A new global partnership: the report of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda

The long awaited report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, entitled A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, was published just a few days ago on 30th May.  The 27 member panel responsible for the report included representatives from government, business and civil society from all regions of the world. Their  optimistic report suggests that we can and must eliminate extreme poverty by 2030.

Unfortunately, as evidenced in the title of the report itself, this has been a missed opportunity, and the new agenda will do little to change the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people.  It is more of the same, rather than a radical departure from the MDG consensus of the last 15 years.  By retaining a largely absolute definition of poverty, and claiming that it actually can be eliminated through economic growth, this agenda will serve further to increase inequalities in the interests of the world’s richest individuals and countries.  The focus of the report on the ‘economic’, on the myth of ‘sustainable’ development, and on fundamental misunderstandings about the interests underlying ‘partnerships’ all mean that the proposals will be unable to deliver on the needs of the world’s poorest and most marginalised peoples.

The panel reached consensus on five transformational shifts that it claimed are necessary to achieve the elimination of poverty:

  1. Leave No One Behind: The MDGs aimed to halve extreme poverty (now defined as people earning less than $1.25 a day). The High Level Panel report proposes ending poverty by 2030 – as it says, “We should ensure that no person – regardless of ethnicity, gender, geography, disability, race or other status – is denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities”.  This focus on previously excluded groups is indeed a step forward, although there is little agreement on how it can be achieved.
  2. Put Sustainable Development at the Core: The report seeks to bring together the social, economic and environmental aspects of development, focusing especially on a desire to “halt the alarming pace of climate change”.  It is a shame that so little is said about the political and cultural agendas that are such a critical part of ‘development’.  It also fails to recognise the highly contentious character of the notion of “sustainable development” which increasing numbers of people now see as being a contradiction in terms!
  3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth: This proposal lies at the heart of the agenda.  The report emphasises that “We call for a quantum leap forward in economic opportunities and a profound economic transformation to end extreme poverty and improve livelihoods”.  From DFID’s overview of the report, this means “a much greater focus on promoting jobs through business and entrepreneurship, infrastructure, education and skills, and trade”. This places the economy rather than social justice, cultural meaning, or political practice at the heart of the development agenda.  Imagine the impact that this high-level transformative shift would be if it had been reworded to read “Transform societies to ensure social justice and equality of opportunity”!
  4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all: The report claims that “Freedom from fear, conflict and violence is the most fundamental human right, and the essential foundation for building peaceful and prosperous societies”.  This places the agenda firmly upon a human rights basis, but does little to focus attention on the individual and collective responsibilities that are essential to make this happen.
  5. Forge a new Global Partnership: The report emphasises that “Perhaps the most important transformative shift is towards a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability that must underpin the post-2015 agenda”.  I completely agree that partnership is crucial for effective delivery of development interventions, but the report fails sufficiently to address the complexity of delivering partnerships on the ground, and the interests that underlie them.

The illustrative 12 universal goals and 54 national targets associated with the recommendations make interesting reading.  As the report emphasises, “the shape of the post-2015 development agenda cannot be  communicated effectively without offering an example of how goals might be framed”. For ease of information, these are summarised below:

1. End Poverty

  • Bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero and reduce by x% theshare of people living below their country’s 2015 national poverty line
  • Increase by x% the share of women and men, communities, and businesses with secure rights to land, property, and other assets
  • Cover x% of people who are poor and vulnerable with social protection systems
  • Build resilience and reduce deaths from natural disasters by x%

2. Empower Girls and Women and Achieve Gender Equality

  • Prevent and eliminate all forms of violence against girls and women
  • End child marriage
  • Ensure equal right of women to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account
  • Eliminate discrimination against women in political, economic, and public life

3. Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Learning

  • Increase by x% the proportion of children able to access and complete pre-primary education
  • Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, completes primary education able to read, write and count well enough to meet minimum learning standards
  • Ensure every child, regardless of circumstance, has access to lower secondary education and increase the proportion of adolescents who achieve recognized and measurable learning outcomes to x%
  • Increase the number of young and adult women and men with the skills, including technical and vocational, needed for work by x%

4. Ensure Healthy Lives

  • End preventable infant and under-5 deaths
  • Increase by x% the proportion of children, adolescents, at-risk adults and older people that are fully vaccinated
  • Decrease the maternal mortality ratio to no more than x per 100,000
  • Ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and rights
  • Reduce the burden of disease from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, neglected tropical diseases and priority non-communicable diseases

5. Ensure Food Security and Good Nutrition

  • End hunger and protect the right of everyone to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable, and nutritious food
  • Reduce stunting by x%, wasting by y%, and anemia by z% for all children under five
  • Increase agricultural productivity by x%, with a focus on sustainably increasing smallholder yields and access to irrigation
  • Adopt sustainable agricultural, ocean and freshwater fishery practices and rebuild designated fish stocks to sustainable levels
  • Reduce postharvest loss and food waste by x%

6. Achieve Universal Access to Water and Sanitation

  • Provide universal access to safe drinking water at home, and in schools, health centers, and refugee camps
  • End open defecation and ensure universal access to sanitation at school and work, and increase access to sanitation at home by x%
  • Bring freshwater withdrawals in line with supply and increase water efficiency in agriculture by x%, industry by y% and urban areas by z%
  • Recycle or treat all municipal and industrial wastewater prior to discharge

7. Secure Sustainable Energy

  • Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
  • Ensure universal access to modern energy services
  • Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency in buildings, industry, agriculture and transport
  • Phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption

8. Create Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods, and Equitable Growth

  • Increase the number of good and decent jobs and livelihoods by x
  • Decrease the number of young people not in education, employment or training by x%
  • Strengthen productive capacity by providing universal access to financial services and infrastructure such as transportation and ICT
  • Increase new start-ups by x and value added from new products by y through creating an enabling business environment and boosting entrepreneurship

9. Manage Natural Resource Assets Sustainably

  • Publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies
  • Increase consideration of sustainability in x% of government procurements
  • Safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by y%
  • Improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion by x tonnes and combat desertification

10. Ensure Good Governance and Effective Institutions

  • Publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies
  • Increase consideration of sustainability in x% of government procurements
  • Safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity
  • Reduce deforestation by x% and increase reforestation by y%
  • Improve soil quality, reduce soil erosion by x tonnes and combat desertification

11. Ensure Stable and Peaceful Societies

  • Reduce violent deaths per 100,000 by x and eliminate all forms of violence against children
  • Ensure justice institutions are accessible, independent, well-resourced and respect due-process rights
  • Stem the external stressors that lead to conflict, including those related to organised crime
  • Enhance the capacity, professionalism and accountability of the security forces, police and judiciary

12. Create a Global Enabling Environment and Catalyse Long-Term Finance

  • Support an open, fair and development-friendly trading system, substantially reducing trade-distorting measures, including agricultural subsidies, while improving market access of developing country products
  • Implement reforms to ensure stability of the global financial system and encourage stable, long-term private foreign investment
  • Hold the increase in global average temperature below 2⁰ C above pre-industrial levels, in line with international agreements
  • Developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) as official development assistance to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20% of GNP of developed countries to least developed countries; other countries should move toward voluntary targets for complementary financial assistance
  • Reduce illicit flows and tax evasion and increase stolen-asset recovery by $x
  • Promote collaboration on and access to science, technology, innovation, and development data

As will be clear from this listing, this appears to be something of a “shopping list” reflecting the interests of those who put the agenda together.  The gaps are perhaps as interesting as the things that are actually included in the list!  Given my own interests in the uses (and abuses) of ICTs in and for development, I am particularly disappointed that so little is mentioned about them in the 54 targets listed above (although see Goal 8).  Given the importance of the Internet, and the role of ICTs in the global economy, it is both surprising and disappointing to find so little amongst the goals or targets.  Likewise, whilst women and girls are acknowledged in a specific goal, the 10-15% of the world’s population who are recognised as having some kind of disability are not explicitly mentioned in a target at all.

Given the ‘management’ of the world’s development discourse, it is scarcely surprising that this report has turned out as it has, but I remain deeply saddened and frustrated that this important opportunity has been largely wasted.  Yes, there are of course some good things in the report, but I do wish that there had been the collective will really to address the underlying causes of poverty head on.  Sadly, what I wrote back in 2007 in my paper entitled “No end to poverty” remains as valid today as it did then (for a summary see this blog post)!


Filed under Development, ICT4D

2 responses to “A new global partnership: the report of the high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda

  1. Bilorn Armradson

    Dear Tim,
    Had you submitted your contributions to the “post-2015” dialog before the report was written? I know the call for input went far and wide; it would be interesting to read your specific input posted here, if possible.

  2. Pingback: ICTs and the failure of the Sustainable Development Goals | Tim Unwin's Blog

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