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An agenda for equitable and sustainable development?

31 May 2013 | By Helen Dennis

The much-anticipated report from the High-Level Panel on the global plan to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) post-2015 was published yesterday, but what difference will it make?

The panel was appointed by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon last year, to help put forward ideas and recommendations for a future development agenda after the MDGs end.

The report won’t be the last word on the subject but it will influence the UN member states responsible for agreeing new goals.

'A clear road map for eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.'

According to Prime Minister David Cameron, a member of the panel, this weighty and important agenda does nothing less than set out 'a clear road map for eradicating extreme poverty by 2030'.

However, the panel had a fairly short period of time to compile the report – less than a year. In that time, they managed to hold three meetings with the participation of civil society in London, Monrovia and Bali. Christian Aid, and partner organisations, took part in two of these.

'Five transformational shifts':

The result is an 80-page document (they were hoping for 40!) that argues for 'five transformational shifts' that need to happen if we are to succeed in eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, and move away from business as usual:

  1. to leave no-one behind;

  2. put sustainable development  at the core of future plans;

  3. transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth;

  4. build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all;

  5. and forge a new global partnership.

The 12 goals which follow build on this analysis, drawing on some of the existing MDGs (for example, including targets on maternal mortality and HIV), and supplemented by calls for nothing less than a 'data revolution' to improve the quality and availability of statistics and information.

Christian Aid has been calling for inequality and environmental sustainability to be at the core of a new post-MDG agenda and so at first glance, the report ticks many boxes. 

Climate change

The panel has done a pretty good job in bringing together issues of environmental protection with the challenge of poverty alleviation, and importantly, it recognises that climate change, 'will determine whether we can deliver on our ambitions'.

Earlier in the year, Christian Aid was part of a coalition which urged that the new goals had to meet ‘four environmental resilience tests’ - and many of these bases appear to be covered.

Building resilience

There is a suggested target to build resilience and reduce deaths from natural disasters, a target to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

There is also a new goal to 'secure sustainable energy', which includes a target to double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix – a goal the UK may well have difficulty contributing to given the efforts currently being made to drop the decarbonisation target from the Energy Bill that is going through Parliament.

The report is also clear about the contribution to transparency that companies must also make, calling for the publication of economic, social and environmental accounts.

Where it is perhaps weaker is in its discussion (or lack of) on climate finance - yes an issue for the UNFCCC but it would have been good to see the need for additional finance reinforced.


On inequality, it is more of a mixed picture. We can celebrate the proposed goal to 'empower girls and women and achieve gender equality',  with its expanded list of targets to include: ending violence against women and girls, ensuring inheritance rights and eliminating discrimination in public life.

This would build on MDG three - to deliver a much more transformational agenda, something that Christian Aid has been calling for through the UK Gender & Development Network.

Progress for the poorest

The 'leave no-one behind agenda' is also underpinned, not only by calls for better data, but by the proposal that a target cannot be considered met, unless there is progress in the poorest quintile.

There are some other proposed targets that could have a positive impact on reducing inequality – for example, the focus on a business enabling environment, the right to information, securing land rights, and delivering social protection.

However, the absence of any explicit target on reducing income inequality or addressing relative poverty is noticeable. It means that there is no real incentive within the framework for governments to address increasing economic inequality through public policy, including through the tax system.

The mantra 'leave no-one behind' is good insofar as it gets people up to a minimum standard of income and provision, but the report fails to apply this principle beyond a certain point. This matters because poverty is experienced by many in a relative way and the heightening of social problems in more unequal societies is now well documented.

This is an area that Christian Aid will certainly pick up and we hope that those negotiating a new framework will take a different view on this particular point.

Delivery and financing

Finally, on how the new agenda will be delivered and financed, there is something of a paradigm shift. To quote: 'The Panel believes that most of the money to finance sustainable development will come from domestic sources, and the Panel urges countries to continue efforts to invest in stronger tax systems, broaden their domestic tax base and build local financial markets.'

This chimes with Christian Aid’s analysis, but of course we are all too well aware of what needs to be done globally in order to make this happen.

Developed countries, including those meeting at the G8 next week, need to take firm and decisive action on tax - without it, and without similar action on trade and climate change, there is a risk that this whole agenda will be nothing but warm words on a page.




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 About the author

Helen Dennis, senior adviser, poverty and inequality

Helen Dennis is Christian Aid's senior adviser on poverty and inequality