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4 Issues to Watch: Recommendations for the Post-2015 Development Agenda

UPDATE 5/30/13: The High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released its final report on May 30th. Read the full report on the Panel's website.

Following an extensive global consultation process, the High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda will present its final report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon this week. Led by the heads of state of Indonesia, Liberia, and the United Kingdom, the panel is charged with producing a bold yet practical vision for global development beyond 2015, when the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to expire. While this is just the first round of what is sure to be a multi-year process, there has been no shortage of discussion about the Panel’s report and what it should say.

Here are four key issues that we will be looking at on May 31st:

1) Will sustainability be on the margins or at the center of the post-2015 agenda?

The MDGs focused primarily on poverty reduction and the social dimensions of human development, with one stand-alone (and largely ineffective) goal on environmental sustainability. There is growing recognition now that the twin challenges of environmental degradation and inequality are among the root causes of poverty, and thus are inextricably linked. The Panel has already acknowledged this in earlier pronouncements, but how and to what extent it takes a more integrated approach to environmental sustainability and equity issues will be a key test of the new poverty agenda. Will it propose another strengthened, stand-alone goal(s) on environmental sustainability, embed sustainability across a number of other goals, or put forth some combination of the two? How will environmental sustainability and poverty reduction be linked in the post-2015 agenda?

2) Will specific, measurable goals and targets be put on the table?

Civil society, academics, and others have suggested a wide range of possible goals. At a public consultation in London, for example, the Panel received proposals for 40 new goals in 90 minutes. Some of these draw heavily from the current MDGs, while others propose adding entirely new goals (e.g. disaster response, governance, inequality, employment, sustainable transportation). If the panel chooses to present its own proposal, how will it build on the MDGs and address critical gaps in the current goal framework, while keeping to a reasonable number of simple, easy-to-communicate goals? If the Panel also proposes targets for each of the goals, will they be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART)?

3) Will the post-2015 goals ask developed countries to make concrete commitments?

The MDGs focused on improving well-being in developing countries, with developed countries expected to provide foreign aid. This time around, nearly all members agree that the agenda must be universal – with goals that apply to all countries. For example, achieving food security and meeting the nutrition needs of a global population projected to reach 9 billion people will require curbing excessive consumption in some areas, while reducing waste and improving sustainable production everywhere. Given the diversity of countries and their development challenges, how will the Panel craft an agenda that applies to rich countries, emerging economies, fragile states, and least developed countries? Will rich countries have to make commitments beyond aid to reach these goals?

4) What kind of global partnership will it imagine?

The world is profoundly different today than it was 15 years ago when the MDGs were being developed. A broader array of actors are now involved in tackling poverty and building prosperity. A universal post-2015 agenda must redefine and reinvigorate the global partnership for development, with clearly defined roles for national governments, international institutions, civil society, and the private sector. Business, in particular, must play a much more significant role than it has in the past. A new global partnership must also reflect the rapidly evolving role of emerging economies such as India and China. The potential for South-South cooperation is great, and new institutions like the proposed “BRICS bank” present both opportunities and challenges in an increasingly complex development landscape. How does the panel propose that all these actors work together effectively to fulfill the post-2015 aspirations?

Why Does All of This Matter?

The post-2015 agenda must provide a common compass for navigating the turbulent waters of a planet with growing development needs and finite resources. The recommendations to the UN Secretary General come as the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals gets underway. These recommendations are sure to be closely watched—and critiqued and complimented—by its members. While we can be fairly sure that what is proposed next week will not be the final product in 2015, it will be a crucial first step.

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