Simon Maxwell

Paging Goldilocks: Where do we stand on post-2015 after the New York Special Event?

The Special Event in New York was an important milestone on the road to a post-2015 settlement. I want to argue that the time has come to identify the ‘Goldilocks’ issues where attention needs to be focused – not too easy, not too hard, but ‘just right’ for a sustained policy and political push. To my mind, the successor to Goal 8 tops the list.

You certainly have to concentrate to keep tabs on the post-2015 process. Hardly a day goes past without some new report, meeting, or consultation. Back in June, I commented in some detail on the Report of the High-Level Panel, co-chaired by David Cameron, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Hardly was the ink dry, but the UN Secretary General issued his own report. And then just the other day, on 25 September, there was a Special Event in New York, on the MDGsMillennium Development Goals and on post-2015, convened by the President of the UN General Assembly.

It seems to me that we are inching forward. The Special Event, in particular, locked in agreement that the post-2015 framework should (a) combine poverty and environment, and (b) apply to all countries, developing and developed. That’s good. It also agreed a roadmap, including a Summit at Head of State/Government level in 2015, to adopt a new post-2015 agenda.

There is a lot to do before then, though – and some of it will be really hard. As I commented at the time of the publication of the HLP report, many of the targets remain unspecified. That task may well be made harder by the fact that the UN Secretary General has added more topics. Bringing climate change into the picture adds complexity, not least because the negotiation timescale is different: the General Assembly is due to agree the post-2015 settlement, including climate, three months before the key climate conference in Paris, which is supposed to agree a long-term climate deal.  In a sensible world, the diary bookings would be reversed.

Anyway, all this leads me to say that at some point, probably soon, it will be necessary to simplify the negotiation, agree the core topics, and focus on specific goals and targets. Some topics, I think, are self-evidently ‘in’, and relatively easy to tie down: poverty, health and education fall into this category. Some topics are really hard: for example, particular institutional manifestations of civil rights (e.g. Westminster-style democracy). Some topics, however, are neither too easy nor too hard, and may be the ones to concentrate on. I call this the ‘Goldilocks Group’: items which are not too easy, not too hard, but just right for a big push and a concrete outcome.

In order to identify the Goldilocks Group, we need to remind ourselves of where we are.

Remember that the High-Level Panel provided a pretty comprehensive analysis and set of proposals: five transformative shifts, twelve goals and fifty four targets. I described it at the time as programmatically competent and politically astute, but with many questions about the specifics of the targets. It was notable, for example, that the High Level Panel left about half its 54 goals unspecified (e.g. ‘reduce stunting by x%’). See here for my seven pillars of future work needed to build on the HLP Report

What is interesting, though, is that the HLP Report is being treated not as the definitive foundation of a post-2015 framework, but rather as just one contribution to the great debate. Thus, the UN Secretary General published a report on the topic in July and said

In defining a new agenda, Member States can . . .  benefit from the insights of a set of illuminating reports. My High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, . . .  called for major transformative economic and institutional shifts . . .  Reports by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the Global Compact Office, the United Nations System Task Team on the Post-2015 United Nations Development Agenda, the regional commissions and our partners in civil society and academia have also provided important inputs and recommendations for the formulation and content of the processes ahead.’

It is worth noting particularly the national and sectoral consultations on both development and environment issues, as well as large public consultations, including ‘My World, the UN Global Survey for a Better World’. The environment strand has had its own process, including the High-Level Panel on Sustainability and the Rio+20 Conference.  An Open Working Group of the UN General Assembly has been tasked with preparing sustainable development goals, and has discussed topics ranging from water and employment to health and food security. An Inter-Governmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing has also been set up.

To illustrate my point about the UN adding agenda items, compare (Table 1) the HLP list of goals with that in the SG Report. There are 12 goal areas in the first list and 15 in the second, with some overlap and some divergence. For example, both include ending poverty, quality education, lifelong learning, and good governance. However, the Secretary-General’s list includes some items not in the HLP framework: exclusion and inequality, migrants, and urbanisation.

Table 1

Comparison of Goals in the High-Level Panel and SG Reports on post-2015

HLP Report

SG Report

     End Poverty

     Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality

     Provide quality education and lifelong learning

     Ensure healthy lives

     Ensure food security and good nutrition

     Achieve universal access to water and sanitation

     Secure sustainable energy

     Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth

     Manage natural resource assets sustainably

      Ensure good governance and effective institutions

      Ensure stable and peaceful societies

     Create a global enabling environment and catalyse long-term finance

  1. Eradicate poverty in all its forms
  2. Tackle exclusion and inequality
  3. Empower women and girls
  4. Provide quality education and lifelong learning
  5. Improve health
  6. Address climate change
  7. Address environmental challenges
  8. Promote inclusive and sustainable growth and decent employment
  9. End hunger and malnutrition
  10. Address demographic challenges
  11. Enhance the positive contribution of migrants
  12. Meet the challenges of urbanization
  13. Build peace and effective governance based on the rule of law and sound institutions
  14. Foster a renewed global partnership
  15. Strengthen the international development cooperation framework

The politics is complicated. I’m told that the Outcome Document from New York Reflects difficult compromises on coverage and language. Nevertheless, the official view is that there is progress towards a common view. The Secretary General concludes that

. . . it is possible to see the emerging outlines of a new sustainable development agenda: universal in nature yet responsive to the  complexities, needs and capacities of individual countries and regions; bold in ambition but simple in design; combining the economic, social and environmental dimensions while putting the highest priority on ending poverty and reducing inequality; protective of the planet, its biodiversity, water and land; rights-based, with particular emphasis on women, young people and marginalized groups; eager for new and innovative partnerships; and supported by pioneering approaches to data and rigorous accountability mechanisms.’

Looking forward, there is a special problem relating to new version of MDG Goal 8, dealing with international trade and finance. The six specific targets proposed by the HLP all need work:

‘12a. Support an open, fair and development-friendly trading system, substantially reducing trade-distorting measures, including agricultural subsidies, while improving market access of developing country products.

12b. Implement reforms to ensure stability of the global financial system and encourage stable, long-term private foreign investment.

12c. Hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 C above pre-industrial levels, in line with international agreements.

12d. Developed countries that have not done so to make concrete efforts towards the target of 0.7% of gross national product (GNP) as official development assistance to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20% of GNPGross National Product of developed countries to least developed countries; other countries should move toward voluntary targets for complementary financial assistance.

12e Reduce illicit flows and tax evasion and increase stolen-asset recovery by $x.

12f. Promote collaboration on and access to science, technology, innovation, and development data.’

A good question is whether all these are in the Goldilocks Group, or whether some are too hard, or even too easy. It is worth remembering the advice of the High-Level Panel that

‘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.’

The High-Level Panel also identified some important risks. They argued that

‘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.’

It does not seem to me that any of 12 (a) – 12 (f) fail the test of being important, forward-looking, sufficiently stretching and intellectually coherent. Nor do they seem unworkably utopian, at least in the sense that each is an urgent priority. The bigger challenge is to find compelling, jargon-free and consensus-based language which can be translated into specific targets.

I have some ideas about that – a recipe for porridge that is not too hot, not too cold, but just right. I’m going to start on climate change – as soon as I have really studied the IPCC report, published last week. I would be very interested in any ideas others have, on climate change, or other topics. And also, do others have ideas about what should be in the Goldilocks Group?


Annex 1

Special Event 25 September: Outcome Document

We, the Heads of State and Government and heads of delegation, have gathered at the United Nations Headquarters in New York at the Special Event convened by the President of the General Assembly, to review progress made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and to chart the way forward. Our deliberations have taken account of the voices of people worldwide, and the concerns and priorities they conveyed.

We gather with a sense of urgency and determination, with less than 850 days remaining for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. We renew our commitment to the Goals and resolve to intensify all efforts for their achievement by 2015.

We welcome what has been achieved so far. The Millennium Development Goals have provided a common vision and contributed to remarkable progress. Significant and substantial advances have been made in meeting several of the targets.

However, we are concerned at the unevenness and gaps in achievement and at the immense challenges that remain. The MDGsMillennium Development Goals are critical for meeting the basic needs of people in developing countries; as we approach the 2015 deadline, unrelenting efforts are required to accelerate progress across all the Goals.

Among and within developing countries, those who have been left furthest behind require our most urgent attention and support. We are conscious of the special challenges and needs of the least-developed countries; the fact that, despite some impressive progress, most African countries remain off-track in meeting the Goals; and that conflict and post conflict countries are the most challenged in achieving any of the Goals by 2015.

We also recognise the special challenges and needs of SIDS and the LLDCs, many of which are not on track to achieve the MDGsMillennium Development Goals by 2015. We recognise the special challenges to meeting the MDGsMillennium Development Goals faced by people living under foreign occupation. We acknowledge also the challenges to meeting the MDGsMillennium Development Goals for people living in areas affected by complex humanitarian emergencies and in areas affected by terrorism. We also recognise the specific challenges which many middle-income countries face.

Accelerating Progress

We reaffirm our commitment to the outcome document of the High Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the MDGsMillennium Development Goals held in 2010.The annual Millennium Development Goals reports provide updated assessments of where our efforts are most needed, and will assist us in framing our approach and priorities.

We resolve to particularly target the most off-track MDGsMillennium Development Goals and those where progress has stalled: including those relating to poverty and hunger, universal access to primary education, child mortality, universal access to reproductive health, including maternal health, environmental sustainability and access to water and sanitation. In each of these areas, we are determined to take the purposeful and coordinated action required. We will scale up proven interventions, fulfil the pledges we have made; and strengthen our support for the range of valuable initiatives under way, including international support for the implementation of the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Across all our acceleration efforts, we will emphasise inclusivity and accessibility for all, and will place a particular focus on those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. We will, for example, seek to build the resilience of the poorest in combating hunger, to improve support for women giving birth in areas of greatest deprivation, and to improve educational opportunity and learning outcomes for the most vulnerable children.

Where efforts are broadly on track, and a momentum exists, we will do everything possible to sustain and reinforce it: for example, in combating HIV/AIDS, we will step up efforts to meet the goal of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services by2025.We will sustain and build on the remarkable gains in the fight against malaria and tuberculosis.

We will place a strong emphasis on all approaches that have a cross-cutting and multiplier effect. In particular, we recognise that promoting gender equality, and empowering women and girls, underpins and advances progress across all the Goals. We will resolutely promote gender equality and eliminate the range of barriers to women's and girls' empowerment in our societies.

Global Partnership for Development

We underline the central role of a strengthened global partnership for development. We recognise the importance of national ownership, and emphasise that if the MDGsMillennium Development Goals are to be achieved by 2015, national efforts need to be assisted by international support and an enabling international environment. The mobilisation and effective use of all resources, public and private, domestic and international, will be vital.

We reaffirm the importance of promoting human rights, good governance, the rule of law, transparency and accountability at all levels.

We call for the urgent implementation of all commitments under the global partnership for development so as to overcome the gaps identified in the MDG Gap Taskforce Reports. We emphasise the need to accelerate progress towards the target of 0.7% of GNI as ODAOverseas Development Assistance by2015, including 0.25% to 0.20% for least developed countries. We call on developed countries to urgently fulfil the ODAOverseas Development Assistance commitments they have made, individually and collectively. We underline the need for the business sector to engage in responsible business practices.

Post-2015 Development Agenda

In parallel with intensification of efforts to accelerate achievement of the MDGs, we are determined to craft a strong post-2025 development agenda, which will build on the foundations laid by the MDGs, complete the unfinished business and respond to new challenges.

As we take the work forward, we reaffirm our commitment to the Millennium Declaration, the outcome document of Rio+20, the Monterrey Consensus, the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development and the outcomes of all the major UN conferences and summits in the economic, social, and environmental fields. We will continue to be guided by the values and principles enshrined in these texts. We reaffirm all the principles of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, including, inter alia, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, as set out in principle 7 thereof.

We are resolved that the post-2015 development agenda should reinforce the international community’s commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development. We underscore the central imperative of poverty eradication and are committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency. Recognising the intrinsic interlinkage between poverty eradication and promotion of sustainable development, we underline the need for a coherent approach which integrates in a balanced manner the three dimensions of sustainable development. This coherent approach involves working towards a single framework and set of Goals -universal in nature and applicable to all countries, while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies and priorities. It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.

We decide today to launch a process of intergovernmental negotiations at the beginning of the 69th session of UNGA which will lead to the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. We acknowledge with appreciation the processes mandated in the Rio + 20 outcome document that are now underway, in particular the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the inter-governmental committee of experts on Sustainable Development Financing, as well as the process to develop options for a technology facilitation mechanism. We urge that these processes should complete their work in a comprehensive, balanced and expeditious manner by September 2014.

The report submitted by the Secretary General in advance of today's meeting, which draws on inputs from the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons, United Nations Development Group consultations, the United Nations Global Compact, and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is a useful input to our deliberations.

Over the coming year, preparation of the post-2015 development agenda will benefit from the General Assembly events to be convened by the President of the General Assembly under the theme "The Post-2015 Development Agenda - Setting the Stage".

In arriving at an inclusive and people-centred post-2015 development agenda, we look forward to a transparent intergovernmental process which will include inputs from all stakeholders including civil society, scientific and knowledge institutions, parliaments, local authorities, and the private sector.

We count on the strong support of the UN system throughout all our work. As an input to the intergovernmental negotiations to be launched at the beginning of the 69th session of UNGA, we call on the Secretary General to synthesise the full range of inputs then available and to present a synthesis report before the end of 2014.

The final phase of the intergovernmental work will culminate in a Summit at HoSG level in September 2015 for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda. We request the President of the General Assembly to convene, in a timely manner, intergovernmental consultations to achieve agreement on organisational modalities for the Summit.



Add comment

Security code
Security code:


latest pollVote now: 

Is the concept of 'fragile               states'                   over-                   burdened?


Follow me on Twitter