sustainable development. Science, technology and innovation are drivers of social and economic development and have potential to be a game changer for all countries’ efforts to achieve sustainable development.

  • A strengthened and more Global Partnership is required for the implementation of the SDGs, and the partnership should be equitable, inclusive, with mutual accountability and a fair sharing of responsibilities.

  • The SDGs should address key vulnerabilities and build resilience, in order to promote inclusive and sustained growth in countries in special situations, benefiting women and vulnerable groups.

  • Good governance at all levels based on human rights,rule of law, democracy, access to justice and to information, transparency and accountability, and peace and security is a prerequisite for sustainable development.

Session Seven (6 Jan 2014 – 10 Jan 2014) : Sustainable cities and human settlements sustainable transport/Sustainable consumption and production (including chemicals and waste)/Climate change and disaster risk reduction

  • The world is rapidly urbanizing, and so cities are where “the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost”. Addressing the needs of the urban poor in informal settlements and slums is crucial for poverty eradication.

  • Climate change poses a threat to sustainable development, putting at risk development gains and, among other things, threatening food security, intensifying water scarcity and flooding as well as worsening sea – level rise. The poorest are most at risk from disasters and disasters intensify poverty.

For detailed summaries of the OWG  Co-Chairs , click here.


United Nations Sustainable Development Platform. (2014). Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. Retrieved on February 6, 2014 from