Einstein’s advice that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” was not observed by the UN when it decided to consult widely on post-2015 goals to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs exploited the opportunity afforded by the Millennium Declaration and succeeded in focusing attention and mobilizing resources. But the MDGs had been criticized as being formulated by a group of bureaucrats, behind closed doors. “Not this time,” said the United Nations, and unleashed a whirlwind.
There are 70 national consultations, 11 thematic consultations, a high level panel co-chaired by Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and the U.K.’s David Cameron, and a public web portal. Civil society and international organizations have initiated their own consultation activities. The UN has opened Pandora’s box. A formula for failure is to try to please everybody.
The unfortunate result of the extensive consultations is an endless, indigestible list of priorities. Civil society groups simply listed their areas of interest. Online public forums asking “what kind of world do you want?” elicited countless well-meaning, but impractical, suggestions. Several proposals (on rights, democracy and governance) will be characterized by some states as unacceptable interference in their internal affairs. The United Nations is in a tough spot. Expectations of many groups, organizations and countries have been raised to unrealistic levels. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority.
Post-2015 goals must satisfy several conditions. Goals must be few in number (so some sector goals will have to be omitted entirely or consolidated with others- lowering their visibility and disappointing interest groups), globally relevant, simple to understand, measurable and enabling. They must avoid the calculated ambiguity of most negotiated documents that leads to an “agreement all despise.” Most important post-2015 goals must galvanize widespread endorsement and action.
One project to explore the post-2015 development paradigm has involved researchers at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and its partners. In our modest effort to consult with experts around the world, we received a lot of passionate advice — “Base goals on already agreed language”; “Start with an empowering vision”; “Stress the key elements of development”; “Include the drivers of change”; “Focus on rules to allow mobilization of own resources”; “Emphasize interconnections and inter linkages”; “Mainstream accountability”; “Make the goals rights-based”; “Underscore democracy”; “Highlight corruption”; and “Recognize planetary boundaries.” We were advised to avoid a “Christmas tree” wish list, disregard ideological values, and to ignore estimating costs of achieving the goals.
What is our prescription? Limit the number to no more than 10. The UN should choose goals focused on acupuncture points — the “energy meridians” with multiplicative impact on other dimensions. Goals should be selected if and only if one can envisage existing or future provision of indicators sufficiently reliable to track progress. Goals should embody the tools to unleash potential. For example, goals on connectivity are the most effective dimension to assist the poorest and least developed. Goals should be formulated for new issues like economic growth, inequality, secondary and tertiary education, security, and disaster resilience.
The new agenda of “One-World Goals” should be applicable to all — both developing and developed economies, as well as the emerging economies that have succeeded in bringing the majority of their population out of extreme poverty since 2000. All countries are responsible for addressing poverty, inequalities, unsustainability — both within their own borders and beyond. We propose an overall architecture with a 3-part empowering structure focused on (i) essential individual endowments; (ii) collective human capital; and (ii) enabling environments and institutions.
We propose 10 post-2015 Global Goals, with nationally determined targets to provide political space for each country:
- Inclusive growth for dignified livelihoods and adequate standards of living.
- Sufficient food and water for active living.
- Appropriate education and skills for full participation in society.
- Good health for physical, mental, and social well-being.
- Gender equality for enabling women and men to participate and benefit equally in society.
- Connectivity for access to energy, transportation, and communications.
- Good governance and rule of law for citizen participation and personal and community security.
- Sustainable management of the biosphere for people and planet to thrive together.
- Resilient communities for reduced disaster impact from natural and man-made hazards.
- Equitable rules for the governance of global institutions and co-operative partnerships.
This approach is as close as our consortium could come to resolving the UN’s problem of “squaring the circle.”
Barry Carin is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and co-leader of a collaborative project of a consortium including the Korea Development Institute, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the Getulio Vargas Foundation, the University of Pretoria, the University of Manchester and the International Poverty Reduction Center in China.