What happens after the Millennium Development Goals?

% Complete

    With less than three years left to the deadline of achieving the Millennium Development Goals the United Nations, in consultation with different international stakeholders working at the global, regional, national, and sub-national levels, is now working towards a post-2015 development agenda with sustainability at its centre. 

    The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have served as a milestone in global development. They helped to galvanize development efforts and to set global and national priorities and important progress has been made towards achieving the goals by the target date of 2015. Nevertheless, despite the achievements made so far and the current efforts to work towards achieving all goals, it is clear that more efforts will be needed after 2015 to bring the world onto a sustainable development path. 

    Now is the time for the global community to move beyond business as usual and explore new options for inclusive, people-centred and sustainable development, creating a world free from fear and want for all the world’s people. With the deadline for the conclusion of the Millennium Development Goals agenda fast approaching and the decision from heads of State in the Rio+20 conference to work towards a set of sustainable development goals, we have a unique opportunity to move to an agenda that brings together human and sustainable development. 

    Looking at the new development landscape…

    This is not to say that developing this new agenda will be an easy task. The challenges the world faces today are not the same as in 2000, when the MDGs were conceived. New issues have appeared and new powerful actors have emerged. Challenges, that have become more pressing include the persistence of major inequalities; the knowledge gap between countries and within countries; shifting population dynamics; a growing environmental footprint and the depletion of our natural resource base; peace and security issues; and governance and accountability deficits at the global, regional, national and sub-national levels. The multiple food, employment, financial and economic crises and the ongoing conflicts in many parts of the world further exacerbate these issues.

    At the same time new centers of economic dynamism have emerged which has broadened the landscape of development cooperation. Middle-income countries have become key players in the development world as their cooperation reached between US-$ 12.9 billion and US-$ 14.8 billion in 2010. Beyond financial support, South-South cooperation is also increasingly active in knowledge sharing and capacity development. 
    Parliaments, civil society organizations (CSOs), the private sector, and private philanthropy organizations, community-based organizations and local governments have also become important actors. Their development efforts are very different, ranging from the role of CSOs in advocacy, implementation of development projects and service delivery at the grassroots level to the financial assistance disbursed by philanthropic organizations which provides vital contributions to financial flows from other donors in critical sectors. 

    … a transformative vision is needed

    Given the opportunities and challenges that arise from this new development landscape, it has become clear that previously trodden developmental pathways will not work anymore. Thus a new development agenda requires a vision of transformative change requiring actions from all nations across the globe and building new momentum amongst people and civil society. While it is still too early to decide on the final contours and content of a new development agenda, current thinking on the agenda reveals a number of aspects where common thinking between a large range of stakeholders has evolved. 

    People seem to agree that the new development agenda should build on the Millennium Declaration and its fundamental values: freedom, equality, solidar­ity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility. Sustainable development with its three dimensions of economic, social and environmental development should be at the core of any new development agenda. A view that has gained even more in prominence since the conclusion of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012. Moreover, any new development agenda must build on the lessons learnt from the MDGs. 

    Building on the MDG experience 

    One of the key strengths to be maintained in the post-2015 framework is the MDG’s ability to be easily communicated and understood. Their simplicity and conciseness in eight goals with clearly defined targets and indicators is often viewed as one of the main reasons the goals have made such an impact. Thus the international community is urged to avoid an overburdening of the new agenda. The MDG experience has shown that a set with a limited number of topics, which acknowledges and takes into account the inter-linkages between the different aspects, will be far more effective and successful than a long ‘Christmas Wish List’ of themes. 

    A further criticism of the Millennium Development Goals is their focus on end-results that leaves them silent on the means of achieving these. While this is beneficial in avoiding over-prescription and leaves national governments in the driver’s seat of development policies, it would be helpful to provide guidance to policy making but avoid being prescriptive. Such guidelines would provide policy suggestions, which can then be altered to national and regional standards by governments, depending on their needs, and would ensure that these do not violate existing international standards, such as the international human rights standards. 

    A more holistic development agenda

    Basing the new agenda on the four interrelated dimensions of inclusive social development, inclusive economic development, environmental sustainability and peace and security will allow for a more holistic approach. Such dimensions could be complemented by a core set of enablers which help to create policy coherence and to capture the interlinkages between the goals. It is important to move away from the silo approach of the MDGs and to fully grasp how the different themes and issues relate to each other. Moreover, given the current conflict between the strive for human and economic development and the unsustainable use of natural resources, a new agenda has to help foster a more sustainable development path. One way of doing so is to fully capture the three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social and ecological – under each goal. 

    Given the need for a truly global agenda a mixture of global goals with targets and indicators tailored to national and sub-national circumstances should be explored to capture the shared responsibilities for all countries. In order to properly take account of population dynamics a mixture of absolute and relative targets could be explored, to be complemented by the use of disaggregated data to identify existing inequalities and tackle these accordingly. While attention should be given to an agenda with a potential longer time horizon of 15-25 years to allow for transformative change, this might also cause the loss of political momentum and the actuality of targets and indicators. Thus, a combination between longer-term goals with intermediate targets for five years periods that can be reviewed and adjusted accordingly should be explored. 

    The need for a renewed global partnership for development

    A renewed global partnership for development will be critical in achieving the targets set out in any new development agenda. While MDG8 did provide a way to promote and advocate the important role of the global partnership, it was heavily criticized for reinforcing a traditional donor-recipient-country dichotomy with a lack of tangible targets for developed countries. 

    Thus a new global development partnership needs to be truly global by fostering an equal relationship as partners among countries. It needs to encompass all forms of partnerships including bi-lateral cooperation and South-South partnerships, including all stakeholders: philanthropic foundations, the private sector, civil society organizations and governmental institutions at all levels. Rather than focusing solely on official development assistance (ODA), a new global development partnership has to acknowledge the different forms financing for development now takes and the diminishing role of ODA. Moreover, it must be underpinned by a robust accountability framework. 

    The way forward

    At this point, many different processes are underway, both within the United Nations system (see Box) and outside of the United Nations, led by CSOs, philanthropic organizations and the private sector. National governments and regional organizations are also initiating thinking on the post-2015 development agenda. 

    It is still unclear how the process will unfold in the coming months. A first important milestone was the 2012 Rio+20 Conference on sustainable development, which initiated the work on a set of sustainable development goals in its outcome document. There is broad agreement on the need to arrive at one global development framework beyond 2015, which captures both the developmental and environmental aspects. Thus, early convergence of the Rio+20 process and work on the post-2015 development agenda has been proposed by many stakeholders. The next crucial landmark in this process will be the 2013 Event of the President of the General Assembly on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals which might also help to further unfold how UN Member States envisage the post-2015 process.

    Box: The UN-led processes

    Three interlinked processes have been established at the United Nations. In January 2012 the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda was created by the UN Secretary-General. Co-chaired by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme, the Task Team assembles more than 60 representatives of UN agencies and other international agencies. It presented its first report Realizing the future we want for all (1) to the Secretary-General in June 2012.  

    Following this report, the Task Team has established three new working groups on the global partnership, monitoring and indicators and financing for sustainable development. A second report on a renewed global partnership in the post-2015 era will be published soon. Moreover, the Technical Support Team to provide inputs to the Rio+20 follow-up process was also created under the umbrella of the Task Team to create synergies between the two processes. 

    The Secretary-General appointed a High-level Panel of Eminent persons in July 2012. Chaired by the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, it assembles representatives from governments, civil society, the private sector, academia and local authorities. It will publish its report on the post-2015 development agenda by the end of May 2013 (2)

    A set of more than 70 national consultations, eleven thematic consultations and a global conversation organized by the United Nations Development Group will also feed into the ongoing workstreams to ensure that the viewpoints from citizens, experts and practitioners are included in the ongoing discussions.

    Diana Alarcon is Senior Economic Affairs Officer at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).

    1. The Report can be found at: www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/untaskteam_undf/index.shtml
    2. See the article in this issue by Ms Betty Maina, a member of the UN HLP, and Stefano Prato.

    This article was published in Great Insights Volume 2, Issue 3 (April 2013)

    Loading Conversation