Academic journal article Global Governance

Citizen Participation in the UN Sustainable Development Goals Consultation Process: Toward Global Democratic Governance?

Academic journal article Global Governance

Citizen Participation in the UN Sustainable Development Goals Consultation Process: Toward Global Democratic Governance?

Article excerpt

In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda, a transformative plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity containing seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. To inform and animate the negotiations, the UN launched an ambitious series of consultations, involving inter alia governments, civil society, business, knowledge-based institutions, and citizens. This article contributes to the debate on democracy and global governance, drawing on democratic theory and the lessons of the elite donor-driven process that led to the Millennium Development Goals. It argues that, in the age of globalization, citizen participation is vital for the effectiveness and legitimacy of global governance. It then assesses the nature and extent of such participation in three UN 2030 Agenda consultation channels: the High-Level Panel, the national consultations, and the MY World citizen survey. The latter, in particular, exceeded the expectations of stakeholder democracy and ventured into a more direct participatory realm. The article concludes that the 2030 Agenda process has opened new paths toward the establishment of global democratic governance, though we remain far from the ideal participatory democracy many would prefer to see. Keywords: participatory democracy, UN 2030 Agenda, Sustainable Development Goals, stakeholder consultation, citizen participation, civil society organizations, human rights.

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While the post-2015 agenda should and will be determined by governments, people across the world are demanding a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

--Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General (1)

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of eight global development targets that grew out of the UN Millennium Declaration (2000), were an ambitious expression of international solidarity and crystalized an emerging consensus on ending poverty as the principal objective of development cooperation. Yet only some of the goals had been met by the target date of 2015, and an estimated 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. In light of these challenges, in 2010 the UN General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to initiate thinking on a post-2015 development agenda. The 2012 Rio+20 environment summit then launched an intergovernmental process to prepare a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), encompassing the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of development. In September 2013, the General Assembly decided that these processes should merge. Finally, following lengthy intergovernmental negotiations, the General Assembly unanimously adopted the SDGs as part of a 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda at a historic summit in September 2015.

To inform the negotiations, the UN launched an ambitious series of consultations, involving inter alia governments, civil society, business, knowledge-based institutions, and citizens from around the world. We take these consultations as an important test case for the emergence of more participatory and democratic forms of global governance, integrating stakeholder democracy (2) and outreach to citizens. (3) We aim to contribute to the debate on democracy and global governance by assessing the quality of the UN consultations and the extent of outreach to citizens, both directly and through civil society organizations (CSOs). In contrast, the degree to which citizen and CSO voices have been reflected in the post-2030 Agenda--while certainly worthy of research--is not addressed here.

We proceed as follows. First, we introduce some of the main parameters of the debate on democracy and global governance. Next, we argue that participatory democracy is vital for the effectiveness and legitimacy of global governance, drawing inter alia on emerging democratic theory and the lessons of the elitist donor-driven process that led to the MDGs. Then, we assess three of the main 2030 Agenda consultation channels: the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel, the UN-led national consultations, and the MY World citizen survey. …

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