Rebeca Grynspan: "What should replace the MDGs?"

Apr 30, 2012

Remarks by
Rebecca Grynspan, Associate Administrator of UNDP
2012 InterAction Forum 
Washington DC, April 30, 2012

There are three processes that need to be articulated properly in the next 3 years:

1. The efforts to achieve the MDGs by 2015.  The world has less than three years to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - and we need to keep focused in making as much progress as possible towards their achievement.

2. Rio +20 happening in 2 months, where important commitments should be made towards sustainable developments and where the pertinence of a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be discuss.

3. The post-MDG agenda, which should be shaped by 1 and 2 and an agreement that we should avoid ending up with two parallel tracks that will weaken both. A convergence should be worked out where the new framework will be an evolution of the MDGs and the same time will incorporate the changes that the world has experienced since 2000 and the Sustainable development agenda into ONE development framework.

The main objectives of the MDGs are as relevant today as before: to free people everywhere from hunger and poverty, ensure that they can live healthy lives, have access to basic education, sanitation, and clean drinking water, and that men and women are guaranteed equal rights, placing human development at the centre of the debate. 

Today we can celebrate that much progress has been made and that the MDGs did galvanize action at the national and international level and established for the first time a clear accountability and monitoring system that the world doesn't want to lose.  Let me lay down some of the main successes and highlight progress achieved to date:

The global targets on halving extreme poverty and expanding access to improved water sources have been met.

The numbers of children who die before their fifth birthday declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009.  This means nearly 12,000 fewer children die each day.

There has been significant progress in combating malaria and tuberculosis, and the numbers of people receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS increased 13-fold from 2004 to 2009.  

Some of the poorest countries have made the greatest strides in education.  For example, Burundi, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, and Tanzania have achieved or are nearing the goal of universal primary education. And across the globe we are close to reaching gender parity in primary education.

But we are still a long way from achieving some of the goals and targets, including reducing maternal mortality and empowering women and girls.  The goals referring to sanitation and environment are also an example. And aggregate figures at the global level disguise the unequal progress, both within countries and between countries.  

Even if we were to achieve the MDGs, we would still have an unfinished agenda that the post-2015 framework should build on. Extreme poverty will only have been reduced by half as compared to 1990 levels, not eradicated. 

Maternal and child mortality will still be rampant in many parts of the world.  

So, the credibility of any future goals depends on how well we meet the current ones (I hear many voices that already say is a failure because not all goals will be met everywhere), and how we build on and incorporate the essence of the MDGs into a post-2015 agenda.

So, I first want to emphasize that accelerating progress towards achieving the MDGs by our target date must remain a top priority in our discussions today and that it is critical that the international community does not lose its focus and momentum on achieving the MDGs by the 2015 deadline, while seizing the opportunity to design a well-crafted framework for the future.

An important tool in this effort, that UNDP together with the rest of the UN development agencies have been forwarding, is the MDG Acceleration Framework.  It is designed to help countries identify the bottlenecks preventing MDG progress and the priority actions needed to accelerate progress, through a multi-stakeholder consultative process, and has now been rolled out in thirty-six countries.  In these countries it has helped break down silos between sectors in favor of pragmatic, cross-sectoral, problem-solving approaches, and has demonstrated that countries can shift trajectory.   

Secondly, to design a post MDG framework it will be useful to reflect on the successes and failures, and the lessons learned from the MDG process, and foster a more transparent, participatory, and inclusive process, of which today’s discussion is a good example. 

I will then discuss how we can ensure that the outcome of Rio+20 is integrated into a post-2015 agenda so that there is ONE development framework guiding us forward.   

What we have learned from Critiques and Successes of the MDGs

The Millennium Development Goals generated criticism by some and were praised by others. 

Some believe they lack ambition, others say that they are unrealistic. Many have pointed out that they do not adequately consider unjust conditions in areas such as trade, investment and debt. Others have pointed to weak emphasis on environment and climate issues or that the goals are isolated indicators of poverty and deprivation that cannot solve the larger structural and underlying problems.

Despite the criticism and the fact that progress towards meeting the goals has been uneven, we can say that the MDGs have been a success in two large ways:

First, they have contributed to ensuring that a majority of developing countries are giving increased priority to policies that put people at the center. In countries around the world the goals have guided budget decisions and law making processes. In fact, most countries have national development strategies in place that are technically sound, and MDGs-based. As such the MDGs have contributed to a significant shift: growth, investment, asphalt and megawatts are all well and good, but they are only means. The MDGs are about people, and put the people at the centre of development. They are inspired in the paradigm of human development. 

Second, the goals have had enormous international significance creating shared norms and understanding of the minimum requirements for people to live in dignity. They have created a common agenda that unites countries across geography, interests, and income levels. Time-bound in nature and with quantitative targets, they allowed the international community to measure the progress of its development against specific benchmarks. And they galvanized support and helped build new partnerships between civil society, the private sector, foundations, and governments. 

But not all the MDGs have progressed equally, and not all members of society have benefited equally from progress recorded at the national or global level. In thinking about the post-2015 agenda, we must ensure that our approach reaches those left behind or at risk of being left behind: the poorest of the poor and those disadvantaged, stigmatized, or discriminated against because of their sex, age, race, ethnicity, place of residence, or disability.  Fighting inequality must be seen as equally important as improving the lives of people ‘on average’.   

Some of the key lessons learned from the MDGs are that development happens when there is:

effective government, leadership, and national ownership of development strategies; such as the MDG ownership in Mauritius;

effective policies that support implementation; such as Ethiopia’s Electricity Access Program, which is rapidly increasing access to electricity to its population.

improved quantity, quality and focus of investments, financed both by domestic sources and international development assistance; In Tanzania, 56 parallel implementation units were managing more than 700 projects in 2006, and half of all technical assistance provided to the country was not coordinated with the government.

appropriate institutional capacity to deliver quality services equitably on a national scale, and effective monitoring and evaluation; such as the implementation of national scale programs like Bolsa Familia, Oportunidades, Chile Solidario, and others which have resulted in declines in income inequalities.

civil society and community involvement, and empowerment. In Cambodia, commune councils serve to strengthen decentralization and local democracy by replacing state-appointed agents and ensuring decisions are taken by elected community representatives

effective global partnerships, involving all relevant stakeholders, with mutual accountability of all stakeholders; The failure to deliver a development oriented Doha Round constitutes the most significant gap in formulating the Global Partnership for Development.  Policy coherence not only at the national level but at the international level is required to accelerate MDG achievement.

good governance by donors and recipients. Debt for development swaps and Virtual Poverty Funds are mechanisms designed to transform debt into public funds targeting pro-poor priority areas. Uganda’s Poverty Action Fund, for example, has allowed the government to increase annual expenditures in education by 9 percent, and on health by 20 percent between 1998 and 2002.

These elements must be reflected in our discussions on how to support development efforts in the future.

At the same time, during the 2010 MDG Summit, the international community focused on what could be done to accelerate MDG achievement, in a sustainable way, recognizing that we live in a world where volatility is a new normal, and shocks and crises stemming from economic, political, climate, food and energy risks are ever more frequent.  The concept of resilience must therefore become more central in our development discourse and help guide the priorities for beyond 2015. 

From evidence distilled by examining MDG progress in about 50 countries, UNDP, in its 2010 International Assessment of MDG Progress identified a number of synergies between the Goals. Progress in one area can support and build progress in other areas - we refer to the interventions which have a cross-cutting impact across multiple Goals as ‘multipliers’. 

Empowering women and expanding access to energy were found to be some of the most powerful multipliers – producing positive impact across all the MDGs, as well as rural development and increased agricultural productivity, employment with growth, and social protection.  Empowering women makes families healthier, economies more productive, and increases the likelihood of educating children particularly given the current financial constraints.  

Reducing poverty and inequality, generating growth, advancing social development, and sustainability are, in fact, interconnected: in pursuing one, we can advance, slow, or stall progress in the other. To get all of them moving in the same direction, we need to understand and harness the connections between them. 

Identifying these connections and investing in MDG ‘multipliers’ are critical to both accelerating and sustaining progress up to 2015 and must be a central building block for the post-2015 framework.  

One of the more fundamental critiques of the MDG approach was that the goals were developed in a top-down manner and did not reflect the voices of those they were ‘developed for’. 

Reacting to this critique, there is broad agreement that the process to agree on a new post-2015 framework should be transparent, participatory, inclusive, and Member State-driven, while anchored in the UN System.  The process must also be anchored in the logic of universal applicability, with common, but differentiated, responsibilities and take into account how the context for development has changed since the MDGs were agreed.  

The Secretary General of the United Nations has initiated steps within the UN system to launch the process that will lead the definition of a post-2015 UN development agenda.  He has requested the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) to establish a group of technical experts to propose a unified vision and road map for the definition of such an agenda. The findings of this group are intended to inform the work programme of a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, to be appointed by the SG.

UNDP – as Chair of the UN Development Group, representing all UN Development agencies – is mobilizing support to carry out inclusive national consultation processes to stimulate the debate on the post-2015 development agenda. 

The UN expects an active participation of civil society and citizens in the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda, which is answering the question of: “What sort of world do we want to live in?” Or as the Rio Declaration will say, what is “The Future We Want”?  The proliferation of social networks, web-based tools and of the rapid diffusion of mobile technologies make effective global outreach possible in shaping the post-2015 agenda, complementing more traditional consultation processes and opening the doors to billions of people at the local, national and global levels to have their voices heard.

As we see it, this future should be one with inclusive and green economic growth, social protection for all, and preservation of our global commons, of the legacy that we inherited and have promised to share with the future generations. And therefore it must be in line with the discussion and outcome of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.  

We expect that Rio+20 may support to the establishment of a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs).  However, while setting goals is certainly important, it is not enough. The MDG experience shows that there are other key ingredients for a framework to be successful, such as partnerships, ownership and accountability. 

The post 2015 framework will need to set an agenda that is not solely focused on developing countries; developed countries will also have to commit. And Rio, with its discussions on energy, water, sustainable consumption and production, and the green economy, provides an opportunity to move the development paradigm towards universal commitments and highlight the need for multilateral approaches to protect ‘global common goods’. No country, or organization can go at it alone; we are all together on the same planet.

The outcome of Rio+20 will likely recognize economic, social and environmental issues as three tightly interconnected strands of sustainable development and underscore that better development results can be obtained when tackling them together. Rio+20 could therefore provide a set of principles, parameters and agreements to help frame the post 2015 discussion, combining a poverty reduction agenda into a sustainable human development agenda. 

As we move forward and ask “What should replace the MDGs?” we should ensure that the key principles: equity, inclusion, transparency, and participation are reflected both in the process of determining the next agenda as well as in the substance itself.

Thank you. 

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