26 December 2014

Beyond 2015: The foundation to the ‘‘Road to Dignity’’ still requires more earthworks

In his Synthesis Report on the Post-2015 Agenda, ‘‘The Road to Dignity by 2030:
Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet’’, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon makes an attempt to learn lessons from two decades of development and provides a vision for beyond 2015.

He talks in the name of humankind, uses personal pronoun ‘‘we’’ and makes statements that sound as if ‘‘ we’’ were a homogeneous group. But several of the statements made in the introduction of his report, which explains progress made over the last seven decades, would not be approved by a sizable part of the inhabitants of our planet, such as: ‘‘We have reduced violence..., established... a code of agreed universal principles...’’. But he does recognises that ‘‘our globalized world is marked by extraordinary progress alongside unacceptable – and unsustainable – levels of want, fear, discrimination, exploitation, injustice and environmental folly at all levels’’, and acknowledges that these problems  ‘‘result from actions and omissions of people – public institutions, the private sector, and others charged with protecting human rights and upholding human dignity.’’

The solution to all these problems, according to the UN Secretary-General, is ‘‘leadership and joint action’’ , thus pointing at the incapability the world has to equip itself with a proper global governance that could effectively lead and coordinate action to tackle all the ‘bads’ listed earlier, despite progress made in some domains.

Among the areas where progress has been made highlighted by the report, are achievements in poverty reduction - ‘‘the world has halved extreme poverty, lifting 700 million out of extreme poverty’’ - a ‘reality’ that has been challenged on the ground of data manipulation [read]. Similar considerations have been made about progress achieved in hunger reduction [read]. The UN Secretary-General also quotes the millions of lives saved through combat against malaria and tuberculosis where progress made has been largely funded by private foundations who represent now more than 50% of public aid funding, according to the Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances 2013. This is in part recognised when the report suggests that: ‘‘[The] voices [of people across the world] have underscored the need...for new and innovative partnerships, including with responsible business’’. But implications on governance and democracy are not analysed, even though these aspects are continuous concerns of the report.

Section ‘‘What we have learned from two decades of development experience’’ makes a long list of all the positive (or potentially positive) developments made in recent times, even when  some are rather doubtful. For example, it boasts that ‘‘[s]ome countries have shown real progress in reducing inequalities’’ when data produced by the World Bank suggest that inequalities have been increasing everywhere in the world [watch the video] and when in some countries the 1% richest have grabbed the lion share of the benefits accrued from economic growth in recent years [read in the case of the US]). Thus, the report tends to provide an overoptimistic view of achievements, and unfortunately says little, if anything, in terms of an analysis of the drivers at work that could explain what happened in the world since the launching of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs) almost 15 years ago. This is the type of analysis that would have been expected and that could serve to guide future action. Rather, the report dwells at length on the steps of the Post-2015 process through which new global objectives are negotiated, concluding that ‘‘a common understanding has emerged that there must be a universal agenda... a people-centred and planet-sensitive agenda... to fill key sustainable development gaps left by the MDGs... [that leaves] no one behind, ensuring equality, non- discrimination, equity and inclusion at all levels... [and provides] an enabling environment to build inclusive and peaceful societies... [with] a rigorous and participatory review and monitoring framework to hold governments, businesses, and international organizations accountable to the people for results.’’

Great programme that probably no-one would really want to challenge! But how do we get there and what is the envisioned content of the new framework proposed for after 2015? Instead of the eight MDGs, the report proposes, as recommended by the UN General Assembly,  to use as basis the 17 more detailed Sustainable Development Goals put forward by the Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly [read its report]. This proposal will be further negotiated throughout 2015, based on six essential elements (see diagram below).

Regarding implementation of this agenda, governments are expected to align their budgets along these new objectives, but finance is also supposed to be mobilised from private sources, which are to be blended in some cases with public moneys, a trend which has already been developing in recent years and which is a source of concern [read here and here]. Governments are also urged to implement, at last, the objective to which they committed years ago of allocating at least 0.7% of their GDP to Official Development Assistance (ODA) and maintain the proportion of ODA that goes to the poorest countries (LDCs - Least Developed Countries). Moreover, addressing illicit financial flows, developing tax cooperation, reducing costs of transfer of remittances, respecting core labour standards, developing sustainable technologies and investing in human capacities are flagged as important steps for the future. 

To measure progress in the future, the report advocates for new metrics that describe better ‘‘social progress, human well- being, justice, security, equality, and sustainability’’ than those that have been used hitherto (e.g. GDP). The review process proposed is essentially national, with some peer-reviewing at regional level and knowledge sharing at global level. As could be expected, global governance is based on the good will of member governments. No attempt is made to have any kind of sovereignty surrender that would make implementing any of the principles advocated in the agenda compulsory and avoiding the risk of countries behaving as ‘free-riders’, a major disincentive for other countries taking measures that could reduce the competitiveness of its economic activities.

In a nutshell, this report is not up to the mark. It provides high sounding objectives, but falls short of providing a clear and well justified picture of what needs to be done to achieve them, and what kind of changes have to be brought to global governance for al this to come true. Much more work will be needed to give the Post-2015 agenda greater credibility and chances of achieving the stated objectives.


Further readings:

  1. -United Nations, The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, Report of the UN Secretary-General, Advance unedited, December 2014, New York

  2., Large private Foundations: the lost opportunity of the Gates Foundation, November 2014

  3. -United Nations, Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goal, August 2014, New York

  4., The world of tomorrow: the worrying vision of the High-Level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, February 2014


Last update:    December 2014

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