Setting a New Course
We, the High-Level Panel on the post-2015 Development Agenda, were asked for recommendations that would “help respond to the global challenges of the 21st century, building on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and with a view to ending poverty”.
We discussed two of the world’s biggest challenges – how to end poverty and how to promote sustainable development. We have not come up with all the answers, but we do believe the lives of billions of people can be improved, in a way that preserves the planet’s natural resource assets for future generations.
Progress on this scale is possible, but only if governments (at all levels), multilateral institutions, businesses, and civil society organisations are willing to change course and reject business-as-usual. They have a chance to develop and put in place a new agenda: one that confronts the challenges of the modern world head-on. They have an opportunity to transform their thinking, and their practice, to solve current problems with new ways of working. They can join forces, tackle poverty, the economy and the environment together, and bring about a paradigm shift.
Remarkable Achievements Since 2000
After the MDGs were adopted, dozens of developing-country planning ministries, hundreds of international agencies and thousands of civil society organisations (CSOs) rallied behind them. Together, they have contributed to remarkable achievements; half a billion fewer people in extreme poverty; about three million children’s lives saved each year. Four out of five children now get vaccinated for a range of diseases. Maternal mortality gets the focused attention it deserves. Deaths from malaria have fallen by one-quarter. Contracting HIV is no longer an automatic death sentence. In 2011, 590 million children in developing countries – a record number – attended primary school.
This unprecedented progress was driven by a combination of economic growth, government policies, civil society engagement and the global commitment to the MDGs.
Given this success, it would be a mistake to start a new development agenda from scratch. There is much unfinished business from the MDGs. Some countries achieved a great deal, but others, especially low-income, conflict affected countries, achieved much less. In the course of our discussions, we became aware of a gap between reality on the ground and the statistical targets that are tracked. We realised that the next development agenda must build on the real experiences, stories, ideas and solutions of people at the grassroots, and that we, as a Panel, must do our best to understand the world through their eyes and reflect on the issues that would make a difference to their lives.
Consulting People, Gaining Perspective
Over the last nine months, the Panel has spoken with people from all walks of life. We have reviewed almost one thousand written submissions from civil society and business groups working around the world. We have consulted experts from multilateral organisations, national governments and local authorities. We have debated vigorously and passionately among ourselves.
We agreed that the post-2015 agenda should reflect the concerns of people living in poverty, whose voices often go unheard or unheeded. To gather these perspectives, Panel members spoke to farmers, indigenous and local communities, workers in the informal sector, migrants, people with disabilities, small business owners, traders, young people and children, women’s groups, older people, faith-based groups, trade unions and many others. We also heard from academics and experts, politicians and philosophers.
In all, we heard voices and reviewed recommendations for goals and targets from over 5000 civil society organisations – ranging from grassroots organisations to global alliances – working in about 120 countries across every major region of the world. We also consulted the chief executive officers of 250 companies in 30 countries, with annual revenues exceeding $8 trillion, academics from developed and developing countries, international and local NGOs and civil society movements, and parliamentarians.
In these meetings, people living in poverty told us how powerless they felt because their jobs and livelihoods were precarious. They said they fear getting sick, and lack safety. They talked about insecurity, corruption, and violence in the home. They spoke of being excluded and abused by society’s institutions and of the importance of transparent, open and responsive government that recognises their dignity and human rights.
The Panel heard some similar priorities voiced by mayors and local elected officials. These leaders deal daily with marginalised groups asking for help getting food, shelter, health care, meals at school, education and school supplies. They strive to supply their constituents with safe water, sanitation, and street lighting. They told us that the urban poor want jobs that are better than selling small items on the street or picking through rubbish dumps. And, like people everywhere, they want security so their families can safely go about their lives.
Young people asked for education beyond primary schooling, not just formal learning but life skills and vocational training to prepare them for jobs. In countries where they have acquired good education and skills, they want access to decent jobs. They want opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty. They crave mentoring, career development, and programmes led by youth, serving youth. Young people said they want to be able to make informed decisions about their health and bodies, to fully realise their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). They want access to information and technology so they can participate in their nation’s public life, especially charting its path to economic development. They want to be able to hold those in charge to account, to have the right to freedom of speech and association and to monitor where their government’s money is going.
Women and girls asked in particular for protection of their property rights, their access to land, and to have a voice and to participate in economic and political life. They also asked the Panel to focus on ending violence against women and discrimination at work, at school and in the law.
People with disabilities also asked for an end to discrimination and for equal opportunity. They are looking for guarantees of minimum basic living standards. Representatives of indigenous groups and local communities wanted recognition of their need to live more balanced lives in harmony with nature. They want restitution, non-discrimination and respect for their ancestral ways. Those working in the informal sector also called for social protection and for reducing inequalities, as well as for opportunities to secure good and decent jobs and livelihoods.
Businesses spoke of their potential contribution to a post-2015 development agenda. Not just providing good and decent jobs and growth, but delivering essential services and helping billions of people access clean and sustainable energy and adapt to climate change. They spoke of being willing to share accountability for the next agenda, and about what they need from governments if they are to do more – sound macroeconomic policies, good infrastructure, skilled workers, open markets, a level playing field, and efficient and accountable public administration.
All these groups asked that when the post-2015 agenda is put into place, it includes a plan for measuring progress that compares how people with different income levels, gender, disability and age, and those living in different localities, are faring – and that this information be easily available to all.
The Panel’s Journey
These views and perspectives helped us to understand better how to think about the post-2015 agenda and how to put flesh on the idea of a bold yet practical vision for development that the Secretary-General challenged us to produce at our first meeting in New York.
In London, we discussed household poverty: the daily reality of life on the margins of survival. We agreed to seek to end extreme poverty by 2030. We learned how important it is to tackle poverty in all its dimensions, including basic human needs like health, education, safe water and shelter as well as fundamental human rights: personal security, dignity, justice, voice and empowerment, equality of opportunity, and access to SRHR. Several of these issues were not covered in the MDGs and we agreed they must be added in a new agenda. We recognised the need to focus on the quality of public services, as well as on access to their delivery. We realised that providing access to nutritious food and drinking water would not endure unless food and water systems are also addressed.
In Monrovia, we talked about economic transformation and the building blocks needed for growth that delivers social inclusion and respects the environment – how to harness the ingenuity and dynamism of business for sustainable development. We saw with our own eyes the extraordinary progress that can be made when a country once ravaged by conflict is able to build peace and security, but also the enormous challenge of providing basic services, like power, roads and telecommunications to connect people and firms to a modern economy. We heard about the business opportunities in pursuing green growth to promote sustainable development, and about the potential for individual entrepreneurs to fulfil their dreams, and for large businesses to connect to smallholder farmers. We learned that there are critical shortages of the skilled professionals who are needed to make governments and firms more efficient. We saw the need for the agenda to include jobs, institutions, and modern, reliable and sustainable energy.
In Bali, we discussed common global challenges, including the dangers posed by climate change and the need for development strategies to include making households and countries more resilient. We focused on the elements of a new global partnership. We agreed that developed countries had to do more to put their own house in order. They must honour their aid commitments but go beyond aid to lead global efforts to reform trade, crack down on illicit capital flows, return stolen assets, and promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production. We asked where the money would come from to finance the massive investments that will be needed for infrastructure in developing countries, and concluded that we need to find new ways of using aid and other public funds to mobilise private capital.
Opportunities and Challenges in a Changing World
Our conversations with people added to our own experiences about how significantly the world has changed since the Millennium Declaration was adopted in 2000. We are also aware of how much more the world will change by 2030. It will be more urban, more middle class, older, more connected, more interdependent, more vulnerable and more constrained in its resources – and still working to ensure that globalisation brings maximum benefits to all.
For many, the world today feels more uncertain than it did in 2000. In developed countries, the financial crisis has shaken belief that every generation will be better off than the last. Developing countries, for their part, are full of optimism and confidence as a result of a decadelong growth spurt, but many also fear that slow progress in reforming global trade and stabilising the world financial system may harm their prospects. Half the world’s extreme poor live in conflict-affected countries, while many others are suffering the effects of natural disasters that have cost $2.5 trillion so far this century. In today’s world, we see that no country, however powerful or rich, can sustain its prosperity without working in partnership to find integrated solutions.
This is a world of challenges, but these challenges can also present opportunities, if they kindle a new spirit of solidarity, mutual respect and mutual benefit, based on our common humanity and the Rio principles. Such a spirit could inspire us to address global challenges through a new global partnership, bringing together the many groups in the world concerned with economic, social and environmental progress: people living in poverty, women, young people, people with disabilities, indigenous and local communities, marginalised groups, multilateral institutions, local and national governments, businesses, civil society and private philanthropists, scientists and other academics. These groups are more organised than before, better able to communicate with each other, willing to learn about real experiences and real challenges in policymaking, committed to solving problems together.
Envisioning a new Global Partnership
“We agreed on the need for a renewed Global Partnership that enables a transformative, people-centred and planet-sensitive development agenda which is realised through the equal partnership of all stakeholders. Such a partnership should be based on the principles of equity, sustainability, solidarity, respect for humanity, and shared responsibilities in accordance with respective capabilities.”
Bali Communiqué of the High-Level Panel, March 28, 2013
We are deeply aware of the hunger, vulnerability, and deprivation that still shape the daily lives of more than a billion people in the world today. At the same time we are struck by the level of inequality in the world, both among and within countries. Of all the goods and services consumed in the world each year, the 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty only account for one per cent, while the richest 1 billion people consume 72 per cent. Every year, one billion women are subject to sexual or physical violence because they lack equal protection under the law; and 200 million young people despair because they lack equal opportunities to acquire the skills they need to get decent jobs and livelihoods.
At the same time there is unprecedented prosperity and dynamism in many countries. Two billion people already enjoy middle class lifestyles, and another three billion are set to join them by 2030. Low- and middle-income countries are now growing faster than high-income ones – which helps to reduce global inequality. And many countries are using public social protection programmes and social and environmental regulations to bring down high levels of domestic inequality by improving the lives of the worst-off, while also transforming their economies so that growth is sustained over the long term and provides more good jobs and secure livelihoods. This means it is now possible to leave no one behind – to give every child a fair chance in life, and to achieve a pattern of development where dignity and human rights become a reality for all, where an agenda can be built around human security.
While we were writing this report, the world passed an alarming threshold: atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration was measured at over 400 parts per million, probably the highest level in at least 800,000 years. There is no evidence yet that the upward trend has been slowed or reversed, as it must be if potentially catastrophic changes in climate are to be avoided. Despite all the rhetoric about alternative energy sources, fossil fuels still make up 81 per cent of global energy production–unchanged since 1990. To continue on this business-as-usual path would be very dangerous. Changes in consumption and production patterns are essential, and they must be led by the developed countries.
Recent food and energy crises, and high prices for many commodities, point to a world where increasing resource scarcity is the norm. In environmental “hot spots,” the harm that is coming if we don’t halt current trends will be irreversible. Of the 24 most important ways the poor depend on natural resources, 15 are in serious decline, including: more than 40 per cent of global fisheries that have crashed or are overfished; loss of 130 million hectares of forests in the last decade; loss of 20 percent of mangrove forests since 1980; threats to 75 per cent of the world’s coral reefs, mostly in small island developing states where dependence on reefs is high.
Yet the Panel is impressed by the extraordinary innovations that have occurred, especially the rate at which new technologies are adopted and diffused, and by the opportunities these technologies offer for sustainable development. The number of mobile phone subscriptions has risen from fewer than a billion to more than 6 billion, and with it many mobile (m-) applications – m-banking, m-health, m-learning, m-taxes – that can radically change economies and service delivery in sustainable ways.
The powerful in today’s world can no longer expect to set the rules and go unchallenged. People everywhere expect businesses and governments to be open, accountable, and responsive to their needs. There is an opportunity now to give people the power to influence and control things in their everyday lives, and to give all countries more say in how the world is governed. Without sound domestic and global institutions there can be no chance of making poverty reduction permanent.
There are 21 countries that have experienced armed conflict since 2000 and many others where criminal violence is common. Between them, these claim 7.9 million lives each year. In order to develop peacefully, countries afflicted by or emerging from conflict need institutions that are capable and responsive, and able to meet people’s core demands for security, justice and well-being. A minimally functional state machinery is a pre-requisite and a foundation for lasting development that breaks the cycle of conflict and distrust.
People care no less about sound institutions than they do about preventing illness or ensuring that their children can read and write – if only because they understand that the former play an essential role in achieving the latter. Good institutions are, in fact, the essential building blocks of a prosperous and sustainable future. The rule of law, freedom of speech and the media, open political choice and active citizen participation, access to justice, non-discriminatory and accountable governments and public institutions help drive development and have their own intrinsic value. They are both means to an end and an end in themselves.
One World: One Sustainable Development Agenda
The Panel believes there is a chance now to do something that has never before been done – to eradicate extreme poverty, once and for all, and to end hunger, illiteracy, and preventable deaths. This would be a truly historic achievement.
But we wanted to do more and we thought: ending extreme poverty is just the beginning, not the end. It is vital, but our vision must be broader: to start countries on the path of sustainable development – building on the foundations established by the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, and meeting a challenge that no country, developed or developing, has met so far.
We recommend to the Secretary-General that deliberations on a new development agenda must be guided by the vision of eradicating extreme poverty once and for all, in the context of sustainable development.
We came to the conclusion that the moment is right to merge the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability guiding international development. Why now? Because 2015 is the target date set in the year 2000 for the achievement of the MDGs and the logical date to begin a second phase that will finish the job they started and build on their achievements. Member states of the General Assembly of the United Nations have also agreed at Rio+20 to develop a set of sustainable development goals that are coherent with and integrated into the development agenda beyond 2015. 2015 also marks the deadline for countries to negotiate a new treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
Developing a single, sustainable development agenda is critical. Without ending poverty, we cannot build prosperity; too many people get left behind. Without building prosperity, we cannot tackle environmental challenges; we need to mobilise massive investments in new technologies to reduce the footprint of unsustainable production and consumption patterns. Without environmental sustainability, we cannot end poverty; the poor are too deeply affected by natural disasters and too dependent on deteriorating oceans, forests and soils.
The need for a single agenda is glaring, as soon as one starts thinking practically about what needs to be done. Right now, development, sustainable development and climate change are often seen as separate. They have separate mandates, separate financing streams, and separate processes for tracking progress and holding people accountable. This creates overlap and confusion when it comes to developing specific programs and projects on the ground. It is time to streamline the agenda.
It is also unrealistic to think we can help another one billion people to lift themselves out of poverty by growing their national economies without making structural changes in the world economy. There is an urgent need for developed countries to re-imagine their growth models. They must lead the world towards solutions to climate change by creating and adopting low-carbon and other sustainable development technologies and passing them on to others. Otherwise, further strains on food, water and energy supplies and increases in global carbon emissions will be inevitable – with added pressures from billions more people expected to join the middle class in the next two decades. People still living in poverty, or those in nearpoverty, who have been the most vulnerable to recent food, fuel and financial crises, would then be at grave risk of slipping back into poverty once more.
This is why we need to think differently. Ending poverty is not a matter for aid or international cooperation alone. It is an essential part of sustainable development, in developed and developing countries alike. Developed countries have a great responsibility to keep the promises they have made to help the less fortunate. The billions of dollars of aid that they give each year are vital to many low-income countries. But it is not enough: they can also co-operate more effectively to stem aggressive tax avoidance and evasion, and illicit capital flows. Governments can work with business to create a more coherent, transparent and equitable system for collecting corporate tax in a globalised world. They can tighten the enforcement of rules that prohibit companies from bribing foreign officials. They can prompt their large multinational corporations to report on the social, environmental, and economic impact of their activities.
Our Vision and Our Responsibility
“Our vision and our responsibility is to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development and to have in place the building blocks of sustained prosperity for all. The gains in poverty eradication should be irreversible. This is a global, people-centred and planet-sensitive agenda to address the universal challenges of the 21st century: promoting sustainable development, supporting job-creating growth, protecting the environment and providing peace, security, justice, freedom and equity at all levels.”
Monrovia Communiqué of the High-Level Panel February 1, 2013
Developing countries, too, have a vital part to play in the transformative shifts that are needed. Most of them are growing rapidly and raising their own resources to fund their own development. They already contribute the most to global growth and expansion of global trade. They have young, dynamic populations. They are urbanising, modernising and absorbing new technologies faster than ever before. But they face critical choices. The infrastructure investments they make today will lock-in energy use and pollution levels tomorrow. The way they manage natural resource revenues today will determine the options available to their young people tomorrow. They must make smart choices to turn cities into vibrant places full of opportunities, services and different lifestyles, where people want to work and live.
There is a global ethic for a globalised world, based on our common humanity, the Rio principles and the shared ethos of all traditions: “do as you would be done by.” Moreover, the benefits of investing in sustainable development are high. Every dollar invested in stopping chronic malnutrition returns $30 in higher lifetime productivity. Expanded childhood immunisation improves health in later life, with benefits worth 20 times the cost. The value of the productive time gained when households have access to safe drinking water in the home is worth 3 times the cost of providing it. And we cannot wait before moving to sustainable development. Scientists warn us that we must aggressively move beyond current voluntary pledges and commitments to reduce carbon emissions or else we will be on a path to at least a 4-degree Celsius warming over pre-industrial levels by this century’s end. According to the World Bank, such “4°C scenarios” would be devastating.
Pursuing a single, sustainable development agenda is the right thing, the smart thing and the necessary thing to do.