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Discussion Papers (series)

Universality and differentiation in the post-2015 development agenda

Discussion Paper 173


Knoll, A., Große-Puppendahl, S., Mackie, J. 2015. Universality and differentiation in the post-2015 development agenda . (Discussion Paper 173). Maastricht: ECDPM.

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Key messages

  • Translating the universal post-2015 goals and targets into national actions, commitments, responsibilities and accountability that respect national priorities and circumstances is a major challenge.
  • There is a need for a pragmatic and flexible differentiation system that accounts for country priorities and ownership, but builds in incentives to encourage ambitious contributions.
  • In order to ensure universality and build in accountability, comparability and incentives, common rules or guidelines that leave some room for self determination could be helpful.

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In this podcast, several ECDPM colleagues explain why universality and differentiation are important to sustainable development, how they have been operationalised in other international agreements, and what this means for Europe.

They also discuss the challenges in translating the universal post-2015 goals into national actions, commitments, responsibilities and accountabilities that respect national priorities and circumstances and how these will be addressed in the upcoming conferences on Financing for Development and Sustainable Development Goals, the WTO 10th Ministerial Conference and COP21.


In October 2014, Ireland was appointed by the UN General Assembly as Co-Facilitators for Post-2015 negotiations, along with Kenya. ECDPM produced a new Discussion Paper, financed by Irish Aid, on ‘Universality and differentiation in the post-2015 development agenda’.

How universal is a global development agenda?

The complexity and interconnectedness of today’s globalised world have rendered development challenges increasingly interlinked and global in nature. Prosperity cannot be sustained without finding integrated and common solutions and without all countries contributing in a spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility.

The post-2015 agenda has framed sustainable development as a universal project. On the one hand, it includes issues that are of common concern to all and pose challenges at the national level, on the other hand, it defines objectives to be achieved at the global level.

Universality cannot be separated from the contrastive principle of differentiation, as responsibilities and accountability will have to differ depending on the circumstances of each country, their respective development statuses and the means available to them.

Even though universality means that the agenda will have to be implemented everywhere, little discussion has taken place within the EU on what implementation of the proposed universal OWG targets concretely means. Getting these discussions under way is necessary to make universality in the post-2015 context a reality in the EU.

Blog: From Universality to European reality?

Is the EU up to the job of sustainable consumption and production?


Europe will have to think hard on how to translate globally-agreed goals and targets into ambitious, meaningful, fair and context-specific national and regional policies that are relevant and in its strategic interests. One of the most important aspects of the SGDs will be in finding adequate solutions to current consumption and production patterns that put the planet’s resources and its environment at risk. Read more….

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EU foreign and development policyEconomic recovery and transformationDiscussion Papers (series)European Union (EU)Post 2015AfricaEurope