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Jan 01 0001
International Cooperation after 2015:Perspective from the UN
By WU Hongbo
Working with UN Funds and Programmes and specialized agencies, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs – DESA coordinates the annual MDG progress report, one of our most anticipated and widely-read publications.
I. MDGs: An Overall Assessment
Whenever possible, we try to use 1990 as the baseline for monitoring. Our assessment suggests we have achieved encouraging results. In fact, the world has met some important targets ahead of the deadline.
First, extreme poverty is falling in every region, including in sub-Saharan Africa. Preliminary estimates indicate that the global poverty rate, at $1.25 a day, fell in 2010 to less than half the 1990 rate, despite the global financial crisis. We hope to confirm this result in this year’s monitoring report. If confirmed, the first target of the MDGs—cutting the extreme poverty rate to half its 1990 level—will have been achieved at the global level, ahead of the 2015 deadline.
Second, the world has met the target of halving the proportion of people without access to improved sources of water. Between 1990 and 2010, over two billion people gained access to improved drinking water sources.
Third, we have seen significant improvements in the lives of slum dwellers over the last decade. More than 200 million slum dwellers gained access to public services, including improved water sources, improved sanitation facilities, and better housing.
Fourth, the world has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys. Guided by the MDG target and driven by national and international efforts, many more of the world’s children, including girls, are enrolled in school at the primary level. In this regard, it is worth noting that the remarkable increase over the last decade in the enrolment rates of children of primary school age occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.
Fifth, child survival progress is gaining momentum. Despite population growth, the number of under-five deaths worldwide fell from more than 12 million in 1990, to 7.6 million in 2010. This trend is expected to continue.
Sixth, access to treatment for people living with HIV has increased in all regions. And the world is on track to achieve the target of halting, and beginning to reverse, the spread of tuberculosis. Also on the health front, global malaria deaths have declined. The estimated incidence of this disease has decreased globally, by 17 per cent since 2000. Over the same period, malaria-specific mortality rates have decreased by 25 per cent.
These are historic achievements. Simply put, MDGs have saved lives and have improved livelihoods. Of course, gaps remain. There are areas where progress has been far from adequate.
Inequality has been on the rise, slowing advances in key areas of sustainable development. The achievements I just highlighted are unequally distributed across and within regions and countries. In some countries, momentum for progress has slowed since the onset of the world financial crises in 2008. Unemployment, especially among youth, has been on the rise. Falls in maternal mortality, though encouraging, are still far from the 2015 target. There have been important improvements in maternal health and reduction in maternal deaths, but progress is still slow. Access to improved sources of water remains limited in rural areas. Nearly half of the population in developing regions - 2.5 billion - still lacks access to improved sanitation facilities. If current trends continue, by 2015, the world will have reached only 67 per cent coverage, short of the 75 per cent needed to achieve the MDG target.
Most worrisome is the continuing high rate of hunger. The most recent estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization indicate that about 868 million people are still living in hunger. With rapid urbanization in developing regions, the absolute number of slum dwellers has grown to an estimated 863 million now, with no slowdown in sight.
On MDG 8, the global partnership for development, we have, at best, a mixed picture. While a number of donor governments have reached the UN ODA target, and a few others are increasing ODA delivery, we are still far from fully honouring ODA pledges. If we were actually on target, we would have seen ODA delivery of $300.3 billion. In fact, in 2011, ODA delivery totaled $133.5 billion, equivalent to 0.31 per cent of the combined national income of developed countries. So the gap in 2011 was $166.8 billion.
On market access, we all know that the Doha Round of trade negotiations, launched in 2001, remains deadlocked. In the meantime, trade-restrictive measures have been on the rise since the beginning of the financial crisis. And the least developed countries have not fully secured duty-free, quota-free access for their exports.
So, what is our overall assessment? What lessons can we draw from the MDGs? If we focus on the first seven MDGs, we think there has been remarkable progress. This progress showcases the power of political will, of agreed global goals, and of common purpose. Taken in their entirety, the MDGs have been a guiding framework for development. With measurable goals and targets, and a common vision, they have rallied global political will. They have generated momentum for action. On MDG 8, a number of individual donor countries deserve to be recognized for fulfilling their ODA pledges. However, as a group, developed countries collectively will need to do more, despite current budgetary constraints, to increase ODA delivery.
So, to summarize, it is fair to say the MDGs, with their broad successes as well as gaps, provides a solid foundation on which the post-2015 development agenda should be built.
Indeed, at the 2010 MDG Summit, world leaders reviewed MDG progress. They concluded that the MDG campaign was a mixed story, with both successes and uneven progress, and challenges and opportunities ahead. They agreed that we need to consolidate gains, and address gaps in implementation. In General Assembly resolution 65/1, they adopted an action agenda aimed at accelerating progress in achieving the MDGs by 2015.In the same resolution, Member States requested the General Assembly to continue to review, on an annual basis, MDG progress.
II. Looking beyond: MDGs and SDGs
Looking beyond 2015, Member States also requested the Secretary-General to report annually on progress in the MDGs until 2015, and to make recommendations in his annual reports for further steps to advance the UN development agenda beyond 2015. That request is what we, at the UN, call “legislative mandate”- to launch the preparations for the post-2015 development agenda.
In response to the General Assembly’s mandate, the Secretary-General launched a number of initiatives. In August 2011, we issued the first Secretary-General’s report on accelerating progress towards the MDGs. This report outlines options for advancing the UN development agenda beyond 2015. In September 2011, the Secretary-General established a UN System Task Team to coordinate preparations for the post-2015 agenda, in consultation with all stakeholders. The Task Team is co-chaired by DESA and UNDP, and brings together the full UN system. In June 2012, the Task Team delivered its first report on a vision and roadmap to support the post-2015 deliberations. The Report is serving as a reference for the ongoing consultations. In July 2012, the Secretary-General announced the members of a High-level Panel to advise him on the global development agenda beyond 2015. The Secretary-General appointed three co-chairs: President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia; then-President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia; and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom. He asked the Panel to prepare a bold yet practical development vision, to present to Member States in May this year. He looks forward to the Panel’s recommendations on “a global post-2015 agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries and with the fight against poverty and sustainable development at its core”. I quoted the Secretary-General’s words because I think they capture three critical elements – shared responsibilities for all countries; fight against poverty; and sustainable development. In announcing the Panel, the Secretary-General also made it clear that the UN will initiate open, inclusive consultations. These will involve civil society, the private sector, academia and research institutions from all regions, in addition to the UN system.
Indeed, our colleagues in the UN Development Group have launched national consultations to engage stakeholders, in as many as 100 countries. These will be complemented by eleven thematic consultations, which are currently underway. Jointly organized by various UN entities, and with support from civil society organizations (CSOs) and other international organizations, the thematic consultations will help guide thinking on how to include emerging and pressing issues in the post-2015 development agenda. Additional inputs will emerge from bilateral and regional consultations, such as the conference held on 12-13 January 2013 at Shanghai, co-organized by two well-reputed research and development institutions, the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) and Germany Development Institute (DIE). The consultations so far suggest that the post-2015 development agenda will need to reflect new development challenges. It will also draw on experience in implementing the MDGs, both in terms of results achieved, and areas for improvement. For example, many argue that the MDGs did not address critical emerging issues, such as unemployment, inequalities, biodiversity loss, lack of access to energy, demographic dynamics, and governance. Neither did the MDG framework account for increased vulnerability to natural disasters, rapid urbanization, and climate change. It is widely agreed that sustainable development must be at the centre of any post-2015 UN development agenda.
In response to these emerging challenges, Member States launched sustainable development goals – SDGs, at the Rio 20 Conference in June 2012. They agreed that SDGs should address, and incorporate in a balanced way, all three dimensions of sustainable development and their inter-linkages.
SDGs should be coherent with, and integrated into the UN development agenda beyond 2015, serving as a driver for implementation and mainstreaming of sustainable development. Member States further agreed that the development of SDGs should not divert focus or effort from the MDGs. They also underscored that SDGs should be action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries. And they need to take into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development, and respect national policies and priorities.
In this regard, Member States decided to constitute an Open Working Group on SDGs, comprising 30 representatives, nominated by Member States from the five UN regional groups. The Working Group is scheduled to start its procedural work by the end of January 2013. In consultation with national governments and with UNDP colleagues, my department has provided an initial input to the work of the Working Group.[①] It is based on submissions by governments in response to a questionnaire. Therefore, it very much reflects the current thinking of Member States.
Here, I would like to share with you just a few key messages that have emerged.
1. Poverty eradication must remain the highest priority, completing the unfinished business of MDG1.
2. To realize this goal, sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth is a necessary requirement.
3. Everyone should have access to basic goods and services for a decent life, productive employment, health and education.
4. There is a clear need to address inequalities of different kinds in the post-2015 development agenda.
5. We must address severe environmental stresses and their negative repercussions for human well-being, especially that of the poor and vulnerable.
6. We must promote sustainable management of the resource base and sustainable consumption and production.
On SDGs, Member States stressed the following:
1. SDGs should be clustered, based on related themes.
2. SDGs should guide international development cooperation beyond 2015.
3. SDGs should be based on shared principles, and common global goals.
4. The targets associated with SDGs should be common but differentiated or flexible enough to allow them to be tailored to national characteristics, priorities and level of development.
5. SDGs should incorporate existing goals and targets.
6. In monitoring and measuring SDG progress, we should take into account different starting points and baselines across countries.
In terms of priority areas for SDGs, based on the relative frequency of responses, Member States highlighted some 30 areas, including the following: food security and sustainable agriculture; water and sanitation; energy; education; health; climate change; management of natural resources; employment; gender; sustainable consumption and production; cities and housing; oceans and seas; disaster reduction; biodiversity; equity; means of implementation; etc.
III. Conclusion
As mentioned earlier, at the Secretariat level, the Secretary-General has established a High-level Panel, to contribute thoughts and ideas. The UN Development Group is leading consultations at the country level, as well as thematic discussions. The whole UN system is mobilized through the UN Task Team (UNTT), co-chaired by DESA and UNDP. At the intergovernmental level, the President of the General Assembly will be organizing a special event during the 68th session of the General Assembly in September 2013. I have met with the President of the General Assembly to discuss the modalities for organizing this special event. The objectives of the event will be two-fold - taking forward the “unfinished” business of the MDGs, while moving ahead on a new, unified agenda, with poverty eradication and sustainable development at its core.
While these processes need time to evolve along their separate but related tracks, they have ample channels for cross-fertilization. Key points along the way include the report of the High-level Panel scheduled for release in May this year; the Special Event on MDGs in September; and the report of the Open Working Group on SDGs, as well as results emerging from national consultations, and thematic discussions. Our hope is that through these diverse channels, Governments will have good and multiple inputs as they fashion and reach consensus on the post-2015 development agenda.
The MDGs and SDGs are not competing concepts. The MDGs highlight the basic development goals and targets. The future SDGs will build on the MDGs and accelerate the progress already achieved. They will go further by addressing the economic and environmental aspects, so that our future is truly sustainable. In the final analysis, we can say the MDGs are the bedrocks, the foundations for SDGs, ensuring that a world free from poverty is achievable in our lifetimes, and sustainable for all generations to come.
The post-2015 development agenda will be a universal, sustainable development agenda, shared by all Member States of the United Nations. In arriving at this agenda, it will be essential to hear the views and perspectives of both developed and developing countries.

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[①] The report is available at