Debate on what should follow the Millennium Development Goals after 2015 is now underway in earnest. This briefing paper by Alex Evans and David Steven, prepared for a closed session Brookings Institution meeting organised at the request of the US government, sets out an overview of the MDGs and their expected status in 2015; describes the background to, and options for, a post-2015 framework; and discusses the political challenges of agreeing a new framework and sets out considerations for governments and other stakeholders. (April 2012)
Later today in New York, a 2 day meeting on the idea of ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ will begin, bringing together numerous countries’ Permanent Representatives to the United Nations plus a whole host of environment and development experts from capitals. It’s going to be an interesting meeting.
The idea of ‘SDGs’, after all, has acquired a lot of political momentum in recent months. Partly that’s because they’re seen as a potential outcome from this summer’s Rio+20 sustainable development conference – at a point when very few concrete outcomes from Rio appear to be in prospect (see the ‘zero draft outcome document’ pdf that was published earlier this month). The SDGs agenda is also topical given that the Millennium Development Goals are due to hit their 2015 deadline pretty soon, raising the question of what should come after them. (See Claire’s excellent recent publications, like this and this, on that for a full briefing on where things stand on that front.)
But the funny thing is that there’s remarkably little clarity on what SDGs would cover, or how they’d work. Would they just run from now to 2015, alongside the existing MDGs, and cover a few ‘gaps’ that were missed out in the MDGs – like access to energy? Or would they in fact take over from the MDGs after 2015, thus becoming the new organising framework for global development policy? These are big questions – and at a time, of course, when multilateralism has really been struggling to make much running not just on Rio preparations, but also on climate, trade, and any number of other key issue areas.
Against this backdrop, David and I have just published a short CIC briefing paper (pdf) that discusses where we are on the SDGs agenda – and how it might usefully pan out from here. In a nutshell, our argument is that policymakers should think twice before regarding SDGs as an “easy win” from Rio. We argue that this is a very complex and potentially very contentious area of policy – and that policymakers should play a long game at this stage rather than going for quick wins that could all too easily backfire. Accordingly, we think that discussion of SDGs at Rio should go no further than discussion of broad principles and raising the level of ambition. A lot more shared awareness – not just between policymakers, but also with publics, private sector, media, civil society and so on – is needed before the discussion about specifics gets underway in earnest.
A few months ago, the Colombian government created what passed for excitement among international climate and development types, with its proposal for ‘sustainable development goals’. In a paper that is surprisingly short given the talk it’s generated, they proposed a set of goals which, in essence, incorporate the current Millennium Development Goals, but go well beyond them in including a range of possible goals on sustainability and the environment.
At the time, Alex raised a set of important questions here on GD about the what, the who and the how of any future SDGs. And over at CGD, Charles Kenny made a plea for the SDG and the MDG people to start talking to each other to provide some of the substance to underpin these ideas.
And since then? Global negotiations are funny things. In the absence of almost any of the substance that Charles was asking for, and without answers to any of the questions posed by Alex, the SDGs have continued their onward march. Representatives of thirty countries recently met in Bogata to agree some objectives for SDGs, based around reconciling poverty reduction and sustainability.
The SDG train has clearly left the station – even though no one really knows what they are. This is a little disheartening for innocent folk like me who like to believe that facts matter (yeah, I know, hopelessly outdated – I may as well be writing this on a Smith-Corona).
Given that no one really knows what SDGs are, but they sound good and people seem to like them, what might they actually be? Where is the meeting ground between environment and development that could form the basis of a set of goals, and what difference would it make to go about things this way?
Putting sustainability into poverty reduction:
If the MDG project has been about putting forward a set of positive things that need to happen for poor people: more money, more health, more education, what are the sustainability goals that could fit into this sort of framework? The things we need more of, from a sustainability and a development point of view, are, among others, more clean energy, more sustainable sources of water, and more food grown in ways that does not irrevocably deplete natural resources. These are things one could imagine putting into a new set of goals to go alongside the more traditional MDG concerns of health, education and income. Some of them, like water, are even in there already, though almost ignored.
So far so good, but the poverty reduction bit is actually the easy bit. (more…)
Debate has started in earnest about what should come after the Millennium Development Goals when they expire in 2015. This paper from ODI and UNDP, authored by Claire Melamed and Andy Sumner, summarises the evidence on the impact of the MDGs, looks at current trends in poverty and in global governance that will affect the shape and the scope of any future agreement on global development.