What comes after the MDGs?

Published on Monday, 27 May 2013

Published by Vinod Thomas on Monday, 27 May 2013

Success rates of ADB's completed projects supporting Millennium Development Goals, approved 2002-2010. View infographic in <a href="http://blogs.adb.org/sites/default/files/blog-mdg-full.jpg">full</a>.
Success rates of ADB's completed projects supporting Millennium Development Goals, approved 2002-2010. View infographic in full.

A global debate on what comes after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 is already in full swing. For Asia and the Pacific, a new development agenda will need to address those MDGs that made only slow progress or regressed and a number of emerging development issues gaining prominence. Foremost among them are rising inequality in the region and the dangers of climate change.

Independent Evaluation has just released a study, ADB’s Support for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals which is intended to feed into the debate on a new agenda. Among its aims are to learn lessons from the MDG era and assess emerging issues.

The region excelled on the income MDG and made notable progress in universal primary education, gender equality, and the provision of safe drinking water in rural areas. But it lagged on several human development goals, with reducing child mortality and improving maternal health being the most striking shortfalls. Environmental goals are also badly off track—chiefly those for CO2 emissions and for protecting forest cover. 

The study makes a strong case for adopting a balanced, mutually reinforcing approach to tackling three critical post-2015 challenges: uprooting extreme poverty,  improving human development, and addressing environmental degradation. ADB’s focus on inclusive growth and environmental sustainability would be in sync with this approach. 

Income poverty: Unfinished Business

Many countries in the region will meet and even better the signature MDG target of reducing by half the number of people living on below $1.25 a day, an extraordinary achievement. However, poverty remains Asia’s foremost development challenge, with the region still accounting for two-thirds of the world’s poor. Jobless growth is a rising concern (the Philippines is a case in point). Addressing rising inequality is very much linked to the poverty challenge, and is not just income-related but tied to wide disparities in access to quality basic services. 

Human Development: Sluggish Progress

The close link between health and poverty is well established, and health features prominently in the MDGs. Yet progress has been sluggish; specifically on MDG 4 (reducing under-5, infant mortality) and MDG 5 (reducing maternal mortality, improving skilled birth attendance and antenatal care). Some countries are sliding badly from the target for halting the spread of HIV/AIDS (part of MDG 6). The study says that ADB’s portfolio should reflect a more balanced pursuit of the MDG agenda of income poverty, human development, and environment (and that it’s possible to do this within Strategy 2020).

Environment: A Burgeoning Challenge

This is an imposing challenge for policymakers and the development community, because the gap between what needs to be done is rapidly expanding due to the strong pace of economic growth in much of Asia. Encouragingly, ADB is directing its energy operations increasingly towards energy efficiency and clean energy. In transport, there is more climate proofing in operations and increased investment in urban transport and railways. It is also notable that CO2-related operations as a proportion of ADB’s total financing has grown from 3% in 2002, just after the start of the MDGs, to 22% in 2011.

ADB’s role in a Post-2015 Agenda

Independent Evaluation’s study suggests that ADB focus on developing countries whose MDG progress has fallen furthest below a minimum standard—a path that’s in line with the ZEN Approach for the Post-2015 Framework recently articulated in an ADB working paper. From a financing standpoint, more concessional resources from the Asian Development Fund could be mobilized to support countries to achieve a minimum level for income, hunger, development, health, and environmental protection, among other areas. 

One way to envisage the minimum standards for basic goals would be to identify the areas where there is greatest commonality of need. Achieving a consensus on a minimum standard for goals won’t be easy, for example, setting targets for CO2 emissions and forest cover. But this is a nettle that needs to be grasped—and ADB can play an important role in dialogues with countries.