Thoughts on the High-Level Panel Reports on the Post-2015 Agenda

By Susann Roth

The discussions around the post-2015 development agenda – and the work of the High Level Panel of Eminent (HLPEP) persons – were seen controversially in the last months. Some felt that the consultation led by the HLPEP would lead into a kitchen sink report, which would cover every possible development concern.

On May 30, the long awaited High Level Panel report came out. 

The discussions around the post-2015 development agenda – and the work of the High Level Panel of Eminent (HLPEP) persons – were seen controversially in the last months. Some felt that the consultation led by the HLPEP would lead into a kitchen sink report, which would cover every possible development concern. Others felt that the HLPEP process was top down with very little opportunity for stakeholders to force the dialogue on contentious topics such as human rights, consumption patterns, illicit financial flows and tax evasions etc. 

Frankly, I didn’t expect much boldness, particularly not after attending the HLPEP meeting in Bali in March this year. However, I was positively surprised when I read the HELP report. The report provides a stepping-stone to an eventual framework that will build on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and will lay ground for an integrated development agenda. This strengthens the linkages of social, environmental and economic development and puts more emphasis on development enablers such as equality, good governance, peace and security. The report is also unafraid to talk about difficult topics such as human rights, climate change, sustainable consumption and production, and illicit financial flows among others. 

It sets out 12 universal goals, along with 54 associated targets aiming to translate the ambition of the goals into practical outcomes and development results. At first look the goals remind me very much of the MDGs plus some additions. But actually when you read the more detailed description of the goals area and targets, they are more integrated and linked.

  1. End poverty
  2. Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality
  3. Provide quality education and lifelong learning
  4. Ensure healthy lives
  5. Ensure food security and good nutrition
  6. Achieve universal access to water and sanitation
  7. Secure sustainable energy
  8. Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and equitable growth
  9. Manage natural resource assets sustainably
  10. Ensure good governance and effective institutions
  11. Ensure stable and peaceful societies
  12. Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance.

The much-debated issues of inequality and climate change are mentioned among the six crosscutting issues to be addressed: peace, equality, climate change, urbanization, youth and sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The report also outlines five transformative shifts needed in society to drive the goals and create an enabling environment for achieving targets:

  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: 
  5. Forge a global partnership

So where is the boldness? Do the goals and the transformational shifts remember you of the Millennium Deceleration?

I find the following points most remarkable in this report. 

1.  The universal and human rights based approach

The MDG framework does not explicitly articulate the ‘rights-based’ approach to development. It stresses accountability but does not associate this with human rights. The Millennium Declaration, nevertheless, evokes the human rights normative framework, and this and the human development framework can be seen as complementary and mutually reinforcing. There are indeed differences in emphasis between the MDGs and the human rights approach.  The human rights framework sees people as ‘rights-holders’ who can demand the realization of their rights, pointing to the duties and obligations of States defined in international law. The MDGs instead refer to people as ‘stakeholders’; and consider states and various agencies to be the ‘owners’ of socio-economic objectives.

There are also differences in scope. The human rights approach implies identifying the structural, political and social root causes of multi-dimensional poverty. This has advocacy value and can encourage participation and motivate social and political change; but it may not achieve commensurate operational influence. The MDGs, on the other hand, can be seen as less ambitious – promoting ‘quick-win’ solutions that merely alleviate the symptoms of poverty. 

The HLPEP report takes the human rights based approach forward, which shows its ambitions (“zero poverty” as goals) and at the same time integrates a governance component in all aspects of the proposed agenda, which sees people as rights holders and enables them to demand for services and promises made under the new agenda.

2.   The emphasis on sustainable consumption and production patterns

The Millennium Declarations highlighted that the “current unsustainable patterns of production and consumption must be changed in the interest of our future welfare and that of our descendants”. However this intent was not fully translated into the MDGs. 

The HLPEP report stresses the need to change unsustainable consumption and production patterns. The report says that developed countries must lead this.

The report integrated aspects of sustainable consumption and production in various goals areas:  in Goal 3 (education on sustainable consumption and production), Goal 5 (sustainable food consumption and production), Goal 7 (production and consumption of energy), Goals 8 (jobs in green growths sectors). 

The report also recognizes the link between sustainable development, environment and poverty; thus it lays ground for Open Working Group to work on the Sustainable Development Goals.

3.   The data revolution 

The report emphasizes on data disaggregation to ensure that no one is left behind and that targets are only considered achieved if they are met for all income and social groups. Although there is no specific goal on inequality, the data disaggregation within all goal areas addresses inequality as a cross cutting issue and ensures that gaps will be decreased. The data demand for disaggregating is huge and will require substantive investments not only in capacity building but also in ICT. Hopefully bringing more attention to data and the use of statistics will also help mobilize more funding for this often-neglected development topic.

Whether or not a global consensus will be achieved on issues such as human rights approach, change in consumption and production pattern, how to strengthen a global partnership remains to be seen in the next months. And much will depend on the work of the intergovernmental body of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals.