It is time, already, to talk of “Post-2015”. For the uninitiated, Post-2015 refers to life after the 2015 deadline for meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by the global community in 2010.
A Post-2015 process is already underway. Among other things, a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has been set up, with David Cameron as one of three co-chairs. Now seems to be a good time, therefore, to revisit the lessons learnt from the last round of development goals.
The last of the MDGs, Goal 8, called for a ‘global partnership for development’. This was the only goal focused on the international community – the rest were for developing country governments to deliver on the national level. Goal 8 has been criticized for targets that “lack precision and stand in sharp contrast with the strict, time-bound conditionalities imposed on indebted countries”.
The criticism was well placed, it seems. The UN Secretary General created a MDG Gap Task Force in 2007 to track existing international commitments in the areas of official development assistance (ODA), trade, debt sustainability, access to essential medicines and new technologies. The Task Force reports annually, and the 2012 report found a US$167 billion gap between actual disbursements and the amounts committed in (0.7 per cent of donor country GNI ). It noted that total ODA should more than double in order to meet the UN target.
Moreover, the report notes that negotiations under the World Trade Organisation’s Doha Round for a fairer multilateral trading system remain at an impasse eleven years after they started, and the current economic situation has lured governments back into using protectionist trade policies. Despite the poorest countries receiving generous debt relief, many still face unsustainable obligations. And while new financing has been pledged to some disease-specific global health funds, there has been little improvement in recent years in increasing availability and affordability of essential medicines in developing countries.
The MDGs have been criticized for focusing too much on ends rather than means – for instance, for focusing on mainly quantitative goals for poverty reduction or improved sanitation, rather than ways to achieve them. True, this left developing countries with flexibility to identify national causes and cures. But it also conveniently bypassed a long overdue discussion on global factors that contribute to poverty in the developing world.
We live in a world where global income inequality is much greater than income inequality within any individual country (see figure). Global policy-making tends to prioritize the agenda of the rich, and the poor have barely a voice. Global institutions are under constant fire for their inequitable, donor-weighted governance. Within any country, these factors would be considered extremely bad governance, and highly unsustainable.
Will the Post-2015 agenda also shy away from addressing how these global factors can be addressed through “strict, time bound conditionalities”? Will the “golden thread” of development that David Cameron refers to as important in a Post-2015 world, in which he includes good governance, the rule of law, property rights, and free and fair trade and open markets, also apply globally, or only within the national borders of countries in need of international aid?
Too many of our global negotiations and processes these days are taking the route of the MDGs, by either avoiding discussion or going easy on the role and responsibility of the global community and rich countries, but hard on deliverables from donor-dependent poor countries. Unsurprisingly, this has engendered a deep sense of injustice among poorer countries, and our global governance machinery, such as it is, is stagnating in “no-trust land”.
We cannot keep sweeping these discussions under the carpet just because now is always a bad time to talk about it.
As co-chair of the U.N.’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Cameron must ensure that a commitment to good global governance leads the way in the world beyond 2015. Otherwise, his golden thread might well be reduced to yet another global yarn.