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Poverty & SDGs

Civil Society has Vital Role to Play in Post-2015 Development Agenda

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2015 (IPS) - “The action of the private sector can make or break the post-2015 development agenda,” Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said in his opening remarks at a side event hosted in the context of a high-level political forum at the U.N. on Tuesday.

The event entitled “Involving civil society in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda” was organised by the European Economic and Social Committee, the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations and the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs.

It brought together EU and U.N. officials, civil society stakeholders and business as well as trade union representatives to discuss the impact of civil society in sustainable development policies and deliberate on measures to promote further active involvement of civil society.

As emphasised throughout the event, “organised civil society” has a key role to play in realising the post-2015 development agenda.

The term “organised civil society” refers to all the groups and organisations that are independent from government and in which citizens come together to work cooperatively to advance their common interests.

Panelists made clear that after having contributed to a large extent to the conceptualisation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scheduled to be adopted in September 2015, the further role of civil society is to engage in the implementation process and take part in review and monitoring procedures.

Vella also pointed to the impact businesses can make through concepts such as social responsibility and green economy in improving resource-efficiency, providing funding for infrastructure and protecting biodiversity.

According to him, customers too have an essential role to play by “making informed decisions about their lifestyle and the products that they choose”. These actions are complemented by trade unions’ and NGO’s advocacy for social protection, fair working conditions and sustainable development, while civil society in large has an important function in “holding us accountable”.

UNEP Deputy Executive Director Ibrahim Thiaw drew particular attention to the fact that in many parts of the world, governments are lacking expertise and knowledge to successfully implement the SDG’s. By providing advocacy, science and knowledge, civil society organisations could make an important difference.

“While civil society organisations have no policy-making authority and authority to make decisions at the national level, they have a very important role in providing science and advocating for integrating science in policy-making,” he said.

Presenting the findings of a recent survey on mechanisms of engagement with key stakeholders, CIVICUS U.N. representative Jeffery Huffines raised awareness about the need for member states and the U.N. to provide financial support for stakeholders from marginalized communities to participate in relevant meetings, continue to develop online video streaming to allow for remote participation, improve coordination between relevant stakeholders and reassess current mechanisms of engagement to make sure they are representative of all stakeholders and not dominated by large organisations from the global North.

At the ensuing debate session, scepticism was expressed about the willingness of businesses to forgo short-term profit “in order for the planet to be saved”. But panelists showed optimism that the business community is increasingly accepting and implementing sustainability as customers expect it and governments require it.

According to Norine Kennedy, Vice President for Environmental Affairs at the U.S. Council for International Business, more sustainable, less wasteful and more efficient economic activities will also prove more competitive. Responsible businesses will “not be a utopia but actually the world of the future,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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