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Sustainable Development Goals: 'Focus Areas' Require Commitments for a New Global Partnership

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  • Mar 4, 2014

John Romano, Global Fellow, International Program, New York City

Despite the return of the chilling polar vortex this week, things have begun to heat up at United Nations Headquarters in New York as a critical UN process on global Sustainable Development Goals continues to unfold.

The UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (OWG) – the intergovernmental body tasked with putting forward recommendations for a universal set of global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the expiring Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015 – has just concluded the first stocktaking phase of its work, with the group convening eight consultative sessions in the past year. Last week, the group’s co-chairs – Ambassador Csaba Kőrösi of Hungary and Ambassador Macharia Kamau of Kenya – released two documents to the group: One stocktaking report that summarizes the various discussions from the OWG to date, and another with so-called “focus areas” tagged by the co-chairs as having particular significance in the discussions from the OWG thus far.

Over the past year, discussions in the Open Working Group have focused largely on specific issues, such as energy, poverty eradication, water, health, oceans, forests and many others.  There has been relatively less attention paid to the implementation architecture for these goals.

Open Working Group Co-ChairsThe “focus areas” document provides a foundation for building consensus on the contents of a report the OWG is tasked with submitting to the UN General Assembly in September. This final report from the OWG will include recommendations for a full suite of goals that can then be worked into the final set of SDGs that will be adopted in 2015. Member States resume their deliberations in the second phase of the OWG next week, with discussions centering around the two stocktaking documents circulated by the co-chairs. While it is clear from these documents that UN has a long way to go to find consensus on a comprehensive yet concise set of SDGs, we were encouraged by language on multi-stakeholder initiatives and partnerships, climate change, and cities.

Highlighting the critical role that a “New Global Partnership” will play in the SDGs, the focus areas document asserts that a “global partnership for development has been emphasized as key to unlocking the full potential of sustainable development initiatives.” Unfortunately, both documents reflect the lack of consensus in offering a clear outline or definition for this concept of a “New Global Partnership.” We support the view of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel which called for a “New Global Partnership” which harnesses the full potential of partnerships between governments at all levels, businesses, civil society, and a wide range of other stakeholders and moving beyond but complementing the traditional approaches to action, such as Official Development Assistance (ODA) and foreign aid.

What was also encouraging was the emphasis on the need for a system of regular monitoring and reporting for these initiatives and partnerships, which is now insufficient as it stands.  Finally, the focus areas document highlights the need for improved coordination around these multi-stakeholder initiatives and partnerships, particularly between governments and the work of the UN.

The focus areas document also affirms that “climate change poses a grave threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication.” While there is little consensus amongst countries on how to integrate the issue of climate change into the SDGs, the focus areas document highlights the interlinkages between climate change and nearly every other issue, only highlighting the criticality of addressing the cross-cutting issue of climate change in this agenda. As the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel report reminds us, “Above all, there is one trend – climate change – which will determine whether or not we can deliver on our ambitions.”

Reflecting the extensive and stimulating discussions in the OWG on the topic of sustainable cities, the focus areas document underscores the importance of incorporating an urban element into the SDGs, saying that “sustainable cities and settlements, including settlements of indigenous communities, will be central in addressing socio-economic and environmental challenges and in building resilient societies.” We will very likely fall short of achieving our overall aspirations for these SDGs if special attention is not given to cities, where over sixty percent of the world’s population will live by 2030 – and particularly in the developing world, which is expected to represent over 80 percent of the world’s urban population by 2030.

Over the upcoming critical months ahead, NRDC will continue to advocate for a New Global Partnership that includes all stakeholders to drive the transformative change that is so desperately needed. What has been made clear is that these SDGs – and their supporting architecture – must reinvigorate commitments and political will from world leaders to fight climate change and promote sustainable development, and it must mobilize billions of people worldwide to contribute to a sustainable future.


Click here for NRDC’s proposal for a “New Architecture for a New Global Partnership” that will be critical to delivering the transformative actions, accountability and change that the SDGs hope to catalyze for a sustainable future.

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Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 5, 2014

It’s hard to take such efforts seriously when the “Focus Areas” document lists “climate” as topic #15 and “energy” as #7. Worse, the energy topic includes subsidies for renewable energies, and nuclear energy is not ever mentioned, although it is critical to stopping CO2 emssions from developing nations as they burn ever more fossil fuel. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Mar 5, 2014

Khalil, I’m interested in the question of urbanization and its role in per capita carbon emissions.

A recent study which concludes that large cities are less green than smaller ones in the U.S. is contradicted by state emissions data, which shows per capita carbon contributions demonstrating a clear inverse correlation with population density (the state of Wyoming’s P.C. emissions are twenty times those of the District of Columbia).

There are many factors at work here, including the fact that sparsely-populated areas benefit from the productivity of large cities in innumerable ways. From an emissions standpoint, do you believe it’s possible to live and work more frugally together than apart?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 6, 2014



– the fast growing installation rate of renewable (mainly wind+solar), last year >100GW, hence the fast growing share of renewable in the worlds electricity production; and

– the decline of nuclear; once it produced 17% of the worlds electricity now <10%, even the volume of produced electricitiy going down last years because the installation rate of new nuclear is less than the closure rate;

– that each MWh electricity produced by nuclear, adds ~3MWh of warming to earth; while
each MWh produced by wind or solar do not add any such warming.

So I really do not see that nuclear is critical for stopping the warming of the earth (opposite), neither that it has the capability to expand fast enough to have any subtantial contribution to minimize CO2 while renewable clearly has that capability.

Especially since new nuclear is now far more expensive than solar+wind+storage; and
Hence the decline of nuclear.
Even in China the production volume of wind alone surpassed nuclear…

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Mar 6, 2014
Bas Gresnight,

The fastest growing share of world electricity production is fossil fuels. Nuclear has not kept up.

All thermal power plants, including coal, concentrated solar, nuclear, geothermal, etc convert thermal energy to electricity with heat engines requiring cooling, but the direct heating is tiny compared to the heating from fossil-fuel CO2 trapping infrared radiation.

Nuclear power can expand rapidly if permitted. France essentitally decarbonized its electricity supply this way in a decade.

Nuclear energy is less expensive than unsubsidized wind or solar. Even the super-costly Finnish Okiluto nuclear power plant will produce kilowatt-hours of electricity at 1/3 the cost of Germany’s solar panels.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 7, 2014

Costs of new nuclear compared to wind+solar+storage
Study the costs of
the new nuclear plant at Hinckley, UK, as:
– those are well published by a.o. The Guardian; and
– it concerns the fifth EPR (after Finland, France and 2x China). So no longer new.

That NPP can only be built because it is for ~70% subsidized by tax- and rate-payers:
UK government takes main part of costs and risks of decommissioning the new NPP;
– UK government takes major share of the cost of the radio-active waste as well as all risks;
– The costs of the loan guarantees (insurance premium; invisible until it goes wrong) are also paid by the tax-payer. Chance that things go wrong is substantial as estimated by the banks, which add ~8% more interest as insurance premium, and shown by history.
That is again a subsidy of ~€1billion/year.

These subsidies imply that the real costs of the new NPP are ~€50/MWh more than the strike price which is based on 2012 prices and inflation corrected.
With 2% inflation the strike price will be €117/MWh at the start of the NPP in 2023 and £161/MWh in 2040 halfway the 35 year guarantee period.

So with the subsidies added, the real costs are ~167/MWh in 2023, going upn towards ~€211/MWh in 2040.


The Germans are far better/cheaper off with their Energiewende:
 – FiT solar in Germany in 2023 will be ~€46/MWh.
 – FiT wind in 2023 ~€66/MWh.

Cost of storage and grid expansion; German scenario studies, estimate ~€12/MWh.

That delivers in 2023 an average price of €68/MWh, with downwards trend.

Less than half that of nuclear Hinckley in UK!  

Joris van Dorp's picture
Joris van Dorp on Mar 7, 2014

Cost of storage and grid expansion; German scenario studies, estimate ~€12/MWh.”

Keep dreaming. If you would have written €120/MWh instead of €12, then there MIGHT be some truth to your story. As it is, your story is simple fantasy. And you know it. You have been shown the evidence many times.

Oh, and your figures on the costs of nuclear are complete nonsense. Here are the actual facts: nuclear cost less than €50/MWh:

Bas Gresnigt, since you have been caught over and over again – for years – posting falsehoods on internet forums – attacking nuclear power – I hereby note (again) that you are a baldfaced liar. I must do so, because IMHO people like you pose a grave threat to humanity and my children which I cannot allow, as I have told you many times.

Have a good day.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 7, 2014

…nuclear cost less than €50/MW…
Only if you do not include:
 – the many subsidies that (also old) nuclear get, such as waste and accident liability limitations, etc.
 – and consider old written down nuclear plants, that are extra dangerous (which risk premium is taken by citizens and government, as those have to pay in case of disaster)!

New nuclear is clearly at least 3 times more expensive as shown in UK regarding the new plant. Read the papers: some remarks in the papers, Some regarding liability

If … €120/MWh instead of €12, then there MIGHT be some truth …
That is not my figure but the revised (lowered) conclusion of the responsible German institutes, who condidered pumped storage as well as the fast declining costs of batteries.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Mar 7, 2014

The old nuclear power plants that France built in that period are now unacceptable as those are clearly very dangerous.
For example; a pilot with a 200ton plane (e.g. airliner or freight plane) that flies against the reactor dome, is enough to develop a Fukushima like disaster.

And citizens / tax-payers have to pay for the huge damage. If e.g. the plant in the Rhone valley is hit when there is a mistral (wind that goes north through the valley to Lyon), than the damage will easily surpass a trillion euro (as million city Lyon will be evacuated for xx years)…

The improved security nuclear power plant of France (EPR) is extremely expensive as the agreement to build one in UK shows.
At least 3 times more expensive than wind+solar+storage.
Note that even the EPR can only withstand a 16 ton unarmed F-16 fighter plane.
Areva/EDF explicitly refused any statement regarding bigger planes.
So one may assume that their simulation studies with bigger planes showed bad results, despite the strongly armed double dome that should protect the reactor…

Furthermore building one takes at least 10 years as shown in Finland, France and the planning of the UK plant. .

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