Beyond the MDGs – our new Brookings Institution paper

In posts over the last couple of weeks, David and I have been previewing some of the ideas set out in a paper we did for the Brookings Institution in advance of a Chatham House rule seminar held for the US government. The full paper’s now been published, and can be downloaded here. Here’s an excerpt from the summary:

For governments and international organizations, the politics of agreeing an effective post-2015 framework are likely to prove extremely difficult. Deep disagreements are likely to surface between developed, emerging, and developing countries, while continued economic turmoil will distract leaders’ attention from longer-term challenges. Early rhetoric on the SDGs has set the bar for success unfeasibly high, and sustained media criticism can be expected when it proves impossible to deliver against this standard.

Many governments will adopt a low profile, but there is considerable space for a leading country, or group of countries, to act early to ‘shape the debate’ on what should and can be delivered after 2015.

While enthusiasm for the idea of SDGs has so far crowded out discussion of goals focused more specifically on poverty reduction, this agenda may well only play a niche role after Rio+20, given the political obstacles to adoption of a universal, comprehensive and binding set of goals for sustainable development.

The UN’s new Energy for All goals, however, have shown the potential for creative approaches that are developed outside traditional inter-governmental negotiations and that bring together governments, the private sector, and civil society. This may provide a model for the development of a loose family of similar goals.

At the same time, a commitment to end absolute poverty would make an inspiring, and politically attractive, headline target for 2030. Fundamental work is needed to explore the feasibility of this goal, analyzing the ‘geography of poverty’ after 2015 and determining the most effective ways of making a difference to the lives of world’s most vulnerable people.

The immediate priority is to set out in more concrete terms options for the design of post-2015 goals, forcing all key actors to confront the benefits and costs of each option. This can be used to catalyze the formation of a ‘guiding coalition’ with the energy and political will needed to win agreement for the preferred option.