A gap between world leaders and civil society on post-2015?

Indonesia President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf, co-chairs of the United Nations High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda during discussions in London in November 2012. Photo by: Patrick Tsui / Foreign & Commonwealth Office / CC BY

A high-level panel appointed by the United Nations to craft a new global development agenda is gathering in Monrovia today for a series of talks – but civil society representatives are afraid that its focus has become too narrow.

These civil society groups are calling on the panelists to broaden their focus beyond poverty reduction, said Leo Williams, the Brussels-based international coordinator for the organizing coalition The World We Want 2015, in an interview with Devex.

WWW2015 is spearheaded by Global Call to Action Against Poverty, a grassroots network of civil society groups. It works closely with the High-Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. Its web platform, www.worldwewant2015.org, is cohosted by civil society and the United Nations.

The coalition just launched civil society consultations in 30 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America – at the same time that separate public consultations are being conducted for the United Nations in more than 50 countries to determine what ordinary people would like to see world leaders focus on after the Millennium Development Goals expire in 2015.

While some of the MDGs are on target to be met by 2015, progress, especially on improving maternal and child health, is uneven and some targets are reportedly off track.

The civil society consultations – 12 in Africa, 10 in Asia, and eight in Latin America – run through June. In South Asia, poverty and inequality, discrimination, particularly on the basis of gender and caste, climate change and peace and human security have been identified as emerging regional issues, says Mohammad Zia-ur-Rehman, GCAP’s South Asia regional coordinator.

Three countries in GCAP’s South Asia regional scope – The Maldives, Afghanistan, Bhutan – are not holding consultations.

Zia-ur-Rehman says that GCAP South Asia plans to issue one policy brief in March reflecting these four policy goals. If the high-level panel does not consider the recommendation, the civil society movement will issue a separate report.

At the high-level panel’s first meeting in London last November, the focus was on poverty reduction – too narrow a goal for the civil society coalition.

“That was kind of an ‘MDGs plus,’ and we are going to go a bit further than that,” Williams told Devex. “We are keen on trying to include other key issues, like environmental sustainability, inequality and human rights, but we are not thinking in terms of specific goals at this stage. We want to collectively, as 600 organizations, build a consensus around these concepts.”

Granted, the high-level panel still has plenty of time to expand its focus. After the three-day meeting in Monrovia, it plans to gather again in Indonesia in March, and in New York in May before submitting to the United Nations in September its suggestions for a post-2015 global development agenda. It is co-chaired by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom.

Also, the U.N. secretary-general just launched a working group that will craft a set of sustainable development goals – a move to broaden the discussion, for sure, but also one that civil society groups fear could muddle the debate. SDGs tend to be global and include environmental targets. TheOpen Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is composed of 30 country members, with rotating 70 different seats, under the office of the president of the General Assembly.

“The challenge is ensuring that the two processes lead to a unified set of goals in 2015,” Williams said. “What we need to avoid is a global environmental framework and a global development framework.”

The coalition is moving forward with developing its own content position, which will be guided by live online participation and input. It is expected to be completed by October 2013, one month after the high-level panel will present its report at a post-2015 event coinciding with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.

In Monrovia, between 40 and 60 members of WWW2015 will represent the larger movement on the fringes of the high-level gathering. The coalition is directly connected to the panel through the office of Graça Machel. The Mozambican humanitarian and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela is one of the 27 world leaders sitting on the panel, which was appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last year.

Civil society participation and access remains challenging, though, Williams said.

“Part of the issue is kind of participation and access, in terms of timing,” he explained. “So details and official processes tend to come out very late, decisions tend to be taken very late, and it’s very hard to have the full details.”

A panel of U.K. lawmakers raised similar concerns about the work of the panel a few days ago.

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day. 

About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is an award-winning journalist based in New York City. Her coverage on politics, social justice issues, development and climate change has appeared in a variety of international news outlets, including The Guardian, Slate and The Atlantic. She has reported from the U.N. Headquarters, in addition to nine countries outside of the U.S. Amy received her master of arts degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in May 2014. Last year she completed a yearlong fellowship on the oil industry and climate change and co-published her findings with a team in the Los Angeles Times.