Governance, sustainability must be part of development goals - UNDP survey

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 17:00 GMT

A woman carries a bucket of water in Mqanduli, outside Mthata, in South Africa's Eastern Cape province, on September 8, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

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A worldwide survey finds that people want new post-2015 development targets to focus on issues like good government, job creation and environmental stability as well as traditional goals

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Targets for good governance, better job opportunities, environmental stability and less inequality need to sit alongside more traditional development goals as policymakers create a new agenda to follow the Millennium Development Goals, a survey of more than a million people around the world indicates.

Just as important, those targets must for the first time apply to rich countries as well as poor, respondents said. Rich nations, for instance, might be tasked with doubling their energy efficiency or cutting their disproportionate use of the world’s resources, according to the survey, released on Tuesday by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“This is about broadening the perspective, and looking at the world as it is, as a very interconnected and interdependent place, where the rich countries cannot simply keep on with business as usual while giving a bit of overseas development aid to the poorest countries and there you have it. That’s not good enough,” said Olav Kjorven, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General and director of the Bureau of Development Policy at UNDP, in a telephone interview.

“If you’re not addressing the issue of an atmosphere saturated with carbon, not addressing issues associated with unsustainable production and consumption patterns, not addressing the underlying issues behind the instability in the Middle East, which has to do with inequalities...we will undermine our chances of sustaining progress toward the social and other goals that the Millennium Development Goals represent,” he said.

The UNDP consultation, carried out over the past year online, in national discussions and in door-to-door visits in 90 countries, aimed to assess what people see as priorities in replacing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015.

The survey results aim to feed into an ongoing U.N. process to craft new “post-2015” development goals over the next two and a half years. It is due to gain fresh momentum later this month at a special event towards achieving the MDGs at the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

The MDGs are a set of eight global goals, agreed by world leaders in 2000, which set targets for reducing poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, and cutting child mortality, among others. Some targets, including those on child and maternal mortality and access to sanitation, are unlikely to be achieved by 2015 without much greater effort.

The new survey indicates that many people “continue to care deeply about” the MDGs – particularly on education and healthcare - and want these issues to be part of any new post-2015 development targets, Kjorven said. But respondents also emphasised that simple provision of services is not enough, and “we need to do better in terms of...quality issues, especially  when it comes to education,” he said.


The survey, which asked people to choose their top development priorities from a list of 16, produced some surprises. In third place, behind good education and better healthcare, was “an honest and responsive government”, coming higher even than “better job opportunities” and well ahead of options such as political freedoms and gender equality.

Rising economic inequality around the world is also a worry for many, the poll showed.

“People are indignant at the injustice they feel because of growing inequalities and insecurities,” the report noted. “They feel that the benefits of economic growth are distributed unequally ... They want their governments to do a better job representing them.”

Demand for equality between men and women ranked in the bottom half of priorities, and action on climate change was the lowest priority. But “protecting forests, rivers and oceans” ranked in the top half.

Kjorven said he found it particularly surprising “how similar, by and large, the vision is” from people in very different parts of the world. “There are huge common denominators across incomes, across geographies, across gender,” he said.

“It’s interesting to see how far we've come as a global community in seeing our world as an interdependent world,” he said. Global connectivity, through the internet and other media, has produced “a much deeper understanding around the world that indeed we’re all bound together on this one planet”, he said.

The survey found “very, very strong” support for including goals for rich countries on energy use and consumption, while poorer nations might get goals on universal access to energy, he said.

The results also made clear that dealing with problems, such as access to healthcare, without looking at the larger picture rarely works.

“It’s obvious when we listen to people around the world that they see day-to-day challenges as an integrated whole,” Kjorven said. For instance, a rural woman trying to access antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS doesn't see threats to her physical security as a separate problem if the risk of attack prevents her from walking five miles to the nearest health clinic, he said.

“We have to get out of this silo way of looking at things,” he added.


Getting agreement on broader new development goals, much less achieving them, won’t be easy, Kjorven and other experts say. Rich nations may be reluctant to take on targets themselves, and some poor countries, particularly in Africa, worry that setting targets for everyone could threaten aid flows and blur the lines between donors and recipients.

Many countries also fear that making environmental commitments under new development goals could affect their negotiating position in the separate U.N. climate talks.

To add to these problems, winning any kind of new international agreement has also grown more difficult over the last decade or two, Kjorven said, as is evident from slow progress in climate change and free trade talks.

Putting together new development goals faces “some tricky politics”, he said, though UNDP officials hope the survey – along with other reports, including one produced in May by a high-level panel - can help “build up the kind of urgency needed for the decision makers and governments” to move forward.

“Deals won’t be made unless not making them becomes more painful than making them,” he said. “You have to make it hurt to walk away from the tough issues.”

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