U.N. High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda
A New Global Partnership for Sustainable Development
Prepared by Michael Marien 

 

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July 2013
 
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A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development.  Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. NY: United Nations Publications, July 2013, 69p. (free download:www.un.org/sg/management/pdf/HLP_P2015_Report.pdf)
 

 

In January 2012, the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability released a 94-page report on Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing (www.un.org.gsp ; GFB Book of the Month, June 2012).  The “long-term vision” of the Panel is “to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other planetary boundaries.”

To this end, the Panel offered a long list of 56 recommendations for a sustainable planet, a just society, and a growing economy.  They include such proposals as green jobs, an “ever-green revolution” in productivity, universal access to secondary education by 2030, transparent labeling schemes and disclosure of all subsidies, gender equality, responsible land and water investment, disaster risk reduction, price signals that value sustainability, a Sustainable Development Index by 2014 to measure progress, public/private partnerships for capacity-building, implementing the UN “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative, regular assessment of “planetary boundaries” and potential “tipping points”, a regular SD Outlook report, and developing “a set of key universal SD goals to galvanize action, complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and promote a post-2015 framework.”

This latest UN High-Level Panel, led by Homi Kharas of the Brookings Institution (serving as lead author and executive secretary), focuses on universal goals and a post-2015 framework, while outlining five “transformational shifts.”  The Panel of 27 persons, officially co-chaired by the leaders of Indonesia (Yudhoyono), Liberia (Johnson-Sirleaf), and the UK (Cameron), solicited comments from >5,000 civil society organizations and 250 CEOs of major corporations.

 

WHERE THE MDGs FALL SHORT

“A new development agenda should carry forward the spirit of the Millennium Declaration and the best of the MDGs, with a practical focus on things like poverty, hunger, water, sanitation, education, and healthcare.  But to fulfill our vision of promoting sustainable development, we must go beyond the MDGs.  They did not focus enough on reaching the very poorest and most excluded people.  They were silent on the devastating effects of conflict and violence on development.  The importance to development of good government and institutions that guarantee the rule of law, free speech and open and accountable government was not included, nor the need for inclusive growth to provide jobs.  Most seriously, the MDGs fell short by not integrating the economic, social, and environmental aspects of sustainable development as envisaged in the Millennium Declaration, and by not addressing the need to promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production.”  (Summary, p.1)

 

CLIMATE CHANGE ABOVE ALL

“Above all, there is one trend—climate change—which will determine whether or not we can deliver on our ambitions.  Scientific evidence of the direct threat from climate change has mounted.  The stresses of unsustainable production and consumption patterns have become clear, in areas like deforestation, water scarcity, food waste, and high carbon emissions.  Losses from natural disasters--including drought, floods, and storms—have increased at an alarming rate.  People living in poverty will suffer first and worst from climate change.  The cost of taking action now will be much less than the cost of dealing with the consequences later.” (Summary, pp1-2)

 

TRANSFORMATIONAL SHIFTS: A NEW PARADIGM (Summary, pp2-3)

The UN Secretary-General charged the Panel with “producing a bold yet practical vision for development beyond 2015.”  Various meetings and consultations “left us energized, inspired, and convinced of the need for a new paradigm.  In our view, business-as-usual is not an option.  We concluded that the post-2015 agenda is a universal agenda.  It needs to be driven by five big, transformative shifts”:
  1. Leave No One Behind.  “We must keep faith with the original promise of the MDGs, and now finish the job.  After 2015 we should move from reducing to ending extreme poverty, in all its forms.  We should ensure that no person—regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status—is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities… We can be the first generation in human history to end hunger and ensure that every person achieves a basic standard of wellbeing.”
  2. Put Sustainable Development at the Core.  We must act now to halt the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity.  This will require structural change, with new solutions.  Developed countries have a special role in fostering new technologies and making the fastest progress in reducing unsustainable consumption.  “Many of the world’s largest companies are already leading this transformation to a green economy.”
  3. Transform Economies for Jobs and Inclusive Growth.  “We call for a quantum leap forward in economic opportunities and a profound economic transformation to end extreme poverty and improve livelihoods.  This means a rapid shift to sustainable patterns of consumption and production.”  Diversified economies, with equal opportunities for all, can unleash the dynamism  that creates jobs and livelihoods, especially for young people and women.  “This is a challenge for every country on earth,” to ensure that everyone has access to quality education and skills, healthcare, clean water, electricity, transport, and telecommunications.
  4. Build Peace and Effective, Open and Accountable Institutions for All.  “Freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right, and the essential foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies.”  Peace and good governance are core elements of wellbeing, not optional extras.  “This is a universal agenda, for all countries.”  And we need a transparency revolution, “so citizens can see exactly where and how taxes, aid, and revenues from extractive industries are spent.”
  5. Forge a New Global Partnership.  Perhaps the most important shift is towards “a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability,” based on a common understanding of our shared humanity, “underpinning mutual respect and mutual benefit in a shrinking world.”  Each priority area in the post-2015 agenda should be supported by dynamic partnerships.  And it is time for the international community to put its own house in order: to implement a swift reduction in corruption, illicit financial flows, money-laundering, tax evasion, and hidden ownership of assets.
These five changes, pursuing a single sustainable development agenda, are “the right, smart, and necessary thing to do.  But their impact will depend on how they are translated into specific priorities and actions.” (Summary, p.3) Thus a set of illustrative goals and targets are offered, to show how these transformative changes can be expressed in precise and measurable terms.  This framework is briefly set out in Annex I (pp29-31), with more detailed explanation in Annex II (pp32-56).  These targets should be monitored closely by an independent and rigorous monitoring system.  “We also call for a data revolution for sustainable development, with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens.” (Summary, p.3)

A single agenda should also have a coherent overall financing structure.  Countries should continue efforts to invest in stronger tax systems, broaden their domestic tax base, and build local financial markets.  Most of the money to finance sustainable development will come from domestic sources.  But developing countries will also need substantial external funding.  The most important source of long-term finance will be private capital from major pension funds, mutual funds, sovereign wealth funds, corporations, development banks, and other investors. A broad vision of how to fund development has already been agreed on by governments in 2002; this “Monterrey Consensus” still remains valid for the post-2015 agenda.

 

CRITERIA AND RISKS FOR THE AGENDA

A limited number of post-2015 goals and targets should be adopted, and each should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.  Each goal should be guided by clear and easily applied criteria:
  1. Solve a critical issue, and have a strong impact on sustainable development;
  2. Encapsulate a compelling message that energizes people, companies, and governments;
  3. Be easy to understand and communicate without jargon;
  4. Be measurable, using credible and internationally comparable indicators and data, subject to monitoring;
  5. Be widely applicable in countries with different levels of income, and in those emerging from conflict or natural disaster;
  6. Be grounded in the voice of the people and priorities identified during consultations, especially children, youth, women, and marginalized groups;
  7. Be consensus-based, whenever possible built on UN member state’s existing agreements, while also striving to go beyond previous agreements to improve human lives.
But, “if the new development agenda is to be truly transformational, there are several major risks to be managed.” (p.14)  A single sustainable development agenda should not be:
  • Unworkably utopian;
  • Overloaded with too many priorities;
  • Not oriented toward future challenges;
  • Coherent but not compelling;
  • Narrowly focused on one set of issues, “failing to recognize that poverty, good governance, social inclusion, environment, and growth are connected and cannot be addressed in silos.”

 

ILLUSTRATIVE GOALS AND TARGETS
 
“The destination is clear: a world in 2030 that is more equal, more prosperous, more peaceful, and more just.”  (p.29)  Making this vision a reality must be a universal endeavor.  Goals are the crucial first steps to get us moving in the same direction.  Here is an example of what such a set of goals might look like, with most targets set at the national or even local level to account for different starting points and contexts (e.g., increase good and decent jobs by “x”):
  1. End Poverty.  Bring the 1.2 billion people now living on <$1.25 a day to zero, and cover x% of people who are poor and vulnerable with social protection systems;
  2. Empower Girls and Women: end child marriage and all forms of violence against females; ensure equal rights of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, etc.;
  3. Quality Education and Lifelong Learning: ensure completion of primary education for every child (60 million children do not attend school), as well as access to lower secondary education; increase skills needed for  work by x%;
  4. Ensure Healthy Lives: end preventable infant and under-5 deaths; increase vaccination by x%; facilitate universal reproductive health and rights; reduce the burden of disease;
  5. Food Security and Good Nutrition: enable sufficient, safe, affordable, and nutritious food  for all (870 million people are still hungry); increase agricultural productivity by x%; adopt sustainable farming and  fisheries practice; reduce postharvest loss and food waste;
  6. Water and Sanitation: universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation at school and work; increase access to sanitation home by x%; increase water efficiency in agriculture by x%;
  7. Sustainable Energy: universal access to modern energy services; double the rate of energy efficiency improvements; phase out fossil fuel subsidies; double the share of renewables;
  8. Jobs and Livelihoods: increase the number of good and decent jobs by x%; create an enabling business environment and boost entrepreneurship; decrease the number of young people not in education or employment by x%;
  9. Natural Resource Assets: safeguard ecosystems; reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by x%; improve soil quality and combat desertification; increase   sustainability in government procurements; publish social and environmental accounts for all governments and major companies;
  10. Good Governance: free and universal legal identity; ensure freedom of speech and peaceful protest; increase civic engagement; reduce bribery and corruption;
  11. Stable and Peaceful Societies: end all forms of violence against children; ensure that justice institutions are accessible, independent, and well-resourced; enhance the capacity and accountability of security forces and the judiciary; stem external stressors that lead to conflict and organized crime;
  12. A Global Enabling Environment: support a fair and open trading system; ensure stability of the global financial system; hold the increase in global average temperature below 2oC;  rich countries to target 0.7% of GDP as official development assistance; reduce illicit money flows and tax evasion by $x; increase stolen asset recovery by $x; promote access to innovation and development data.

 

 THE GLOBAL IMPACT BY 2030

Provides a brief scenario of “a world in 2030 that is more equal, more prosperous, more peaceful, and more just than that of today; a world where extreme poverty has been eradicated and where the building blocks for sustained prosperity are in place.”  (p.18, italics added)  “This is not wishful thinking: the resources, know-how and technology that are needed already exist, and are growing every year.”
Some elements of the global impact:
  • Global output is set to double, and the per capita income gap between countries will have narrowed;
  • Extreme poverty sharply reduced to 5%, down from 16% in 2015 and 43% in 1990 (Note: elsewhere articulated as extreme poverty “eradicated”);
  • Most developing countries average 5% economic growth per year;
  • Official development assistance concentrated on remaining low-income countries and grows proportionately to match their needs (“with large mineral projects about to come on stream in many low-income countries, there is great potential for raising revenues”);
  • Universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants are respected (by 2030, there could be 30 million more international migrants, remitting an additional $60 billion to their home countries);
  • There will be >1 billion urban residents, and the number of rural residents will start to shrink; this matters because inclusive growth emanates from vibrant and sustainable cities that generate good jobs;
  • More efficient and affordable products are being engineered and adapted to sustainable development needs, e.g. energy-efficient buildings, turning waste into energy, smart grids, low-carbon cities, integrated storm-water management, new vaccines, improved safety nets;
  • $30 trillion spent by governments worldwide transparently accounted for;
  • Average global temperatures on a path to stabilize at less than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
 

 

COMMENT

Although not “wishful thinking,” this is a very optimistic scenario, based on the slim possibility that average global temperatures are stabilized at less than 2°C by 2030—a target that most climate scientists increasingly see as quite unlikely, if not impossible.  “Valuing natural assets” is mentioned in passing on p.60, as is “stopping the flow of illicit drugs, arms and war commodities” on p.61.  However, arguably, a total overhaul of economic thinking is required for any serious sustainable development, such that not only natural capital but human capital and social capital are properly valued.


The fourth transformational shift, calling for “peace and good governance,” is certainly a key part of the new paradigm, but the treatment is superficial.  The concern for peace should be expanded to a broader concern for “security” in all of its dimensions (including cyber-security, controlling or eliminating nuclear and biological weapons, controlling the flow of small arms, and reducing bloated military budgets that could be better invested in other areas to promote security).  And the call for good governance is rather hollow at a time when many governments, notably in the US, are running huge financial deficits and are in gridlock between modernist and fundamentalist/plutocratic factions, with progress toward genuine democracy apparently in reverse, according to Freedom House surveys that have found declines in the past seven years.


The fifth transformational shift, calling for a new global partnership and a “new spirit” of cooperation, also rings rather hollow, due to miniscule if any reference to other groups that have been thinking about the important concern of post-2015 goals.  Partnership and cooperation begins by citing similarities and differences with like-minded efforts, rather than perpetuating the widespread “silo” phenomenon of ignoring such efforts.  Notably, reference should have been made to the earlier 2012 report by the High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, Resilient People, Resilient Planet, and its 56 proposals to empower people, promote a sustainable economy, and strengthen governance, many of which appear in some form in this 2013 High-Level Panel report (e.g. eradicate poverty, basic safety nets for all citizens, advance gender equality, universal access to secondary education, sustainable public procurement, and much more).  Missing from the new report, however, is proposal #27 for price signals that value sustainability so as to guide investment and consumption, #39 for a Sustainable Development Index by 2014, and proposal #51 for regular assessments of “planetary boundaries” and potential “tipping points.”

Three other recent reports also overlap the 2013 High-Level Panel and, in the spirit of “a new global partnership,” deserve to be cited regardless of the level of actual influence:  Vision 2050: The New Agenda for Business (World Business Council for Sustainable Development, Dec 2010), Post-2015 Development Agenda: Goals, Targets, and Indicators (Centre for International Governance Innovation, Oct 2012), and 2012 State of the Future (Millennium Project, Aug 2012).  These three reports, along with brief references to six other related books, are summarized by Michael Marien, “World Futures: New Paths to Security and Sustainability,” World Future Review (World Future Society/Sage Publications), 5:1, Spring 2013, 60-63.


The similarities of these three reports to the 2013 High-Level Panel report deserve to be noted.
There are also differences.  For example, the WBCSD report calls for incorporating the costs of externalities into the structure of the marketplace—a critical economic transformation to promote sustainability.  The Canadian CIGI report, derived from 11 Bellagio Goals, includes universal improvements to infrastructure, which is out-dated and crumbling in many “developed” countries and poor or non-existent in many “developing” countries.  The annual SOF report of the Millennium project, now in its 16th edition, assesses 15 Global Challenges, including promoting genuine democracy, global long-term perspectives, ethical considerations in global decisions, improved decision-making, and new security strategies.


In sum, A New Global Partnership, despite its curious omissions and priorities, is an important step forward in articulating the necessary Post-2015 Development Agenda to succeed the Millennium Development Goals.  In the spirit of global partnership, however, it should acknowledge similar efforts, and encourage ongoing discussion of similarities and differences, so as to build wide consensus on the single agenda.  As the High-Level Panel notes in arguing for the five transformative changes and a single sustainability agenda, it’s “the right, smart, and necessary thing to do.”  (Summary, p.3)

 

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