June 10, 2013

Will the world be transformed in 2015?

I am of two minds about the new report by the High Level Panel of Experts on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP).

The HLP was set up in July 2012 by UN Secretary General Bank Ki Moon to present an “ambitious, yet achievable” development framework for what will succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), established in 2000 and intended to be achieved by 2015. They delivered their final report last week in New York.

So here’s the good news – despite sky high expectations, somehow, the Panel has delivered.

The new framework has brought the environment and development back together. Many have argued (like Open Canada) that the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development that emerged from the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio, were never integrated into the MDGs. This meant that the two have been running on parallel tracks for the past two decades. But the new framework now “put[s] sustainable development at the core,” building on the outcomes of the Rio +20 review, and framing this as one of five transformative shifts that need to occur post-2015.

Transformation is one of the other welcome themes in the new report. The new framework includes four other key transformative shifts to move beyond business-as-usual. Whereas the MDGs sought to halve extreme poverty and hunger in the world, the second shift aims to “leave no one behind” by addressing issues related to inclusion and inequality (although inequality overall still gets a bum deal).

Third, it seeks to “transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth.” This means tackling growing inequality, youth unemployment and decent work, financial stability, fair and pro-development trade, and sustainable activities, among other things.

The fourth shift tackles something that was sorely missing from the MDGs – peace and conflict (a welcome addition), and open, accountable and effective institutions in all countries to help deliver on all of these transformations.

Finally, it envisages a new global partnership for achieving all of this, and one that embraces all actors in development – from government, to business, to civil society, academics and people.

The framework also builds on the unfinished business of the MDGs by integrating some of the lessons learned from the past 13 years. For example, it draws attention to not just creating decent work for poor people, but securing land tenure for them; it focuses on the quality of education and lifelong learning, not just getting more kids in schools; and it looks at ending hunger, but also ensuring people have nutritious food to eat.

It also introduces a range of important new issues: ending gender violence and child marriage, enhancing access of the poor to social protection systems, universal sexual and reproductive health and rights, increased access to energy and more renewable energy, ensuring basic political freedoms and rights to information and data, and a focus on tax evasion, among others.

All of this it has bundled up into 12 illustrative goals, with corresponding targets, disaggregated indicators (that would measure the realization of the targets) to ensure shared progress by different groups within a country, and a call for a data revolution to ensure that countries can gather this information.

Finally the panel has also been extremely strategic. They have sought to fill gaps and identify new issues, be ambitious but also practical (by translating transformative shifts into concrete goals and targets that the panel argues everyone can rally behind), and ensure that the framework applies to all countries but can also be adapted to national contexts.

So what’s not to like?

While the MDGs have helped spur huge progress on a number of fronts (half a billion less people living below the poverty line, 3 million less child deaths per year, 25% reduction in deaths from malaria), the world is facing a series of global shocks – the financial crisis, a food system in disarray, the Arab Spring – that could completely undo global progress on development. Inequality is on the rise. Carbon dioxide emissions hit 400 parts per million, bringing us closer to a global catastrophic climate crisis.

So yes it is time for transformation. But, to quote renowned development thinker Michael Edwards, “like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, [this means] that something qualitatively different and better, not simply something quantitatively bigger or more of the same, can emerge from old or existing structures.”

While the HLP’s recommendations mark a significant shift in how we need to address these issues, and may have a big impact on the lives of millions, it tackles symptoms rather than the emerging set of systemic crisis we’re facing. This requires not just retweaking and refining the current system so it works better, but doing things fundamentally differently for people and the planet.

I am willing to do so. I guess we will have to wait until 2015 to see whether millions of Canadians (and the government) feels the same.

This article by Fraser Reilly-King, Policy Analyst at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, was first published in the Ottawa Citizen Blog on Aid and Development, on June 6, 2013.

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