UNESCO and the ISSC organised an expert group meeting, entitled Global justice, poverty and inequality in the post-2015 development agenda at UNESCO in Paris, France. Distinguished experts from different countries and regions gathered to reflect on how to achieve global justice by using knowledge that is already available and how to empower excluded people to work towards eliminating poverty, inequality and injustice.

The meeting took place in the context of UNESCO’s preparation of inputs into the process of developing the Sustainable Development Goals for the post-2015 development agenda and the ISSC’s preparation of its two flagship programmes: the World Social Science Forum in 2015 and the World Social Science Report in 2016.

The meeting was an opportunity for social scientists to contribute through a renewed narrative on social justice to achieve an enhanced vision of poverty eradication and to promote global equality.

Specific objectives of the meeting included:

  • advancing a systemic framing for our understanding of extreme poverty, inequality and global justice;
  • developing action-oriented messages and recommendations whereby global justice is incorporated into the post-2015 development agenda and its associated monitoring framework;
  • setting an agenda of priority topics and questions that the social sciences now need to address
  • identifying innovative contributions and critical gaps in what the social sciences have done and could be doing in this area of research.

The participants stressed that the lack of justice is a tragedy in many parts of the world and that it is crucial to understand how poverty, inequality and injustice are created and perpetuated for many people around the world.

Lively exchanges took place on several key questions such as:

  • How can we create social change that is compatible with a just world?
  • What type of critical thinking is needed to advance global justice?
  • How can we integrate the crucial role of context-specific phenomena into reflections on global justice?
  • How can we avoid technocratic approaches that harm poor people and often result in them becoming further excluded?

Although responses to those questions revealed a rich diversity of ideas, experts agreed with the basic notion that advances towards global justice involve harnessing and using knowledge that is already available. The main challenge is political: empowering people to transform the mechanisms that produce poverty, inequality and injustice.

Participants agreed that the most important questions are who sets the agenda and who is it for. Ensuring that the voices of the excluded are heard and included is of paramount importance and should be the guiding principle in designing the post-2015 development agenda.

The discussions aimed at providing conceptual clarification and exploring recent theoretical work in the context of sustainable development discourse and associated processes. Existing key contributions from the social sciences were assessed, identifying knowledge gaps, priority areas and questions and new, innovative ideas. The debate focused on connections between normative ideas and public activism on global justice and explored the role and limits of academia in shaping public opinion. Participants considered the question of how to move from reasoned criticism of global injustice to a politically influential discourse on global justice, and the weight of ‘the local’ in shaping public notions of ‘the global’.

The final session explored suggestions from participants in how to strengthen the relevance and importance of global justice and equality in the post-2015 agenda. They also suggested topics and themes for the 2015 World Social Science Forum, in Durban, South Africa next year and the 2016 World Social Science Report.

See original article and UNESCO-MOST webpage


  1. Graham Long says: May 12, 2021 • 11:03:33

    If participants want to influence the post 2015 agenda, there is time pressure here. The OWG is moving to a zero draft of the goals through OWG 12 and 13. Once the goals and targets are defined - and they are fairly defined already - the subsequent discussions over Means of Implementation and Accountability are the only way to get more global justice in.

    A strong stand on “who sets the agenda and who is it for” - with implications for the focus of the goals, and the importance of under-specified or controversial elements such as accountability structures and civil and political rights - would be a good step, but it has to come soon…


    • Pedro Monreal says: June 27, 2021 • 23:56:08

      Thanks Graham. Fully agree with you. I am afraid that we probably “missed the boat”, at least for the time being. After the completion of its 12th session (16-20 June), only 8 more days of work are left in the schedule of the OWG (the formal 13th session plus the “informal-informal” meetings, in July 2014). In 18 months of work, the OWG has only been able to come up with a disappointing document, the so-called “zero draft” divulged in early June. The discussion of the text during the 12th session revealed not only the big gaps that still remain to be solved but more worrisome, the co-chairs of the OWG proposed to eliminate the stand-alone goal on equality. The final segment of the OWG process will likely be diplomacy in pure state aimed at producing a “text” and therefore little space exists for something more. On the positive side, the advocacy displayed by the participants from civil society in the OWG´s process showed that people´s concerns and proposals could have an impact in the post-205 development narrative. While it is true that the impact has been rather modest thus far, the potential seems to exist for eventual contributions in a post-2015 process that it is just starting. As it already happened with the MDGs, chances are that the SDGs will be reviewed more than once. Summarizing, I am highly pessimistic on what the OWG will produce and moderately optimistic about the ability of civil society to exert positive influence in the years to come. Sadly, it comes to my mind the title of the paper written by Alicia Ely Yamin and Vanessa Boulanger, “From Transforming Power to Counting Numbers”. It seems to aptly describe the inconsequential path of the post-2015 conversation.

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