New York and the future of Global Development

September 30th, 2013

Last week in New York the United Nations General Assembly came to an important agreement about how global development will be shaped in years up to 2030.

It was agreed that there will be a ‘single framework and set of goals – universal in nature and applicable to all countries’, and that this will bring together concerns about both poverty eradication and sustainable development (people and the environment). This will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that have guided much of global development efforts since 2000 and which expire in 2015.

The content of those new goals is still very much up for grabs. The inter-governmental negotiations will only start next year. The third stream of a complex consultation process (the ‘Open Working Groups’) has yet to report, and last week I heard about an additional set of events to will be hosted by the President of the General Assembly. Even on some basic concepts there is still disagreement. In the General Assembly debate, when some governments were talking about ‘development’ they were referring to economic growth, while others used the term to mean progress against the MDGs, and still others used the term more broadly to refer to issues around governance and rights.

At Practical Action we are following the debate with interest and trying to ensure that the messages coming from the ground, from the communities we work with, and from the things we collectively believe in, are being heard. We are doing that in collaboration with others, of course, such as the Beyond 2015 campaign which brings together over 800 NGOs from around the world. We want to see issues of technology and equity of access to technology being addressed. We want to see issues of well-being prioritised rather than simply measures of poverty based on $ per day, or growth of GDP. We want to see separate goals for Energy and Water and Sanitation, and the needs of small-holder farmers addressed.

So what is the mood among NGOs? We had a stocktaking meeting at the end of the week, and much of the sentiment reflected my own feelings. While of course we welcome the announcement about a single set of goals – isn’t that the least we could ask for? Imagine explaining all this in straightforward terms to a village community somewhere – it doesn’t sound that dramatic! “How will it change our lives?” – they might ask. Well, a single set of goals offers more chance that things will change for them: that the inequalities and injustices they experience will be addressed. On the other hand, Mwangi Waituru a co-chairs of the campaign from a relatively small Kenyan NGO said “I will be going home a bit disappointed that the outcome of this process will not be as ambitious as it needs to be if it is to be truly transformative”.

In our work on energy, we are optimistic that there will be a goal that aims for ‘energy access for all by 2030’. However, we know that ‘business as usual’ will not address the problem. Continuing to put the majority of funding into generating more electricity for the grid, or even to extending the grid, will still leave many people in the dark. As part of the broader groupings of organisations around the world fighting for the needs and interests of poor people to be heard, we will continue to push for the future framework to be ambitious, and to take its stated aims of equity and universality seriously. David Cameron has been part of the process as a co-chair of the High Level Panel which reported in earlier this year, and in a meeting with our supporters in his constituency confirmed that he would like “these ambitious and measurable goals [as set out in the HLP report] to succeed the MDGs”. A small step has been taken in the right direction, but more will need to be done!

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