UN panel's post-2015 goals: 'Promising start' or 'lacking a roadmap'?

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, co-chair of the United Nations Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda presents the panel's report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. It sets 12 highly-anticipated universal goals, which many in the development community dubbed as "a promising start." Photo by: Mark Garten / U.N.

“A promising start.” That’s how many call the 12 new goals proposed by a panel of leaders handpicked by the United Nations to frame the future development agenda, while others fear that the targets could get watered down as we get closer to the 2015 deadline for completion of the Millennium Development Goals.

Just hours after the 27-member U.N. High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda unveiled its recommendations to replace the MDGs in New York, the thousands of stakeholders involved in the process began to analyze how the framework will affect international cooperation and the delivery of foreign aid until 2030.

The report will have its share of supporters and skeptics.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the panel’s recommendations and promised he will offer guidance while the document is fine-tuned before being reviewed by U.N. member states at the General Assembly in September.

Likewise, the report satisfied European Development Commissioner and panel member Andris Piebalgs, who asserted the report makes it clear that “the post-2015 framework should address the whole range of root causes of poverty and unsustainable development” and that the framework “should be truly universal in its application and coverage.”

Mixed reactions

The development community was abuzz on Friday with comments about the panel’s recommendations, and many made their voices heard either to defend or criticize the new strategy.

For instance, large humanitarian organizations such as Oxfam and World Vision commended the report’s vision, but had concerns over the feasibility of the goals.

World Vision agreed with the aim to end extreme poverty by 2030 but pointed out that the framework “fails to identify how we will achieve an end to poverty for those who have been excluded from the MDGs,” especially children in fragile states, said Adam Taylor, vice-president of Advocacy for World Vision USA. Oxfam Deputy and Advocacy Campaigns Director Stephen Hale added that more weight should be given to the soaring income inequality in today’s society: “Without a roadmap for closing extreme income inequality gaps within and between countries, the next set of global goals is almost certain to be unachievable.”

Other aid groups had separate concerns.

WaterAid CEO Barbara Frost lauded the focus on universal access to water and sanitation, while Chris Bain, director of the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development, said the panel’s recommendations “offer a credible steer on the way ahead” but warned that “the next steps are vital” and that the biggest challenge is how to turn the goals into concrete results.

Sven Sandstrom from Hand in Hand International — a group advocating for job and business creation in fighting poverty — gave a nod to the new spotlight on generating jobs and sustainable livelihoods in the report, but asked: “Where will the millions of jobs needed come from?”

Targets on gender and eliminating discrimination against women were commended by several organizations, among them anti-poverty group VSO, whose chief, Marg Mayne, was “hugely encouraged” by those provisions.

DSW Executive Director Renate Baehr was “very pleased” that the report promotes equal rights for women and better educational opportunities for young people. She welcomed the report’s emphasis on the rights of all people to decide freely when and how many children they have. What is now important, she said, was that the recommendations of the High Level Panel are implemented and that donor countries stand by their commitment to give 0.7 percent of their gross national income for development cooperation.

Health Poverty Action director Martin Drewry meanwhile condemned the lack of commitment to ending inequality, but said that the goals can still be salvaged if firm and measurable commitments are added to address the issue.

Goals, transformative shifts

The report sets out 12 highly-anticipated universal goals, along with 54 associated targets aiming to translate the ambition of the goals into practical outcomes:

  1. End poverty

  2. Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality

  3. Provide quality education and lifelong learning

  4. Ensure healthy lives

  5. Ensure food security and good nutrition

  6. Achieve universal access to water and sanitation

  7. Secure sustainable energy

  8. Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and equitable growth

  9. Manage natural resource assets sustainably

  10. Ensure good governance and effective institutions

  11. Ensure stable and peaceful societies

  12. Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance.

The much-debated issues of inequality and climate change were mentioned among the six crosscutting issues to be addressed: peace, equality, climate change, urbanization, youth and sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The report also outlines five transformative shifts needed in society to drive the goals and create an enabling environment for achieving targets:

  1. Leave no one behind: “We must ensure that no person — regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status — is denied basic economic opportunities and human rights.”

  2. Put sustainable development at the core: “We must make a rapid shift to sustainable patterns of production and consumption, with developed countries in the lead. We must act now to slow the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity.”

  3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth: “A profound economic transformation can end extreme poverty and promote sustainable development, improving livelihoods, by harnessing innovation, technology, and the potential of business. More diversified economies, with equal opportunities for all, can drive social inclusion, especially for young people, and foster respect for the environment.”

  4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all: “Freedom from violence, conflict, and oppression is essential to human existence, and the foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies. We are calling for a fundamental shift — to recognize peace and good governance as a core element of wellbeing, not an optional extra.”

  5. Forge a global partnership: “A new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability must underpin the post-2015 agenda. This new partnership should be built on our shared humanity, and based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.”

The first shift, “Leave no one behind,” particularly pleased ONE. President and CEO Michael Elliot said: “It is vital that the needs and desires of the world’s poorest and most marginalized are placed at the heart of a new development agenda.”

The panel has attempted to address the full spectrum of development issues in crafting its recommendations, consulting thousands of stakeholders in the process. But whether or not a global consensus will be achieved remains to be seen, as the U.N. leadership sets in motion a High-Level Summit on Post-2015 and the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals keeps its recommendations under wraps until 2014.

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About the author

  • Johanna Morden

    Johanna Morden is a community development worker by training and a global development journalist by profession. As a former Devex staff writer based in Manila, she covered the Asian Development Bank as well as Asia-Pacific's aid community at large. Johanna has written for a variety of international publications, covering social issues, disasters, government, ICT, business, and the law.