Toward a New Generation of Development Goals Guiding Principles and Values

Ms. Shamshad Akhtar Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Development of DESA, Secretary General’s Special Advisor of Economic and Finance, UN Secretary General at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Event

Recent decades will make their mark in history for several reasons: the conceptualization, launching and implementation of the MDGs and the changes in the global landscape with the emergence of multi-polar sources of growth will be among them. Combined, these two developments have helped to halve global poverty, achieve success in raising primary enrolment ratios and generate progress in other social indicators. These achievements are commendable, but the reality is that the world is substantially behind in achieving many MDGs goals and targets. Moreover, inequality has risen both in developed and developing countries. Women still do not have full rights or equal access, and conflict affected and fragile countries have over 60% of the extreme poor, undernourished, out of school children without safe drinking water.

So our first order of priority should be to accelerate efforts towards the implementation of the already agreed MDGs over the next two years. Work conducted at UN already confirms there are lots of lessons to learnt from the MDGs: the silo approach of individual MDGs and their neglect of key areas of vulnerabilities and most of all their narrow focus on “what we target,” without recognizing enough “how we achieve it” is a principal lesson that would have to be factored in the development of the Post 2015 Agenda.

To offer perspectives on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, we can count on member states’ negotiated Rio+20 document “The Future We Want”1 , as well as the UN System Task Team on the Post 2015 UN Development report“Realizing the Future We Want for All”, and other UN System reports. These documents lay out comprehensive guidance on principles, values, policy, enablers and legal and institutional requirements, among others. To move forward, a futuristic agenda has to respect and nurture:

  • Three fundamental principles: human rights, equality and sustainability;
  • Four core policy dimensions: economic and social inclusiveness, environmental sustainability and peace and security;
  • A range of enablers that aim to strengthen governance, institutions and rule of law, reduce inequality, make available resources and development finance, among others that help in the effective implementation of policies designed.


While crafting the Post 2015 Agenda, overarching emphasis and focus has to move towards a “poverty free” world, supported by “fairness” in the distribution and consumption of world resources, within the contours of natural resource limits. This will require a concerted and well thought-out effort that promotes and subscribes to “global sustainability” as an integral part of the development agenda.

This paradigm should be anchored on the understanding that decades of “unsustainable development” has complicated poverty eradication across the board and we equally serve a challenge in shaping SDGs. That we have been living “unsustainably” is evident from: (i) the recurring economic and financial crises in recent decades that have manifested themselves recently in global recession and fall in global trade, (ii) a rapidly rising and changing population dynamic scenario, which would widen current gaps and vulnerabilities, (iii) rise in global warming that without immediate action could imply temperature increases of 4 degrees Celsius by 2060, a serious threat for survival in many regions of the world, depletion of water resources in a number of locations, and (iv) rise in natural disasters frequency that is costing the world lives, livelihoods. Economic loses were estimated at around $380 billion in 2011, breaking the previous record of about $260 billion in 2005.2

The present global trajectory is breaching planetary boundaries, causing destruction of value created and threatening human existence in a number of vulnerable regions. This is a rude awakening for the world and the international community has the fundamental responsibility to address its risks. In light of this we need to jointly, competently and judiciously design a global agenda and deploy resources to build capacities to help its implementation. Moving forward, it is important to recognize that a rich global agenda would require:


  • Strong and broad based global buy-in,
  • Strong countries’ ownership,
  • Deeper understanding of multi-disciplinary implications of development,
  • Recognizing the need for integrated solutions, given the interdependency of topics, issues, and solutions,
  • Concrete, simple and yet ambitious set of goals ,
  • Recognition of universality of goals, but allowing for differentiated approaches within each country context
  • Governance, capacities and finance to implement it.


Within this broader framework, development of goals, indicators and targets for Post 2015 require careful deliberations in light of member states’ circumstances and political commitments to promote social and economic inclusion, while addressing environmental concerns. The next generation of development goals should focus on “outcomes” recognizing the sector interdependence and inter-linkages, rather than merely defining standalone indicators to measure progress. As an illustration, in the area of social inclusiveness there is merit in advocating goals that go beyond the standard measure of poverty at $1.25 a day. This is because we know that the number of poor is highly sensitive to the definition and measurement of the poverty line. In fact, if we adopt a $2/day definition, global poverty would double. Moreover, as the gains of prosperity are not being equally shared between rich and poor, there is an urgent need to track and design policies to reverse the worsening income inequality and adopt redistributive policies that transfer resources to low-income communities so that they can enjoy higher benefits from global prosperity. By the same token, the increase in primary enrolment ratio does not really guarantee the learning outcomes critical to improve labour absorption and productivity. Similarly, health achievements cannot be sustained without improvements in incomes, education and the general environment in which one lives. The current demographic and economic trends have had, and will continue to have, alarming effects on climate change, biodiversity, water and health and will likely cause tremendous losses of economic assets and livelihoods. Moreover, if not effectively and thoroughly transformed to minimize carbon emissions, rapid economic growth, needed to keep up with a growing population and essential for job creation, will come at a price to the natural environment and livelihoods of many of the poorest in the world.

For these, and many other reasons the Post 2015 Development Agenda will need to focus on “sustainable development” in an integrated manner, striving to focus on people and planet, while nurturing economic growth and prosperity for public wellbeing. Similarly, the sustainable development policy framework will need to recognize the linkages between to Post 2015 Development and SDGs and strike an appropriate balance to promote inclusive economic and social development, with due regard for environmental sustainability.

In fact, MDGs, enhanced through the Post2015 agenda, and SDGs should reinforce each other. The Rio+20 outcome document calls for an examination of the challenges facing the ecosystem and the growing vulnerability to climate change, food shortages, water scarcity, energy shortages, pressures of unsustainable urban growth, etc. Establishing elements, themes and priorities in these areas, defining goals and targets of development, and ensuring integration among all these areas will not be straightforward. The international community has already agreed in a series of treaties and conventions about for some of these thematic areas, but progress in implementing these treaties and conventions has lagged behind.

In conclusion, the Rio+20 document offers guidance both on process and substance. It is critical to keep this guidance in mind as we all develop a road map for the Post2015 Development Agenda. On the process, it recognizes that the global development agenda will need to be deliberated and debated. In that sense, wide consultations with people and all segments of formal and informal sector stakeholders is critical. 60 UN agencies are collaborating under the UN technical task team, while the UNDG consultative effort at different levels is underway and the SG’s High Level Panel is coordinating with a range of stakeholders. Bilateral and multilateral agencies are also launching a number of forums to deliberate. Most of all the member states are setting up Open Working Group to launch their own thinking and consultation process on Sustainable Development. Eventually, the biggest challenge will be to achieve convergence and develop consensus to agree on a common platform, our “One Agenda.” In line with defining the process, the Rio+20 outcome document offers further guidance on framework for action and follow up.

The Post-2015 development agenda should concentrate on presenting an integrated road map for “MDGs” and SDGs so that an eventual convergence between the two areas is feasible. Moreover, the policy framework and goals for the global development agenda will need to be casted in a way that allows for universal application. However, the process will need to balance universality with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, given that initial conditions for countries vary, especially in the realm of sustainable development. It will also have to take a balanced approach between national and systemic/international level issues, including the challenge of measurement. A case in point is that of systemic issues, such as governance. The post-2015 agenda must take into account national ownership, priority setting and different national circumstances and means of implementation. More understanding would be needed on how to achieve this balance while ensuring consistency with globally agreed goals and a continued focus on the poorest and most vulnerable groups of countries and communities.

Finally, considerable rethinking is required to:


  • Develop the Global Partnerships – an MDG-8 area which was intended to focus on supporting implementation of the MDGs. In this area, progress has been below expectations, in absence of a sound development cooperation framework, the failure of global trade negotiations and the ongoing crisis that distracted for last few years commitments on ODA or on catalyzing resources beyond ODA.
  • Develop strategies for fragile and conflict prone environments and ensuring these are backed by risk management and mitigation frameworks
  • Ensure effective monitoring of results and development effectiveness
  • Develop proper accountability frameworks, including citizens-state partnerships where governments are in open dialogue with citizens and citizens are encouraged to take an active role in claiming their own entitlements. This would increase accountability on the side of the government, which in turn would enhance effectiveness of implementation.
  • Recognize that dynamics are changing: though states remain central, civil society, and especially the private sector, have gained an enhanced role in the sustainable development agenda. Accordingly, they have to rise to the challenge that such responsibility implies.



1United Nations: Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, “The Future We Want,” Agenda item 10 Outcome of the Conference, Rio de Janeiro Brazil, 20-22 June, 2012. Issued on 22 June 2012 
2The Economist (2012), “Counting the cost of calamities: Death rates from natural disasters are falling; and fears that they have become more common are misplaced. But their economic cost is rising relentlessly”, Jan 14th.