I admit, I didn’t think things would look so good right now. This summer of post-2015 reports has been as unexpectedly pleasant as comparatively decent August weather in DC. Surprised by the depth and reach of the High Level Panel report on the post-2015 development agenda, then taken off guard by the healthy overlap between the Sustainable Development Solutions Network report and the High Level Panel’s recommendations, now I’ve been mildly shocked—in a good way—by the first interim report of the Sustainable Development Goals Working Group, which is due to issue its final recommendations next year.
Here’s some of the good news out of the SDG Working Group interim report:
For a long time it looked like we could end up with two different sets of post-2015 goals—one on global development and the other on sustainable development. Not good. But the interim report notes: “There is wide support for a single post-2015 UN development framework containing a single set of goals—goals that are universally applicable to all countries but adaptable to different national realities and priorities.” And the broad language and areas covered in the SDG interim report look similar to the High Level Panel report.
One-size global targets are likely to be unfair at the country level—just as the original MDGs were unfair to Africa. The interim report suggests that “while the goals and associated targets and indicators should, in the aggregate, represent a pathway to sustainable development and the future we want” nonetheless “the targets need to be differentiated for countries taking into account the different levels of development."
The quality of education got no mention in the original MDGs. It was highlighted in the High Level Panel report and gets coverage alongside health care quality here, too: “The poor suffer not only from lack of access to basic services but also very often from the poor quality of the services provided. This applies with particular force to education and health care.… The post-2015 development agenda must achieve the MDG goal of primary education for all. However, it should also aim to address quality as reflected in learning outcomes, which will need to be more widely and effectively measured.” Woop woop. The report even gives a shout out to cost-effectiveness.
Migration gets a look-in: “Migration is an aspect of population dynamics that brings important social and economic benefits—through new skills and expanded labour supply in destination countries, remittance flows to sending ones, and return of migrants with increased investment potential to their countries of origin – as well as challenges, including the loss of skilled labour by sending countries and social and cultural integration of migrants in destination countries.” (And, back to education targets, I think the report gets bonus points for spelling labour with a ‘u’).
It is perhaps no surprise if still a bit of a disappointment that the SDG Working Group is setting itself up to exclude governance. Suggests the interim report: “There are several enablers and drivers, strategies and approaches for sustainable development which may be difficult to enumerate as goals, among others human rights, rights based approaches, governance, rule of law, and wider participation in decision making.” Although I agree rights and goals are different, elements of governance are eminently measurable and targetable—do governments publish budgets, for example.
Again, there are too many potential zero goals laid out in the interim report for my liking --from poverty and malnutrition through sanitation to health care and modern energy. But pretty much every member of the band of Goal proposers from Save the Children to the World Economic Forum to the High Level Panel through the Sustainable Development Solutions Network is playing to a zero score, so in this case it’s me who’s off key.
Overall, while this isn’t a final report, and it isn’t clear it commits the SDG Working Group to anything, it’s still a hopeful step (or roll) in the right direction.