Five Things to Know About the High-Level Panel Report on Post-2015

The HLP's proposal aims to significantly enhance global conditions through a universally applicable and sustainable development agenda.
The HLP's proposal aims to significantly enhance global conditions through a universally applicable and sustainable development agenda.

By Bart Édes

The High Level Panel's report proposes a comprehensive, ambitious global development agenda, focusing on universal applicability, absolute improvement targets, and sustainability.

More than 220 proposals have been advanced for a global development framework to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which come to an end in 2015. Yet since 30 May, all attention has been on just one: the illustrative set of goals and targets  included in the report of the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Perons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (HLP). 

In July 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the creation of the 27-member HLP to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015. It was co-chaired by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. It included leaders from civil society, the private sector, and government. With the release of its report, the HLP has reshaped the debate on global development.

The report advocates an uplifting transformational agenda“ comprised of five broad transformation shifts:  1) leave no one behind; 2) put sustainable development at the core; 3) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; 4) build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and 5) forge a new global partnership. 

In sum, the HLP report calls for concerted action in a wide range of interlinked areas to vastly improve the condition of the planet and its people in less than a generation.

The goals and targets proposed in the report resemble the existing MDGs, including their sequencing, with the poverty goal coming first. The next few goals address gender, education, and health, while the last one focuses on the context for development, including trade and finance.Yet the HLP proposes a substantial increase in the number of goals (from the current 8 goals to 12) and targets (from 21 to 54), as well as a significant boost in aspirations. The HLP’s illustrative framework takes on several challenges overlooked in the MDGs, such as governance, peace and personal security, and natural disasters. 

Notwithstanding a structure similar to the MDGs, the HLP’s proposed framework features some important differences. Here are five:

1.   The goals are universal. In other words, they apply to all countries, regardless of level of development. This contrasts with the MDGs, which concentrated on social and environmental progress in the developing world (with the exception of MDG 8, which focuses on donor government commitments). The HLP explains that its 12 illustrative goals ”present a common aspiration for all countries.“ 

2.   The framework embraces absolutes. Targets under the MDGs lean heavily toward a  reduction rather than elimination of suffering (e.g., halve the proportion of people living under $1.25/day, reduce under-5 mortality by two-thirds, reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality rate, halt the spread of HIV/AIDS). 

​In contrast, the HLP report proposes several significant zero“ goals and targets (perhaps picking up on the Z“ in ADB’s ZEN approach. For example, the report proposes that by 2030 there be zero people living on less than $1.25/day, child marriages, instances of violence against girls and women, preventable infant and under-5 deaths, people without access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, cases of open defecation, and persons without access to safe drinking water. One cannot accuse the HLP panel of lacking ambition, though questions are being raised about the feasibility (and measurability) of some of the absolute targets.  A few have criticized the zero“ goal for poverty as being too timid, arguing that extreme poverty should be eliminated quicker, or that the target be set higher (e.g. $2/day). Yet such criticism may be misplaced in light of the findings of a just-released working paper by Peter Edward and Andy Summer. It finds that  even with assumptions of optimistic growth and changes in inequality towards each country’s historic best ever“ distribution would still find 305 million people around the world living under $1.25/day in 2030.  The figure today is around 1.2 billion. 

3.   Countries determine the speed of their progress. The HLP proposes goals that express ambitious, specific commitments. These are accompanied by quantified outcome-oriented sub-components (targets) that will contribute in a major way to achievement of the goals. In place of fixed targets applicable to all, the HLP proposes that countries (and even sub-national regions) set their own targets. It is hoped that countries will will feel more ownership of the new development agenda if they can determine the pace at which they achieve the goals, taking into account national priorities, the country’s initial starting point, the technical and organizational possibilities for improvement, and the level of resources and number of partners that can be brought together to achieve the goal.   

4.   All boats must rise.  Significantly, the HLP calls for disaggregated indicators to measure achievement of targets. In particular, it recommends that indicators apply to different population groups categorized by income, gender, location, age, disability, and ethnicity. Targets will only be considered achieved if they are met for all income and social groups. It is through this new feature that the proposed new framework really addresses inequality, a topic that received great attention in the stakeholder consultations that informed the report’s preparation. 

5.  Sustainability takes center stage. The HLP report argues that the world must make a rapid shift to sustainable patterns of production and consumption, with developed countries in the lead.” It argues that action is needed now to slow the alarming pace of climate change and environmental degradation, which pose unprecedented threats to humanity.“ This transformational shift is backed up by targets to boost use of renewable energy, speed adoption of energy efficiency, phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, reduce deforestation, protect soil, hold the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and safeguard ecosystems, species and genetic diversity.

In sum, the HLP report calls for concerted action in a wide range of interlinked areas to vastly improve the condition of the planet and its people in less than a generation. Yet the HLP was not empowered to impose obligations on anyone or any state. What it has done with this report is make recommendations to stimulate debate and provide direction for the negotiations which follow. Decisions about the shape of the next package of global development goals and targets will be made by the governments of UN member countries. It is expected that a new framework will take effect from 1 January 2016. Until then, there will be much to discuss.