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Question of the Week: The Millennium Development Goals Part II

by Development Channel Staff
October 18, 2012

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaks during a closing ceremony of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development summit in Rio de Janeiro on June 22, 2012 (Ueslei Marcelino/Courtesy Reuters). UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon speaks during a closing ceremony of the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Summit in Rio de Janeiro on June 22, 2012 (Ueslei Marcelino/Courtesy Reuters).

How should the next set of global development goals be chosen?

Question of the Week posts review important questions and controversies in global development by providing background information and links to a full spectrum of analysis and opinion. Today’s post explores the process to determine what will replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015.

Even as efforts to achieve the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) continue, the process of figuring out what a new set of global goals should look like when the MDGs expire in 2015 is already underway. The next goals could significantly influence global development priorities and spending, just as the MDGs have. Consequently, many involved with or affected by the global development agenda feel that the stakes are high and are pushing for their perspectives to be included. And unlike the original process for determining the MDGs—a top-down endeavor involving relatively few people—the post 2015-process is larger, more complex, and at least potentially more inclusive.

As 2015 approaches, the question of the future global development agenda is increasingly visible. During the UN General Assembly opening this September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed the 26-member High-Level Panel that will advise him on the future of global goals. “The MDGs have helped us to conceive of and work towards a world of justice and potential for all. Our next development agenda must accelerate progress on this urgent task. It must be just as concrete, just as inspiring, and even more ambitious,” he said. The group’s recommendations will be presented before the UN General Assembly in 2013.

The High-Level Panel includes heads of state, civil society leaders, academics, and others from around the globe. David Cameron, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia, are the chairs of the panel. Nonetheless, some say that the panel insufficiently incorporates the perspectives of those actually living in poverty. “…we are extremely concerned that there are no grassroots organizations represented on the High Level Panel, such as women’s associations, farmers cooperatives, indigenous groups, workers or organizations of the impoverished represented,” a large coalition of civil society organizations organized around the post-2015 agenda argued in response to the panel’s makeup.

The panel has an important role—sifting through the wide variety of opinions and perspectives that will come before it. As Clair Melamed of the UK Overseas Development Institute (ODI) explains, “…the panel’s job is to prioritize between the 101 good ideas that are out there, and to tell a story explaining the decisions they have made which is convincing enough to persuade others that it’s the right way to go.”

Indeed, the panel can draw from some 50 country-level consultations about what should come after 2015; the UN argues that “the consultations will seek to ensure that the vision of the world we want to live in takes into account the perspectives from a broad base of civil society, marginalized groups, and others previously left out of discussions on development priorities.” Thematic consultations on topics like governance and health—bringing in civil society, policy perspectives, and more—are also underway. When it comes to taking the perspectives of the United Nations’ many organizations into account, a UN System Task Team “brings together senior experts from over 50 UN entities and international organizations” and has recently released a report with broad recommendations. Meanwhile, the World We Want Campaign, a collaboration between civil society and the United Nations, seeks to encourage ordinary people to participate in the post-2015 process, whether online or through the consultations.

In addition to these official processes, nonprofits and others are spreading information and campaigning around post-2015 issues. To name two of the major initiatives, the ODI produces scholarship on the future of the MDGs and runs post2015.org, a site dedicated to tracking debate and research on this issue. Another organization, Beyond 2015, comprises over 380 civil society groups and aims to “create a civil society consensus around a minimum standard of legitimacy for a post-2015 framework, both in terms of the process and the framework itself.” Within the United Nations frameworks and beyond them, there is no lack of opinion, knowledge, and strong beliefs about what should come after 2015.

As for issues generating particular interest, sustainability will likely play an important role in the post-2015 goals. Several processes organized around sustainable development are already in place. The Rio + 20 conference that took place this summer called for a working group to develop a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) that will be brought to the UN General Assembly in 2013.

Also, the Sustainable Solutions Development Network (SSDN) is a UN initiative that will advise the High-Level Panel on sustainable development. Headed by development economist Jeffrey Sachs, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, the SSDN seeks to leverage the expertise of centers of scientific knowledge like universities on issues of sustainability. Although the ultimate relationship between sustainability and the next set of global development goals remains to be seen, there are already some areas of overlap.

But will all of these processes ensure that diverse perspectives are actually included in future development goals? Some observers are skeptical. Here on the Development Channel, Ben Leo of the antipoverty organization ONE commends the UN’s and other organizations’ drive for inclusiveness in the post-2015 process. But he adds, “…there remains a very real risk of not capturing the most critical voices–those of the world’s poorest citizens.” Looking at all the processes in place to include more perspectives, Harvard’s Alicia Ely Yamin asks, “…in the cacophony of competing voices, how can we be sure the wielders of power are really listening to the diverse views of men and women who live in poverty or face exclusion along different axes of identity?”

It is uncertain how the various elements of the post-2015 process will ultimately shape the development agenda. However, this may be one instance where form matters nearly as much as substance. In a survey of 104 civil society representatives from 27 developing countries, “86 percent agreed that the process of deciding a new framework would be as important as the framework itself. They stressed the need for an open, participative process, including poor citizens in developing countries.” Today’s communications and other technologies allow an unprecedented range of voices to participate in the global conversation. The challenge will be conducting a process that is inclusive yet efficient and that can produce a coherent and compelling set of new development goals.

What do you think?

Is the post-2015 process sufficiently inclusive? Will world leaders take into account diverse civil society perspectives? What role should sustainability play in the next set of goals? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below, and stay tuned for future Question of the Week posts.

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