This article is the first of a two-part series on the post-2015 and the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDG) processes.
Following the Rio+20 Summit in June 2012 (also known as the UN Conference on Sustainable Development), the United Nations initiated a process to define the next global development agenda, which includes a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the period after 2015. This process is likely to result in a development framework that may formally succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, which emerged as practical and measurable articulations of the Millennium Declaration (2000), have enjoyed sustained interest and support from governments, the global development community, civil society, and other stakeholders. Commendable progress has been made in many areas. For example, in aggregate terms, the global goal on access to safe drinking water has been met five years ahead of schedule and poverty rates as well as the number of absolute poor have declined.
Despite many of the achievements of the MDGs, they have not succeeded in integrating some of the most important principles outlined in the Millennium Declaration, including equality. Furthermore, the MDGs’ focus on national and global averages and progress can mask much slower progress or even growing disparities at the sub-national level and among specific populations. To the extent that accelerating progress towards some targets is easier when resources are concentrated among the better off, the era of the MDGs may have inadvertently seen some channelling of resources away from the poorest population groups or from those that are already at a disadvantage because of the effects of discrimination based on their gender, ethnicity, disability or residence. At the very least – and with the exception of the MDG 3 target on girls’ education - they have not given a clear enough incentive for policy-makers to proactively address inequalities. Redressing such discrimination and inequalities will be essential in the next global development agenda, if global opportunities for progress are to be shared by those most in need of its benefits.
The Report of the
" Despite many of the achievements of the MDGs, they have not succeeded in integrating some of the most important principles outlined in the Millennium Declaration, including equality. Furthermore, the MDGs’ focus on national and global averages and progress can mask much slower progress or even growing disparities at the sub-national level and among specific populations "
High-level Panel of Eminent Persons
An initial attempt to come up with specific goals that include all three dimensions of sustainability - economic, social and environmental - for the post-2015 period was made by the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In May 2013 the panel released its report entitled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development.” The HLP Report is programmatically competent and politically astute. However, the Report entails many layers, and it is worth peeling back the layers to see what lies inside. Some interesting questions then arise, especially about the goals and targets. The key layers of report are: 1) the five transformative shifts; 2) the 12 goals; and 3) the 54 targets.
The five shifts are:
Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all.
Put sustainable development at the core.
Leave no one behind.
Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth.
Forge a new global partnership.
In many ways, the five transformative shifts set the ‘theme tune’ of the post-2015 agenda. The list above is not a statement of values, of the kind that features in the Millennium Declaration (freedom, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, etc.); nor does it amount to an end-point definition of ‘human development’ (or indeed sustainable development). It could be read as a distinctive call to arms; the opposite of these statements are the problems we have to fix. Thus: people are being left behind; the development model is not sustainable; we suffer from jobless and unequalising growth; too many ‘institutions’ are not open and accountable; and rich countries are not pulling their weight.
Going an extra step ahead, one may also add – the current growth model is not working for the wellbeing of all masses, economic growth does not necessarily lead to happiness, our social fabric has eroded, and the fundamentals of global collective action have been diluted. Leaving aside the transformative shifts that are currently not on the HLP report, the ones that are already in it are adequate. While these intended shifts are important to any future development framework, it is unclear whether the transformative shifts are make or break issues for the next generation of global goals. In the run-up to 2015, the goals and targets will be more important. Chapter 3 of the HLP report gets more specific on what can and cannot be achieved with a goal framework, on the criteria for choosing goals, and on the risks. The HLP notes that “a goal framework is not the best solution to every social, economic and environmental challenge.” A small number of SMART targets are needed, written in simple language and providing a compelling message. The targets should be widely applicable, and based on consensus. Importantly, the HLP concludes that “whenever possible, goals and targets should reflect what people want, without dictating how they should get there. . . Given vastly different capabilities, histories, starting points and circumstances, every country cannot be asked to reach the same absolute target. All countries would be expected to contribute to achieving all targets, but how much, and at what speed, will differ. Ideally, nations would use inclusive processes to make these decisions and then develop strategies, plans, policies, laws, or budgets to implement them.” Such language carries tactical advantage, however, imparts uncertainty. What happens if adding up country commitments leaves the world falling short of agreed global targets? Climate change, for example, is an area where we have encountered this issue.
The HLP suggests twelve goals, which are intended to contribute in a cross-cutting way to the transformative shifts: 1) End poverty, 2) Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality, 3) Provide quality education and lifelong learning, 4) Ensure healthy lives, 5) Ensure food security and good nutrition, 6) Achieve universal action to water and sanitation, 7) Secure sustainable energy, 8) Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth, 9) Manage natural resource assets sustainably, 10) Ensure good governance and effective institutions, 11) Ensure stable and peaceful societies, and 12) Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance.
There are a lot of positive elements in this list. Ending absolute poverty by 2030 is an ambitious goal; the Panel’s recognition that the challenge of climate change underpins all others is commendable; the focus on educational and health outcomes rather than inputs is a step forward, as is the new emphasis on secondary education and vocational training; and food and nutrition has also moved up in priority level than before.
However, there is also a lot to be concerned about. For instance, the inadequacy in addressing soaring income inequality would debilitate efforts to achieve equitable and sustainable development progress. Immediately after the HLP Report was released in May, Oxfam’s Stephen Hale commented: “The Panel has failed to recognize the growing consensus that high levels of inequality are both morally repugnant and damaging for growth and stability. Without targeted efforts to reduce inequality, social and economic progress will be undermined. Global poverty is declining, but income inequality is soaring. Billions of people are being left behind by economic growth. A plan for reducing inequality was a major omission in the original MDGs, and ignoring income inequalities now will undermine the struggle to eliminate poverty and injustice.” Hale’s comment is well-placed given the current global inequality trends. The richest 1% of the world’s population has increased its income by 60% in the last 20 years. The world’s 100 richest people amassed $240 billion last year - enough to make a huge contribution to ending extreme poverty more than three times over.
Voicing Our Concerns
Adoption of this list of goals would certainly be a positive step. However, at a time when a major transformation is needed, it would be a rather small step. The world is at the cusp of overstepping social and planetary boundaries that guarantee stability and sustainability. The need to tackle the fundamental causes of today’s unsustainability - a model of intense production and consumption that disregards the carrying capacity of the planet - and the repercussions for the fabric of society, has become urgent. With the growth of the middle class in emerging economies, this unsustainable production and consumption model is being adopted beyond the confines of the industrialized North.
In addition to exhausting limited natural resources, at a time of increasing climate change impacts, it also often creates patterns of extreme economic inequality, unemployment and exclusion. These will not go uncontested, especially by the youth, as we see by recent unrest in the countries of North Africa, Southern Europe, Brazil and beyond.
There is still time for us in the global South to infuse into the post-2015 framework elements of global justice that put the wellbeing of people at the heart of the development agenda. As pointed out by Dr. Debapriya Bhattacharya of the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Bangladesh, “individuals and countries from the Global South do not participate equally in the post-2015 debates. 80% of all written inputs into the post-2015 development agenda are submitted by individuals and institutions located in the Global North.” As the HLP Report stresses, “no one should be left behind”, and that should be appropriately operationalized during all stages of the development process, including (and most importantly) at the agenda setting stage.
The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA)’s symposium this year is “Making sustainability the next metric: the post 2015 development agenda”. The aim of the meeting is to discuss Asian perspectives and ideas into the global discussions on the post- 2015 development framework. With this in mind the symposium will bring together key South Asian resource people and invited participants to discuss the position papers and other solicited inputs through 6 key sessions structured as interactive discussions with panelists and selected group of invitees. The session outcomes will be collated into South Asia’s suggestions for millennium development goals, processes and measurements to be taken forward through the Southern Voice initiative spearheaded by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Bangladesh. Through this column, we intend to bring to you important development recommendations that will emerge during the regional consultation.
Comments - 1
rasavath Sunday, 03 November 2013 12:00 PM
excellent article, but nose so blind as those who will not see. Besides have not the ruling tribe been only interested in taking care of their own?? Enlightened note , but like poring water on a ducks back!
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