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The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Three Facts and Three Challenges

Sarah Hearn | September 03, 2014

In July 2014, the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development proposed a universal set of post-2015 goals and targets to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The draft consists of 17 ambitious goals for social, economic and environmental sustainable development by 2030. Through the negotiations countries have agreed that the framework should be: universal – applying to all countries; focused on poverty eradication and sustainability; and “transformational”.

It is not clear whether this is the final post-2015 framework; many countries argue there is room for improvement and the UN General Assembly and Ban Ki-moon need to thrash out the next steps for reaching a deal by a global summit in September 2015. The UN will have its work cut out. The world has never agreed a development agenda this ambitious. UN agreements can work when negotiators start with a common vision, when they use deft sequencing of negotiations to arrive at a convergence of views, when they appeal to enough constituencies, and when they focus on implementation. Successful UN agreements have always been based on a clear understanding of how to move from paper to action.

Achieving this recipe presents negotiators with three facts and three political challenges to contend with.

Negotiators can’t lose sight of three core facts when considering how to translate universal ambitions into reality by 2030…

1. Leaving no-one behind will require reaching people in conflict-affected countries by helping to prevent conflict and to build institutions. Taking the OECD’s fragile states list, CIC calculated that by 2030, 1.9 billion people, or roughly 20% of the world’s population, could live in conflict-affected a states (forthcoming). Many of those states are in Sub-Saharan Africa. If negotiators fail to reflect these priorities, poverty could become Africa’s problem.

2. Translating commitments into achievements will require job creation. Some projections put the global labor force at 3.5 billion by 2030 driven by a youth bulge in developing countries. This will require sustainable job creation to meet demand for livelihoods, and skills and training to fill labor shortages. Negotiators must involve the private sector in how to meet sustainable global development ambitions.

3. Data need to improve dramatically. For many countries, there isn't adequate country data to provide a baseline for the post-2015 agenda, or frequent enough measures to effectively gauge progress over time. In addition, in the MDG era, no baseline was established for the impact of aid. Most aid interventions are not rigorously evaluated, so every year, the development community loses the opportunity to learn from 1000s of projects. In many countries, it remains unclear the extent to which aid supported aggregate growth or influenced government policy – this is not simple to measure, but it is possible. The world will need to get much more systematic and transparent about collecting data and acting on it if the new agenda is going to have the intended impact.

Politically, negotiators have some way to go to craft an agenda that can be translated into action. There are three main challenges to address for this agreement to work…

1. The political vision at the heart of the post-2015 framework still needs to be clarified and sold. The MDGs made intuitive sense because the richest countries transferred resources to the poorest. But countries in the South have complained of a “West lectures the rest” dynamic. The post-2015 framework is a new way of doing business because it makes universal commitments to more inclusive and sustainable globalization across every country. The problem is that this is complex and conceptual. Leaders need to work out the vision and sell it much harder – at home and globally.

2. Negotiators need to secure a political deal based on enough wins for enough constituencies. Who wants what from the post-2015 agenda isn’t clear. Many high-income countries want a new development partnership, a stronger focus on governance and peace, and to leverage private finance - still recovering from the financial crisis, more aid is unlikely. Low-income countries want to secure aid and want to sustain the poverty focus of the MDG era. Middle-income countries are a very diverse group, ranging from rising powers to countries that only just graduated from low-income status. The concrete asks and offers of these constituencies remain unclear, but without clarity from them a universal framework will be not be possible.

3. Resources need to match ambition if paper commitments are to translate into action. A new global partnership for development will need to recognize that aid is a small piece of the pie, and draw more coherently on private sector investment, technology, migration, trade, and climate finance. In 2015, negotiators have the opportunity to build coherence through four overlapping international negotiations: the post-2015 negotiations, the WTO and UNFCC climate summits in December 2015 and the finance for development summit. But failure along one of these tracks can set the others off track. I recommend listening to CIC’s Alex Evans here about the pressure on the multilateral system to deliver.

Ultimately, governments will need to appoint senior envoys to hold together a coherent vision and process that will translate commitments into action post-2015. Follow CIC’s Alex Evans, Jorge Laguna Celis, Ben Oppenheim, Varad Pande, David Steven and I on this here.

Photo credit: Roberts Voors/Flickr.com/Creative Commons