Wanted: captains, pilots and mates to navigate to post-2015

Development Policy14 Aug 2013Hildegard Lingnau

Goals matter. In 1996, the seminal DAC report Shaping the 21st Century  proposed a set of global goals to guide action on development: “We believe that a few specific goals will help to clarify the vision of a higher quality of life for all people, and will provide guideposts against which progress toward that vision can be measured.” These goals – distilled from discussions ongoing at the time – helped forge the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have proved their purpose in rallying political will. 

Today, as we approach the due date for the MDGs, the question is: what goals are next?

It is the role of governments in the UN General Assembly to agree on the ‘what’. The High-level Panel (HLP) report offers a very good basis for doing so, based on a proposed catalogue of ‘illustrative’ new global goals and targets. But there are at least three already published reports which we should consider if we want to create new goals:

  • ‘Realizing the Future We Want For All’, UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, 2012
  • ’The Global Conversation Begins: Emerging Views For A New Development Agenda’, consultative report, 2013
  • ’An Action Agenda For Sustainable Development’, UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2013

In addition, three more reports are expected:

  • the report of the UN Secretary General on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, to be presented at the UN General Assembly, 2013
  • the report of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2014
  • the report of the Expert Committee on a Sustainable Development Financing Strategy, 2014

It will not be an easy job. Never before have we been so certain of the complexity of setting effective, inclusive and balanced global goals. But never before have we also had the knowledge of what does – and does not – work. Whatever governments agree upon, some things I believe are clear. We must:

  • forge a single agenda for a single world (i.e. take on board the poverty agenda of the MDGs and the notion of planetary boundaries of the SDGs),
  • broaden the understanding of poverty to include multidimensional deprivations (as proposed by the newly founded Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network, which includes countries from around the world) as well as inequalities,
  • take on board other global issues that matter to people, as outlined in ‘The Global Conversation Begins’.

There is one other important lesson to be learned from the MDGs: countries want more policy space. The outcome document of the UN MDG High Level Meeting 2010 is just one of many that has made this clear. A two-level approach – of global goals with national targets (as recommended by the OECD and the HLP report) – would allow international monitoring and benchmarking of global goals, harmonized with national policy-making to achieve diverse and context-specific national targets.

Finally, global goals needglobal policies. Individual countries have more to win than lose if they join forces to provide global public goods (GPGs), rather than pursuing isolated national approaches. How do we overcome the sovereignty paradox of governments holding on to conventional strategies and shying away from international cooperation, when global challenges require more, not less, international cooperation? The answer, as clearly outlined by Helmut Anheimer et al. in ‘The Governance Report’ (2013),  is responsible or smart sovereignty. This will help us to navigate through Ian Bremmer’s ‘G-Zero World’ (2012), where problems continue to grow and no country or international organization (no G8, no G20) is willing or able to meet the challenges of global leadership.

Development economists around the world can help navigate the way by:

  • providing guidance on how to achieve global goals through sustainable development,
  • advising on global policies for global goals / GPGs,
  • developing scenarios for mobilizing financing for sustainable development.

This will enable ‘the captains’ (i.e. the heads of states and governments) to agree and implement the policies that are best for their countries and the world at large.

The post-2015 challenge is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.