Making Sustainability the Next Metric: the Post-2015 Development Agenda – The South Asian Consultation

An event entitled ‘Making Sustainability the Next Metric: the Post-2015 Development Agenda: The South Asian Consultation’ is being held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on the 6-7th of November 2013.

The Centre for Poverty Analysis, alongside the Centre for Policy Dialogue (Bangladesh), Sustainable Development Policy Institute (Pakistan) and Practical Action (Sri Lanka) have come together to discuss Asian perspectives and ideas on the post-2015 development framework.

Based on the premise that global environmental indicators are now worsening, and that growth and development need to be fundamentally re-thinked to prevent further environmental deterioration and to achieve poverty reduction, proposed activities during the consultation include: 1) creating opportunities to bring to the fore issues of sustainable development in South Asia; 2) serving as forum to relay global post-2015 discussions, and to gain a greater understanding of these discussions; 3) formulating informed proposals addressing Southern concerns and interests in relation to development.

With this in mind the symposium will bring together key South Asian resource people and invited participants to discuss the position papers and other solicited inputs through 6 key sessions structured as interactive discussions with panellists and selected group of invitees. The session outcomes will be collated into South Asia’s suggestions for millennium development goals, processes and measurements to be taken forward through the Southern Voice initiative spearheaded by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in Bangladesh.”

Vagisha Gunasekara has written one of the position papers feeding into this event. ‘What is Our Vision of Development’ is the first paper of a two-part series on the post-2015 and the post-Millennium Development Goals. Read extracts below:

“Despite many of the achievements of the MDGs, they have not succeeded in integrating some of the most important principles outlined in the Millennium Declaration, including equality. Furthermore, the MDGs’ focus on national and global averages and progress can mask much slower progress or even growing disparities at the sub-national level and among specific populations. To the extent that accelerating progress towards some targets is easier when resources are concentrated among the better off, the era of the MDGs may have inadvertently seen some channelling of resources away from the poorest population groups or from those that are already at a disadvantage because of the effects of discrimination based on their gender, ethnicity, disability or residence. At the very least – and with the exception of the MDG 3 target on girls’ education – they have not given a clear enough incentive for policy-makers to proactively address inequalities. Redressing such discrimination and inequalities will be essential in the next global development agenda, if global opportunities for progress are to be shared by those most in need of its benefits.

The Report of the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons

An initial attempt to come up with specific goals that include all three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social and environmental – for the post-2015 period was made by the UN Secretary-General’s High-level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. In May 2013 the panel released its report entitled “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development.” The HLP Report is programmatically competent and politically astute. However, the Report entails many layers, and it is worth peeling back the layers to see what lies inside. Some interesting questions then arise, especially about the goals and targets. The key layers of report are: 1) the five transformative shifts; 2) the 12 goals; and 3) the 54 targets.

The five shifts are: 1. Leave no one behind. 2. Put sustainable development at the core. 3. Transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth. 4. Build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all. 5. Forge a new global partnership.

In many ways, the five transformative shifts set the ‘theme tune’ of the post-2015 agenda. The list above is not a statement of values, of the kind that features in the Millennium Declaration (freedom, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, etc.); nor does it amount to an end-point definition of ‘human development’ (or indeed sustainable development). It could be read as a distinctive call to arms; the opposite of these statements are the problems we have to fix. Thus: people are being left behind; the development model is not sustainable; we suffer from jobless and unequalising growth; too many ‘institutions’ are not open and accountable; and rich countries are not pulling their weight.

Going an extra step ahead, one may also add – the current growth model is not working for the wellbeing of all masses, economic growth does not necessarily lead to happiness, our social fabric has eroded, and the fundamentals of global collective action have been diluted. Leaving aside the transformative shifts that are currently not on the HLP report, the ones that are already in it are adequate. While these intended shifts are important to any future development framework, it is unclear whether the transformative shifts are make or break issues for the next generation of global goals. In the run-up to 2015, the goals and targets will be more important. Chapter 3 of the HLP report gets more specific on what can and cannot be achieved with a goal framework, on the criteria for choosing goals, and on the risks. The HLP notes that “a goal framework is not the best solution to every social, economic and environmental challenge.” A small number of SMART targets are needed, written in simple language and providing a compelling message. The targets should be widely applicable, and based on consensus. Importantly, the HLP concludes that “whenever possible, goals and targets should reflect what people want, without dictating how they should get there. . . Given vastly different capabilities, histories, starting points and circumstances, every country cannot be asked to reach the same absolute target. All countries would be expected to contribute to achieving all targets, but how much, and at what speed, will differ. Ideally, nations would use inclusive processes to make these decisions and then develop strategies, plans, policies, laws, or budgets to implement them.” Such language carries tactical advantage, however, imparts uncertainty. What happens if adding up country commitments leaves the world falling short of agreed global targets? Climate change, for example, is an area where we have encountered this issue.”

Click here to read the full paper, and here to find out more about the event. You will also be able to live stream proceedings here.

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