Helen Clark: Lecture on “From the MDGs to a New Set of Global Development Priorities” at ADA University

Oct 3, 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

Lecture
on
“From the MDGs to a New Set of Global Development Priorities”
at
ADA University
Baku, Azerbaijan

My thanks go to Rector Dr. Hafiz Pashayev and ADA University for inviting me to speak to you today on the current global debate on what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals at the end of 2015.

I understand that this university began its life with the objective of training students for diplomatic careers. As it is diplomats in New York who carry responsibility for negotiating the new global development agenda, the post-2015 debate is highly relevant to all aspiring to diplomatic careers at this time.

I’m told that the university today offers a wide range of courses across public and international affairs, the humanities and sciences, business, and engineering and ICT. Expertise and understanding across the disciplines is vital for building a diversified and sustainable economy and a cohesive society, and for enabling Azerbaijan to play its important role in regional and global affairs. I note that a number of international students also study here.

The future success of Azerbaijan is closely linked to the state of the global economy and global ecosystems, and to peace and security in our world. The success of the global development agenda is critical to all these areas. Countries need economies which generate jobs and opportunities, especially for today’s large youth generation. They need societies which are inclusive and cohesive. They need healthy ecosystems.  They need peace. Development plays a major role in advancing all these ends.

In 2000, world leaders came to New York and signed the Millennium Declaration. I was there as Prime Minister of New Zealand. The beginning of the new millennium was a time of hope. The Declaration reflected that, and contained the elements of what were later launched as the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs.

Progress on the Millennium Development Goals

Around the world, the MDGs were widely embraced as global development priorities. They set out to tackle extreme poverty and hunger; protect the environment; expand education; advance health, gender equality, and women’s empowerment; and foster global partnerships for development. Many countries have anchored the MDGs in their development plans, pursued very deliberate strategies to achieve them, and mobilised external support around them.  

With fewer than 500 days to go until the 2015 target date set for achieving the MDGs, important progress against its targets can be seen.
For example:

•    The proportion of the world’s people living in extreme poverty was cut in half by 2010 - five years ahead of the 2015 target date.
•    The target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water has also been met.
•    On average across the world, gender parity in primary education has been achieved, and most children now enrol in primary schools, although completion rates are not high across all countries.
•    The lives of many urban slum dwellers have improved, and levels of infant and child mortality have decreased significantly.
•    There is a downward trend of tuberculosis and global malaria deaths, and the tide is turning on HIV.

Yet global trends tend to disguise the significant unevenness in achievements between countries and within them. For example, the huge movement of many hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty in China has driven the level of global progress on extreme poverty reduction. Some countries have seen very little poverty reduction at all. In others, groups marginalized within society have seen their country’s progress pass them by. Progress on the targets to reduce maternal mortality and provide universal access to sexual and reproductive health lags behind – pointing to the need for much greater effort to be made on gender equality and the empowerment of women.

Around one billion people continue to live in extreme poverty. Many go to bed hungry and undernourished every night – with lifelong repercussions for the children affected. Lack of sanitation leaves many people vulnerable to the rapid spread of disease – particularly in the aftermath of the increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters our world is experiencing. A number of our world’s ecosystems are under serious stress, which threatens the ongoing supply of the ecosystem services we all need.

So, there is work to do on the next global development agenda to ensure that no one is left behind and that the route to higher human development is a sustainable one.

From the MDG experience, a number of conclusions can be drawn about what helps countries to make fast progress:

•    There is no substitute for effective leadership and governance and strong national ownership of development strategies;
•    Development strategies and plans must be supported by the capacities necessary to implement them;
•    Funding is essential; in that, official development assistance will continue to play a role, but it must increasingly be a catalytic role. The contribution to development from the growth of economies and rising domestic resource mobilization, alongside increased trade, investment, and the volume of remittances, dwarfs ODA; and
•    The role of subnational governments, the private sector, and civil society is important in driving development progress.


Post-2015 Process

For the most part, the MDG agenda set targets for developing countries to meet. Goal 8 was a partnership goal, outlining measures which would support development – from higher levels of ODA to better trade rules, debt relief, affordable essential drugs, and access to new technologies, especially ICTs.  The Sustainable Development Goals agenda, however, is likely to be more transformational – encouraging the transition to sustainable economies and societies by all countries, while also focusing on the means of implementation for developing countries to make the transition to sustainability.
 
Already, the UN’s Member States have agreed that the post-2015 agenda should have a “single framework and set of goals – universal in nature and applicable to all countries, while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies. It should promote peace, and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality, and human rights for all.” Those were the words of the outcome document of the leader-level meeting on the MDGs and post-2015 in September last year in New York.

UNDP and the broader UN development system have reached out to the world’s citizens for input into the post-2015 agenda. We have launched large-scale consultations through 88 national dialogues, including here in Azerbaijan, and eleven major thematic consultations.  The worldwide survey, MyWorld, has had an especially wide reach: so far around five million people have participated by voting on their priorities for the new agenda.

Here in Azerbaijan, two rounds of consultations have reached out to women and men, youth and children, people with disabilities, internally displaced persons, academics, entrepreneurs, business associations, journalists, and non-governmental organizations, and to rural areas.

There has been a strong focus here on youth issues, with more than 800 young people engaged, including, I understand, through a Model UN workshop hosted here at ADA University. I thank all who have taken part, and I thank the Government of Azerbaijan for its support for this inclusive process.

I understand that the top three priorities identified by the Azerbaijan national consultation were the need for economic diversification and inclusive growth; rural development and quality infrastructure; and enhanced quality of and access to healthcare.

Around the world, the feedback was that the areas covered by the MDGs remain very important, and that the unfinished business of the MDGs must be tackled. In country after country, people have prioritised health, education, and jobs as vital. They have also emphasized the need for quality as well as quantity. People don’t just want their children to be enrolled in school; they want the quality of the education they receive to be high.  They want health services which work. They want jobs which meet the definition of decent work. Many have also expressed their desire to live without fear of violence or conflict in fair and just societies which do not discriminate or exclude people because of their gender, ethnicity, class, disability, place of birth, or any other factor.

Overall, the consultations have been strongly supportive of keeping the focus on the eradication of poverty in all its dimensions, and of doing this in a way which does not compromise the functioning of the ecosystems on which human life depends.

Early in 2015, the UN General Assembly established an Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. It reported in July, proposing seventeen goals and 169 targets. The report builds on the legacy of the MDGs with its proposed goals on poverty and hunger eradication, health, education, gender equality, and environment, but it also broadens the scope with goals on inequalities reduction, infrastructure, energy, peaceful and inclusive societies, and other new areas.  The agenda would be applicable to all countries, and aim to shift the world towards sustainable consumption and production.  

As UNDP we believe it will be important to prioritise addressing the factors which perpetuate underdevelopment and cause development setbacks. High levels of extreme poverty are increasingly concentrated where there is conflict and/or poor governance, a weak state, low social cohesion, and/or high exposure to natural disasters. These factors can also drive setbacks in states which have made progress – but where there are underlying development weaknesses. There are development solutions which help build better governance; establish the rule of law and human rights, including women’s rights; strengthen social cohesion and resilience to shocks; and build capacities for the peaceful mediation and resolution of differences. We work around the world in these areas, as well as on inclusive and sustainable growth.

The MDG experience suggests that the new agenda will be most powerful if it is measurable, clear and concise. That suggests there is still work to be done in prioritising the new agenda. The UN Secretary-General’s forthcoming synthesis report on the debate so far, which has been requested by the General Assembly, can give guidance to that.


Next July, a conference on financing for sustainable development will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This conference will be critical in ensuring that the issue of the ‘means of implementation’ is fully addressed.   Compared to the MDGs, this new agenda will be much more about making policy choices which are positive for development at the local, national and global levels. The availability of official development assistance, however, will still be particularly important for low income countries. Overall, the commitment of developed countries to provide ODA at adequate levels is an important trust-building signal to developing countries.

The Post-2015 Era in Azerbaijan and the Region

The outcomes of the post-2015 national consultations in Azerbaijan are broadly consistent with the priorities articulated in Azerbaijan: Vision 2020 which aims to move the country to a knowledge-based and diversified economy.

Later this month, the Government of Azerbaijan will be hosting the First Global Forum on Youth Policies, in partnership with the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, UNDP, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe. We hope that the momentum generated here in Baku will have a powerful impact on national and global policies and will feed into the post 2015 priority setting.

Now the groundwork is being laid for the next five-year co-operation plan between the UN development system and the Government of Azerbaijan. The priorities of the new UN-Azerbaijan Partnership Framework for 2016-2020 will be aligned with ‘Azerbaijan: Vision 2020’, with a focus on promoting sustainable employment, enhancing environmental management, strengthening resilience to disasters, and building local capacities to advance human development.


I thank our government counterparts, development partners and the people of Azerbaijan for the strong partnerships which the UN development system enjoys here. Azerbaijan is in an exciting period of its history, with big opportunities to share its knowledge and experience, and thereby support other countries to achieve their development goals. UNDP stands ready to work with this country in these efforts.

As the floor is opened now, I invite you to tell me what you think Azerbaijan’s contributions to development and global priorities should be. I would also welcome your ideas on how Azerbaijan and UNDP can work together as champions of global development.

Once again, my thanks go to ADA University and Rector Dr. Pashayev for inviting me to speak here today.

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