Simon Maxwell

Pitching on the post-2015 goals: A Decent Life for All


Thank you very much. We agree.

The European Commission has published a long-awaited Communication on the post-2015 Goals. Just before you read my summary and comments, below – or even better, before you read the original – pause for a moment, and remember what this is. It is not an EUEuropean Union policy. Rather, it is a proposal for a policy, a pitch, from the Commission to various policy-making bodies, mainly the European Parliament and the Council (and also the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions). The normal procedure will be for discussion to take place between all these parties before the Council (i.e. Member State ministers) sign off on ‘Council Conclusions’, which then become official policy. This is probably right in principle, but I have observed before that the Council policy-making procedure lacks clarity, leads to ambiguity, and obfuscates what the EUEuropean Union does or does not think about a topic. Read my piece entitled ‘Time to end ambiguity in EUEuropean Union policy-making’, taking the case of trade policy as an example; or follow the debate on the communication on resilience, where similar issues arise.

I make this point at the beginning because the Communication on A Decent Life for All is admirablably wide-ranging and ambitious. It covers both poverty and environment goals, and applies not just to developing countries, but also to developed. These are exactly the two tests I set in a piece last September on ‘How to Give Lift-Off to the Post-2015 Global Goals’. It is not surprising, then, that I think the Council Conclusions should consist of no more than six words: ‘Thank you very much. We agree.’

A decent life for all: ending poverty and sustainable development

The Communication: identifies the main global challenges and opportunities; evaluates the current state of the poverty reduction and environment agendas; describes the elements of a future framework; and proposes principles for an overarching post-2015 framework which will stretch to 2030 and beyond.

Following a short Introduction, the second section (Pgs 3-4) sets the scene in a couple of pages, noting rapid progress in many areas, especially in emerging economies, but also pointing to social and environmental problems. On the social side: inequality, unemployment, lack of decent work, conflict. On the environmental side: unsustainable use of natural resources, climate change, increasing natural disasters; and future pressures associated with rising population and income. The concept of transgressing planetary boundaries is a recurrent theme in the paper.

The third section (Pgs 4-7) underlines the importance of sustaining progress towards achievement of the MDGsMillennium Development Goals and celebrates the EU’s role as an aid donor to and trading partner of developing countries. It also incorporates discussion of the Rio+20 outcomes and progress towards the definition of Sustainable Development Goals.

The fourth section (Pgs 7-11) describes how sustainable development and poverty eradication can be integrated in an overarching framework post-2015. It argues that work on MDGsMillennium Development Goals and SDGs ‘needs to be brought together towards one overarching framework’. This is because there is a ‘fundamental link between global environmental sustainability and poverty eradication’. The framework needs to ‘be universally applicable to all countries’, and should incorporate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. There should be a shared vision to 2050, with goals and targets to 2030.

Practically speaking, there should be five main elements: basic living standards, including education, health and social protection; attention to the drivers of inclusive and sustainable growth; sustainable management of natural resources; equality, equity and justice; and peace and security.

The fifth section (Pgs 12-14) sets out the principles for a post-2015 overarching framework. This is the core of the document, and is reproduced for ease of reference at the end. There are four key elements.

  • First, ‘the framework should be universal in aspiration and coverage, with goals for all countries, applying to all of humanity, focused on the eradication of poverty in all its dimensions, wherever it is found, and promoting prosperity and well-being for all people, within planetary boundaries’.
  • Second, ‘goals should be limited in number and apply universally to all countries, but should have targets respecting different contexts. . . The goals should be tailored and made operational at the national level.’
  • Third, ‘the responsibility for achieving the desired outcomes is first and foremost national’, but comprehensive financing plans are required, including domestic and international, public and private.
  • Fourth, the EUEuropean Union has a contribution to make to developing countries, both via aid and through Policy Coherence for Development.

Finally, the last section (Pg 14) urges the adoption of a common EUEuropean Union approach in both the Open Working Group on the SDGs and the UN General Assembly Special Event on the MDGs.

What’s not to like?

What’s not to like about this? Frankly, not much. I defy any MDG or SDG analyst, of whom there seem to be an awful lot just now, not to find their favourite words in the Communication. Human rights are prominent, and inequality, and multi-dimensional aspects of poverty, and climate, and water, and biodiversity. The themes of Davbid Cameron’s ‘golden thread’ are well represented. It is very important that both human development and environment are brought together. And it is a real breakthrough that goals are foreseen which apply to both developed and developing countries.

Some may argue that some difficult trade-offs have been avoided, and that the Communication might have done well to propose actual goals. Personally, I think that at this stage a statement of general principles is fine. There will be plenty of time for detailed drafting when the High Level Panel has reported and when the Open Working Group on the SDGs has made more progress. (On the other hand, I do think that the legitimate desire for global consultation and ownership should not prejudice early adoption of practical targets: it is not that difficult!).

Some may also think that the idea of global goals adjusted or expressed at country level allows too much leeway to recalcitrant governments. Again, I disagree. From the point of view of climate change, for example, managing the process this way avoids cutting across the political imbroglio of the UNFCCC climate talks, which are unlikely to reach a resolution before 2015, if then. A global goal of restricting warming to 2 degrees is already accepted. That can easily be translated into CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere, and into allowed total global emissions. UNEPUnited Nations Environment Programme is well advanced on that front, for example in its Bridging the Gap Reports. Beyond that, country commitments, similar to those made in the Copenhagen Accord, can be tracked and gradually ramped up. Eventually, more ambitious and country-specific targets can be set.

Finally, the point has been made that the poverty and environmental goals are at different points in the political cycle, with the post-MDG conversation having made faster progress, and the SDG conversation hampered by a disappointingly unspecific outcome at Rio+20 in 2012. Is there a risk that the desire to be comprehensive will sink the whole project? That is not a trivial point, and is doubtless one the High-Level Panel will consider. I guess I think the message has to be that the Communication is right to emphasise the indivisibility of sustainable development goals (economic and social, remember, as well as environmental). If the environmental community is behind, then it is time for them to pull their fingers out. The Communication should act as a wake-up call to lethargic environmentalists.

Conclusion for the Parliament and Council: do not make this too complicated

It is easy to see that the reaction of Ministers and parliamentarians will be to try and unpick the Communication, taking away phrases here, and adding phrases there, producing Council Conclusions which require careful interpretation and constant referral back to differences with the Communication. Please don’t. The six words are enough.





Extract from the Communication



5.1. Bringing the strands together to respond to future challenges


Poverty eradication and ensuring that prosperity and well-being are sustainable remain the most pressing challenges for the future. To be tackled successfully, they must be tackled together, within a new overarching framework that is universal and directly relevant to all countries, while recognising that different countries are affected to varying degrees and that

their responses and contribution to global goals will vary. Even though many will continue to rise above the level of extreme poverty, a strong poverty focus is needed to make this irreversible. Unsustainable patterns of current economic development, impacting the environment and the natural resource base, are still determined to a large extent by developed countries, and increasingly by emerging economies, while least developed countries also feel the impacts. Social exclusion and inequality, unemployment, precarious employment and lack of social protection also have a direct bearing on poverty and sustainable development.

The Millennium Declaration, which remains relevant, should guide work on developing the future framework. Building on the follow up to Rio+20, the MDG review and other relevant international processes, the future overarching framework should set out the path for eradicating poverty and towards achieving prosperity and well-being for all, by focusing on

the main drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth, within planetary boundaries. This framework should therefore bring together the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social, environmental. It should include responsibilities for all countries.

The underlying objective of this new overarching framework should aspire to provide for every person, by 2030, "A Decent Life for All." This should address simultaneously the need for poverty eradication and the universal vision of sustainable development needed to ensure prosperity for current and future generations.

The above sections outlined how the interrelated processes at the UN level should deliver ingredients for a common overarching framework that are needed if the objective of a Decent Life for All is to be met. The final outcome should be based on the results of constructive interactions with all stakeholders and among international partners. However, the EUEuropean Union believes there are a number of already- identifiable general principles that should be commonly acceptable.

5.2. Principles for a post-2015 overarching framework


The Commission proposes that the EUEuropean Union pursues the following principles in its discussions on the post-2015 framework:

5.2.1. Scope

The framework should be universal in aspiration and coverage, with goals for all countries, applying to all of humanity, focused on the eradication of poverty in all its dimensions, wherever it is found, and promoting prosperity and well-being for all people, within planetary boundaries.

• The framework should integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development -economic, social, environmental - taking into account the lessons learnt from the review of MDGsMillennium Development Goals and building on the work for elaborating the SDGs, aiming at poverty eradication and sustainable development. Goals should constitute a floor to living standards under which no person should fall, by 2030 at the very latest, and guide progress towards prosperity and well-being, within planetary boundaries.

• It should recognise that poverty, prosperity and well-being cannot just be seen from a financial perspective, but are multidimensional and reflect the ability of people to grow and develop.

• The framework should cover, in an integrated fashion:

• basic human development (based on updated existing MDGsMillennium Development Goals and also reflecting issues such as social protection),

• drivers for sustainable and inclusive growth and development that are necessary for structural transformation of the economy, needed to ensure the creation of productive capacities and employment and the transition to an inclusive green economy capable of addressing climate challenges, and

• the sustainable management of natural resources .

• The framework should also address justice, equality and equity, capturing issues relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as well as the empowerment of women and gender equality, which are vital for inclusive and sustainable development, as well as important values in their own right. It should also address peace and security, building on the existing work on Peace Building and State Building Goals.

5.2.2. Nature and number of goals


  • Goals should be limited in number and apply universally to all countries, but should have targets respecting different contexts. In order to ensure ownership and relevance, the goals should be tailored and made operational at the national level. Special consideration should be given to the needs of fragile states.
  • Goals should be elaborated in a way that takes into account the scientific and research evidence base and related targets and indicators should be measurable.

5.2.3. Transparency, implementation and accountability

• The responsibility for achieving the desired outcomes is first and foremost national. The mobilisation of all resources is needed, domestic and international, private and public. Financing and other means of implementation should be addressed in a comprehensive and integrated manner, given that the potential sources for implementing various global goals are the same.

• The framework should be developed and implemented in close partnership with civil society stakeholders, including the private sector.

• A time frame should be set to start acting at all levels in order to achieve the goals. This could have a vision towards 2050 with goals and targets for 2030.

• The framework should be based on the individual responsibility of countries to take action, coupled with partnership between all countries and stakeholders. Goals should provide incentives for cooperation and partnerships among governments, civil society, including the private sector, and the global community at large. All countries should contribute their fair share towards reaching the goals. Goals should also induce stronger accountability.

• The development of the framework should be accompanied by efforts to enhance coherence at the institutional level.

• To allow good monitoring of progress, the statistical base should be strengthened.

5.2.4. Coherence

• The framework should be coherent with existing internationally-agreed goals and targets, such as on climate change, biodiversity, disaster risk reduction, and social protection


5.3. Implementing the framework: country ownership and accountability


The responsibility for implementing the future framework lies within each country itself, involving all relevant stakeholders, including social partners. The main drivers for development are first and foremost domestic, notably including democratic governance, the rule of law, stable political institutions, sound policies, transparency of public finances and the fight against fraud and corruption. Domestic resource mobilisation, legal and fiscal regulations and institutions supporting the development of the private sector, investment, decent job creation and export competitiveness are essential to make the ambition achievable for all countries. In this context, domestic reforms are crucial to make economic growth sustainable and make it work effectively for poverty eradication, decreased inequalities and improved well-being for all. This is true for all countries, at all levels of development.

Nevertheless, the EUEuropean Union recognises that some countries will continue to need support, including development assistance. In this context, more efficient and effective methods of investing development aid are emerging, ensuring that aid acts as a catalyst for development, leveraging investment, including through innovative financial sources, instruments and mechanisms, such as blending. This updated approach was adopted in the EU's "Agenda for Change."South-South cooperation can make substantial contributions to shaping global development outcomes. The principles of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, agreed at the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2011, should be applied universally.

Beyond aid, Policy Coherence for Development plays a major role in eliminating poverty and achieving sustainable development. Strong consideration of the role of these policies should therefore be given due place in the future framework. For example, in many developing countries, the income available from trade has greatly increased and can be used to fight poverty. This trend is set to continue in many developing countries and is especially important in sub-Saharan Africa.

To be achievable, the overarching framework should be accompanied by an effort to ensure that all resources are mobilised and harnessed effectively, alongside a commitment by all countries to pursue a comprehensive approach to these resources and coherent and appropriate policies. Goals and targets will contribute to stimulating private sector investment. All countries should report on progress towards achieving future goals in an open and transparent manner.

The EUEuropean Union should promote a comprehensive and integrated approach to the means of implementation including financing issues at the global level. At present, financing discussions related to climate, biodiversity, development and sustainable development are taking place in different fora, even though the potential financing sources are the same. There is a strong need to ensure coherence and coordination and avoid a duplication of efforts with regard to the financing for development process. In mid-2013, the Commission plans to present a Communication proposing an integrated EUEuropean Union approach to financing and other means of implementation related to the various global processes.



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