Speech: The next global development agenda: From aspiration to delivery

Speech: The next global development agenda: From aspiration to delivery
Helen Clark, UNDP
International Growth Centre Public Lecture the London School of Economics, London, UK
21 Jan 2014

– My thanks go to the London School of Economics and the International Growth Centre for this opportunity to discuss the prospects for the post-2015 development agenda. I also commend the International Growth Centre for the role it is playing in providing independent and research-based advice to developing country governments on economic growth…
The signs are that this agenda can be bolder than the MDGs were, responding to the challenges faced by developed and developing countries alike. It will be a sustainable development agenda with poverty eradication as a central imperative…
Already the UN’s Member States have agreed that the agenda should have a “single framework and set of goals – universal in nature and applicable to all countries, while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies. It should promote peace, and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality, and human rights for all.” Those were the words of the outcome document of the leader-level meeting on the MDGs and post-2015 last September in New York…

The Global Challenges to Sustainable Development: These encompass but go well beyond the major environmental challenges to include:
:: Persistently high income inequality, inequality of opportunity, and other non-income disparities, together with significant numbers of people still living in extreme poverty.
Equality was highlighted as a fundamental value in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in 2000, when world leaders acknowledged that: “in addition to our separate responsibilities to our individual societies, we have a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level.”
Yet little progress has been made in combating inequality in its various forms. Global income inequality stands at a very high level: eight per cent of the world’s population earns half the world’s income, with the remaining 92 per cent earning the other half. Such a distribution is rightly viewed by global civil society networks as unacceptably high, as it is both unjust and undermines development progress.
Evidence suggests that income inequality impedes long-term growth; is associated with poorer health outcomes; generates political instability; contributes to higher rates of violence, including for homicide; erodes social cohesion; and undermines the capacity for the collective decision-making necessary for effective reform. Economic exclusion compounded by political exclusion can be a toxic mix – as a number of uprisings in recent years suggest.
Beyond income inequality, gender-related discrimination, and inequalities related to geography, ethnicity, religion, age, and disability – to name just a few – plague countries in both North and South, and are detrimental to all. Using the inequality-adjusted Human Development Index, which takes into account not only the average achievements of a country on health, education, and income, but also their distribution, the 2013 Human Development Report concludes that the average loss to human development worldwide due to inequality was 23 per cent….
:: The jobs crisis: The ILO estimates that more than 34 million workers lost their jobs with the onset of the global recession of 2008, and an additional 185 million workers joined the ranks of the working poor who subsist on under US $2 dollars a day. Despite a moderate pick-up in output growth expected for 2013–14, the number of unemployed worldwide was projected to rise by 5.1 million last year to more than 202 million, and by another three million this year. Six hundred million more jobs are needed over the next fifteen years just to keep unemployment rates at their current level.
:: Environmental degradation, including to climate, ecosystems, and disasters associated with this: These threaten the health and livelihoods of people around the globe. The Fifth Assessment Report of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, issued last September, considered new evidence and painted a grim picture. It noted that: “Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system. Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.”…

The Process from here?
Since early last year, an Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, appointed by the UN General Assembly, has been meeting to formulate proposals for post-2015. It is expected to report by September this year. Parallel to that an expert group on financing for sustainable development is also meeting.
Before the end of the year the UN Secretary-General will bring a synthesis report to the General Assembly on all the inputs to date to support the Member State negotiations to be launched next September. The aim is to have world leaders agree on a new agenda at a world leader’s summit in September 2015.
To support the process, the UN development system is continuing consultations on how a new agenda might be implemented and monitored, and will work with a number of governments to test how targets and indicators might be developed in more challenging areas like governance, peace and security, and disaster risk reduction…

Advancing the agenda; some key points
1.    Target setting: The MDGs were time bound, measurable, and easy to communicate. That helps an agenda get traction. But the targets have not always been a good match with national or local contexts, because they were established as global targets and on the basis of global trends. To be most relevant, targets often need to be localized to reflect what can be achieved – which may be more or less than the indicative global targets suggest.
On this basis, the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Post-2015 recommended that “all Goals in the future agenda be universal, representing the common aspirations of all countries; while almost all targets be set at national or local levels, to account for different starting points and contexts”.
This proposal has gained traction in the UN Member State’s discussions. Recently the proposals have gone further, suggesting that a core set of global goals and targets should be agreed, alongside a ‘menu’ of potential priorities. Using that menu, countries would select those priorities most relevant to them and define realistic, yet ambitious, national and local targets in these areas….
2.    Partnerships and mutual accountability: Big partnerships across governments and many non-state actors – civil society, NGOs, academia, the private sector – are needed to make a global agenda move. Should an accountability framework go beyond the usual suspects – governments – to include the non-state actors? The High Level Panel argued that as the number and importance of non-state development actors grows, including them is essential for the effectiveness of the agenda. They suggest indicative targets to incentivise businesses, for example, to adopt transparent and green accounting practices and codes of behaviour which strengthen accountability norms….

Global agendas matter. They draw attention to critical priorities; they can identify emerging issues; and they can galvanize partnerships for change.
Progress against the MDG targets at the global level has been broadly encouraging. One would not want to assume cause and effect between target setting and a benchmark being reached. Yet with respect to the health MDGs, the rate of decline in the burden of disease in targeted areas is considered to be rather greater than the pre-MDG trends would have produced. In these cases and no doubt others, the global goal-setting focused action and resources, and got results.
So, what goes into the post-2015 agenda and SDGs matters. They will set the global sustainable development agenda for the next fifteen years – years when we need decisive breakthroughs on poverty eradication in all its dimensions, on achieving greater equality, and on ensuring we live within nature’s boundaries while advancing human development.
My final message is: stay engaged. Member States need to continue to hear from their citizens on post-2015. At UNDP and our sister organisations, we will continue to advocate for the voices of the global public to be heard, and for a big, bold agenda. But your voices need to be heard by your governments, and your networks need to be heard by all governments, as they negotiate through the UN process to determine what the next agenda will be.

[Full text here ]