The Shape of the Post-2015 Agenda

Bold commitments in these five areas – leave no one behind, put sustainable development at the core, transform economies, build peace and effective and accountable institutions, and forge a new global partnership – would allow the international community to keep the promises made under the MDGs, raise the bar where experience shows we can do more, and add key issues that are missing. Together, these would be significant steps towards poverty eradication as an essential part of sustainable development.

Precisely because the scope of the post-2015 agenda is so broad – blending social progress, equitable growth and environmental management – it must have clear priorities, and include shared global metrics as well as national targets. It is around these that the global community can organise itself.

We believe that the combination of goals, targets, and indicators under the MDGs was a powerful instrument for mobilising resources and motivating action. For this reason, we recommend that the post-2015 agenda should also feature a limited number of high-priority goals and targets, with a clear time horizon and supported by measurable indicators. With this in mind, the Panel recommends that targets in the post-2015 agenda should be set for 2030. Longer time frames would lack urgency and might seem implausible, given the volatility of today’s world, while shorter ones would not allow the truly transformative changes that are needed to take effect.

Goals can be a powerful force for change. But a goal framework is not the best solution to every social, economic and environmental challenge. They are most effective where a clear and compelling ambition can be described in clearly measurable terms. Goals cannot substitute for detailed regulations or multilateral treaties that codify delicately-balanced international bargains. And unlike treaties, goals similar to the MDGs are not binding in international law. They stand or fall as tools of communication, inspiration, policy formulation and resource mobilisation.

The agenda should also include monitoring and accountability mechanisms involving states, civil society, the private sector, foundations, and the international development community. It should recognise each party’s contribution to development finance, recognising common challenges but also different capabilities and needs. It will need to be informed by evidence of what works, and focus on areas where, by acting together, the global community can achieve the transformations needed for sustainable development.

A goal framework that drives transformations is valuable in focusing global efforts, building momentum and developing a sense of global urgency. It can be instrumental in crystallising consensus and defining international norms. It can provide a rallying cry for a global campaign to generate international support, as has been the case with the MDGs.

The Panel recommends that a limited number of goals and targets be adopted in the post-2015 development agenda, and that each should be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. A set of clear and easily applicable criteria, to guide the shape of the post-2015 agenda in line with the Rio+20 Outcome, is that each goal should:

  • Solve a critical issue, and have a strong impact on sustainable development, based on existing research;

  • Encapsulate a compelling message on issues that energise people, companies and governments;

  • Be easy to understand and communicate without jargon;

  • Be measurable, using credible and internationally comparable indicators, metrics and data, and subject to monitoring;

  • Be widely applicable in countries with different levels of income, and in those emerging from conflict or recovering from natural disaster;

  • Be grounded in the voice of people, and the priorities identified during consultations, especially children, youth, women and marginalised and excluded groups;

  • Be consensus-based, whenever possible built on UN member states’ existing agreements, while also striving to go beyond previous agreements to make people’s lives better.

Whenever possible, goals and targets should reflect what people want, without dictating how they should get there. For example, all countries might subscribe to a target of reducing food waste by a given percentage. But a low-income country might achieve this by investing in better storage and transport facilities, to keep food from spoiling before it gets to market, while a high-income country might do it by changing how food is packaged, sold, and consumed to reduce the amount of food thrown away by households.

The Panel recommends that the post-2015 goals, while keeping those living in extreme poverty, and the promises made to them, at the heart of the agenda, should raise the level of ambition for 2030 to reach all the neediest and most vulnerable. They should call for improving the quality of services. They should capture the priorities for sustainable development. And they should connect to one another in an integrated way.

Of course, given vastly different capabilities, histories, starting points and circumstances, every country cannot be asked to reach the same absolute target. All countries would be expected to contribute to achieving all targets, but how much, and at what speed, will differ. Ideally, nations would use inclusive processes to make these decisions and then develop strategies, plans, policies, laws, or budgets to implement them.

A few examples that came up during Panel discussions illustrate how priorities might vary, depending on country circumstances. The Panel agreed that some high-income countries might be expected to move further and faster on clean energy targets, because most start from a low base and all have responsibilities to do more to move towards sustainable consumption and production patterns. Many can also do more to provide equitable access to health and education services for isolated, poor or immigrant communities at home. And youth unemployment is a serious problem everywhere. The priorities expressed in consultations in middle-income countries focused more on reducing inequality, a good education, better quality healthcare, reliable infrastructure, a transparent and responsible government, especially at local levels for improved city management, creating more and better jobs and livelihoods and freedom from violence. Similar priorities are expressed in low-income countries, as well as the need to transform economies and reduce extreme poverty. Landlocked countries often call for better connections to the global economy; small island developing states for economic diversification, and a stronger response to climate change.

All countries have an interest in a better managed global economy, one that is more stable, more fair, more attentive to common resources, and more willing to cooperate in scientific and technical exchange. All would benefit from shared early-warning systems to identify and prevent natural disasters and pandemics.

Risks to be Managed in a Single Agenda

If the new development agenda is to be truly transformational, there are several major risks to be managed. The international community will need to ensure that a single, sustainable development agenda is not:

  • over-loaded with too many priorities, a product of compromises rather than decisions – lacklustre and bland instead of transformative and focused;

  • Focused on the agenda of the past – and not oriented towards future challenges;

  • insufficiently stretching – business as usual;

  • unworkably utopian;

  • intellectually coherent, but not compelling;

  • narrowly focused on one set of issues, failing to recognise that poverty, good governance, social inclusion, environment and growth are connected and cannot be addressed in silos.

The best way of managing these risks is to make sure that the post-2015 development agenda includes clear priorities for action that the international community can rally behind. These should be in areas where there are genuinely shared global aspirations, and which will make a transformative difference to sustainable development and poverty reduction.

The MDGs show how a goal framework can be used. One reason why they are successful is that they are inspirational, limited in number – eight goals and 21 targets – and easy to understand. The more successful targets are also measurable with clear deadlines. With eyes on the goals, money has been raised, partnerships built and strategies designed. When new technologies were needed, partners designed them. Good practices were shared. Field workers on the ground and policymakers in capitals learned and adapted. Of course, much progress would have happened even without the MDGs, but there is little doubt in our minds that they made a dramatic impact in some key areas.

The same should apply to the development agenda after 2015. Those priorities that can be addressed through a goal framework should be. Goals have shown their value in focusing global efforts, building momentum and developing a sense of global jeopardy. They can be instrumental in crystallising consensus and defining international norms.

Making sure that countries stretch themselves is a risk in a universal agenda. Setting the same targets for everyone, as happened with the MDGs in practice (though not by design), will not work because countries have such different starting points. But in a few cases the ambition for the whole world should be the same: to establish minimum standards for every citizen. No one should live in extreme poverty, or tolerate violence against women and girls. No one should be denied freedom of speech or access to information. No child should go hungry or be unable to read, write or do simple sums. All should be vaccinated against major diseases. Everyone should have access to modern infrastructure – drinking water, sanitation, roads, transport and information and communications technologies (ICT). All countries should have access to cost-effective clean and sustainable energy. Everyone should have a legal identity.

It is tempting to apply universal targets at a high level everywhere, but for some countries that risks becoming utopian. The Panel would like every child not to suffer from stunting or anaemia, but that can probably not be achieved in all countries by 2030. We would like everyone to be covered by social protection systems, but not if that means reducing the quality of such systems to a meaningless level. We would like everyone to have a decent job, but that too is probably unachievable in a mere 15 years, even in the most developed countries.

We found it useful to balance ambition and realism using some guidelines. In most cases, national targets should be set to be as ambitious as practical, and in some cases global minimum standards that apply to every individual or country should be set. We would suggest that in all cases where a target applies to outcomes for individuals, it should only be deemed to be met if every group – defined by income quintile, gender, location or otherwise – has met the target. In this way, countries would only be able to meet their commitments if they focus on the most vulnerable. Where data for indicators are not yet available, investments in data gathering will be needed. When indicators are not already agreed or are unclear (for example in defining quality), we suggest inviting technical experts to discuss and refine their models and methods.

Learning the Lessons of MDG 8 (Global Partnership for Development)

The Panel saw some progress in the areas which are covered in MDG8, but was disappointed with the pace of progress in several areas. Many countries lowered tariffs, but the Doha Development Round was not concluded. Official agencies wrote down tens of billions of dollars of debts, but still left many countries financially exposed. There has been substantial progress in improving the affordability of medicines, but many people still lack access to affordable essential drugs. A technology revolution has occurred in information and communications, but with little contribution from MDG8.

Despite the shortcomings of MDG8, aggravated by the lack of quantitative and time-bound targets, the Panel views a stronger global partnership for development, the objective of MDG8, as central to a new development agenda. The Panel puts this new global partnership at the heart of all its recommendations, and we believe a goal must be included in the post-2015 agenda as a tangible way to express key elements of the new global partnership. The most important changes to MDG8 that we recommend are to:

  • Develop targets that are universal;

  • Quantify targets, wherever feasible;

  • Pay more attention to raising stable, long-term finance for development;

  • Signal priorities in areas that go beyond aid, so these can be monitored;

  • Infuse global partnerships and cooperation into all the goals.

The Panel believes that the international community must come together and agree on ways to create a more open, more fair global trading system. An intergovernmental committee of experts, mandated by Rio+20, will propose options for an effective sustainable development financing strategy. Reforms in the international financial architecture are needed to ensure stability of the global financial system and allow it to contribute to real economic growth. The international agreement to hold the increase in global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels must be kept. This would help countries adapt to and mitigate the dangerous effects of climate change. The world has the opportunity to work together in new ways to reduce illicit flows, increase the recovery of stolen assets, promote access to technology and science and develop a global partnership on development data.

Illustrative Goals

The Panel has concluded that its agreed vision and recommended priorities for the shape of the post-2015 development agenda cannot be communicated effectively without offering an example of how goals might be framed. For this reason, a set of illustrative goals is set out in Annex I, with supporting detail in Annex II. These illustrative goals show how priorities can be translated into compelling and measurable targets. To be completely clear, the Annex material is not offered as a prescriptive blueprint, but as examples that can be used to promote continued deliberation and debate. But we hope that they inspire, and that UN member states, and the many outside constituencies from whom we have already heard, will find them a useful contribution to their deliberations on the post-2015 agenda.

A key issue is the balance among any proposed goals, and the connections between them. A true transformation to sustainable development will only happen when countries move forward on several fronts at the same time. For example, to reduce child deaths we may typically look to the medical community and health solutions such as vaccinations or insecticide-treated bed-nets. These are indeed crucial. But empowering women and educating girls is also very important in saving children’s lives; so for the best results, work on all these fronts must be combined. Equally, doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix will reduce carbon intensity, but so will increasing consideration of sustainability in public procurement, led by developed countries.

To take another example, smallholder farmers’ incomes might be rapidly raised by giving them land security and access to credit, but even more so if they are able to transport their produce to market and have mobile phones and electronic banking, so that they know how prices are moving and can get paid straight away. And if global food markets work better – are more transparent and stable – smallholder farmers will have better information on what to plant to get the most value from their farms. Similarly, education can help reach many goals, by raising awareness and thus leading to mass movements for recycling and renewable energy, or to a demand for better governance and an end to corruption. The goals chosen should be ones that amplify each other’s impact and generate sustainable growth and poverty reduction together.

The Panel wanted to test if there were indeed a few goals and targets that would satisfy the criteria laid out above and achieve its vision to end extreme poverty in all its forms in the context of sustainable development – and we considered many options. This led us to settle on a set of goals and targets that we think would fulfil the vision we expressed. Without being prescriptive, we believe it is important to show, through specific examples, that it is possible to express our ambition in a simple and concrete way, despite the complexities of sustainable development and countries’ vastly different circumstances and priorities.

The evidence leaves much room for judgment on what goals would be most transformative, and relevant to the most countries. But based on the criteria above, we have narrowed down the illustrative list to 12 goals and 54 targets, the achievement of which would dramatically improve the condition of people and the planet by 2030.

We have deliberately not divided the goals into categories corresponding to the specific transformative shifts described earlier. Our strong belief is that all the goals must interact to provide results. In our illustration, we decided to suggest the following goals: (i) end poverty; (ii) empower girls and women and achieve gender equality; (iii) provide quality education and lifelong learning; (iv) ensure healthy lives; (v) ensure food security and good nutrition; (vi) achieve universal access to water and sanitation; (vii) secure sustainable energy; (viii) create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth; (ix) manage natural resource assets sustainably; (x) ensure good governance and effective institutions; (xi) ensure stable and peaceful societies; and (xii) create a global enabling environment and catalyse long-term finance.

We believe that if these goals and their accompanying targets were pursued, they would drive the five key transformations – leave no one behind, transform economies, implement sustainable development, build effective institutions and forge a new global partnership.

Addressing Cross-cutting Issues

Several issues are not directly addressed through a single goal, but are treated in many of them. These include peace, inequality, climate change, cities, concerns of young people, girls, and women, and sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Peace. The Panel strongly believes that conflict – a condition that has been called development in reverse – must be tackled head-on, even within a universal agenda. We included in our illustrative list a goal on ensuring stable and peaceful societies, with targets that cover violent deaths, access to justice, stemming the external causes of conflict, such as organised crime, and enhancing the legitimacy and accountability of security forces, police and the judiciary. But these targets alone would not guarantee peace or development in countries emerging from conflict. Other issues, like jobs, participation in political processes and local civic engagement, and the transparent management of public resources are also important. These countries should also benefit from a strengthened financing framework that allows resources to be allocated to those countries most in need.

Inequality. Likewise, our illustrative framework tackles inequality of opportunity head-on, across all goals. When everyone, irrespective of household income, gender, location, ethnicity, age, or disability, has access to health, nutrition, education, and other vital services, many of the worst effects of inequality will be over. Other aspects of inequality more relevant to social inclusion, such as security of tenure and access to justice, are also addressed as explicit targets. We recognised that every country is wrestling with how to address income inequality, but felt that national policy in each country, not global goal-setting, must provide the answer. History also shows that countries tend to have cycles in their income inequality as conventionally measured; and countries differ widely both in their view of what levels of income inequality are acceptable and in the strategies they adopt to reduce it. However, the Panel believes that truly inclusive, broad-based growth, which benefits the very poorest, is essential to end extreme poverty. We propose targets that deliberately build in efforts to tackle inequality and which can only be met with a specific focus on the most excluded and vulnerable groups. For example, we believe that many targets should be monitored using data broken down by income quintiles and other groups. Targets will only be considered achieved if they are met for all relevant income and social groups.

Climate change. In our illustrative targets, we address the most important contributors to a low-carbon trajectory: more sustainable transport infrastructure; improved energy efficiency and use of renewable energy; the spread of more sustainable agricultural practices; tackling deforestation and increasing reforestation in the context of improving peoples’ livelihoods, and food security, taking into account the value of natural resources, and biodiversity. We also encourage incorporation of social and environmental metrics into accounting practices. These should be part of any sustainable development agenda, even if there were no concern over rising global temperatures, and are deservedly part of a universal framework. We also strongly endorse the call to hold the increase in global average temperature to 2⁰ C above pre-industrial levels, in line with international agreements. But we also recognise that already there is a need to build climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction into regional and national strategies, and encourage countries to focus on these plans.

Cities. The Panel recognised that city governments have great responsibilities for urban management. They have specific problems of poverty, slum up-grading, solid waste management, service delivery, resource use, and planning that will become even more important in the decades ahead. The post-2015 agenda must be relevant for urban dwellers. Cities are where the battle for sustainable development will be won or lost. Yet the Panel also believes that it is critical to pay attention to rural areas, where three billion near-poor will still be living in 2030. The most pressing issue is not urban versus rural, but how to foster a local, geographic approach to the post-2015 agenda. The Panel believes this can be done by disaggregating data by place, and giving local authorities a bigger role in setting priorities, executing plans, monitoring results and engaging with local firms and communities.

Young people.Today’s adolescents and youth are 1.8 billion strong and one quarter of the world’s population. They are shaping social and economic development, challenging social norms and values, and building the foundation of the world’s future. They have high expectations for themselves and their societies, and are imagining how the world can be better. Connected to each other as never before through new media, they are driving social progress and directly influencing the sustainability and the resilience of their communities and of their countries. These young people face many obstacles, ranging from discrimination, marginalisation, and poverty, to violence. They find it hard to find a first job, so we believe a jobs target with a specific indicator for youth employment, should be included in the next goal framework. Young people must be subjects, not objects, of the post-2015 development agenda. They need access to the right kind of health (including access to SRHR) and education to improve their job prospects and life skills, but they must also be active participants in decision-making, and be treated as the vital asset for society that they are.

Girls and Women. The majority of those living in extreme poverty are female. A people-centred agenda must work to ensure the equal rights of women and girls, and empower them to participate and take on leadership roles in public life. Women across the world have to work hard to overcome significant barriers to opportunity. These barriers can only be removed when there is zero tolerance of violence against and exploitation of women and girls, and when they have full and equal rights in political, economic and public spheres. Women and girls must have equal access to financial services, infrastructure, the full range of health services including SRHR, water and sanitation, the equal right to own land and other assets, a safe environment in which to learn and apply their knowledge and skills, and an end to discrimination so they can receive equal pay for equal work, and have an equal voice in decision-making. Gender equality is integrated across all of the goals, both in specific targets and by making sure that targets are measured separately for women and men, or girls and boys, where appropriate. But gender equality is also an important issue in its own right, and a stand-alone goal can catalyse progress.

Sustainable consumption and production patterns. Our main focus has been on food, water and energy systems—the basics of life. But we also strongly believe that a wider change towards sustainable consumption and production patterns is vital. The most important changes will be driven by technology, by innovations in product design, by detailed policy guidelines, by education and changed behavior, and by social innovations embedded in communities. But change is already happening fast, and today’s aspiration may be tomorrow’s discarded idea. For this reason, we have framed illustrative targets that set a high ambition but allow for details to evolve over time.

Much of the new technology and most of the new products will come from business. We embrace the positive contribution to sustainable development that business must make. But this contribution must include a willingness, on the part of all large corporations as well as governments, to report on their social and environmental impact, in addition to releasing financial accounts. Already about one quarter of all large corporations do so. We suggest that a mandatory ‘comply or explain’ regime be phased in for all companies with a market capitalisation above $100 million equivalent.

The same principle should apply to governments. National accounting for social and environmental effects should be mainstreamed by 2030. Governments, especially in developed countries, should explore policy options for green growth as one of the important tools available to promote sustainable development. Besides protecting natural resources, these measures will support a movement towards sustainable consumption and production. And, if sustainable consumption is to be a part of everyday life, as it must, tomorrow’s consumers will need to be socially aware and environmentally conscious. Awareness-raising in schools, and public information campaigns more broadly, could play a big part in changing mind-sets by showing the advantages of moving towards sustainable consumption and production.

The Global Impact by 2030

What would happen if developed and developing countries, and other partners too, committed themselves to implementing the goals and targets we describe? We can imagine a world in 2030 that is more equal, more prosperous, more peaceful and more just than that of today. A world where extreme poverty has been eradicated and where the building blocks for sustained prosperity are in place. A world where no one has been left behind, where economies are transformed, and where transparent and representative governments are in charge. A world of peace where sustainable development is the overarching goal. A world with a new spirit of cooperation and partnership.

This is not wishful thinking. The resources, know-how and technology that are needed already exist, and are growing every year. Using these, much has already been achieved. Twenty-five years ago, few would have imagined that by 2015, one billion people would have lifted themselves out of extreme poverty. If a messenger from the future had told us that polio would be gone from all but three countries; that four out of five of the world’s children would be vaccinated, or that 590 million children would attend school, we would not have believed it. Yet it has happened.

In shaping the scenario for what the world can achieve by 2030, the Panel considered several factors and made several assumptions.

Growth: Global output is set to double by 2030. On current trajectories, although the per capita income gap between developed and developing countries will remain large, it will have narrowed. By 2030, most developing countries should have experienced fast enough economic growth, averaging 5 per cent per year, to bring extreme poverty down below five per cent. Specific policy measures must do the rest of the job to ensure that no one is left behind. We cannot take growth for granted, however, and must redouble our efforts to ensure that it can continue at these levels, and be made more inclusive and sustainable, through structural transformations in every economy. We believe that with the right policy measures, strong political leadership and strengthened institutions, growth can accelerate further – even, and perhaps especially, in low-income countries where the potential for catch-up is greatest.

Finance: As more countries graduate into middle-income status and are able to access private capital markets, official development assistance (ODA) can be concentrated on the remaining low-income countries and grow proportionately to match their needs. With large mineral projects about to come on stream in many low-income countries, there is great potential for raising domestic revenues. But these new revenues will often be only temporary, and must be managed wisely.

Demographic change: Global population growth is expected to slow to just one per cent per year between now and 2030, when the global population will likely reach 8 billion, on its way to more than 9 billion by 2050. There will be more people and older people. The impact of both trends must be taken into account. The world’s labour force will grow by about 470 million. For many developing countries, this surge is a demographic dividend in waiting, if the extra people are given the right opportunities, services and skills. Creating so many jobs sounds daunting, but it is less than what nations achieved between 1995 and 2010, when the global labour force grew by almost 700 million.

International Migration: The universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of migrants must be respected. These migrants make a positive economic contribution to their host countries, by building up their labour force. Sending countries benefit from getting foreign exchange in the form of remittances and from greater trade and financial flows with countries where they have a large diaspora. By 2030, as global population rises, there could be 30 million more international migrants, remitting an additional $60 billion to their home countries through lowcost channels.

Urbanisation: The world is now more urban than rural, thanks to internal migration. By 2030 there will be over one billion more urban residents and, for the first time ever, the number of rural residents will be starting to shrink. This matters because inclusive growth emanates from vibrant and sustainable cities, the only locale where it is possible to generate the number of good jobs that young people are seeking. Good local governance, management and planning are the keys to making sure that migration to cities does not replace one form of poverty by another, where even if incomes are slightly above $1.25 a day, the cost of meeting basic needs is higher.

Technology: Many efficient and affordable products are already being engineered and adapted to meet the needs of sustainable development. Examples include energy-efficient buildings and turning waste into energy—proving that it is possible to generate revenues while reducing pollution. Among other proven new technologies are smart grids, low-carbon cities, mass transit, efficient transport and zoning policies, integrated storm-water management, mini-grids for rural electrification, and solar cookers and lanterns. New vaccines, mobile banking and improved safety-nets are also potential game-changers. Other technologies need to be developed: for that, we see huge potential from international research collaborations and voluntary open innovation platforms.

By 2030, if the transformative shifts we have described are made, the barriers that hold people back would be broken down, poverty and the inequality of opportunity that blights the lives of so many on our planet would end. This is the world that today’s young people can create.