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Breaking the mold: A new type of multilateral sustainable development negotiation

Chasek, P.S., & Wagner, L.M.


Foundational text

Participants in the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were reminded time and again that there is no model for the process to develop the SDGs. They resolved to not repeat the closed process used to develop the Millennium Development Goals, but the OWG began work when failures to reach consensus and fatigue with multilateral environmental negotiations dominated delegates’ minds, rather than examples of successfully negotiated outcomes. The OWG Co-Chairs were faced with the daunting task of guiding delegates’ efforts to develop a proposed set of crisp SDGs and targets that all could agree to, and thus, had to accomplish the following goals: (1) reduce delegation rigidity, both of individual Member States and within coalitions; (2) maximize the sense of participation, transparency, and ownership to get the most buy-in at the end; and (3) develop a sense of trust that would change the relationship between Member States. To do this, the OWG Co-Chairs broke the mold of UN multilateral negotiations that Member States and observers had become familiar with and created a different approach. This article examines how the OWG accomplished these goals and overcame the shortcomings of other multilateral negotiating processes on sustainable development to produce a widely supported consensus outcome at a time when governments have struggled to achieve agreement in many multilateral negotiation tracks.

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