The Breakthrough Secret to Negotiating the SDGs

Representatives from the almost 200 member countries of the United Nations successfully concluded their negotiations on the new set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at a time when global governance has been struggling to find cooperative outcomes. Innovations to the negotiation process that were evident during the development of the SDGs would be inconceivable in traditional multilateral negotiations, and are worth analyzing for future global negotiations. The debate over the sustainable-consumption and production goal (SDG 12) offers a window into the divisions between countries from the global North and South, and the difficulty in reaching agreement for collective action among all the states in the United Nations.

Sustainable consumption and production (SCP) has been defined as “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of further generations.” In 2002, the 10-year review of the 1992 Earth Summit (called the World Summit on Sustainable Development) recognized SCP as one of three overarching objectives and requirements for achieving sustainable development. The other two objectives were poverty eradication and the management of natural resources in a manner that fosters economic and social development. SCP is therefore at the heart of the challenges that the global community is seeking to address through the SDGs, but intergovernmental cooperation on this issue has been slow to take shape.

Negotiators of Agenda 21, one of the agreements reached at the 1992 Earth Summit, identified the dilemma inherent in the SCP debate as follows: “Although consumption patterns are very high in certain parts of the world, the basic consumer —> Read More