Guest Article #28

Post-2015: On Our Way to the World We Want

Within the next fifteen or twenty years we just could live in a different world—one where no human being goes hungry to bed at night, where every pregnant woman has access to basic health services, where all children are learning the skills they will need to flourish in life, where young people find decent work opportunities, and where our economic and social progress is being secured by our actions to safeguard and enhance the natural life support systems we depend on.

That's a very different world from the one we inhabit and mismanage today. But I'm optimistic that change is possible, because a new vision is emerging and it seems to be galvanizing growing support from governments, business and civil society.

The contours of a plan showing how to get there have come to light in the course of eight sessions of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Under the leadership of ambassadors Macharia Kamau (Kenya) and Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), 70 governments have been meeting at the UN for week-long sessions almost every month over the last year. They have delved into in-depth discussions on how we can transform our economies, societies and environment into a more sustainable system.

There is a common understanding that ambitious targets on providing access to food, education, jobs, health, energy, water and sanitation will be included in the next generation of the development goals. There is strong agreement that we need targets to reverse environmental degradation and protect the ecosystems that provide the resources and services we depend on. There is commitment to building more just societies for women and girls, and to reverse the trend of rising income inequality. You need ambitious targets to achieve that as well. There is agreement that the next agenda needs to be for all countries, North and South. We're all in this together.

This growing, common understanding of Member States lays a solid foundation for a stronger and more sustainable anti-poverty agenda, when the current set of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire at the end of 2015.

Another reason for optimism is that during each of the sessions of the Open Working Group, the Member States have engaged with world-class experts and with representatives of civil society and the private sector.

This new trend toward openness and participation was complemented by our “global conversation” which engaged almost two million people and experts from all Member States in identifying priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.

According to a recent review of “What Makes International Agreements Work,” conducted by the New York University and the Overseas Development Institute, “multilateral agreements that bring a range of actors into the process to support the accord, including domestic actors like government officials and civil society groups, are more likely to be agreed and implemented.”

Therefore we will continue to run the “global conversation”, including the MY World survey, in 2014. We will continue to work with business so that private sector interests see themselves as participants in making the new agenda a reality. And the Open Working Group will continue to be open as it zooms in on goals and targets.

The third reason for optimism comes from the fact that we are not starting from scratch: we're building on the MDGs which guided development policy making, mobilization of resources, forging of partnerships and implementation of projects across the world for more than a decade. Think about the impact of the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis. Think of Every Woman, Every Child, and of Education for All. They were all supported and fueled by the MDGs. We are currently supporting over 50 countries undertaking focused actions to accelerate progress towards the MDGs that they are furthest away from meeting. They are removing bottlenecks and investing in targeted solutions. Once a new agenda is agreed, we know how to hit the ground running.

There are other best practices that help us design programmes and partnerships which can achieve results at global scale.

Take the Montreal Protocol under which we have managed to cut the production and consumption of more than 98 per cent of the harmful, ozone-depleting chemicals. Take the UN-REDD Programme and other forest initiatives that are building capacities in most forest-rich countries to significantly slow down deforestation, and to carefully monitor that it actually happens.

We can put these kinds of solutions to work for the sustainable development vision.

The road ahead will be bumpy. Discussions around how to include and measure governance, conflict prevention and peace building, and climate change in the goals and targets will be challenging. And so will the debate about financing the agenda. But there is a growing realization that not having this agenda will be the most expensive option of all—for Ministries of Finance and for societies as a whole.

None of the challenges need to constitute an insurmountable obstacle.

For example, we're going to work with a few countries to explore how some of these challenging areas can be captured in workable targets and indicators, to see how they would work in practice.

We're off to a good start. The next phase of discussions in the Open Working Group will be critical, from March through July. I may be slightly more optimistic than some others, and now you know why. I hope it spreads. That is how great things become possible.