Comments on the Secretary-General’s Synthesis Report on Post-2015: An Introduction

Written by Andrew Norton, Director of Research at ODI and Elizabeth Stuart, Research Fellow for the Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme at ODI.

A couple of weeks ago we blogged with thoughts on how to deal with too many goals. In the end our ideas mapped pretty neatly onto the six elements proposed in the Secretary General’s report.

Now we’ve written a short paper that starts to address the question of how to deal with too many targets. In spite of the vibrant debate about goals and goal numbers, in the end it is against targets that the progress – and headlines – are generated. Most of the impact of the MDGs happened through the target set. MDG Goal 1 has in practice, for instance, mostly hit the news through the progress of the world (or regions or countries) against the headline target of halving absolute poverty as measured by the $1.25 a day figure.

The MDGs, now, have 21 targets, against the Open Working Group’s 169. This 169 is undergoing a gentle brush down by UN technical experts, and duplications will be taken out, but that will still likely only reduce the number by a few.

Slimming down the target set is critical. In our paper, we offer some tentative pointers to the generation of a tighter target set. And we propose that there should be two kinds of target – one globally comparable, the other geared to capturing national context and therefore to be determined at the national level, although our paper focuses largely on the former.

The globally comparable ones should be of the same technical character as the MDG targets – namely that anyone can produce an assessment of progress on the basis of reasonably widely accessible global data.  An example of this from the OWG target set for Goal 10 (inequality) would be target 10.1: By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average. This would fit neatly under the SG’s dignity element.

We also offer some slimline suggestions that map on the SG elements of planet, justice and partnership. We haven’t sought yet to do so for prosperity or people – and would welcome the thinking of others on this.

These 15 year targets should also be accompanied by stepping stones targets, as previously proposed by ODI to ensure that attainment gaps are closed, and that governments don’t simple delegate action to their political successors. This proposal can make a real contribution to focusing efforts on enhancing social justice and equity through the SDG framework.

Nailing the target issue will largely fall to the coming technical review process in which the UN Statistical Commission is set to play a lead role. It will be a difficult task both technically and politically, but without it, the SDGs may not fly.

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