By Megan Rowling
LONDON (AlertNet) - The new development agenda to follow on from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015, should focus on how countries can achieve growth that includes everyone, going beyond poverty eradication and international aid, according to an early snapshot of consultations with people around the world.
The United Nations launched what it calls a "global conversation" in August last year, and more than 200,000 people from across the world have contributed to a process that will run until May or June.
The United Nations Development Group released on Thursday an initial set of findings, which it hopes will inform a meeting of the U.N. secretary-general's high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda in Bali starting on Sunday.
The report says people still regard the MDGs as "fundamental", not least because they help "channel support to people living in vulnerable situations across the world". But they also see room for improvement.
People are calling for an expanded development agenda that responds to the ongoing jobs crisis, increasing inequalities, growing and moving populations, lack of resources and environmental degradation, the report says.
“They want leaders to take action to create the conditions for a more equitable and safer world. They see challenges which persist regardless of economic growth, and they want a forward-looking approach that does not burn through the planet’s resources,” the report says.
The MDGs are a set of eight global goals, agreed by world leaders in 2000, which set targets on reducing poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, cutting child mortality, improving maternal health, combating diseases including AIDS and malaria, ensuring environmental sustainability, and fostering a global partnership for development. They are meant to be achieved by 2015, but some are still off track.
COUNTRIES TAKE THE WHEEL
Paul Ladd, who heads up the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) team on the post-2015 development agenda, told AlertNet the MDGs "were a little bit blind to country context", failing to take into account the different levels of development between nations. For example, in those that already have a high level of primary school attendance, it would be more suitable to focus on putting children through secondary education.
People are telling the United Nations the goals could be refined to better reflect the challenges they face, Ladd said. More children may now be going to primary school, for instance, but there's a need to focus on the quality of education and whether pupils leave with the skills to make the most of their lives.
The consultations to date have also highlighted how the MDGs did not capture everything, including the links between providing essential goods and services and more complex issues, such as whether boosting food supplies can lead to land degradation, Ladd said.
Three main "blocks" of development are coming to the fore, he noted, on top of basic needs like education, food, water and healthcare. They are employment, which means having a job that provides income and dignity; governance, which means access to the rule of law, a responsive government, and institutions that protect people from crime and violence; and sustainable use of the environment and natural resources.
The shift towards a more holistic view of development is rooted in the political and economic rise of fast-developing southern countries, which have exerted a much stronger international influence in the past few years.
Ladd believes the next set of goals, often referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals, will likely consist of a global vision with common benchmarks that are interpreted at national level, with governments deciding how best to deploy their resources to meet them.
And a much stronger emphasis on human rights and equality suggests targets will no longer apply to just part of a population, as with the current MDGs.
"If you reduce by half the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day, what about the other half?" Ladd said. "I sense a strong momentum towards having zero or 100 percent benchmarks on this basic set of services or goods or rights that everyone in the world should have."
A PHONE BUT NO TOILET
Another major change is the spread of information and communications technology – particularly in developing countries, where many people now own a mobile phone. This, alongside the meteoric rise of online social media, offers a powerful new way of holding governments to account.
Ways of ensuring human rights now range from community-based monitoring to national courts, watchdogs, and global conventions.
These take on new meaning when people have mobile phones but still lack indoor toilets, and human rights can be monitored and documented with an SMS, the report said.
The empowerment of citizens through technology, together with the U.N.-backed dialogues, may result in a more bottom-up approach to setting the new development agenda, as urged by Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development at Harvard University, in a commentary in the Financial Times this week.
"The MDG framework is a top-down design akin to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It should be superseded by a self-organising alternative, akin to Wikipedia," he wrote.
The United Nations is supporting 83 national dialogues, under way in all continents. Some richer countries, including European states, are running their own discussions.
Individuals based anywhere can take part in a survey called MY World, in which respondents choose six development priorities from a list of 16, either online, by phone, or on paper. Some 110,000 people from 190 countries have voted so far.
In addition, 11 thematic dialogues are taking place on MDG areas – including health, hunger, education and water – as well as new challenges for sustainable development in the coming decades such as energy, water and population dynamics.