China’s success on Millennium Development Goals provides an example for others to follow for the post-2015 development agenda, says new UNDP report

Feb 17, 2015

Beijing—With one-fifth of the world’s population, China has greatly contributed to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals worldwide, according to a new UNDP report.

Between 1990 and 2005, more than 470 million people in China were lifted out of extreme poverty, however, many development challenges remain for China, including poverty and other socioeconomic and environmental issues.

The lives of millions of people worldwide have improved due to concerted efforts – at the global, regional, national and local levels – to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are eight broad goals with targets ranging from eradicating extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by 2015. Since their conception in 2000, the MDGs have proven to be the most successful anti-poverty push in history.

With many MDG targets already met – including reducing poverty, increasing access to clean drinking water, improving the lives of slum dwellers, and achieving gender parity in primary school – many more targets are also within reach by the end of 2015.

With the MDGs concluding at the end of 2015, world leaders have called for an ambitious, long-term agenda to improve people’s lives and protect the planet for future generations. This post-2015 development agenda is expected to tackle many issues, including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests. Governments are in the midst of negotiating the agenda, including a proposed set of sustainable development goals, and world leaders are expected to adopt the agenda at a summit in New York in September 2015.

The UNDP report says the direction of China’s future development endeavours and the degree of its commitment to global public goods – especially climate change – will have a significant impact on the entire international community. As such, China has a major opportunity to actively support and participate in shaping the post-2015 development agenda.

The report examines the approaches that China adopted in its attainment of certain MDGs, while identifying the domestic contexts in which such changes occurred. According to the report, China’s success in achieving specific MDGs and performing well overall can be attributed to three related factors: rapid economic expansion coupled with gradual reforms; development and inclusive-oriented government; and particular domestic and social demographic contexts.

For instance, China’s economy, the report notes, gradually shifted from a centrally planned economy to a market-based economy from 1978 onwards. China simultaneously encouraged farmers to modernize and urbanize, while prioritizing export-led growth, to reduce the bankruptcy risk of many state-owned enterprises. Additionally, to determine the right policies, China initiated many pilot programmes, which allowed the government to experiment before implementing on a larger scale.

Similarly, China’s government played an active role in planning and managing economic growth. A particular, extensive government apparatus reaching from central to local governments, as well as progressive taxation made the implementation, monitoring, and realization of clearly defined development goals possible.

In addition, China’s progress in meeting most of the MDGs was also facilitated by a decrease in population growth, which was a result of both deliberate government policies and a natural consequence of economic growth and poverty reduction.

However, the report notes that China still faces significant development challenges, especially in the areas of gender and regional inequalities, urbanization, combating HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability, addressing water and air pollution. In addition, integrating civil society in the development process could also have a vital impact in addressing these challenges. 

The report emphasizes that while the circumstances that helped China meet some of the MDGs may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, the elements of numerous good practices from China’s meteoric rise can be distilled into the post-2015 agenda, as well as applied to other national and regional contexts.

“On the basis of China’s past successes, UNDP is supporting China to grab this great opportunity to both move its social development ahead rapidly toward more ambitious goals, as well as support others in doing so. This report confirms the value of this strategy,” said Christophe Bahuet, Country Director of UNDP China.