Sunday 23. January 2022
#165 - November


Creating the Next Global Development Goals


The race to define a new generation of sustainable development goals is on. The EU has played a constructive role in UN negotiations so far, but many challenges remain.

The United Nations still has two years left, until 2015, to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and delivering minimum targets on health and education. However, the race to define the next goals, the goals of the future, is definitely on, as the September UN Special Event on the MDGs showed. It has becomes crucial that the people whose very lives hang in the balance are given space in the process. Only this way can a new framework provide the answers that the world is yearning for to deliver on global justice.


The ‘Outcome document’ approved in New York raises the right questions but answers too few of them. Among the questions that remain unanswered is how the various processes, “work streams”, on Sustainable Development Goals of the future, for instance, are to come together into a coherent framework, and how they will flow into the UN Secretary General's final synthesis report.


Another glaring topic left unaddressed is how the future goals are to answer one of the big deficiencies of the MDGs: the lack of accountability. A vague reference to “accountability at all levels” is not the priority attention needed. In fact, the process itself betrays a lack of accountability.


The process leaves space for ‘pick-and-choose" approaches behind the scenes, and limits the participation of the most vulnerable and marginalised peoples. Most glaringly, the document avoids references to the accountability of businesses. Calling on the private sector to engage in ‘responsible’ practices gives little incentive to limit negative impacts on the environment or to improve people’s prospects to realise their rights in the way enforcing accountability would.


The question whether human rights will remain just a token phrase in the preamble of development frameworks or the real driving force also remains unanswered. So is the question whether the purported commitment to gender equality will sufficiently address issues of growing levels of inequality between and within societies.


The eighth Millennium Development Goal, on aid, debt relief and market access, was meant to provide an enabling environment in which developing countries could fulfil the MDGs. Its lax definition of targets and indicators led to lax reporting. The outcome document fails to mention this, adding insult to injury by stating that “most African countries remain off-track” to achieve their MDG commitments. An inherent problem of the MDG approach was finger-pointing at countries that were farthest behind, not recognising they started from different baselines. Whether the new framework will fully factor in national circumstances remains unanswered.


The outcome document appeals to "the global partnership." A call for international cooperation would have better reflected a binding commitment by all countries to take measures that serve human rights and sustainable development. At a time when governments are increasingly using public money to “leverage” private sector financing, the lack of detail on partnerships and the weight accorded to public and private sector finance is risky. Studies show that Public-Private-Partnerships may drain public budgets while subsidizing profit-making and weakening a healthy alignment between risk and reward in the private sector.


Not all is bad, of course. The outcome document contains very welcome language on human rights, peace and security, democratic governance and rule of law. The affirmation of the Rio principles, as formulated in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility, are welcome. Getting all these elements in the outcome document required giving and taking on the part of all negotiating partners, an important sign of multilateralism, which has suffered in the recent past. The EU played a constructive role in this regard. At the same time it is disappointing that the EU did not make any visible effort to ensure a strong emphasis on policy coherence for development - a very important value for the EU, which it is legally bound to abide by.


Of course, one of the main challenges is that the MDGs themselves have not yet been achieved. As the Secretary for the Holy See's Relations with States, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, pointed out in his statement to the General Assembly, the main reason for this is in the ambiguous formulation of some of the goals, as well as the fact that the eighth goal, supposed to provide resources for the other seven, has not been implemented. Discussions on how to govern international finance still excludes the poorest states. Lastly, one of the most important of humanity’s goals, external to the current set of goals but essential for their implementation, remains elusive: the goal of peace.


Jean Saldanha, Senior Policy Advisor

Markus Drake, Communications Officer





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