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The Post-2015 development agenda – one year to go

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I have been something of a habitual weekend flier to and from New York over the last year (although I still barely know the city outside the vicinity of the UN) and I’ve clocked up a few UN General Assembly Ministerial Weeks (UNGAs) too. Nevertheless, as I prepare to pack my bags for the biggest week in the international calendar, I am unusually excited by the days ahead. Partly this stems from the realisation that, all being well, in a year’s time I will be making this same trip to mark the unveiling the new global development goals. As the UK’s Post-2015 Envoy, September 2015 - when the new goals will be unveiled - has always seemed an intangible way off.  Yet, with a year to go, it now feels almost within touching distance.

Part of this excitement also comes from the huge strides we have made over the last couple of years. First, Rio+20 agreed on the concept of universal sustainable development goals. Then the UN Secretary General asked the Presidents of Indonesia and Liberia, and my own Prime Minister, David Cameron, to co-chair a High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda.

Some of the Panel report's ideas – leave no one behind, a data revolution, global goals and zero targets, sustainable development at the core, transforming economies for jobs and growth, building peace and effective, open and accountable institutions, a new global partnership – have become common currency within the post-2015 debate.

I get asked all the time by NGOs to ensure that the UK government is continuing to push these priorities. And after a year’s worth of discussions between Member States at the UN, we have a further report from the Open Working Group that reflects the tireless efforts of member states to propose a rich and wide-ranging set of potential goals and targets on which we can build.

I am particularly pleased that the working group has proposed goals that will end extreme poverty once and for all and on equality for girls and women. We also joined many other member states in building the case for goals on peaceful and inclusive societies and accountable and inclusive institutions.

For girls like Bayush (far left) and her friends, education is key to avoiding early marriage and FGM. Picture: Jessica Lea/DFID
For girls like Bayush (far left) and her friends, education is key to avoiding early marriage and FGM. Picture: Jessica Lea/DFID

On Wednesday 24th the UK government will co-host, along with the government of Ghana and Transparency International, an event on the importance of governance, transparency and accountability. These are critical issues – without them peace is threatened, poverty entrenched and prosperity a pipe-dream – and they must be included in the final set of goals. I believe that we must listen to those many voters in the MY World survey of nearly 5 million people who have identified an honest and responsive government as an issue that sits alongside health, education and jobs as the top priorities for the post-2015 goals. It is right that these issues remain the fore through to September 2015.

For all this progress, I must also confess to nervous excitement, because we still have a lot of work ahead. As I look at the 17 goals and 169 targets proposed by the Open Working Group, a huge achievement, I am nevertheless reminded of those Swiss army pen-knives in vogue when I was younger. The ones with hundreds of potentially useful bits, suitable for any and every eventuality, but so big they were unwieldy and unused, invariably left at home. Faced with such a device, you hanker after something smaller, more practical, and you need to know that it has the right tools for the tasks that most need doing (for a better analogy see the "169 times good cake" argument). We are still some way away from a set of goals that inspires action, is genuinely workable, and can be used as a basis for accountability locally, nationally and internationally.

Does this mean we should start from scratch – tear up the Open Working Group Report and other proposals on the table? Of course not – we have, through months of inspiration and perspiration, a fantastic foundation on which to build. But let’s not forget that the power of the Millennium Developmen Goals lay in the fact that they were simple, compelling, and easily understood by all.

The opportunities are momentous – the eradication of extreme poverty within a generation, the integration at last of sustainable development within a global development framework, the empowerment and protection of the poorest and most marginalised, and the creation of institutions that foster a world we all want to see.

But the risks, with a year to go, are stark. If we press pause, if we sit back and say that what we have is “good enough”, we will have failed in our responsibilities. Those of us building these goals - member states supported by the UN system, civil society, foundations, business and so forth - have the duty to build a framework that, well, works. Some worry about the risk of losing their pet issues, others about how to find the time for yet more discussions. But if we include everything, we prioritise nothing and the system buckles under its own weight. If we rest easy (or “cash the chips”), we have failed the very people that we owe most responsibility to, and we lose a generation of progress.

Over the course of this week, the UK will be championing the need for an inspiring and workable post-2015 development agenda that does justice to all the efforts of those who have already contributed – including the millions of citizens who have told us their hopes and dreams, be it face-to-face or through the internet. We want others to join us in this call, not least those who will have a huge hand in putting this into action – for example, ministries in least developed countries and the UN itself.

UNGA will come and go in a flash, as it always does. I hope it is the flash of a lightbulb moment, as we realise what is at stake and the fantastic potential that we have within our grasp.

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  1. Comment by Roger England posted on

    Post-2015 development agenda

    Increases in non-communicable diseases are set to wreck development gains.

    Cardiovascular, diabetes 2, cancers and chronic lung disease account for 68% of 56m deaths globally.

    This is three times all deaths from all infectious diseases + maternal and perinatal + nutritional deficiencies.

    75-80% of NCD deaths occur in LMICs.

    NCDs will cause U$47 trillion in lost output by 2030, U$21 trillion of this in LMICs (for comparison, total GDP for LICs is U$0.6 trillion pa now).

    This does not include costs of treatment that, if it were being done, would already exceed many LICs total health budgets.

    The only affordable remedy for this is prevention: 80% of premature NCD deaths could be prevented with sufficient action on food and drink consumption, smoking and exercise.

    Meanwhile in the US, the food and drinks industry spends $10bn marketing food and drinks that appeal to children, kids see 5,500 TV ads pa for fast foods and soft drinks, 10 companies control 50% of total food and drink sales, and the production of many harmful ingredients is subsidized.

    In 2011, 55% of all health aid was for MDG goals, with only 1% for NCDs (which are 50% of DALYs in LICs globally).

    Roger England, Health Systems Workshop

  2. Comment by Pauline Rose posted on

    Many thanks for the informative blog.

    Here is a target that can be dropped from goal 4 on education - which will sharpen the focus of the goal, and ensure it sticks to the overarching principles of contributing towards poverty eradication:

    "4.b by 2020 expand by x% globally the number of scholarships for developing countries in particular LDCs, SIDS and African countries to enrol in higher education, including vocational training, ICT, technical, engineering and scientific programmes in developed countries and other developing countries"

    Currently, around 75% of aid spent on higher education is allocated to such scholarships. It would be far better to focus on supporting the capacity of national higher education institutions.

    And unless someone can come up with a way to measure this, it should also be dropped:

    "4.7 by 2030 ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development"

    So this would bring the number of targets down to 167!

    And all of the targets in education, as in other areas, should be tracked for the most disadvantaged groups (not only by gender)

  3. Comment by Paul Starkey posted on

    I greatly appreciated the idea of the high level panel of ‘leaving no one behind’. However, there seems to have been much more support within the UN for urban people than rural ones.
    There is a proposed ‘urban’ goal (Goal 11) but no equivalent goal for rural people. Some UN agencies have even argued that rural people could be covered by the urban goal (although this is most improbable).

    Urban people have a good and clear transport target (11.2)
    By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport for all and expand public transport
    There is no equivalent rural target

    There are estimated to be over one billion rural people living more than 2 km from any road. Rural people need transport infrastructure and services to access their livelihoods, markets, health services, education and numerous economic, social and civic opportunities. Good transport crucial for poverty reduction, economic and social development and meeting other Sustainable Development Goals. Without rural transport what will be the outcomes of our inaction?
    By 2030, if we do not improve rural access:
    ?? million mothers and babies will die due to lack of healthcare
    ?? million girls and boys will receive inadequate education
    ?? million tonnes of agricultural production will not be grown
    ?? million tonnes of food will be spoiled

    Yes, there are 169 proposed targets already, but national governments, development banks, bilateral donors and NGOs all know how important it is to have clear targets to facilitate actions and investments.

    Can we not achieve a rural transport target? It could easily fit under Goal 1: Eliminate poverty or Goal 2: Sustainable agriculture (which could be most usefully be converted to a ‘rural development’ goal that includes agriculture)

    Can you and DFID and its partners try to influence the SDG process to ensure that rural people are not ‘left behind’ by the SDG process?