An emerging consensus on the meaning of development

    United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (center) with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron (left) and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (right), co-chairs of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The high-level panel released on May 30, 2013 a report that sets out a universal agenda to eradicate poverty by 2030. Photo by: Mark Garten / United Nations

    EDITOR’S NOTE: A wide range of indicators can measure virtually anything in development, but publishing this data depends on political will and the financial resources of governments. Council on Foreign Relations Fellow for Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Terra Lawson-Remer calls for a global agreement on the “multifaceted metrics” of development for the post-2015 agenda.

    The U.N. High-Level Panel on Post-2015, composed of political appointees from every continent, recently issued a highly-anticipated report proposing a new framework for measuring economic, social, and environmental progress and performance. The study urges world leaders to pursue development goals focused on several critical issues that have been sidelined for too long, including governance and rule of law, inequality and social and economic exclusion, and sustainability.

    As the report makes clear, a rising tide does not necessarily raise all boats, thus a clear commitment to combating inequality and advancing social and economic inclusion must be at the core of the global development agenda.

    This embrace of social and economic rights indicators presents a direct challenge to the longstanding, wealth-based growth paradigm of development.

    Furthermore, the recognition that standard growth trajectories are wreaking havoc on the environment, threatening the inheritance of future generations and disproportionately impacting the world’s most vulnerable populations, suggests that sustainability must become a central objective of growth and development policies. This furthers the embrace of sustainable development that began in the 1980s and was eloquently encapsulated in the 1987 Brundtland Report. Lastly, the report puts governance, rule of law, and human rights at the center of the development agenda — both as an ends and as a means to achieving development goals.

    Still, turning big ideas into actions inherently faces political challenges. The proliferation of various indicators in recent years demonstrates the technical feasibility of measuring everything from rule of law to sustainability. But the data collection process remains controlled by political will and the financial resources made available.

    Moreover, different indicators can favor some countries over others or incentivize perverse government policies. Therefore, despite the emerging global consensus that multifaceted metrics of development are desperately needed, it remains uncertain whether the international community will be able to come to a consensus around a clear set of alternatives. 

    Edited for style and republished with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations. Read the original article.

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