Beyond 2015 – what comes after the MDGs?

November 4, 2011

Robin Hood, the G20 and the Greek debt crisis – what came out of last week's summit?

November 4, 2011

Post-2015 continued: do's and don'ts for deciding what comes next (and some likely candidates)

November 4, 2011
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How can a post-2015 agreement be designed to generate traction on both national and global decision makers? mdg-iconsGlobal approaches are needed to tackle issues that ignore borders, like climate change. A global approach can also try and change the norms and values prevailing at an international level, and generate healthy competition and peer pressure among leaders. But many decisions are taken at national or subnational level (e.g. land reform or spending more on girls’ education).

One way of getting the best of both worlds is to define loose general global goals, normative principles and minimum standards, and then require each country to debate and set targets (so improving the level of national ownership). You could include some form of peer review to prevent countries opting for an easy life and setting targets that are ridiculously low. For the cross-border issues, specific global targets would be needed.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do: Go national:  we need to hear much more from national governments, civil society etc, rather than have a top-down UN process that is then ‘rolled out’ to a largely indifferent world.

Go global: Put crudely the MDGs were designed in the North, for implementation in the South. As ‘North-South’ rapidly becomes as redundant as the ‘East-West’ divisions of the Cold War, the post-2015 framework has to apply to all countries, with a reasonable possibility of exerting some influence even on the powerful ones.

Go local: tap into existing trends and devise some kind of popular monitoring mechanism using mobile phones or other vehicle for crowd sourcing, Ushahidi-style. It’s more democratic and interesting, and it saves money in times of austerity.

Don’t: Think of post-2015 in isolation. It is only one among an enormous number of international agreements, declarations, conventions and processes of widely differing effectiveness. Some, like the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, rather successfully percolate through into national legislation and social norms. Many of these constitute important ‘symbolic battlegrounds’ – you don’t need to go through the pain, agony and high likelihood of failure of trying to conduct these battles via the post-2015 negotiations, if they are already doing reasonably well somewhere else. One important parallel process is the Rio+20 debate on sustainability and the push to agree ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ to replace the MDGs.

Ignore opportunity costs: Individuals and institutions working on the MDGs could be doing something else instead. Don’t just pile in because it is there, but assess what can actually be achieved, compared to other processes.

What issues lend themselves to inclusion?

For global targets: Some issues should not be included because the politics are toxic and there is no chance of progress (e.g. migration). Others are already dealt with elsewhere in the multilateral system and including them in post-2015 would not add greatly to their prospects (e.g. intellectual property, climate change).

Issues that might benefit from inclusion are:

Technology transfer (inc clean energy), where it’s possible to find win-wins, or trade off short term sacrifices for long term benefits (eg giving away technology that creates long term markets).

Those aspects of the international financial system that are most relevant to poor countries and therefore should not be left to the G20 – tax havens and illicit financial flows.

Robin HoodInternational aspects of Finance for Development: aid (whatever replaces the Gleneagles promises, new (non DAC) donors); the quantity and quality (in terms of development) of migrant remittances; innovative sources of international finance such as the Robin Hood Tax.

For global goals with nationally-agreed targets

A basic minimum standard of Social Protection (on which countries can then build)

MDGs continued: Cluster, clarify and roll over the current MDGs rather than abandon them, but where possible, make them a floor on which countries need to improve.

Tobacco, alcohol, road safety, mental health, non-communicable diseases: Take issues previously seen as mainly rich world concerns; and speed up the transplant and adaptation of northern solutions. Why? Because the solutions are known, and speeding up their adoption with an international agreement could make a real difference (as in saving many lives), even in a weak-traction environment.

Extend ‘responsibility to protect’ thinking to a general effort to reduce volatility and shocks through eg social protection, financial inclusion, disaster risk reduction. Why? Because governments North and South already have appetite for learning how to manage the increasing variety, frequency and depth of shocks.

Jobs and investment pacts: jobs and growth were included in the MDGs but largely ignored,  because they are more national, and less linked to aid. This time round, a more nationally-driven approach could fill in that important gap.

Finance for Development: national aspects such as domestic taxation, natural resource revenues, transparency, financial inclusion.

Clean energy: low carbon renewables and/or dirty household stoves and heating, which kill a remarkable number of people, an issue already picked up by Hilary Clinton

And one really bad idea: Pick the global issues we don’t really know how to tackle – Inequality, conflict, fragile and predatory states Why? Because a ‘weak traction’ exhortatory instrument like the post-2015 agreement is not going to overcome the major political intellectual hurdles to sorting these out.

I can’t decide on whether it’s visionary or insane to include migration. Probably both. There is a divergence between economic reality (aging populations in rich countries will be increasingly reliant on young migrants to beef up their labour force) and political/cultural reality (hostility to foreigners. ‘they’re taking our jobs’ etc). At some point that divergence will have to close and, unless the birth rate reverses rapidly in the rich countries, migration will have to rise.  But I don’t think setting (and missing) goals for increased migration is the way to go about it – it requires a more subtle and longer term public discussion.

So what’s likely to actually happen? The MDGs required a major international process – a series of big UN conferences in the 90s, the Millennium Summit in 2000, significant political leadership from people like Clare Short. And they focussed on what rising volumes of aid could achieve. None of those conditions apply today so although there is a much lower political investment required in extending and refining an existing process than starting something from scratch, the environment is much more hostile. The MDG story could end in 2015, or, in a time of multilateral paralysis on trade and climate, the goals could become just another international zombie– not dead, but not alive either. Claire Melamed feels that even critics of the goals are starting to recognize the risk that, in the words of Joni Mitchell ‘you don’t know what you got til it’s gone’.

But whether the post-2015 agenda ends up being ambitious, minimal, nothing or the walking dead, over the next couple of years the debate on what comes next will be a crucial arena for discussing how we understand development, and can influence the direction in which the world is headed, so we had better get involved.

1 comment

  1. Definitely the next set of targets should be more in tune with local conditions, but how to marry that easily with global concerns and global politics (you can’t have one region placing human rights as central to development when globally that won’t be accepted by all UN members)

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