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Business as usual or system change

Davinia Gómez Sánchez is Project editor for the Broker’s “Post 2015” project.

MDG-based approaches

These approaches prioritize basic needs in global efforts to reduce poverty. The rationale behind this is “to encourage sustainable pro-poor development progress and donor support of domestic efforts in this direction.” In the MDG model, these basic needs are clustered into eight goals, subdivided by targets and indicators. The MDGs aim to achieve objective outcomes, which are action-oriented, concise, easy to communicate, and global in nature, while taking into account national realities, differences and priorities. However, the overarching goal of the models within this category may be broader than the original goal of tackling extreme poverty (defined by the World Bank as less than US$1.25 per day), including protecting the environment and peace/security. Although many models can be distinguished within this category, they can be roughly divided into ‘conservative’ and ‘extended’ MDG models.

Conservative models

Conservative models focus on poverty reduction and propose either extending the timeline for achieving the MDGs or developing a modified set of broader goals.

These models are usually inspired by donors, multilateral aid and development agencies, and are in line with the 2005 OECD Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. They advocate country ownership, partnership, alignment, harmonization, budget supportand management for development results (MfDR). Conservative approaches fall into three categories:

  • Retaining the MDGs with minor revisions (the baseline or ‘roll-over’ proposal). Mark Suzman (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) and Dr Gaston Gohou (CESS Institute), as well as the MDG Progress Reports on Africa all go in this direction. These proposals do not have widespread support, however

  • Retaining the MDG model, adding sustainability considerations for each goal. The “ZEN” framework of the Asian Development Bank emphasizes the challenges of achieving zero extreme poverty (Z), setting country-specific “Epsilon” benchmarks for broader development challenges (E), and promoting environmental sustainability (N)

  • Modifying the MDGs with greater flexibility at national level (considering the initial conditions of each country and differences in national priorities). The new framework should address the process of how to achieve the outcomes (an ‘outline of means’), rather than focusing only on the results.

Less conservative but remaining within the MDG model are the Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs). The MCGs are goals for the rich, presented as the opposite side of the coin to the MDGs, which protect the poor. They are conceived as a complementary path to global sustainability as part of broader initiatives on Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP). Professor Mohan Munasinghe describes the MCGs as a set of benchmarks to be achieved by a combination of voluntary actions by sustainable consumers and producers, supported by enabling government policies.

Extended models

Extended MDG models (‘MDG-plus’) entail recalibrating the MDGs to reflect changing economic and geopolitical conditions, increasing inequality, demographic dynamics and challenges. They add new goals based on lessons learnt from the MDGs (see overview below) but follow the same logic as the original MDG model. They are already being implemented in some developing and middle-income countries, like Thailand, where achievement of the MDGs was far more viable.

MDG-plus models add new elements to development strategies, especially quality indicators and new issues, like equality, good governance and environment. With such a large number of different issues, however, these models could risk losing one of the MDGs’ strengths: simplicity. The options within this model include:

  • Expanding the MDG on environmental sustainability to include issues such as energy and agriculture and the need to mitigate the risk of external shocks caused by climate change and environmental degradation.

  • Wider goals differentiated by context, which include cross-cutting issues and a human rights’ focus.

  • Andy Sumner and Meera Tiwari propose to build on the MDG on global partnership, and to expand MDGs to local ownership with nationally set goals on global poverty issues. Governments would set new national targets and, or pursue both universal and an nationally defined poverty goals.

The MDGs have received a fair deal of criticism, which contributes to shaping the post-2015 agenda. Here are some of the major points of criticism raised towards the MDGs:

  • The MDGs have had distorting effects and negative aspects.

  • They represent a reductionist view of development: the MDGs were more poverty reduction goals than development goals, although reality shows that resource allocation was not necessarily determined by need. They neglect fundamental dimensions of development, like human rights and economic growth.

  • They are based on a limited unifying theory on the structural causes of poverty (weak on social justice: equity, rights, vulnerability and exclusion).

  • They lack theoretical underpinning and consequently focus mostly on concerns raised by aid agencies.

  • They are fragmented in their implementation as well as in their underlying conceptualization of development and means and ends.

  • They offer new instruments for old policies (as opposed to a new development paradigm).

  • They are limited in scope, neglecting certain topics related to material, relational and subjective wellbeing.

  • They lack universality: the MDGs overlook poor and marginalized groups, as well as poverty in middle-income countries.

  • They led to isolated programmes instead of more integrated approaches reflecting the complexity of poverty and of coordinated interventions.

  • They have promoted dependency in developing countries.

  • They have promoted a top-down approach rather than one based on the participation and inclusion of key actors in design, formulation and implementation.

  • They have been misinterpreted and used as a one-size-fits-all framework despite being intended as collective targets (insufficient attention has been paid to specific context at national and local level, although some countries have adapted the targets to their context and priorities).

  • Multiple objectives have been defined in different ways, which might lead to overlap and difficulties in assessing overall progress.

  • They focus on results and quantity, rather than quality.

  • Duty-bearers lack accountability for reaching the goals.

  • There is a lack of leadership and ownership.

  • There is a lack of political and financial planning for long-term continuation.

  • They neglect the role of the private sector.

  • They create the illusion that any goal can be met if the right amount of money can be mobilized.

More comprehensive approaches

Building on these criticisms and the lessons learnt from implementing the MDGs, a number of proposals move beyond the MDG model and advocate a more comprehensive approach.

The SDG model

Some scholars and practitioners see the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Read our article Lessons learned form MDGs in this dossier) as a form of MDG-plus. Although the SDGs are framed in a structure similar to the MDGs (with complementary targets for each goal), they are more integrated constitute therefore a firstmove towards a more comprehensive approach.

The SDG model originates in a proposal by the governments of Colombia and Guatemala for the Rio+20 process, and is based on Agenda 21 from 1992 (combating poverty especially in developing countries, reinforcing global partnership and protecting the environment). The proposal suggests prioritizing cluster issues to balance socioeconomic growth and the use of the environment, namely: combating poverty, changing consumption patterns, promoting sustainable human settlement development, biodiversity and forests, oceans, water resources, advancing food security and energy (including from renewable sources).

The SDG model includes all dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) and emphasizes the objectives of sustainable development according to whom? Brundtland report? (poverty eradication, changing unsustainable production and consumption patterns, and protecting and managing the natural resources of the planet). It advocates people-centred goals and universally applicable development at a national level. The principles inspiring this model are those referred to in the Millennium Declaration.

Within the SDG model, the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES Japan) suggests incorporating the essence of the MDGs (a common set of goals and priorities) into the SDGs with a focus on climate change/energy, water, disaster risk reduction and resilience, sustainable cities, etc. This proposal emphasizes separate national development priorities as well as the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Based on different country situations, it prioritizes basic access (for developing countries), strengthening efficiency (for middle-income countries), or lifestyle-changing actions (for developed countries).

Jeffrey Sachs proposes an MDG-style model for the SDGs, which would frame universal goals around the four pillars of sustainable development. His proposal focuses on the triple bottom line approach to human wellbeing: economic development, environmental sustainability and social inclusion. Importantly, these categories depend on good governance at local, national, regional and global levels.

Multidimensional models

These models emphasize the interdependence and interconnectedness of elements that are at stake when tackling development (natural resources, health, social protection, food, water management, energy, peace, security, etc), as opposed to the more fragmented and limited approach of the MDGs.

Jeff Waage et al. suggest a model based on five guiding principles: holism, equity, sustainability, ownership and global obligation. This model derives from a definition of development as a dynamic process involving sustainable and equitable access to improved wellbeing, expressed in terms of social, environmental and human development. Other approaches focusing on wellbeing apply more comprehensive indicators, taking account of factors like empowerment and options facing the individual.

Rights-based models are inspired by the idea of human needs as human rights, and see poverty and social exclusion as a denial of those rights. These models are based on internationally agreed human rights language, principles and standards. They place citizens at the centre and highlight universality and the idea of progressive realization of rights using the maximum resources available. The MDG-human rights nexus concept falls within this category. It sees poverty reduction and human rights are seen as interconnected but distinct endeavours: poverty reduction cannot be resolved entirely through a human rights approach or through empowerment, inclusion or voice. It also entails technical and economic issues, and analytical questions about how to organize economic institutions.

In their report “Post-2015 development agenda: goals, targets and indicators”, the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Korean Development Institute (KDI) suggest candidate goals to inform the process of selecting successors to the MDGs. The CIGI and KDI divide 12 new development goals into three groups focusing on “the essential endowments necessary for individuals to achieve their fuller potential, the arrangements to protect and promote collective human capital and the effective provision of global public goods.”

A global public goods (GPGs) approach addresses issues such as financial stability, the environment, knowledge, peace and security, common goods and resources, which enable human development and economic growth. It sees current problems (poverty, climate change, financial systems, etc) as global challenges caused by unbalances and lifestyles in developed countries, as well as in developing countries, and mainly in the world as a whole. Solving these problems calls for global thinking and collective action. They cannot be adequately addressed by individual countries alone. Pollard and Fischler refer to collective (rather than common) problems.

Advocating a GPG approach implies “taking a fresh look at the strategies that countries employ when pursuing their national interests.” While development goals currently focus on national development instruments, the GPG approach could lead towards a model where global development goals are tackled using global development tools.

On this same track, Richard Manning refers to the One World approach, while Andy Sumner proposes the Millennium World. Both address global issues with a focus on climate change, global public goods, goals for climate adaptation, finance, poverty, social insurance, resilience and security. According to Richard Manning, his approach “would encourage policy-makers to give greater weight to tackling systemic global issues (of which absolute poverty would be only one)”. Others than Manning?? would include inequality, the global commons, security, global governance, etc.

These comprehensive approaches mark a renewed way of development thinking that was already present during the making of the MDGs but was severely watered down during the final negotiating process, moving beyond the MDG framework and seeking new integrated roads ahead. However, they still work within existing structures, suggesting moderate transformations. The final group of models, which are the most radical, aim at system change.

Models aimed at system change

These models call for a fundamental and transformative change in the prevailing understanding of development, politics, international economics and global governance. They question existing power relations and aim for far-reaching transformations, on the basis of a framework driven by obligations and accountability (rather than a charitable approach), and constructed around the value of global solidarity and a global “new deal”. Following Rolph van der Hoeven: a new global social contract “would guarantee Least Developed Countries (LDCs) concessional resources to achieve inclusion in the world economy and poverty reduction”. This highlights the need for social protection and strengthened global governance to enhance policy coherence for development.

Transformative models focus on long-term comprehensive strategies, which require major changes in the current economic, financial, political and consumption systems in developed countries. According to Jan Vandemoortele, the real debate about the MDGs must be about a threefold agenda to reform the global trading system, redress climate change and reduce within-country inequalities.

These alternative approaches propose to move from development assistance to a universal global social contract, from growth models that increase inequality and risk to models that decrease inequality, from meeting easy development targets to tackling systemic barriers to progress, and from damage control to investing in resilience. They aim to leave behind traditional donor-recipient frameworks, broadening the scope of actors involved in the process and expanding its geographical scope to a global scenario, moving from economic to sustainable human development, with more participatory and inclusive governance structures. These models are more critical, embracing and politically oriented, and demand structural change to realize this new vision. New ways of thinking must reflect new realities and global concerns like climate change, social justice and inequality should shape the new agenda. Such approaches advocate a set of goals that “contributes to reshaping processes of global governance representing the preferences of humanity”.

The recently published European Report on Development 2013 seems to subscribe to the necessity of such transformations, although its core content corresponds more closely to a less radical comprehensive approach. Among its conclusions for a post-2015 agenda, the report emphasizes the vital importance of a transformative agenda, calling for economic and social transformations and for the causes of poverty to be addressed within a new model of development.

The many approaches and proposals discussed here are advanced by people in very different situations and with different interests. But they share a stated aim: to advance global development, whether that be by building on existing structures, adding goals and targets for a more comprehensive approach, or aiming to achieve system change. The post-2015 debate will define which model will eventually be chosen after the MDGs expire in two years time. The positioning of the future agenda will show how strongly decision-makers are committed to achieving a just world for all and the extent to which this diversity of approaches has enriched and improved the legacy of the MDGs.

While progress towards achieving the eight MDGs continues with mixed results, the conversation on the post-2015 development agenda is intensifying. The Broker will continue to follow the conversation and the associated events closely (see our article on the post-2015 process here).

Author: Davinia Gómez Sánchez

About the author

Davinia Gómez Sánchez is Project editor for the Broker’s “Post 2015” project.

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