Shifting the development goal posts

Jan RoyallJan Royall on the post-2015 opportunity to create a fairer, more prosperous world

Twelve years ago, world leaders came together to adopt the Millennium Declaration and commit themselves to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Since then, MDGs have galvanised the global fight against poverty, helped raise awareness of development and influenced resource allocation. 

Now, three years away from the target and with David Cameron having been appointed co-chair of the UN panel responsible for leading discussions on developing a successor framework, our attention is turning to what comes next. Today in the Lords there is a timely debate on what the successor framework could look like. 

In government, Labour was at the forefront of establishing the MDGs and global efforts to meet them. Whilst recognising the enormous challenges that remain, we are very proud of their success to date. The number of people in extreme poverty is falling in every region of the world; the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water had been halved; significant progress towards universal primary education has been made; and the world is on track to achieve the target of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of tuberculosis. 

First and foremost, it is important that any successor framework builds on this success and finish what has been started. Although huge strides have been made, much remains to be done. Decreases in maternal mortality are far from the 2015 target and there are still 1.4 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day. This is criminal in the 21st century. MDGs must remain focused on ending poverty and retain clear, measurable goals. 

It is also important that we learn lessons from the past 12 years and adapt the successor framework to today’s world. The global context has changed significantly, providing both opportunities and challenges post-2015. A new agreement should incorporate a focus on sustainability, a rights-based understanding of development and a focus on growth, employment and inequality. 

Labour believes it is crucial that the approach to post-2015 must be values-led, with tackling inequality at its heart. The gap between rich and poor has widened significantly in recent years and gross inequality is wasting the talents of millions. We need a focus on responsible capitalism, social justice, and human rights. Global growth needs to work for everyone. 

There must also be a stronger focus on gender inequality. Women and girls are still disproportionately affected by extreme poverty, gender based violence remains prevalent and women remain under-represented in positions of power. It is vital that we tackle the abhorrent levels of violence still experienced by women in conflict situations and ensure their greater role to play in peace building and recovery. Women must be at the heart of any successor framework. 

Today, I will also draw attention to legislation currently being discussed in Egypt's People's Assembly Council which would reduce the minimum age of marriage for girls from 18 to 9 and decrease mothers' custody to seven years old. This would be abhorrent, violating international agreements on children's rights.

Provisions for an integrated approach to early childhood development should also be included in any new framework. Experience and evidence shows that a joined-up approach, starting from when children are conceived to when they enters school and including health provision, makes the greatest difference to their lives. 

More widely, a post-2015 framework has to be shaped in a more open and inclusive way, involving a wide range of actors in consultative processes. MDGs have received criticism for adopting a ‘donor driven’ approach. Any new agreement must be developed through dialogue and real partnership between political leaders, civil society and the private sector in all countries. 

Ministers must also take the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to international development and enshrine into law the commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on development aid. We cannot afford to waste the opportunity to create a fairer and more prosperous world.

Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is Labour’s Leader in the House of Lords

Published 22nd November 2012


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