Briefing Note The High Level Panel: Post 2015 Development Agenda

Ms. Shamshad Akhtar Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Development of DESA

The MDG agenda: what has been achieved?

As we are nearing 2015, there is a broad recognition that MDG framework served international community with its focus on human development. Yet a lot needs to be done to meet the targets defined under MDGs and deepen their impact. Besides technical irritants, the MDG-driven development agenda has been impacted by global challenges that have become much more complex and pressing.

For last five years, we are faced with protracted global crisis. Demographic pressures on the world’s resources has grown, unemployment rates are all time high, environmental threats have heightened, and persistent inequalities are eroding social cohesion. New technological developments, emerging social and financial innovation are redefining how we do things.

These challenges and opportunities facing developed and developing countries alike, urge us to rethink global development and its agenda. At Rio+20, all UN member states recognized the need for a holistic framework for sustainable development, integrating economic, social and environmental concerns, in order to meet the global challenges we are facing.

Can this be done? And, can we oversee the vast implications for how we produce, consume, and do things together? This is, we believe, the task at hand and where we need your insights to help move forward the discussions that have already begun at the UN.

As we engage in these discussions, let us not forget that the first order of priority in coming years should be to accelerate progress towards the MDGs.

So let me start with a brief word on where we stand with the implementation of the MDG agenda and subsequently leave you with a few thoughts on the way forward for the Post-2015 Development agenda.

First, let me share the good news: three MDG targets have been met ahead of the 2015 deadline: reducing extreme poverty and access to improved water by half, and improving the conditions for more than 200 million people living in slums. Primary school enrolment of girls equaled that of boys.

Second, the progress has been rather uneven: In particular, health improvements in terms of reducing child and maternal mortality, while significant, have been much less than targeted. Also, 800 million people are still living in hunger. In some regions and countries, especially those faced by conflict and fragilities, progress has lagged on all counts, leaving many of the world’s most vulnerable behind.

Third, the MDG agenda helped strengthen the global partnership for development, providing more aid, better market access and debt relief for the poorest countries. On all these fronts, recent progress has been slow and development partners commitment below pledges. Accelerating progress towards the MDGs will be more difficult with a weakening global partnership. The credibility of the international community is also at stake as it starts defining the post-2015 development agenda.

Fourth, concrete and simple goals and targets helped keep focus on tangible results and held all actors accountable.With hindsight, the concrete targets have been rather sector specific—that is for education, health, and so on—allowing actions to be undertaken in “silos,” rather than ensuring coherence and synergies across the various dimensions of economic and human development.

Finally, MDG implementation has often been disrupted because of setbacks caused by a volatile global environment: We have seen recurrent instances of global financial turmoil, volatile food and energy prices, more frequent and more intense natural disasters causing economic contractions setting back poverty reduction and improvements in human development. The simple point is that without a stable international economic environment and a stable climate it is very difficult to realize a decent living for all.

Sustainable Development Agenda: The Way Forward

MDG experience shows the value added of having an overarching focused development agenda which sets clear and concrete goals and targets and is supported by all stakeholders and effective consultations.

UN member states have provided guidance through the Outcome document of Rio+20 on engaging different stakeholders both within and outside the UN to develop One UN development agenda. An inter-governmental process has been tasked to engage in the development of SDGs and the UN System Task Team will support it.

First, the post 2015 development agenda will need conceptualization of sustainable in a way which strives to care and respect people, planet and nurtures prosperity. The sustainable development policy framework will need to strike the appropriate balance across three dimensions: inclusive economic development, inclusive social development and environmental sustainability.

Establishing elements and themes in these dimensions and ensuring their integration would not be straightforward. We are well aware by now of the challenges facing the eco system and the growing vulnerabilities to climate change, food shortages, water scarcity, energy, pressures of unsustainable urban growth etc. The international community has also agreed on a number of treaties and conventions for some of these thematic areas but progress in implementing these conventions has lagged.

Second, the post-2015 development agenda, including the human development and SDGs dimensions, will draw guidance from the work conducted in all these thematic areas to help forge a coherent policy framework. In developing the architecture for SDGs appropriate balance has to be struck across the three dimensions recognizing that MDGs incorporated 11 targets that fell in the social domain, 2 in economic and one in environment. The SDGs hence would need to elaborate more on indicators of environmental sustainability and offer perspectives on how to integrate the other thematic areas and the multidimensional implications of, say, food security, energy access and security, etc. The basic premise of the vision for the Future We Want is that the ultimate goals of poverty eradication and long-term sustainability of the Earth’s natural environment are not mutually exclusive. What is more: achieving both these goals should go hand in hand.

Third, the principle of common-but-differentiated responsibilities has to be recognized upfront and will facilitate buy in of all players. National priority setting will need to be aligned with global ambitions in a way that context specific goals and targets at the national level add up to global solutions. This will be a key challenge for the post-2015 development agenda.

Hence, this process should set the terms for a much stronger global partnership for sustainable development. A stable and enabling international environment is critical for development to thrive. This would also need to include defining strategies for financing sustainable development, which distributes the burden according to the principle of common-but-differentiated responsibilities. This will not be easy. But it can be done if we look at progress made in the area of climate financing.

The new development agenda will also need to be cognizant of factors and conditions characterizing conflict and insecurity situations that tend to impede human progress and can also be highly environmentally destructive.

Finally, in designing sustainable path tracks into goals and targets, these challenges will need to be taken on board keeping in perspective the need to develop the right statistics. Preserving the simplicity and transparency of the MDG framework and mirroring this into the SDGs with its time-bound goals and targets will facilitate proper accountability and monitoring of the actions adopted. The process and prioritization of the development agenda will have to be steered in a way that people of all standings can recognize it as their agenda.

We only stand at the beginning of a process. Given the collective wisdom on the table, the HLP will be able to address these considerations and challenges for the development of the post-2015 agenda. Notwithstanding the fact that much greater efforts need to be made to accelerate progress on all MDG targets, the MDG agenda has provided a powerful tool to advance progress on human development and we hope the Post 2015 development agenda will incorporate the lessons learned and will have a faster implementation trajectory. The challenge now is to define an even more powerful agenda that is needed to realize the Future We Want for All in a sustainable manner for the present and future generations.

I am leaving with you some of the questions that the High Level Panel may wish to entertain. Your views on these questions would be particularly helpful to strengthen the process:


  • Given the continued relevance of the values and principles contained in the Millennium Declaration, how to embed the core principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility into the vision of the post-2015 development agenda?
  • How can it be ensured that the goals in the post-2015 development agenda would reflect and contribute to the three dimensions of sustainable development –sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection – in an integrated and balanced way?
  • How should the principle of common-but-differentiated responsibilities be reflected in the goal and target setting in the post-2015 development agenda in order to take account of country differences?
  • How could and should the post-2015 development agenda account for inequalities and define goals for more inclusive economic and social development?
  • How should the post-2015 development agenda conceptualize and address problems of insecurity, violence, conflict and fragility which tend to pose severe impediments to sustainable development?
  • What format should shape the post-2015 development agenda, ensuring that it is inspirational but realistic, holistic in addressing today’s and tomorrow’s global development challenges but yet easy-to-communicate and providing a clear guide to national and international policy making?
  • How to strengthen the global partnership for development to support implementation of a truly global agenda, applicable for all countries and involving all stakeholders?
  • How can the HLP help foster an inclusive dialogue and create the political momentum needed for broad-based political consensus-building around a post-2015 global development agenda?