Implementing the Post-2015 Development Agenda in the United States

by | May 12, 2014

In a new report from the Center for American Progress, we explore the implications of implementing the post-2015 development agenda in the United States.

Given the massive changes in the world since 2000, when the Millennium Development Goals were adopted the United Nations headquarters, it should come as no surprise that the post-2015 development agenda is shaping up to be quite different from the MDGs. One of the most profound shifts is that the post-2015 will be a universal agenda.

To echo the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP), a universal agenda is based upon true global partnership, a joint endeavor to end poverty and promote sustainable development. Universality signals a transition away from the North-South dynamic that has defined development policy for decades.Though the specifics are still unclear – in particular how best to accommodate varying national circumstances and contexts – the basic idea is that every country would have work to do, both at home and as members of the global community, in order to achieve the post-2015 development agenda.

While an incredible amount of energy is focused on the what of the post-2015 development agenda, relatively less attention has been paid to the all-important question of how it will be implemented.

In this new report, John Norris, Casey Dunning, and I explore what implementing the post-2015 development agenda might look like from the perspective of the United States. The result of our analysis is a report, Universality In Focus. We use the illustrative set of goals and targets set out by the HLP as our starting point, identifying the achievability, measurability, and merit of each target, and as appropriate, the potential level of ambition for the U.S. in meeting such targets.

Rather than a definitive analysis of a very broad and complicated set of issues, it is our hope that this report is the start of a more specific and focused conversation on implementation and the practical implications of universality in the post-2015 development agenda. We would hope that others undertake similar analysis in different countries, to further inform the ongoing conversations among diplomats in New York.

A few quick findings from our analysis:

  1. Though there is no magic number of goals and targets, the framework will need to balance the need for a clear, concise, and compelling goals with the aim to address a comprehensive set of sustainable development challenges. Based on our analysis, the 12 goals and 54 targets set out by the HLP are feasible, but could be considered too comprehensive. Collecting, analyzing, assessing and reporting on progress across a significant number of government agencies and other partners over such an extensive list of priorities is possible, but certainly not easy. Especially when one considers that to answer the call to “Leave No One Behind,” disaggregated data will be needed, which will further complicate the data gathering process.
  2. With universality comes national differentiation – if all countries are expected to sign up to the next set of goals, the targets will need to have some flexibility to accommodate different country capabilities. However, entirely nationally determined targets could considerably complicate the goals and reduce the level of ambition. Targets would not be comparable, making accountability difficult and weakening the broad aspirational aims and mobilizing capacity of the MDGs, defeating the purpose of a global goal framework. Allowing some targets to be set nationally allows for greater flexibility and is important in shaping an agenda that can be truly universal.
  3. Coordinating implementation of post-2015 at the country level should take place at the highest political level, as it will require significant work to ensure a transparent, evidence-driven, consultative process of gathering, analyzing, and reporting on progress.


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    Molly Elgin-Cossart is currently Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and Non-resident Fellow at the New York University Center on International Cooperation. She was previously Chief of Staff to the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

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