Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


With the Sustainable Development Goals Working Group busy in New York trying to whittle down its areas of interest into a plausible list of targets, two issues of ‘goal ownership’ have come to the fore.  First, everyone seems very keen the goals should be universal but ‘country-owned’ — this is the excuse for all of the Xs in the High Level Panel Report (“Cover X% of people who are poor and vulnerable with social protection systems,” for example).  Such Xs should be decided at the country level, they suggest. 

But second, there’s a G-77 push for ‘partnership targets’ in each goal area — a stalking horse for 12 (or 14 — however many goals we end up with) costing and funding targets.  Their statement to the SDG Working Group in New York argues “each SDG should be linked with the strengthened global partnership for development with an effective means of implementation. The notion of ‘means of implementation’ consists of, among others, a mix of financial resources, technology development and transfer, as well as capacity-building.” 

This is a case of ownership in all of the wrong places.  The country ownership mantra for development targets gets wrong where the power of the global goals as a device for leverage comes from, and the partnership targets get wrong where ownership of financial flows should be.

The idea of ‘leading with national targets, with global targets to follow’ ignores the major value of the MDGs: at one point in time at least, they represented the consensus view of all of the world’s leaders on where and what development progress we wanted to see.  That consensus was what gave them legitimacy.  National efforts led by whoever happens to be in the executive at the time lack similar consensus legitimacy at the country level.  They look like a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paperlite. Does the world need more PRSPs?   And trying to add up the ‘pledges’ related to different national definitions of how to measure targets would be a mess — we’ll lose a clear global target.  We ought to be focusing on consensus global targets, with a secondary focus on (completely non-binding) national pledging efforts towards those global targets.

Meanwhile, the advantage of a global partnership target in every goal is it would force designers and negotiators to confront the question ‘how are these targets going to be achieved?’  This might help instill some much-needed realism with regard to some of the targets currently being proposed.   And in many cases part of the answer on how to meet development targets is going to be ‘money’ and part of the money may be provided by aid or other official finance, part by global private finance and part through domestic resources. An analysis of such issues (along with the role of policy reform) should accompany the discussions around goal and target setting in order to ensure global targets are plausible.

But both in the spirit of increasing recipient-country ownership of aid programs and because of the interconnected nature of development progress, neither donor nor recipient governments should want specific targets of how much assistance should go into each pot of the development goals.  This suggests both public financing issues, and tools to encourage greater private financial flows, belong in a stand-alone global partnership goal.  

We want global ownership of goals and country ownership of financing — especially around aid.  At the moment it looks like we might be headed in completely the other direction.  That would be a shame.  Perhaps it is lucky it would also be almost impossible to do: if targets are going to be set at the country level, financing needs and the mix of internal and external resources required to meet them would also need to be set at the country level, not as part of the global agreement filled with unspecified Xs.  For all the exercise to ‘cost’ the MDGs was misguided the first time around, the implausibility only multiplies if we’re trying to work out how much it will cost to meet an unspecified target.