Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 9 July 2015
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade
Sustainable Development Goals and Ireland's 60th Year of UN Membership: Discussion
The permanent representative from Ireland to the United Nations, Mr. David Donoghue, is familiar to the committee. We all know him well from his previous role with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It is great to have him in attendance in his role as ambassador to the UN. I extend a warm welcome to Mr. Donoghue.
Today's meeting is timely. Ireland's permanent representative only flew in from New York this morning and is travelling on to Addis Ababa to the first of three meetings this year regarding sustainable development goals. The first meeting will relate to financing. The joint committee is aware of the role that the permanent representative has in co-facilitating the international negotiations of the global development framework in 2015 along with his colleague from Kenya. We congratulate Mr. Donoghue on his prestigious appointment by Mr. Ban Ki-moon. It is an important role in the preparation of the global development framework.
Under the format of today's meeting, we will receive an opening statement from Mr. Donoghue. As usual, we will then have a questions and answers session with members. Before beginning, I remind members, witnesses and those in the public gallery to ensure that their mobile telephones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting, as they cause interference with the recording equipment in the committee room even while on silent mode. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person or body outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
By virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the Chairman to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
We are delighted to have Mr. Donoghue here while he is en routeto Addis Ababa and an important conference that will define the future of the developing world. I invite him to make his opening statement.
H.E. Mr. David Donoghue:
I am delighted to be present and thank the committee for its invitation. As the Chairman mentioned, we are meeting at an important moment that sees three major conferences taking place before the end of the year. The Addis Ababa conference is first and is specifically on financing for development, followed by the New York summit in September that will announce the new sustainable development goals and targets and the climate change Conference of the Parties, COP 21, in Paris in December that we all hope will produce a new, legally binding and universal climate agreement. People speak about 2015 as being a momentous year for sustainable development in all of its forms. We hope that, by the end of the year, each of the three conferences will have been a success. One can genuinely say that the world will be a different place if we can get these agreements in situ, but there are several large "ifs" that I will touch on in my statement and in discussion with members.
I will first address the particular task that Ireland has been asked to take on, namely, co-facilitating or co-chairing the post-2015 development agenda negotiations. I am happy to discuss the prospects for Addis Ababa, but I have no specific responsibility for that. I am broadly aware of what is happening and know the importance of the conference for my work. Strictly speaking, though, the Addis Ababa co-facilitators are Norway and Guyana. I do not envy them. My Kenyan colleague and I are working closely with them, but I do not speak with any particular authority about the Addis Ababa track.
It is a great honour for Ireland to have been chosen to perform one of the two co-facilitation roles for the finalisation of the post-2015 development agenda. One can speculate as to why we were approached but, to one degree or another, it reflects the esteem in which Ireland is held at the UN as an honest broker and sensitive mediator between the global north and global south on many issues. We are known for an independent-mindedness. It also reflects the specific reputation that the Irish Aid programme has had for many years. This inspires confidence on the part of many developing countries in our impartiality and fairness vis-à-vistheir interests.
The structure of the negotiations is such that we have had approximately six months of monthly sessions. We are now approaching the final stretch and my Kenyan colleague and I are determined to complete the negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda by 31 July with a view to the summit in September. The Addis Ababa conference is an important event that will happen between now and the end of July. It is one that, if it goes well, will be a positive factor in the completion of our own work. If it goes badly or there is a sense of frustration or stalemate on the part of any group of countries, that could affect the atmosphere around the conclusion of our work. For the moment, though, I am thinking positively. Within our post-2015 negotiations, the mood has been positive and constructive in recent months. There have been some difficulties in negotiating the Addis Ababa outcome document. I am happy to discuss them, but I hope that they are of a temporary nature and that, by this time next week, we will have clarity about the outcome. There is a certain amount of concern about Addis Ababa because the negotiation of that document has been so protracted and, as of now, is not yet complete.
Members have held valuable discussions on this topic, so they will be aware of what the sustainable development agenda seeks to do. In essence, where the millennium development goals, MDGs, were only eight in number and focused on traditional development priorities, for example, health and education, the sustainable development goals are new in at least three respects. First, they will cover a vast range of policy areas because they reflected the so-called three dimensions of sustainable development, those being, economic, social and environmental. We are no longer dealing purely with poverty eradication. We are now dealing with poverty eradication, saving the planet - environmental protection - and the creation of conditions for sustained economic growth around the world. If I am not straining the metaphor, this is like three sides of the same coin. The view is that, for example, one cannot tackle poverty in a sustainable way without factoring in the other two dimensions. A vast and highly ambitious agenda, it is considerably larger than the MDGs. This is a key difference.
Another key difference is that whereas the millennium development goals were not negotiated in a strict sense, they were just promulgated, these sustainable development goals are to be owned by all the countries concerned, the 193 member states, and they are, therefore, to be negotiated. There was an earlier negotiation phase called the Open Working Group, which completed its work a year ago, and that phase reached agreement on a set of 17 goals and 169 targets but that was a relatively limited group of countries. The negotiations, which I am co-facilitating, involve seeking the approval of each of the 193 member states of the UN for the goals and targets and finalising them in various other ways and also providing details about how we will implement the goals, both the financial and non-financial means, and monitor progress. It is a framework we are trying to put in place based on a proposal which already exists for 17 goals and 169 targets. The targets can be understood as subsidiary goals in individual areas. This is a very ambitious project.
The third key difference is that this agenda will be universal and that means literally that every country in the world will agree to take up these commitments. They are only political commitments, they are not legally binding, but every country in the world would be endorsing the same agenda. This is in an effort to get away from the traditional north-south divide whereby development was seen purely as a priority for developing countries, now the intention is to have a universal agenda covering all the areas I mentioned which will help every country. Obviously, some countries are further along the spectrum of development than others but no country in the world, however well developed, could say that it has achieved all or any of the goals to 100%. To one degree or another, there is room to be make up in every country in the world. We emphasise very much that this is a collective agenda and it spans these three areas.
Ireland has been closely involved in this particular project for the past few years. In September 2013 we co-facilitated a special summit which reviewed the millennium development goals and how they had performed. On the whole they have performed well in some areas and less well in others but that summit took stock of where the world had got to in terms of the millennium development goals. Ireland and South Africa co-facilitated that summit, and I pay tribute to my predecessor Ambassador Anne Anderson who played a key role there. We have also been involved in the Open Working Group phase, as one of the smaller number of countries. We also had a key role during the EU Presidency a few years ago when Ireland at ministerial and official level brokered agreement within the EU on how the EU should approach these negotiations.
I am not sticking closely to my prepared script. I will not exceed the time the Chairman has set me-----
H.E. Mr. David Donoghue:
-----but I will try to give the members a general sense of what we are at.
The particular document which my Kenyan colleague and I are negotiating among the 193 member states of the UN will begin with a declaration. This is intended to be a concise but visionary and uplifting declaration by the Heads of the State and Government, who will meet in New York in September, of their political will and political commitment to the new agenda. It is meant to be something on the lines of millennium declaration, a call to action, and that is an important part of our work.
On the goals and targets, my guess at this stage is that 17 will be the final number. From time to time, one or two countries have suggested that the figure of 17 could be reduced but the overwhelming view among developed and developing countries alike was that it would be extremely risky to try to condense or amalgamate goals that had been agreed in the earlier phase because somewhere along the line somebody's key interest would be damaged. It was considered much safer all round to leave the figure at 17 but to work instead on a communications strategy which would try to bring into focus what these goals are about for ordinary people around the world. One can imagine that even the idea of summarising or crystallising the key points of the agenda is highly contested by some member states or groups because they fear that substance of importance to them will be lost in the process. They are almost against any attempt to summarise. However, my colleague and I have put forward a draft declaration which tries to distil the essence of the agenda, and we are making some progress.
The targets are a tricky matter. The figure of 169 targets sounds rather formidable but it means an average of, say, seven or eight per goal. The targets will remain at 169 but a number of them could be improved technically because, in one or other respect, they are deficient. Even that is a contentious exercise. Many countries fear that so-called technical improvement would lead to substantive loss of substance, but I believe we will have some slight improvements.
The issue of implementation is crucial. What arrangements should we have at the global, regional and national levels to enable countries to demonstrate that they are taking this agenda seriously and that they are working within their own powers to implement it? It is accepted that there will be some monitoring and review at the global level. Members might think that is fairly obvious but for many developing countries, there is a concern that they will not have enough capacity in terms of data collection to be able to report faithfully on their progress. They also fear that they will be exposed as having performed in an unsatisfactory way. There is a great deal of resistance on the part of developing countries to strongly developed global review machinery. They prefer to focus on implementation at national level, and I believe a balance will be struck eventually between the three levels.
On the Addis dimension, if I can call it that, members may see the term "means of implementation" from time to time. "Means of implementation" are the means, financial or otherwise, by which the goals will be implemented. In the immediate sense, it means resources along the lines of overseas development aid, ODA, but by no means confined to ODA. It also means policies, measures and a range of other items in a single, comprehensive package. It is easier if I take ODA first. The developing countries attach great importance to ODA but, broadly speaking, the developed countries take the view that it is very important but it is not the only part of the Addis package and that they also need domestic resource mobilisation. That is the term used for efforts to improve the tax take in developing countries, notably. The developing countries recognise that this is an important priority. Broadly speaking, ODA and domestic resource mobilisation would be seen as the twin top priorities in the Addis package. I will conclude shortly and take questions.
A key issue for all of us at present is that, first, the Addis Ababa meeting to be held next week will be successful and, second, that all concerned will accept that it will be the final word in terms of the resources needed for implementing the future goals and targets. There is a real fear on the part of developed countries that developing countries will do their best to obtain the most favourable deal at Addis Ababa and then, having failed to get everything they want, turn their attention to our negotiations, which are due to continue until the end of July, and use political and moral pressure to try to squeeze out more in the context of, for example, ODA commitments. It has been a running theme for the developed countries in recent weeks and months that the Addis Ababa conference must be seen as the end of the road in terms of the means needed to implement the future agenda. On the other hand, the developing countries are keeping their options open. There was a tension between those two positions but it is gradually being overcome. With luck, if the Addis Ababa meeting produces a very clear-cut and satisfactory outcome all around, the developing countries will hopefully accept that, in effect, this is all that is going to be available in the context of implementation of the new goals and targets. I use the word "all" because, potentially, this is going to be a massive package. It is not a pledging conference but the document to be agreed in Addis Ababa is meant to cover, as already stated, financial resources of all kinds but also things such as capacity building, technology transfer, ways of making it easier to remit money, debt relief, trade negotiations, tackling illicit financial flows, etc. The agenda is vast and the Addis Ababa package on its own ought to be sufficient to ensure the implementation of the golden targets. As stated, however, the particular tension to which I refer has yet to be addressed.
I have probably run out of time in terms of commenting on the UN.
No, you are fine. We were all very honoured to be in attendance at a forum held earlier in the year at Dublin Castle which was addressed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Perhaps Mr. Donoghue will just say a few words on Ireland's membership of the United Nations.
H.E. Mr. David Donoghue:
As members are aware, this year is the 60th anniversary of Ireland's accession to the UN. It also happens to be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN. The latter anniversary will provide the backdrop to the September summit and there will be quite an amount of publicity surrounding the entire event. Ireland is marking 60 years of active engagement at the UN by hosting a number of public events, both at home and abroad, in order to raise awareness of the role we have played at the UN and the contribution we are continuing to make. We are known at the UN for an involvement in a number of areas. In no particular order, these are: human rights; disarmament and non-proliferation; peace and security, which is quite a broad spectrum but which includes issues such as women, peace and security - the role of women in defusing conflict; and, of course, development. At present, there is a strong emphasis on our development interests but over the years we have been known for our engagement on the wider set of matters to which I refer.
On 25 May, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade formally launched the 60th anniversary programme of events. This programme includes: thematic lectures; a UN youth delegate programme and related youth events; a commemorative exhibition, which will be hosted in both New York and Ireland, about the early years of our membership; a peacekeeping event in partnership with the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces; and a symposium marking the date on which Ireland formally acceded to the UN, namely, 14 December 1955. As the Chairman stated, some of the events in the programme have already taken place. In particular, I refer to the visit of the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, which was a notable success. The Secretary General's visit came about specifically because he was awarded the Tipperary International Peace Award but we used his coming here as an occasion to reflect more broadly on Ireland's role at the UN in this 60th anniversary year. Ban Ki-moon managed to engage on each of those policy areas to which I refer. The recent Irish Humanitarian Summit can also be seen as an initiative in the context of the anniversary, although it was actually one of the events being held in the build-up to the World Humanitarian Summit which is to be held next year and which will be a key priority for Ban Ki-moon in his final year in office. There are various other events and activities that will be held during the anniversary. For example, a reference map of our UN engagement across the globe will be published and distributed to all secondary schools in the run-up to the UN General Assembly week in September.
I will leave it at that, if I may. I just wanted to provide a quick overview of the activities planned. I might add that an extremely attractive brochure, A Place Among the Nations: Ireland at the UN 1955-2015, has been published by my colleagues at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
I welcome the ambassador. As a country, we are privileged to have a person of the capacity, calibre and commitment of Mr. Donoghue as our ambassador to the UN. Those of us who have seen him operate in different roles in the past know of his commitment and of his great work on behalf of our country.
The ambassador referred to the formation of the UN 70 years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Reference has often been made at meetings of this committee to the need for a complete restructuring of the United Nations. The organisation has not changed in line with the changes to the geopolitical system across the globe. That system is very different from what is was 70 years ago. Is there any desire within the United Nations for change? Are any of the major countries which control so much of its activity, etc., willing to put in place new structures? The Security Council and other councils of the UN are dominated by a few major powers and blocs. Is there any indication of a willingness to change the structures of the UN?
The ambassador quite rightly referred to our proud record of participation in UN peacekeeping missions and in UN work in general. There has been a strong presence of Permanent Defence Forces personnel from my constituency, Cavan-Monaghan, on UN missions over the years. I recall quite well the pride everyone in the constituency took from local people going on such missions. Some of the most satisfying ceremonies I ever attended were those held to mark the departure of troops on UN missions and those held to welcome them home. The vast majority of our personnel have returned home safe from such missions, which is a major issue. Irish Defence Forces personnel continue to do outstanding peacekeeping work in many difficult locations throughout the world.
The ambassador also referred to the importance of the Addis Ababa conference. That importance is obvious because it will set the scene in terms of what can be achieved by other conferences. An issue of concern is that which relates to civil society space and the post-2015 agenda. Successive Governments have quite rightly prioritised human rights issues, particularly the participation of women. I understand that less and less space is being made available for NGOs and human rights defenders to participate freely in society. Irish representatives on the UN Human Rights Council have championed this issue and they must continue to do so. Is the ambassador satisfied that the draft text adequately highlights the issue of civil society space? In light of Ireland's role as a facilitator of the process, are we somewhat constrained in terms of being a very strong champion and advocate in respect of this very important issue?
Does the European Union share the same views as Ireland in regard to civil society space and the need to tackle this issue head on?
I wish to refer to a few issues that the ambassador raised in his script and oral contribution. In his script he stated: "We are working towards a vision of integrated sustainable development which will be universally applicable while emphasising national ownership and differentiation." That vision is desirable and necessary but it will be difficult to achieve. How can we have universal applicability across different member states and regions when there are differences in societal structure and development, and economic development? Is thought being given to this matter at the moment?
The ambassador mentioned that "a number of targets remain under consideration in the negotiations". Are they critical targets? Are they targets that have not been agreed yet and may be detrimental if agreement is not achieved?
The ambassador mentioned another positive aspect. I was glad to read in his script that there will be "a framework to review progress and implementation" which is essential. One can have the best strategies in the world but if they are not implemented in a timely manner then it will be unsatisfactory.
I wish the ambassador well in his work as a facilitator. I hope he will have an opportunity to refer to the role that the private sector should play in mobilising resources for the least developed countries and their people to ensure that they gain from resources that belong to their homelands.
I thank the ambassador for his presentation. I shall speak as a member of this committee. I shall also speak as the person who chairs the Irish section of AWEPA and, therefore, I have had a lot of engagement with African parliamentarians.
The ambassador has said that the millennium development goals have enjoyed some success but I think they have not been a glaring success and there have been major shortfalls and gaps. There are still millions of people who are hungry, there are still health issues and we can still see growing inequality. Why are we debating 17 sustainable development goals when there is still so much work to be done on the millennium development goals?
The ambassador used the word "ambitious" but I would add the word "aspirational". How realistic are the 17 goals? Is it wise to have 17 goals? I am sure that he will be aware of the statistic that 80% of the world's humanitarian crises are man-made. They are made by people in the developed world and in the developing world, but mainly the developed world. It is the developing world that pays the price for the mistakes made by men in the developed world, all of which comes down to implementation and the resources to implement goals. We talk about saving the planet but we know that the developed world has done more damage to the planet and has massive effects on the developing world.
A report entitled Where Aid Meets Trade was recently published by Trócaire and I chaired the panel at its launch. The report complimented Irish aid because it is untied aid. We are seeing a demand or request being made of donor countries. The aid is increasing the economic growth of the donor country which, in turn, will have a major effect on sustainable development goals.
I have read the 17 sustainable development goals but did not see a goal of tax justice. The whole initiative will go down the Swanee unless tax justice is addressed because we know more is being lost to the global south through tax avoidance and evasion than is coming to them in aid. I would love to have seen tax justice as a major sustainable development goal. I would like to hear the ambassador's opinion on the matter.
Finally, Addis is so important. Addis is right and its conclusions are the right ones so the next two conferences will mean nothing. The level of our delegation attending Addis is a matter I have raised before. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock. I know he is committed to the matter but the conference will discuss financing for development and his brief is development. I wonder about the level of representation by the African countries which is at a higher level than representation from Ireland or other European countries.
Yes, the Chairman is very kind and I appreciate his efforts. I welcome the ambassador, Mr. Donoghue. It is refreshing that he departed from his script and eyeballed the committee which always shows a real commitment and purpose.
I support strongly what Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan said about need for tax justice to be addressed; it is a fundamental question. Had she not raised the matter I would have raised it myself but she has done so in a very clear way. I shall ask my question but I may not have time to wait for the reply. At the conferences various goals will be discussed and 179 countries will be involved but the goals will not be legally binding. That suggests to me that people will find ways of weaselling out of the goals unless they are legally binding. I know it would be difficult to get 179 countries to agree to something that was legally binding. When there is a crisis we see representatives of countries stepping up to the television cameras pledging this and that, and that they will give "X" amount of money but that never happens. The public pledges are just done for publicity purposes. What is the ambassador's feeling about the response of all of these countries? The United Nations is a very mixed bag. There are countries that are represented by, in many cases, rather squalid regimes. How confident is the ambassador that these measures will be respected? They may be agreed to in the full glare of publicity but they are without legal backing.
H.E. Mr. David Donoghue:
Yes. The Senator put his finger on a weakness. I do not think that is necessarily a fatal weakness of the future goals and targets. No, they will not be legally binding. It would have been inconceivable to get the agreement of 193 countries to some kind of court situation where they would be required to account for their performance. The poorest countries would obviously claim that they were unable to implement to the degree that the rest of us wanted because they did not have enough capacity to do so and it is up to us to help them to get this capacity. At the same time there is an enormous moral force that comes from the fact that, for the first time ever, almost 200 countries will sign up to the same set of commitments.
I have used the phrase "political embarrassment" which is quite a real thing. Countries will not want to be seen to ignore what they agreed to at the UN. They can claim that, due to circumstances beyond their control, they are a bit behind in terms of implementation. What they will not be able to do is simply say "we are not going to implement them." Such a degree of intensity has built up around these new goals and targets that they will be a fixture from now on and will always exist. Therefore, it will be hard for a country to ignore them. There is also the peer review aspect. Let us say one has eight or nine countries in Central America reporting individually on how they have done. Each of them will want to be seen to be up to speed with the others, roughly speaking. Incidentally, a regional implementation of goals and targets is also important. In some ways, it will be more important than the global level. Overall, it would be difficult for a country to wash its hands of them.
The universal agenda was one of the points mentioned by Deputy Smith, or perhaps it was Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan. The universal agenda is an extremely ambitious approach.
It is necessary to allow for the various differentiations at the regional or national level. We have to make a go of it and begin by saying that these are commitments that every country in the world agrees to.
In practice, we know that countries will set their own priorities. We do not necessarily approve of that, but we know that it happens as a matter of human nature. For example, Austria will not prioritise the goal relating to oceans. I am being a bit facetious in saying that because it is a landlocked country and it will have other priorities. It follows that some of the goals will be more important to a country than others. There will be self-selection within the full set of goals. Officially, every country is taking on the full set of commitments and will need to show why, in practice, it went for one set of priorities rather than another. There will be a lot of understanding for such a position. People know that it is not realistic to expect that there will be 100% performance across the full range of goals.
There is also a desire to have a positive spirit for all of this. It is not a question of finger wagging and telling a country it has fallen way behind the rest. It is meant to be almost a collective self-assistance. We want to help developing countries, in particular, to make the progress required. The reason I am emphasising this is that, for example, people sometimes ask if the process would be like the universal peer review pertaining to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The answer is "No, it won't be" because there are international human rights treaties which have been signed up to and are legally binding. The commitments to which I refer are political. If there is a voluntary political commitment, one cannot denounce a country because it has not moved as fast as it should. The Senator is correct that if something is not legally binding, it may somehow fade away, but the collective moral force of the single agenda being taken on by all countries will not go away easily and will ensure that some progress is made.
I will take Deputy Smith's questions. On the restructuring of the UN, he is quite right. The issue has been around for quite a while and there are a couple of dimensions. First is how the Security Council could and should be reformed. The second dimension concerns UN agencies and whether they might find that their mandates need to be reviewed in light of the new goals and targets we are agreeing. I will discuss the Security Council first. It is true that the five permanent members of the Security Council have a certain interest in maintaining the status quo. That said, they declare themselves open, to one degree or another, but some are more open than others, to an expansion of the Security Council.
There are two main models being proposed. I will not go into detail about them, but one, in effect, envisages creating an additional number of permanent seats and non-permanent two-year terms. The second model proposes no new permanent seats, but more non-permanent seats. From the point of view of a country like Ireland, we hope to be able to maintain a rhythm of getting onto the Security Council about once every 20 years. That would be seen as reasonable and normal. We would not want to see any new model adopted which would reduce the frequency with which we would get on and many other countries will feel the same way.
Geographical representation needs to be expanded. Africa, for example, accounts for about two thirds of the workload of the Security Council, but African states have to queue for a two-year term here and there. There is a strong case to be made for creating some expanded representation for African countries. Another issue is rising regional powers. One could ask whether countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil and South Africa should be given a permanent seat. In the minds of many people, the questions have been answered and the answer is that they should be, but we are still at the debate level.
It had been hoped that concrete proposals for the reform of the Security Council would have been brought forward this year, marking the 70th anniversary year. I doubt if we will make that deadline. It is a matter for the General Assembly, which has considered the issue of reform of the membership of the Security Council for about ten years. The debate will run for a little bit longer. Ireland is involved with a number of other countries in trying to reform the working methods of the Security Council which is also important. It means, for example, greater transparency vis-à-visthe rest of the UN membership and is a valid objective in itself. It is, strictly speaking, separate from who the members of the Security Council would be.
One positive development is a French initiative to voluntarily abandon the veto right when it comes to mass atrocities. France, as one of the five permanent members, developed a proposal that the permanent members would voluntarily not use their veto rights for some particularly awful crimes, along the lines of Rwanda or Srebrenica. So far, no conclusion has been reached. Ireland and many other countries think it is a good idea and it is the first sign or recognition that veto rights are quite unhelpful. However, the other four permanent members are not yet on board. It is still a positive development.
On peacekeeping, I could not agree more that is a major plank of Ireland's reputation at the UN. When the Government decided in 2013 to provide an Irish contingent for a peacekeeping mission on the Golan Heights, UNDOF, it was warmly appreciated by the UN because another country had withdrawn its troops abruptly due to the dangerous situation involved. Ireland stepped up to the mark and is known to be a reliable country in that sense. It gauges each situation carefully, but the fact is that Ireland's decision to join UNDOF at that stage, as well as UNIFIL, was very much appreciated by the UN and was seen as another example of Ireland's commitment to peacekeeping.
On the civil society space, our colleagues at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where Ireland is completing a three-year term, have brought forward a civil society space initiative. In our post-2015 talks, I and my Kenyan colleague have arranged for a more informal civil society involvement whereby once a week during our monthly sessions there is a direct three-hour engagement with civil society, which has been appreciated. We are now coming into the final stretch of our negotiations and want to find some way of keeping that going. There is no particular restraint on us because we happen to be one of the two co-participators. Ireland is known for its absolute commitment to civil society involvement in negotiations of this kind and the general human rights and political space. That is not compromised in any way by our role in the post-2015 talks. The real difficulty is that I and my Kenyan colleague cannot impose an arrangement on the 193 countries. We have to win their support. Civil society has been given considerable access to our negotiations and they appreciate it.
I refer to the targets under consideration.
No, these are not particularly critical targets. That is what I was talking about a moment ago when I referred to technical improvements. In the rush to finish the earlier negotiating phase, some gaps were left in the proposal. For example, if one of the targets involved increasing something by X%, the percentage was not filled in at the time. Now it will be, I hope, and that is why we are talking about technical improvements.
The role of the private sector is a big theme for Addis Ababa because the World Bank issued a report a couple of months ago called From Billions to Trillions: Transforming Development Finance/Post-2015 Financing for Development: Multilateral Development Finance. Billions is what is accounted for by existing or projected levels of ODA; trillions is what we will need to implement to achieve entire goals and targets, because they are on such a vast scale, and that will require private sector involvement of all kinds. The private sector wants to be involved. Of course there are commercial opportunities, but many private sector organisations also have a strong sense of solidarity with this entire exercise and they want to recognise a social responsibility. The private sector, therefore, is ready to become involved for different reasons, and that will be theme of the Addis Ababa conference.
Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan raised a number of points. On the question of the 17 goals, I was involved in the earlier negotiating phase and because we had to cover all of these new areas, such as climate change, environment, sustainable cities, human rights and even the means of implementation, that inevitably brought us from eight goals to close to 17. Then it became 17. We hoped that it would have been possible to reduce the number to approximately 15 goals at the time, but nobody could agree on what two should be left out. Eventually it stayed at 17, and no serious effort has been made to reduce the number because if, theoretically, one was to combine climate change with something else to bring the number down, then the climate change people would say that that devalues climate change as a component in the framework. That is why it was left at 17.
The question of tax justice is a matter for the Addis Ababa conference because taxation is a means of implementation. The issues around international taxation and co-operation relate to an important means of implementation, and they are not directly for our negotiations, but we are hoping there will be a good outcome on that, which we can then reflect in the document for September. As it is, we will annex the Addis Ababa agreement to our own document for September, and tax justice is clearly an important issue. It has been, though, one of the issues that has held up finalisation of the Addis Ababa document, because developing countries want to see an upgrade, as they call it, for a tax committee that exists at the UN, but some developed countries do not want to bring tax policy within the remit of the UN; they feel it is for the OECD. There is a fundamental division of views on tax but, nevertheless, there will be reasonably good language in the Addis Ababa document.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade answered the question about the delegation yesterday. All EU member states will be represented at the Addis Ababa conference at development minister level.
The Millennium Development Goals are important. We have tried to make clear in our document that we will complete the unfinished business of those goals through the new goals and targets. There is no chance that they will be forgotten about. What they failed to achieve is still there in the first six or seven of the new goals. It is an important issue, and many groups of countries insist that this unfinished business will be a vital part of what we do.
I join in the words of welcome and I compliment the ambassador on the excellent work he has done in co-chairing the proceedings. Like Senator Norris, I want to refer to the issue of the process being voluntary, politically and legally, but not binding. What structure is in place to regularly review progress? Is sanction provided for against countries that do not step up to the plate? My other question relates to the commitment on overseas development aid and achieving the target of 0.7% of gross national income. I read recently that the ambition is to achieve that by 2030, within the lifetime of the sustainable development goals. That represents a missed opportunity, because it is too wide a timeframe and it is not aggressive enough.
I support Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan on the tax justice issue. I welcome the indication the permanent representative has given that the Addis Ababa conference and the document will seriously examine that issue, because if a balance is to be struck between developing and developed countries, this has to be seriously addressed, as well as the involvement of the private sector, because we must ensure it acts ethically, particularly in developing countries.
I thank Mr. Donoghue for his presentation. I have a very specific question on goal No. 5 in respect of achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. The UNFPA is on record as saying family planning is central to achieving gender equality and women's empowerment but it is also a factor in reducing poverty. This year, the UN has a very specific focus on youth but unless we have gender equality in terms of women and young girls being able to plan how many pregnancies they have and how far apart those are, it will be very difficult for any of the 17 goals to be achieved. That is in the context of recognising that approximately 800 women a day die due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications in the developing world. It is a huge number and it leaves many children orphaned, families without carers and villages bereft of females because of their biology. I acknowledge that it can be a difficult issue but there has been some criticism, in terms of the millennium development goals, that equality slipped down the agenda as it is politically difficult. If one wants to end poverty and achieve the first part of goal No. 3, which is to reduce global maternal mortality, the key is access to safe, free choice in relation to family planning.
We have spoken about countries setting their own priorities and that is a huge concern where, culturally, women are not seen or treated as equal. Mary Robinson, a much better Irish woman than me, said it is the perpetrator and never the victim who uses the excuse of culture. Where in the 17 global goals are those issues going to challenged? Central to that is another WHO figure I came across recently. Approximately 14 million people enter and die in the world every year who are never registered. It goes back to this whole central thing about data collection. What can we, as parliamentarians and as a government, do and what can the UN do to ensure that really boring but important work of data collection is a priority so that we can see that we are making inroads? If one is trying to measure maternal death rates, population and mortality, it cannot be done unless births and deaths are registered. It is not something people instinctively think about when they think about trying to improve infrastructure, but it is central and key. As a parliamentarian or a diplomat, one might understand that kind of knowledge, but it may be a harder sell for others to get involved.
Given our own difficulties with the issue in Ireland, how can we make a global impact? I fear that if we do not get this right, it will make it very difficult to achieve any of the goals.
I was doing three or four different duties at the same time, which is quite difficult. I will follow along the lines of Deputy Conway and am supportive of the general thrust of her remarks. From my own experience in dealing with immigrants from developing countries, there is increasing evidence of people who are vulnerable remaining vulnerable even when they come to this jurisdiction. They have become accustomed to being treated as second class citizens or not being allowed to achieve their full entitlements under any constitutional remit. They are fearful of asserting themselves or considering that they have an entitlement to be treated as equal citizens to those around them. This gives us all an opportunity to recognise their predicament first and foremost. There have been many of them. We can all talk about folklore in these cases but I remember the unfortunate case of a young woman who spent two or three years in this country, fell between systems and was deported to a developing country. Eventually, she contracted AIDS and died. That was unnecessary because help was at hand but the systems do not always work. While our systems are supposed to meet, greet and catch those who are in danger of falling through the loops, they do not always work. That is simply because the system is often impervious to the needs of the people. For example, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have different roles.
I have come across the following situation on numerous occasions and I wish to emphasise it. In assessing the entitlements of immigrants and people who are vulnerable, it often comes to pass that criteria are applied that are not really relevant. If one checks with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade where a person in a particular category is very vulnerable in his or her homeland, one will find that no matter how much aid is diverted or concern expressed, he or she will fall through the system. What I am asking about is how those who fall through the system can have their issues addressed.
I thank the ambassador for his presentation. My focus is on the COP21 conference which is one of the most important to be held not only this year, but this decade. I read an interesting piece by Lara Marlowe on the conference in which she referred to the experience of an adviser to President Hollande at a previous conference in Morocco.
A participant there said that people in Paris will decide who lives and who dies. Of course, half of the mammals, birds and reptiles of the world have disappeared in the last 45 years as a result of human activity but particularly due to climate change. When one sees the US military classify climate change as more dangerous than global terrorism, which is on our news every day, one would have to consider it to be a serious and perhaps extinction level event for humanity. Unfortunately, however, the immediate takes over importance at present and global terrorism is what makes the six o'clock news while the incrementalism of climate change, even though its effects are all around us, is not as dramatic as the stories about ISIS.
The humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean is partly caused by ISIS and global terrorism but is also caused by climate change, yet there is what can only be described as a very poor response by the developed countries across the European Union. When one sees that level of response to what is more manageable compared to the scale of climate change, it is nothing short of a disaster. It is only the beginning of the migration season; it has not yet hit its height. This year will not be the last year of it. In fact, we will probably look back in five years' time and think 2015 was not such a bad year when there were only half a million people trying to cross the Mediterranean, because it is just going to get worse. One sees the inability of Europe to address it. We have just commemorated the anniversary of Srebrenica where Europe could not stop a massacre on its doorstep, yet it is faced with something colossal in terms of what must be dealt with. The world's and humanity's ability to deal with something so colossal is probably not good, as history will tell us.
As Mary Robinson and others have pointed out, this is the most important issue facing humanity as it affects everybody, yet our trade agreements and economics tell us that trade should not be affected by anything decided in respect of climate change. The two are not compatible. We cannot continue to insist on making profits or China cannot consistently open one coal burning electricity generating station a day, as it was commissioning at one stage, and expect that things can continue as normal. As China now knows, life expectancy there has dropped by five years as a result of climate change. Can the world agree before it is too late? That sounds desperately dramatic but all the evidence is before us. We had a global economic crisis and the evidence was there telling us that there was such a crisis, yet everybody was denying it was happening. Then it happened and everybody said it was predictable. It was predicted but nobody was listening. How realistic is it that there will be something comprehensive and that the major powers will abide by it? There have been too many failures in the past.
H.E. Mr. David Donoghue:
Senator Mullins asked what structure there is at present to review progress. Strictly speaking, we will be creating new structures through the September summit and the document that will be issued. There will be a global structure to review progress in implementing the goals and targets. There is a body called the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which has just finished meeting in New York. It is under the United Nations Economic and Social Council, ECOSOC, and this high-level political forum, which is only about two years old, will have the responsibility to carry out reviewing and monitoring at global level. That much is clear. The detail of how it will do that is only being worked out and, in fact, not all of that detail will even appear in the outcome document for September.
I mentioned earlier the reservations that many developing countries have about machinery which is too intrusive at global level, from their point of view. On the other hand, there are developed countries which feel that, especially with the massive amount of resources which will be directed towards implementing these goals and targets, there must be something systematic and rigorous at global level. It will be a compromise. What will probably happen is that the high-level political forum will meet once a year and it will have a supporting secretariat. It will receive reports from individual member states and it will summon them over a period of several years. Obviously with 193 member states, it will not be easy.
There will also be thematic reviews. It might be that individual UN agencies will carry out a review of, for example, gender equality, migrants, indigenous peoples or some such aspect, and see how they are doing under the new goals and targets. These are ideas which are being worked on at present and, precisely because many developing countries are worried about something which is too structured and prescriptive, we will probably hold back on much of that detail. The document for September will be couched in very general terms.
At the regional level, there are already some regional commissions, for example, in central America or in west Africa, which represent UN interests. They will be used to carry out some element of peer review. The phrase "peer review" goes down badly, but it is the idea of comparison between one country and another in a positive spirit to see if there are lessons which can be learned within a particular region from the effectiveness of one country in achieving the goals on, for example, health, and whether those lessons can be carried across. It is meant to be a positive experience sharing approach.
Most of the effort will be at national level. Most countries will set up some type of centralised arrangement to monitor how they are doing on the SDGs. Each country will do its own thing. In fact, in some cases countries have already set up the machinery before the new goals have even been approved. Colombia, for example, makes much of the fact that it has a national plan which already reflects the draft goals and targets from last year. National development plans around the world will be used to give effect to the goals and targets. That is a somewhat lengthy reply but I wished to indicate the thinking that already exists. I note the comment on the 0.7% target, but I will not respond on that. The Senator also referred to the tax justice issue.
Deputy Conway is absolutely right about gender equality. To reassure her, there is a really strong sense that virtually no issue is more important than gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in terms of the implementation of this new framework . It is hard to quantify matters and say one issue is more important than another, but across the board in all groups of countries there is a strong emphasis on the importance of gender equality. The Deputy has read goal No. 5. Perhaps I can refer to the declaration I mentioned earlier, which will be a key part of the document. There is a paragraph where we state:
Working for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the goals and targets. The achievement of full human potential and of sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity continues to be denied its full rights and opportunities. This is also a basic issue of human rights. ...Women and girls must enjoy equal access to education...[and so forth].
I am just giving a flavour of it. That is the type of language that will be used in the declaration. The specific issues raised by Deputy Conway are perhaps covered by the following:
We commit to accelerating the progress made to date in reducing infant, child and maternal mortality by ending all preventible deaths of infants, children and expectant mothers by 2030. We shall ensure universal access to sexual reproductive health care services, including for family planning, information and education etc.
The Deputy's concerns are valid and they are being addressed not only in terms of the goals and targets set but in the surrounding declaration. I believe they will be highlighted in the public presentation of the goals and targets.
On data collection, again the point made was an extremely important one. The developed countries recognise that they will have to help many developing countries to not only improve their statistical capacity but to create it in the first instance. There are some countries that do not exist in statistical terms because they have never been able to file returns. This new framework will not work unless we can show that returns have been filed for every country in the world. We will have to be able to fill in all the blanks.This is recognised as a responsibility for the more affluent countries that are in a position to provide resources. It is a crucial issue. Also, indicators are being developed by the UN Statistical Commission, along with civil society, which will help countries to check on their progress. For example, if one of the targets is that all children will have access to primary education, which may seem obvious, an indicator might be that by 2021 98% of all children will be in primary schools, with this increasing to 100% by 2030. I am simplifying it bit but indicators will be a third element, coming after the goals and targets. Those indicators are being developed by statisticians. The purpose of the indicators is to help countries plot the pace at which they will implement these goals and targets. All of this is dependent on high quality disaggregated data which allow us to capture the gender balance on particular issues and so on. We need to have much more detailed data available to us than has been available to us up to now. Deputy Conway is correct that the new goals and targets cannot be implemented without that.
I agree with Senator Daly's points in regard to COP21. By way of clarification, although the post-2015 agenda and Addis Ababa tracks work closely together and, in fact, overlap to a degree, the climate change negotiations are happening independently. We do not have any greater insight to those than anybody else. At the same time, the political imperative of the three conferences being linked together and of good outcomes in each is being highlighted by everybody. For example, Mary Robinson is taking a keen interest in our negotiations and in the Addis Ababa negotiations because she knows that in the context of the new goals and targets, there will be an impetus towards a good outcome in Paris. She also knows that a good Addis Ababa package should include climate finance. As the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for Climate Change she can see direct use, to put it mildly, for our two sets of negotiations in terms of her own agenda. She wants to see the three knitted very closely together, as we all do. We are hoping that there will be a momentum building from a good meeting in Addis Ababa, through to a good New York outcome and another in December, such that it would be very difficult for countries who have signed up to the earlier commitments to then dodge them somehow or not follow through on them by agreeing a universal climate change agreement. That is the theory of it. It is what we are all hoping for.
I thank Deputy Durkan for his comments on equality, with which I agree. The Deputy spoke about the problems faced, in particular, by immigrant populations here. There is no doubt that equality is at the heart of the entire agenda. It is also emphasised in this declaration that we are combatting poverty and inequality of all kinds. It is almost the same concept. Another phrase we use a lot is, "Nobody is to be left behind". While that is a nice, sentimental slogan what it really means is that we do not want any marginalised people, people the system has somehow forgotten about. In every country, there are communities of indigenous peoples, for example, who for one reason or another have not been protected by the system. The motto of the new goals and targets is that nobody is to be left behind. This will have to be worked out in practice.
I thank the ambassador for his comprehensive overview of his job and what will, hopefully, happen in Addis Ababa. We hope that conference is successful and that the countries attending it will achieve the development goals. What is important is the people in the countries concerned. As stated by the ambassador, the first of the three very high level conferences is the one on financing, which is important and which will be followed by the New York and Paris conferences. We wish all involved in the conferences well. I again thank the ambassador for attending today's meeting and hope to see him again in the near future.