At the turn of the century, world leaders gathered together at an extraordinary UN summit and put forward a bold vision for future development with a plan dubbed the Millennium Declaration. In the 14 years since, the international community has made great strides in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—a series of objectives largely centered on poverty reduction—and have even reached some targets well ahead of the 2015 deadline.
Achievements and obstacles
One major MDG has already been met: with the concerted efforts of all UN member states, the population living in extreme poverty around the globe has been reduced by half.
According to the 2014 UN MDGs Report, as early as in 1990, nearly half of the population in developing countries and regions lived on less than $1.25 a day. By 2010, this rate had dropped to 22 percent, with 700 million fewer people experiencing extreme poverty.
In addition, from 2000 to 2012, efforts in the fight against malaria saved an estimated 3.3 million people. About 90 percent of them were children under the age of 5 living in Sub-Saharan Africa. The intensive efforts to fight another prevalent disease in less developed countries—tuberculosis—have saved about 22 million lives globally since 1995. If these trends continue, the world will reach the MDGs on malaria and tuberculosis by the end of 2015.
Improving access to safe drinking water is one of the earliest accomplished MDGs. The target of halving the proportion of people without access to an improved drinking water source was achieved in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. The 2014 UN MDGs Report states that by the end of 2012, 89 percent of the world's population had used improved water sources, up 13 percentage points from 1990. Over 2.3 billion people gained access to an improved source of drinking water between 1990 and 2012.
By 2012, all developing regions had achieved or were close to achieving parity in primary school enrollment between boys and girls.
Substantial progress has been made in most areas, but greater efforts are needed to reach the targets in the fields of environmental sustainability, halving the world hunger population, improving nutrition among children, reducing the mortality rate for children under 5 years and the maternal mortality ratio, access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV-infected people, improving sanitation and the school enrollment rate in primary education.
It should be mentioned that the progress made in meeting the MDGs varies widely in different regions. For example, China has made great contributions to attaining the poverty reduction target, but few countries in Sub-Saharan Africa can reach the target by the end of 2015.
Even though the MDG on improving drinking water sources has been met ahead of schedule in terms of global population, it is unclear how many Sub-Saharan African countries have fulfilled the ambitious target.
Significant progress in achieving the MDGs demands the combined efforts of all governments and public and private sectors in the world. But the international community's attention and input in this aspect have been distributed unequally among different countries and regions. In 2013, the world's total funding for Official Development Assistance reached a record high of $135 billion, yet 53 percent of the funds were given to the top 20 recipient nations worldwide in 2012. In contrast to a 12.3-percent year-on-year increase in aid to the least developed nations in 2013, the volume that Sub-Saharan Africa received dropped 4 percent from the previous year, standing at $26.2 billion.
Making new agendas
As the MDG deadline approaches, it is urgent for the UN to formulate a roadmap for post-2015 development. Discussions to this end have become increasingly heated. So far, a basic consensus on the new agenda is that it should include both unfulfilled MDGs and long-term sustainable development. In other words, centering on poverty reduction can have only modest effects in terms of improving people's quality of life, whereas the new blueprint should put a positive growth model for sustainable development at its core.
Selecting post-2015 targets has undergone two stages since the UN summit on MDGs in 2010. The first stage, from 2010 to 2013, consisted of discussions and consultations. During this period, a number of functional organizations and consulting commissions, including the UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda, the UN Development Group and a high-level panel of eminent persons, gave their research reports to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Based on their input, the secretary general delivered an advisory report to the UN General Assembly in July 2013.
In the second stage, from 2013 to 2014, topics on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda were intensively discussed at a number of meetings presided over by the president of the UN General Assembly. An open working group was tasked with submitting a proposal on goals set by the outcome document of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 to the 68th UN General Assembly (2013-14). A committee of experts on sustainable development financing has also been established. A major task in this period was to short-list almost 200 targets and 1,700 indexes that were collected in the first stage in a bid to provide a feasible framework for the final intergovernmental negotiations.
The open working group submitted its final report in July 2014, which listed 169 targets in 17 categories. Secretary General Ban proposed the final report as the basic framework for intergovernmental negotiations in early December 2014.
Intergovernmental negotiations on a post-2015 agenda will kick off on January 19, 2015, and are planned to conclude on July 31. The targets for post-2015 development reached during the negotiations will be reviewed by the UN General Assembly on September 25 and 26 this year. Upon approval, they will be implemented on January 1, 2016.
Ensuring a fair plan
As a substitute and upgrade of the MDGs, the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda is both ambitious and controversial, especially for developing countries.
At the beginning, discussions on the global development agenda beyond 2015 concentrated on post-MDG targets, but the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) then substantially replaced the former. As the new agenda focuses heavily on sustainable development, it might neglect the experience and lessons of the MDGs.
In contrast to the explicit MDGs, the post-2015 agenda emphasizes establishing macro and long-term international rules and norms for development as well as defining some threshold targets. As a result, issues such as education quality and decent employment have become important benchmarks throughout the discussion process. Considering different development levels among countries, this effort might make Western standards dominate the post-2015 agenda.
Current discussions on the post-2015 agenda could increase the possibility that some donor countries might legitimate their political and economic appeals as conditions to give aid. Adding such conditions to aid has long been criticized by the international community. However, in response to claims that the effects of the MDGs were weakened due to poor governance, low transparency and lack of credible data, there have been growing calls for a stable environment for implementing the post-2015 agenda in addition to improved tracking, supervisory and reporting mechanisms.
The UN open working group has also proposed targets on advancing domestic social, legal and regulatory environments as well as improving implementation measures for the SDGs. Many of the requirements are closely related with conditions advocated by Western countries.
Despite various challenges, a brand-new agenda for future global development will be unveiled in September 2015. As a major emerging country, China should play an important role in initiating the intergovernmental negotiations and building a new type of global development partnership. Based on the principle of seeking common grounds while shelving differences, China aims at working with other countries to seek a fair, reasonable and sustainable system for attaining the post-2015 targets.
The author is deputy director of Department for West Asian and African Studies under the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies
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