If a fairy godmother were to wave a magic wand to satisfy our every wish, what would we ask for? An end to poverty, disease, violence and environmental degradation?

In 2000, world leaders agreed to promote eight goals to improve the lives of the world’s poor by 2015. Since then, the Millennium Development Goals have affected how the international community behaves. They are an important global motivational success — instrumental in shaping international development policy and responsible for increased investment and progress on many fronts including education, reduced child mortality, the provisioning of safe water and combating diseases. Two billion people have gained access to improved water sources; fewer children die of malaria; incidence of new HIV cases is in decline; and millions of people have passed the poverty line.

As we move closer to 2015, there will be a global reflection process. What post-2015 goals and targets will be both ambitious and feasible? Should we simply revise the targets and timelines of the existing eight goals? If goals should be few in number, how many can we afford? What post-2015 goals will galvanize public support and political will? The answer matters. Goals will influence investment and behaviour: “Tell me what you’re going to measure — I’ll tell you how I am going to behave.”

Should post-2015 goals emphasize attention on inequality, empowerment, climate change, sustainability and the measurements of outcomes rather than inputs? Should they address failing states, the absence of democracy, poor education systems or unbalanced trade? Can post-2015 goals help cushion some of the impacts of the financial crisis, many of which threaten the hard-won progress in the poorest of countries? The interaction among future post-2015 goals must be addressed as climate change exposes large populations to new vulnerabilities, such as access to clean water, and rapid urbanization, rising food and energy costs pose major poverty challenges.

The UNDP is planning 50 country consultations on the post-2015 agenda. It is currently putting together a work plan with the specifics on which countries will be consulted and which themes will be discussed. As civil societies across the world mobilize to consider this immense task, many ask if there is a Canadian view. In 2010, at our G8 Summit, the Canadian maternal health initiative built on one of the Millennium Development Goals.

While the post-2015 goals should be “world goals,” with universally defined targets and indicators, every country should set its own target level. Even developed countries, including Canada, should tackle poverty within its own borders. This approach shifts away from the “us” versus “them” mentality and recognizes that certain problems (e.g. poverty, discrimination and environment) are universal. It allows countries to set their own levels for achievement. With this approach, as opposed to the current one-size-fits-all approach, poor countries that start at a very low level but perform well will not be labelled as failures.

Second, there should not be two competing sets of global goals. “Sustainable Development Goals” will be proposed this June at Rio+20, de-emphasizing the priority on reducing poverty. The enthusiasm of sustainability proponents is laudable, but we are all better served with one global framework and one set of report cards including both sustainability and poverty alleviation.

Third, aspirational statements are useless without metrics. Canada should emphasize attention to indicators — we cannot have any sensible discussion on targets if we are unable to measure progress in agreed areas. We don’t want to repeat errors such as simplistically measuring inputs rather than outcomes, such as assessing education by school enrolment without consideration of quality. Further, indicators must be capable of disaggregation — by gender, income, age, urban/rural population and minorities in particular countries. Without these considerations, aggregate measures mask the lack of progress.

The design of the post 2015 goals is a challenge like squaring a circle. Since it will inform policies and actions for the subsequent 10 or 15 years, Canadians should pay attention and influence the coming debate.

Barry Carin is a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. He is currently co-leading a project with the IFRC and the Korean Development Institute on post-2015 Millennium Development Goals.

We don’t want to repeat errors such as simplistically measuring inputs rather than outcomes, such as assessing education by school enrolment without consideration of quality.
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