What comes after the MDGs?

October 8, 2009

     By Duncan Green     

Gave a presentation on this last week. I’ve blogged before on the strengths and weaknesses of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but if you mdg-iconswant more,  ‘Promoting Pro-poor Policy after the MDGs’ a recent conference organized by EADI, ActionAid, IDS and others has dozens of background papers (prize for most world-weary title goes to Pietro Garau for ‘The MDGs are modest, poorly defined and unreachable. Full speed ahead’). But this time I was focussing on the different narratives jostling to fill the sought-after slot of what comes next, in advance of the UN High Level Meeting to review progress on the MDGs in September 2010. Here are some prime candidates, in no particular order

The obvious one is – the MDGs. Why not stick with a winning formula that, according to Salil Shetty, director of the UN Millennium Campaign, is getting significant traction in many developing countries? At some point the 2015 deadline would have to be extended or dropped, and maybe the targets deepened, or expanded to include more attention to issues such as equity, eg in access to education, healthcare or water and sanitation.

Social Protection: The increased attention to SP as a result of the crisis has given extra importance to some excellent academic work, eg the Chronic Poverty Report, and some high level support from the ILO and UN system via their proposal for a world-wide ‘Universal Social Floor’. Is this the moment to push for something akin to a minimal, but global, welfare state?

Low Carbon Growth/Transition: anyone who reads this blog knows that this is an issue whose prominence will only grow. Improving global carbon efficiency by x% a year is essential to averting catastrophic global warming, and could be unpacked into a series of sectoral targets (energy, cement, agriculture etc) that would achieve it.

Narratives of the futureAid targets: the MDGs have always had more impact on aid than on development per se, so why not make that explicit and ramp up the international commitments to improve the quality of aid (Paris Declaration, Accra Agenda for Action etc) and while we’re at it, sort out a process for rationalizing the proliferation of vertical funds?

Wellbeing: The spate of international activity on this (see previous blog) could result in a shift to explicitly wellbeing-based indicators for, say 2020

Politics: The issue of ‘states with adjectives’ (fragile, failing, weak, failed etc) has become one of the biggest challenges in development – how could we use the post-2015 international spotlight to promote this agenda?
The problem is that although some of these ideas have some degree of institutional backing, others are just the clever thoughts of sundry policy entrepreneurs, and none have the level of momentum and consensus generated by the series of UN conferences in the 1990s that led to the MDGs. Nor are they likely to, as the danger of talking about plan B too early is that it could sap the momentum behind the MDG effort. Any discussion has to be part of an inevitable, but complex two track strategy of pushing the MDGs while thinking about what comes next. MDGs 2.0 are likely to be messier than the original.

October 8, 2009
Duncan Green