After 2015 – the High Level Panel reports

by | May 30, 2013

The Secretary General’s High Level Panel has published its report (download here) on the post-2015 development agenda – here’s quick review of what it’s come up with.

The heart of the Panel’s recommendations are easy to grasp. First, it calls for an end to absolute poverty by 2030. This shift from poverty reduction to poverty eradication would be a big deal if taken seriously. It would set a global social floor – placing a powerful obligation on governments and the international community to ensure everyone gains basic rights and economic opportunities.

However, it also creates a huge strategic challenge. It’s already proving heart to get health, education, income etc. to the poorest of the poor, those live in the toughest environments and face the greatest obstacles to a better life for them and their families. Business-as-usual is not going to bring this group out of poverty – nor is the market magically going to ride to the rescue (although it can help).

Delivering zero-based poverty goals (and ones with a great emphasis on quality of outcome as well) requires a fundamental rethink of how development is delivered.

The Panel then adds three more sets of objectives, each of which is more ambitious and complex than the core poverty agenda that dominated the Millennium Development Goals.

It sets out a vision for an economic transformation that would deliver growth that is more widespread and, above all, delivers more and better jobs, especially in regions such as Africa where work forces are growing fastest, but also across a world that is gripped by an endemic jobs crisis.

Then it wants to change the direction of that growth to make it more sustainable – transforming the way we use energy, eat, travel etc. in order to stabilize the climate and protect other natural systems. This is the Rio+20 agenda revisited.

And finally it addresses the enablers needed to support prosperity, arguing that we need to do more to tackle the conflict and insecurity that makes development impossible, while building the robust institutions and governance capable of responding to the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

The nub of the report, however, is in the Panel’s fifth ‘transformative shift’ – building  a global partnership that can deliver change:

A renewed global partnership will require a new spirit from national leaders, but also – no less important – it will require many others to adopt new mind-sets and change their behaviour. These changes will not happen overnight. But we must move beyond business-as-usual – and we must start today.

The new global partnership should encourage everyone to alter their worldview, profoundly and dramatically. It should lead all countries to move willingly towards merging the environmental and development agendas, and tackling poverty’s symptoms and causes in a unified and universal way.

This is easier said than done, of course. On poverty, the way ahead is far from clear, but at least there is the beginning of a debate on what it will take to end poverty by 2030. It’s less clear that we know how to solve the global jobs crisis, that we want to shift to a green growth trajectory, or that outsiders can help build stronger institutions in the world’s weakest states.

The next couple of years will show whether there is political will to crack these conundrums – and what levers the international system has to drive change.

As you thumb through the report, there are two pages to look out for. On page 19, you’ll find the Panel’s estimate of the potential impact of full implementation. Some big numbers are thrown around:

1.2 billion fewer people hungry and in extreme poverty. 100 million more kids alive and 4.4 million women who survive pregnancy and childbirth. 470 million more good jobs. 1.2 billion more people with electricity to 2° C.  Governments more accountable for the $30 trillion they spend.

And then there’s the goals themselves, which can be found in a couple of fat appendices that start on page 29 onwards (yep the main report itself is commendably short). There was a big debate about how specific the Panel should be in proposing concrete goals and targets, and the result is compromise – we get illustrative goals (a dozen of them) and targets (nearly 60) that are intended to act as “as examples that can be used to promote continued deliberation and debate.”

I’d put the chances of anyone listening to that injunction at slightly less than zero, as constituencies howl about areas that have or haven’t been goaled. So here’s the list for you start arguing with:

(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 access to water and sanitation; (7) secure sustainable energy; (8) create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth; (9) manage natural resources and assets sustainably; (10) ensure good governance and effective institutions; (11) ensure stable and peaceful societies; (12) create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance.

More on the reaction to the report as it rolls in, but I think this is a good start: a clear and simple contribution to a debate that has been dominated by waffle and wishful thinking. Some vision there too.

But remember: this is just the opening shots in a debate that is going to take two years or more to unfold. This is the end of the beginning, not the beginning of the end.


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

More from Global Dashboard

Justice for All and the Economic Crisis

Justice for All and the Economic Crisis

As COVID-19 plunges the world into its most serious economic crisis for a century, a surge in demand for justice is inevitable. Businesses face bankruptcy – and whole industries may be insolvent. Similar pain is being felt in the public and non-profit sectors....

Who Speaks for the Global South Recipients of Aid?

Who Speaks for the Global South Recipients of Aid?

The murder of George Floyd and the resurfacing of the Black Lives Matter movement has led to heightened discussions on race in the international development sector. Aid practitioners in the North have not only condemned the systemic racism that they (suddenly) now see...