Beyond 2015: The Future of Development Goals

By Otaviano Canuto (Vice President, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, The World Bankin 4th OECD World Forum, October 17, 2012 New Delhi


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor to be a part of this important event and share my thoughts on the next generation of MDGs with you.  The post-2015 framework is a top priority at the World Bank, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

I. Staying on track to achieve the MDGs by 2015

For the first time since poverty trends began to be monitored, poverty and extreme poverty rates have fallen in every developing region, including sub-Saharan Africa, where rates are highest.  Globally, extreme poverty is down to 22%, from 52% 30 years ago.  Despite a 35% population increase, fewer people live in extreme poverty today than 30 years ago.  MDG #1, the global poverty reduction target, was met in 2010, 5 years ahead of the 2015 deadline.

Poverty surveys indicate that by 2010, the global poverty rate was less than half its 1990 level.  With regard to gender equality, we have made great strides in women’s endowments, capabilities, and rights, particularly on health and education.  Our progress is commendable, and the first set of MDGs has undoubtedly served as an important catalyst for the development community to focus support on poverty reduction and improvements in human development.  The energy they generated around development efforts attracted attention from governments and civil society alike, which in turn translated into greater resource flows.

Unfortunately, not everyone has shared in this prosperity.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 61% of the poverty target was reached, and in fragile and conflict-affected states, only 53%.  In fact, few fragile and conflict-affected states have met even a single target.  Women’s economic opportunities and rights are still lagging: 44 countries still restrict the working hours of women relative to men, and 71 limit the industries in which women can work.

In at least 47 countries, women are restricted in their ability to get a job, sign a contract, register a business, open a bank account, be the head of the household, or choose where to live.  So while we’ve made headway, it is simply not enough to make progress in most countries but not in fragile states, or to help millions escape poverty but fail to reach the most marginalized, or move towards gender equality in only some areas.  We need to step up our efforts in this final stretch to the 2015 deadline.

II. Learning from the past to design an effective post-2015 framework

As the deadline approaches, it is important for us to seriously reflect on how best to tackle our world’s challenges moving forward.  This is our chance to design a post-2015 framework that builds on our successes, draws lessons from past shortcomings, addresses the gaps in the current MDGs, and most importantly, aims higher across the board.

For the new goals to act as a catalytic force for transformation in developing countries and empowerment of the poor, they must be truly universal, indivisible, complementary, and inclusive.
With over one billion people still living in extreme poverty, and poverty reduction significantly behind target for 2015 in many countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and in fragile and conflict-affected states, accelerating progress towards the effective eradication of poverty must remain a primary goal for the international community.  It is time to focus resources on those who need them the most and the hardest to reach groups.  True progress goes beyond growth to include equity – in fact, the absence of equity considerations in the current MDGs has been widely criticized – because inequalities may not only hinder our steps forward but also erode what we have already accomplished.  Setting ambitious objectives for ourselves in terms of both social inclusion and economic security will ensure that no one is left out this time around.

Another group, constituting approximately half of the world’s population, is also being left behind in many ways:  women.  The Bank has a clear, consistent message on gender: “gender equality is both a right, and smart economics.”  Over the past 30 years, 552 million women joined the global labor force, meaning that women now represent 40% of the global labor force — and indeed, more than half of the world’s university students.  In terms of sheer numbers, women matter.  But women’s opportunities and abilities to make choices have profound implications not only for our generation, but for the next ones too.  When women are given economic opportunity, the benefits extend beyond them, to their children, their communities, and economies at large.  Gender equality is more than an end in itself; it is a critical underlying factor for all of our development and poverty alleviation work.

III. Filling data gaps and strengthening statistical capacity

As we continue to work together on post-2015 plans, we should be equally dedicated to ensuring that we have the foundations on which to base and measure our work.  Achieving the MDGs and any other future goals requires reliable and complete data for monitoring progress, guiding policy, measuring results, and supporting analysis.  As of 2010, approximately 35% of countries in the UN MDG database lack sufficient data to measure trends in malnutrition and poverty.  Between 5 and 15% lack sufficient data to measure trends in water, sanitation, mortality, and gender.  There have been major improvements since 2005, but clearly it is imperative that we strengthen statistical capacity in these struggling countries.

In particular, data remains a perennial issue for gender equality, and we must do better in addressing the glaring gaps in gender-relevant statistics and data.  For example, since 2005, we have no data on the share of women in non-agricultural wage work, an MDG3 indicator, for most of Sub-Saharan Africa.

In fact, consistent, reliable and nationally representative data on women’s access to economic resources simply does not exist in many developing countries.  This is partly because of low capacity in national statistical agencies.  But it’s also a methodology issue: many surveys, including at the World Bank, typically ask questions of households, from which it is difficult to disentangle intra-household aspects.  Our work on maternal health reveals that even basic data on births and deaths are deficient.  Basic indicators like maternal mortality remain under-reported, because too many women in poor countries do not come into contact with health facilities or official statistical systems.

Through our analytical and advisory expertise, the Bank is well-positioned to provide support to countries in strengthening statistical capacity.  Thus far, we have invested in STATCAP to support the efforts of 20 clients, engaged in partnerships such as PARIS21 to support IDA countries in their national plans for improving statistical capacity, and contributed to high-level political endorsement for the new “Busan Action Plan for Statistics.”

We are on the right track, but in the two and a half years remaining, we must scale up our efforts to ensure that the 2015 framework rests on solid foundations and therefore has the best possible chance of success.

IV. People and planet: integrating the SDGs and fostering synergies

At the Rio+20 Summit, the international community agreed to adopt a new set of universal sustainable development goals (SDGs), a more focused and quantitative set of goals directly addressing environmental and social sustainability.  Integrating this framework with the next set of goals has a number of advantages:  it will help donors, practitioners, and policy makers face a consolidated set of incentives and accountabilities, and it will help more inextricably link sustainability and development, further diminishing the legitimacy of the “grow now, clean up later” argument.

Most importantly, it will foster synergies among our development objectives:  for instance, how can we alleviate poverty without addressing water and sanitation problems?  Water is essential for livelihood security, reducing health risks, eradicating hunger, minimizing vulnerability to water-related disasters, and fostering pro-poor economic growth.  Furthermore, women almost exclusively bear the burden of water-hauling.  This not only exposes them to safety risks in many cases, but also reduces or entirely eliminates their time for education and productive activities, consequently holding them back from seizing opportunities for economic empowerment.

A number of issues on the design of the SDGs remain to be discussed, but we already have a clear picture of the elements required for them to be effective.

First, a meaningful SDGs framework will embrace the need to move beyond GDP to a more comprehensive accounting of nations’ wealth, including natural, human, social, and physical capital—thereby providing countries with the means to monitor their progress.

Second, it should encompass all three pillars of sustainable development, based on indicators of inclusiveness and equity in addition to environmental sustainability.

Third, the SDGs will inevitably include a mix of local and global public goods, and should thus be crafted in a way that enables geographic differentiation in targets, perhaps with a globally agreed minimum standard.  It makes sense to include both top-down and bottom-up approaches:  the former involves translating a global objective into national commitments, while the latter entails countries committing to individual levels of effort, the sum of which is the global goal.

Fourth, contrary to the results-based MDGs, targeting relative or absolute gains with respect to specific indicators, the SDGs will likely benefit from a blend of results-based targets for 2030 (or even 2050, 2100) and policy targets for the shorter term.

Finally, the complexity of sustainability may require more detailed and precise goals that simplify the operationalization of goals into policy changes.  Ideally, we would include a limited number of easy-to-communicate goals – comparable to the MDG poverty goals – and a series of more precise, sector-specific goals.

Let me close by saying that a formidable challenge lies ahead.  We have the opportunity to use what we’ve learned since 2000 to design a comprehensive and effective approach to ending global poverty.  It’s never easy to address the diverse needs of 7 billion people and the planet we share, but with our collective expertise, capacity for innovation, energy, and enthusiasm, we can create a new framework that supports our global objectives while responding to country-specific needs.

I am honored and excited to have a voice in this discussion and I look forward to our continued collaboration.  Thank you.


Read the original article Beyond 2015: The Future of Development Goals


One response

  1. We have identified resource mobilization as the trigger for success if we are to put adequate measures in place for sustainable development. Our area of concern is agriculture which plays an inevitable role in the lives of everyone and which is sometimes treated with contempt by many who forget that their very existence is determined by this economic activity

    We are making efforts to save whole communities from starvation given that food production is falling steadily because of climatic reasons while population growth is increasing more than food production.

    Our appeal is that more energy, money and resources should be used to improve agricultural productivity and especially in rural communities which play and essential role in the food production chain

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