Were the MDGs Successful?

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September 23, 2015 – The Millennium Development Goals expire at the end of this year and will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals that will be adopted by UN member states on Friday.

But as advocates have pointed out, particularly those from the least developed countries, the MDG agenda is still unfinished business and will be incorporated into the new, and expanded, global goals that will run until 2030.

Here we take stock of what has been achieved since 2000 when the eight Millennium Development Goals were adopted, and the gaps that remain.

Goal 1 – Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

The number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 1.75 billion in 1999 to 836 million in 2015 but about 800 million people still live in extreme poverty and suffer from hunger. Over 160 million children under the age of five have inadequate height for their age due to malnutrition.

Goal 2 – Achieve universal primary education

The number of out-of-school children of primary school age worldwide fell by almost half, to an estimated 57 million in 2015, down from 100 million in 2000. Primary school net enrollment rate in the developing regions has reached 91 percent in 2015 from 83 percent in 2000. Further efforts needed to achieve universal primary education.

Goal 3 – Promote gender equality and empower women

The average proportion of women in parliament has increased from 14 percent to 22 percent since 2000, but remains low in absolute terms. Globally, about three-quarters of working-age men participate in the labor force, compared to only half of working-age women. Women earn 24 percent less than men globally.

Goal 4 – Reduce child mortality

The global under-five mortality rate has declined by more than half, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births between 1990 and 2015. More work is needed to improve child survival rates. Every minute around the world, 11 children die before their fifth birthday, mostly from preventable causes.

Goal 5 – Improve maternal health

The global maternal mortality ratio has fallen from 330 to 210 deaths per 100,000 live births between 2000 and 2013. Only half of pregnant women receive the recommended amount of antenatal care.

Goal 6 – Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

New HIV infections fell by 40 percent between 2000 and 2013, from an estimated 3.5 million cases to 2.1 million. In sub-Saharan Africa, still less than 40 percent of youth aged 15 to 24 years had correct knowledge of HIV transmission in 2014. Over 6.2 million malaria deaths have been averted between 2000 and 2015

Goal 7 – Ensure environmental sustainability

Between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of the global population using an improved sanitation facility has risen from 54 percent to 68 percent, and those using an improved drinking water source increased from 76 percent to 91 percent. Globally, 147 countries have met the MDG drinking water target, 95 countries have met the MDG sanitation target and 77 countries have met both. Emissions of carbon dioxide rose from 23.8 to 33.0 billion metric tons from 2000 to 2012.

Goal 8 –  Develop a global partnership for development

Official development assistance from developed countries rose 66 percent in real terms between 2000 and 2014, to USD 135.2bn. Funding will remain a critical factor for the post-2015 development agenda.

Related Story: Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals – Five Key Questions

UN to Raise Holy See Flag on Morning of Pope Francis Visit

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Sept. 21, 2015 – The United Nations will raise the flag of the Holy See on Sept. 25th ahead of Pope Francis’s address to the UN General Assembly that morning.

The decision to raise the flag of a non-member observer state comes after a resolution passed by the General Assembly on Sept. 10th to allow the flags of Palestine and the Holy See to fly alongside the flags of the 193 UN member states.

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Francis will be the fourth pope to address the assembly and it will be the fifth papal UN visit. Paul VI was the first pope to address the UN in 1965, one year after the Holy See became a non-member observer state. John Paul II visited twice, in 1979 and 1995. Benedict XVI addressed the assembly in 2008.

Flag poles in place for raising of Holy See and Palestine flags in front of UNHQ in New York.

Flag poles in place for raising of Holy See and Palestine flags in front of UNHQ in New York.

Just over 40 of the UN’s 193 member states have a Catholic-majority population while the overall global Catholic population is about 1.2 billion. Latin America and Europe have the largest share of the global Catholic population with 39 percent and 24 percent of all Catholics respectively living in these regions.

Pope Paul Vi addressed the General  Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965

Pope Paul Vi addressed the General Assembly on Oct. 4, 1965

The United States has the fifth biggest share of Catholics among countries with about 75 million followers or 25 percent of its population.

Palestine has said it will raise its flag on Sept. 30 ahead of President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech following a ceremony on UN grounds. The Holy See has said there will be no ceremony for its flag raising. UN personnel will raise the flag the same time as they raise the other flags on Sept. 25.

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN

Statement from Holy See mission to the UN click to enlarge

Francis, aged 78, is the first Latin American pontiff and the Argentine is also the first Jesuit pope and the first non-European pope since Syria’s Gregory III in 741.

Born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, he chose the name Francis following his election by papal conclave in 2013 in honor of Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans whose mission is to serve the poor.

In his UN address, he is expected to speak about climate change, poverty, nuclear disarmament and the global refugee crisis as well as the conflicts that underlie the refugee crisis.

In addition, he is also expected to address the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, but a region where the number of Christians who’ve had to flee war and persecution has risen dramatically in the past decade, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

The Holy See has diplomatic relations with 180 sovereign states including the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the State of Palestine. It also has formal contacts, but not diplomatic relations, with Afghanistan, Brunei, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Somalia and has unofficial delegates in regions where there are Catholic communities including the Arabian peninsula and Western Sahara.

The Holy See has no diplomatic relations of any kind with the Maldives, North Korea, China and Bhutan.

Prior to his address to the assembly, Francis will attend a town hall meeting with UN staff.

– Denis Fitzgerald 
@denisfitz

 

Ukraine, Egypt Among Five Seeking Security Council Seats in 2016/17

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Sept. 16, 2015 – Heads of states seeking Security Council seats would normally devote considerable time during this month’s high-level segment of the General Assembly to lobbying for votes but the candidates vying for seats for 2016-17 in October’s elections are all running unopposed.

Among those seeking seats next month are Ukraine, which will replace Lithuania in the Eastern European group.

A report last week from the UN human rights office said more than 8,000 people have been killed since April 2014 due to the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In July this year, Russia vetoed a draft Council resolution that would have established an international tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine.

Ukraine President Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will both be in New York at the end of the month to address the General Assembly.

Also running unopposed for a seat in 2016/17 is Egypt which will occupy one of the two seats being vacated by Chad and Nigeria – Senegal will take over the other. Egypt last served in 1996/97 while Senegal served a two-year term in 1988/89.

Uruguay will take over the Latin American seat currently held by Chile. This will be just its second time ever serving on the Council, having last served a two-year term in 1965/66. Uruguay is the top Latin America troop contributing country to UN peacekeeping operations with some 3,000 blue helmets deployed.

Japan will return to the Council for the eleventh time in 2016/17, having last served in 2009/10. Bangladesh announced earlier this month that it was withdrawing from the race for the Asian seat currently held by Jordan. Japan is the second biggest contributor to the UN budget.

Elections for 2017-18 will take place in June 2016, in order to give elected countries more time to prepare. Among those running are Netherlands, Italy and Sweden for two seats in the Western Europe and Others group currently held by New Zealand and Spain.

The current elected members of the Council, with end of term date, are as follows:

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

 

Related Story: How much is a Security Council seat worth and which countries get elected?

As Obama Heads to General Assembly, US Debt to UN Balloons to $3 Billion

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

US President Barack Obama Addresses the General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2014

 

Sept. 14, 2015 – US President Barack Obama will make his penultimate appearance at the United Nations later this month where he will address the annual General Debate and speak at a high-level summit where the sustainable development goals will be adopted.

Obama will also host a summit on increasing international involvement in UN peacekeeping. The United States is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping operations, assessed at 28 percent of the annual $8.25 billion budget – but DC hasn’t yet paid its contribution for 2015 and still has arrears from 2014.

In total, the US owes peacekeeping dues for 2014 and 2015 totaling more than $2 billion, according to information provided to UN Tribune from the United Nations budget office.

Washington also has yet to pay its 2015 dues to the UN’s regular budget. The United States is assessed at 22 percent of the regular budget for a total of $655 million for 2015. According to UN figures, the US owes a combined total of $926 million to the regular budget, which includes an outstanding $270 million from last year.

The United States is the only permanent member of the Security Council to not yet pay its 2015 dues, according to information from the UN Committee on Contributions website.

The US government’s fiscal year begins in October and large payments are typically made at the beginning of the fiscal cycle, though not nearly enough to cover the total back debt.

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations

Information from the UN Budget Office on US debt to the United Nations (click to enlarge)

While many US lawmakers say that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy that offers little to no value for US citizens, this is far from the case from a strictly economic point of view. In fact, it is a boon to the New York City economy and to US companies.

Of the 43,000 staff working for the UN Secretariat, some 2,700 are US citizens, or 6.2% of the total staff. Japan, the second highest financial contributor, assessed at some $300 million to the annual budget, has a mere 167 staff members or 0.59%, according to the latest available Composition of the Secretariat report.

In addition, a 2010 report from UN Foundation showed that the UN Secretariat procured more than $832 million from US companies in 2010. The report also said that the economic benefit to New York City by having UN Headquarters located in the city is about $3.3bln annually.

While the US is the biggest financial contributor to UN peacekeeping, there are only 78 UN peacekeepers from the United States deployed in current peacekeeping operations.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Related Story: US, UK, France Tops for UN Secretariat Staff

UNSC Approves Panel to Investigate and Assign Blame for Syria Chemical Weapons Attacks

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Sept. 10, 2015 – A new UN panel will be established to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria and to determine who is behind such attacks.

The three-person panel was proposed by Ban Ki-moon late last month and approved by the Security Council on Thursday.

Its mandate is “to identify to the greatest extent feasible, individuals, entities, groups or Governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical.”

The panel which will coordinate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is a result of Resolution 2235 – adopted early last month – that called on Ban to submit to the Council a proposal for a Joint Investigative Mechanism involving the United Nations and the OPCW.

In February this year the OPCW fact-finding mission, established in 2013 after the use of Sarin gas in Syria, said that it had found  “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine had been used as a weapon in Syria in the villages of Talmenes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita from April to August 2014.

The OPCW fact-finding mission does not have a mandate to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.

The new panel will consist of an assistant secretary-general and two deputies with a political office in New York, an investigative office in the Hague, and a planning office also in New York.

There have been almost 60 reported incidents of the use of chemical weapons in Syria since 2012, according to information compiled from UN reports. A majority of attacks involve the use of chlorine gas and have been directed at areas not under the control of the Assad regime. There have been other allegations that ISIS have used mustard gas in attacks against Kurdish areas of Syria and that other forces have also used chemical weapons.

Besides chlorine, mustard and sarin, there have also been reports that the chemical Agent 15 was used in attacks.

The letter from Ban Ki-moon on forming the panel to investigate and assign blame for chemical weapons attacks is published in full below.

Res 2235 Mechanism

Risk of Polio Spread in Europe After Ukraine Cases

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Sept. 8, 2015 – While the UN has set 2018 as its target for the global eradication of polio the confirmation last week of cases in Ukraine – which left two children aged four years and ten months paralyzed for life – is worrying proof that if vaccination rates slip then the virus will reemerge.

Ukraine had only a 50 percent polio vaccination coverage rate in 2014 but that had reportedly slipped to 14 percent this year due to low or no availability of vaccine doses and strong anti-vaccine sentiment.

The Global Polio Eradication’s International Monitoring Board (IMB) issued a warning less than a year ago that “the risk in Ukraine is of deep concern.”

The Oct. 2014 warning added that, “The last thing the global polio eradication program now needs is the re-emergence of polio in a place distant from its two epicentres and threatening to reverse the certified polio-free status of a whole region (in this case Europe).”

Polio incidence has been reduced by 99.9 percent since 1988 when there was an estimated 350,000 cases to just 37 cases in 2015 as of Sept. 2.

The two Ukraine cases occurred in the southwest of the country which shares borders with Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. To contain the spread, the World Health Organization says two million children in Ukraine under the age of five must begin to get vaccinated within two weeks of the confirmed cases.

Children typically get four doses of the polio vaccine, at ages two months, four months, 6-18 months and a booster does at 4-6 years.

The children in Ukraine were infected with a vaccine-derived type of polio. Such cases are rare – there have only been only 500 cases of paralysis from circulating vaccine-derived polio virus type 1 (cVDPV1) from 2001-2011 while the oral polio vaccine has prevented some 3.5 million cases of paralysis – but the most important risk factor for emergence and spread of cVDPV1 is immunity gaps resulting from low immunization coverage.

The European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) in a bulletin last week said, “It is likely that the cVDPV1 strain has been circulating for many months in Ukraine and that the virus could be found in other parts of the country.”

“Based on experiences from other similar events in the past, we can assume that the risk of more children presenting with paralytic poliomyelitis in Ukraine is high and that it will remain high until large-scale supplementary immunisations have been implemented, in accordance with WHO recommendations for the control of polio outbreaks,” the bulletin added.

It said there is risk of the virus being imported into EU countries from border areas but the risk of it resulting in paralysis is low given widespread vaccine coverage. However, the ECDC warned that there are pockets of under-immunized or unimmunized people in the European region, and said Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania and Ukraine are at high risk for further polio spread.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Former Danish PM Nominated to Head UN Refugee Agency

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Sept. 4, 2015 –  Former Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was nominated by her government on Friday as a candidate to succeed Portugal’s Antonio Guterres as head of the UN refugee agency. Guterres, also a former prime minister, has headed the agency since 2005 and was nominated unopposed by Ban Ki-moon for a second term in 2010.

His successor will be elected by the General Assembly in the fall.

Thorning-Schmidt would be the eleventh high commissioner for refugees and the second woman to head the world refugee agency since its inception in 1950. The agency, with almost 10,000 staff members, works in 123 countries responding to a growing global refugee crisis. Japan’s Sadako Ogata was the first female high commissioner for refugees. She served from 1991-2001.

There are currently 60 million refugees around the world, a figure which includes 40 million displaced inside their own borders and five million Palestinian refugees, whose welfare is handled by a separate agency, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Syria overtook Afghanistan this year as the world’s biggest source country for refugees with more than four million having fled the country – 3.7 million of whom are hosted in neighboring Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan – in addition to almost eight million displaced inside their own borders. Afghanistan, for long the world’s biggest source country, has the second highest number of refugees residing outside its borders at 2.6 million – mostly hosted in Iran and Pakistan, followed by Somalia, with 1.1 million refugees who are mostly residing in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Thorning-Schmidt served as her country’s prime minister from October 2011 until June this year and was Denmark’s first female premier. She was a member of the European parliament from 1999-2004 and in 2005 succeeded Mogens Lykketoft as leader of Denmark’s Social Democrats party. Lykketoft has since been elected as president of the 70th UN General Assembly and will assume his post this month. Thorning-Schmidt is daughter-in-law of the former leader of the British Labour party, Neil Kinnock.

During her time as prime minister, she rolled back anti-immigration policies put in place by her predecessor including eliminating the immigration and integration ministry although she was criticized during her 2015 campaign for prime minister – which her party lost to an anti-immigration coalition – for taking a tough stance on immigration saying immigrants and refugees must learn Danish and must work. During Thorning-Schmidt’s tenure time in office the number of asylum seekers and refugees in Denmark more than doubled and she proposed sending people back to their home countries if the situation permitted.

She made global headlines in 2013 when she posed for a selfie with US President Barack Obama during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

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Eight of the 10 previous high commissioners for refugees have been Europeans including Thorning-Schmidt’s fellow Dane, Poul Hartling, who served from 1978-1985 and collected a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the agency in 1981. While senior UN positions are ostensibly open to nominations from all member states, the top posts tend to be divided among the permanent members of the Security Council and major donor countries.

Having missed out on the top humanitarian job, which a Norwegian and Swede held in the past, there’s a view among Danish diplomats that the refugee chief job should go to a Scandinavian.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

Updated to reflect Thorning-Schmidt would be only second ever female high-commissioner in 65 years.

Siege Warfare in Syria Causing Death by Starvation

 

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Sept. 3, 2015, Warring parties in Syria continue to encircle and trap entire communities depriving them of food, water, electricity and medical assistance.

The latest report from the UN independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria outlines the harrowing suffering of the 422,000 people living in besieged areas of the country.

“Siege warfare is conducted in a ruthlessly coordinated and planned manner, aimed at forcing a population, collectively, to surrender or suffer starvation,” the report stated, adding that the denial of basic necessities “has led to malnutrition and deaths amongst vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, infants, young children and persons suffering from chronic illnesses.”

According to UN figures, there are 167,500 people besieged by government forces in eastern Ghouta and Darayya in the Damascus suburbs; more than 26,500 by unnamed non-State armed groups in Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo as well Foua’a and Kafria in Idlib; and 228,000 people by ISIL in the government-controlled western neighborhoods of Dayr al-Zawr city.

The sieges of Ghouta and Darayya are now in their third year.

“Civilian residents in these areas have died from starvation, from injuries sustained in aerial bombardments and, as a consequence, from a lack of medical care. A majority of pregnant women in the besieged areas suffer from anaemia, and cases of miscarriage and birth defects have increased noticeably,” the report, which was released on Thursday in Geneva, stated.

The UN defines a besieged area as “an area surrounded by armed actors with the sustained effect that humanitarian assistance cannot regularly enter, and civilians, the sick and wounded cannot regularly exit.”

The report said the situation in the besieged areas of Idlib was “particularly dire” with acute shortages of milk for infants.

The more than 220,000 besieged people living under ISIS in populated areas of Dayr Az-Zawr city for the past year, which remains under government control, “have survived on bread and water,” the report said.

Access to clean water is limited in these areas, according to the report, and cases of diarrhoea, dehydration and gastrointestinal diseases are increasing.

Among other details in the report was a case in March of a father in Idlib who drowned when attempting to swim across the Euphrates River from a besieged area to find food for his children.

Indiscriminate violence continues in these areas, with snipers targeting and killing civilians trying to escape, including children.

Hunger and malnutrition is rising in besieged areas and resulting in death.

“In April, a 13-year-old girl died of hunger in Al-Joura. Another teenage girl cried out to her brother in a telephone call, ‘Our situation is very bad, just pray to God that he will stop the siege or that he will let us die… because we cannot take this anymore,'” the report stated.

In the Yarmouk refugee camp for Palestinians, the commission reports that “interviewees from inside Yarmouk camp describe eating domestic animals and leaves in an attempt to survive. In April, it was estimated that 40 per cent of the children remaining in Yarmouk suffer from malnutrition.”

UN and other relief agencies have only been able to reach 1.8 percent of the population in besieged areas with medical assistance while no food aid reached any besieged area through official routes last month, according to a report by Ban Ki-moon to the Security Council last week.

Black market economies are also on the increase in besieged areas.

“Consequently, sieges are also a business for those enforcing them and for the most well-connected trapped inside,” the commission of inquiry report said. “In most instances, armed actors remain able to function. It is the civilian population who suffers.”

The report from the independent commission covers January 10 – July 15 this year and is based on 355 interviews. The members of the commission are Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, chair, Karen Koning AbuZayd, Vitit Muntarbhorn and Carla Del Ponte.

The report also covers the situation of detainees, religious and ethnic communities, women, children, medical personnel, human rights defenders and lawyers.

In their conclusion, the commissioners state, “It is thus unconscionable that the global community, as well as regional and local actors, are prevaricating in their response to a conflagration which has been escalating since 2011.”

– Denis Fitzgerald
@denisfitz

UN LGBT Staff Still Fighting for Equal Benefits

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Sept. 1, 2015 – In July 2014, Ban Ki-moon issued an administrative directive to extend entitlement benefits to UN employees who are in legally-recognized same-sex unions, not just those from countries where same-sex marriages are legal – which had been the standing UN policy.

While Russia attempted to torpedo Ban’s ruling, the General Assembly’s budget committee voted down Moscow’s draft resolution to overturn the UN chief’s directive in March this year.

But not all UN agencies and programs are following Ban’s ruling – which technically applied only to Secretariat staff – including, crucially, the UN’s pension fund. The fund still only recognize spouses of same-sex partners if they come from one of the 20 countries worldwide that recognize same-sex unions.

“This is something we’re trying very hard to change,” said Hyung Hak Nam in an interview with UN Tribune. Hyung Hak is president of UN-Globe, an advocacy group fighting for equality and non-discrimination for LGBT staff in the UN system and peacekeeping operations.

“This is a huge issue because pension is a key component of any benefits package for any job,” Hyung Hak said, adding that the pension fund, the UN-JSPF, is not following what is in place for most of the UN system – that your same-sex spouse is your legal beneficiary.

“You’re married to someone then you die then your spouse will not be eligible for any spousal benefits, which straight married couples would automatically get without any questions asked,” Hyung Hak said of the current rules governing the UN’s pension fund. “Basically if you are from the right country, for example Spain, they will recognize your marriage but if you’re from Belarus, for example, they will not recognize your same-sex marriage.

Parental leave is another issue where UN-Globe are advocating for change. “It’s basically gendered,” Hyung Hak said. “The mother gets 16 weeks, the father eight weeks, or four [depending on the UN agency].”

“When you have, for example, a gay couple and both are male and they have a baby through surrogacy because of this policy that differentiates between mothers and fathers they would only qualify for the 4 or 8 weeks,” he said. “It’s not in line with the expanding notion of what the family is or the composition of the family.”

Hyung Hak pointed out that this policy also affects single fathers who adopt and that some UN agencies also give longer parental leave to mothers who give birth naturally over those who become parents through surrogacy or adoption.

There are other areas too where LGBT staff face hurdles, Hyung Hak explains.

“Most of the agencies of the UN have a mobility policy, we are expected to be able to serve wherever an organization needs you,” he says, giving the example of Nairobi, Kenya where the UN has its headquarters for Africa.

“It is considered a family duty station. Staff who move there receive an entitlement to move the entire family from New York to Nairobi. Since the Kenyan government won’t give residency visas to same sex-spouses, what a lot of LGBTI staff members are faced with is moving by themselves, or finding other means, such as pretending the same sex spouse is a sibling or a domestic servant” and obtaining the appropriate visa.

He also says that gay staff members who are unable to bring their spouse to duty stations hostile to LGBT people should receive a hardship allowance as staff members receive when they serve in places such as Darfur, Sudan and Afghanistan.

“If a gay staff member has to move to Uganda [where the UN has a regional hub] by himself he’s doing it under conditions of hardship. We want the UN to recognize this. We don’t want the UN the to say Uganda is a family duty station. We want the UN to give credit to the staff member, to get credit for moving to Uganda leaving his family behind. We want the staff member to get credit for having served in a hardship duty station,” Hyung Hak said.

He added that while the UN leadership has been supportive of LGBT issues and LGBT staff praise Ban for his leadership, that when it comes to dealing with member states on issues, for example, visas, the UN could do more.

“You’re dealing with a member state and the UN has always been very cautious in its dealings with member states,” Hyung Hak said.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Understanding the Sustainable Development Goals: Five Key Questions

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Aug. 31, 2015 – Heads of state will gather at the United Nations from Sept. 25-27 to adopt a new set of development goals to replace the MDGs which expire at the end of the year.

The new set of goals go beyond the poverty reduction, hunger and infectious diseases focus of the MDGs and include goals on climate, peace and non-communicable diseases. They are also universal – unlike the MDGs, which focused only on developing countries.

UN Tribune asked three experts to respond to five key questions about the future goals.

Martin Edwards is an associate professor and director of the Center for United Nations and Global Governance Studies at Seton Hall University @MartinSEdwards

Shannon Kindornay is an adjunct research professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University @SKindornay

Angel Hsu is an assistant professor and director of the Data-driven Environmental Group at Yale University @ecoangelhsu

1) What are the main positives in the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals?

Martin Edwards: One of the strengths of the goals is their comprehensiveness. They’re no longer just about the developing world – as many of the concerns in them – education, health, conservation, and rule of law, are shared across the globe. The authors of the SDGs realized that we can’t combat poverty globally without making states stronger and reducing the likelihood of civil wars, and thus a new focus in goal 16 on building effective and accountable institutions.

Shannon Kindornay: The goals represent an integrated vision for sustainable development taking into consideration the three pillars (economy, society and environment) as well as peace and partnership. Given the historic separation of the development and environment communities, this is an important gain – not just in terms of the types of goals included for each are, but the integration of elements of the three pillars within goal areas.

The goals are also the product of inter-governmental negotiations with inputs from citizens, civil society, academia, private sector, local and regional govt, etc. They form an important consensus going forward, even if detractors argue they are not ‘neat enough’ and there are ‘too many.’ Sustainable development is complex. The world we live in is complex. The goals go a long way towards reflecting this reality.

Angel Hsu: The SDGs will set the development agenda for the next few decades, so there is a real opportunity to shape global political agendas. Although there are critics that may gripe that some issues were left out of the goals, it was a Herculean task to narrow the list of SDGs from thousands of proposals to the eventual 17 goals. The UNCSD can be lauded for attempting to make the process of determining the SDGs inclusive, through multiple campaigns (ie myWorld) to allow for people to register which issues are most important to them. In terms of environment, which is the area I study most closely in relation to the SDGs, I was happy to see cross-cutting indicators and goals (ie, a goal for cities, which are becoming increasingly important units of environmental policy) included.

2) What are the main omissions in the 17 proposed SDGs?

ME: With this many goals, targets, and indicators, it’s really hard to make the claim that we’ve missed something important. Some issues, like the status of the global LGBT community, are important, but sadly politically tricky, and this never became a goal in its own right.

The bigger challenges that we’re going to face are dealing with trade-offs between the goals. I worry about promising action on climate while promising sustained economic growth and full employment while increasing access to energy all at the same time. We might not be able to get everything here, so our attempts to advance some goals might come at the expense of others. This might be a difficult concept for the public to grasp.

SK: Certainly one of the critiques of Transforming our World is around the use of rights language and international human rights frameworks. The SDGs (and their follow-up and review) could have been strengthened by explicit reference to international human rights law though this was likely impossible from the outset given the preferences of any number of states.

AH: What I along with others have been saying is that 17 goals, 169 proposed indicators are too many. The same process that aimed to be inclusive may ultimately thwart their success. 17 goals and 169 indicators are too many issues for policymakers to track. It is also unclear how many governments will be able to sufficiently monitor and track progress towards the SDGs. Even though the UN called for a “data revolution” to aid in future SDG monitoring, so far the proposals put forth are not revolutionary. They speak to the need to build statistical capacity in national governments instead of looking to the potential for big data, the private sector, and citizens to help source needed data (see my Nature commentary).

Many also criticize SDG goal 13 on climate for lacking specificity and clear indicators, instead pegging the SDG goal to the UNFCCC and upcoming Paris talks. But it’s a larger reflection of the global community and countries’ inability to agree on specific targets and indicators. Returning to the measurement question, on which I work most closely, there are serious concerns about the ability of governments to actually measure many of the goals concerning social equity, inclusivity, etc.

3) Are the goals and targets specific enough? Are they universal enough?

ME: We learned one thing from the MDG experience: measurement matters. So the conversations about moving to specific indicators is still underway (and will be until next year) and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But, this having been said: universality is a problem. A review of the proposed indicators in March of this year found that only 16% of them met the “gold standard” of being feasible, suitable, and relevant. The barrier here is not finding measures. The barrier is about capacity to ensure that national statistical offices survey what we need. With the advent of the goals requires many developing countries to put new efforts into improving their statistical offices so that they can actually measure at a disaggregated level what we need to know.

SK: The goals are likely fine. The targets would have benefitted greatly from technical proofing (to make them SMART so to speak) and this is a missed opportunity – though again, I understand the politics of why they were not opened up (states did not want to risk agreement from the OWG, particularly that a target they support might be removed for technical reasons).

On the universality side, in my opinion the goals are certainly universal. As a vision for the world we want to see and an framework for measuring global progress, the targets are again fine (notwithstanding comments above). But, do all targets make sense in all countries and should we worry about monitoring them in all countries? I am not convinced of this. As I argued in a paper with Sarah Twigg, I believe we need a differentiated approach to how the targets are applied, and correspondingly, who measures them to support global monitoring.

The big question still out there, in my opinion, is how all of this will be adapted to country context. We know states will be encouraged to identify national level targets. How this is done, whether room exists to go beyond identifying the level of national ambition on global targets to include more specialized targets at the country level – that remains to be seen.

AHI’ve spoken a lot about the goals and targets – I think they are meant as a starting point but they obviously represent political compromise. Same goes for the universality question – the SDGs are meant to be universal in the way MDGs were primarily aimed at developing countries. But developing countries say that they need financing to implement them, so I think there could be a real challenge in implementation because the previous model of having developed countries finance the MDG implementation and measurement may not work for the SDGs. In looking at the UNFCCC negotiations, the issue of finance and payment for loss and damages is one of the most intractable issues.

4) How should the implementation of the SDGs be measured?

ME: It’s going to be measured at the national, regional, and global levels, which is certainly fine. While we might have issues with the specifics, this is a strong improvement over the MDGs. The global level will be led by the soon to be formed High Level Political Forum, and the regional level will incorporate peer review.

It’s the national level that we need to pay the most attention to, though. If countries don’t publicly assess their progress in meeting the goals, civil society will have a hard time pressuring governments. Civil society is the glue between the goals and their successful implementation.

SK: Implementation will need to be measured in a number of ways  – global and national progress understood in terms of broad macro level trends (will use official statistics in all likelihood with few exceptions) but also making use of real-time information and unofficial data sources to inform day-to-day decision making, interventions, etc. Citizen generated data for example, has the potential to improve accountabilities at local to national levels, as well as feed into global follow-up processes. The devil will be figuring out how to best use these different sources of information and for what purpose, particularly at country level.

AH: I’ve written about the measurement question before, see here and here.

5) How should the SDGs be financed?

ME: This is a challenge. The Addis Summit was to be all about financing the SDGs, but the Eurozone economic crisis coupled with political dysfunction in the US has reduced the generosity of the OECD countries. In its place, there was a greater impetus on domestic revenue generation – meaning tax increases. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some developing countries are at a stage where moving from excise taxes to income taxes makes sense, but there is a danger that developing countries might find it harder to spend the money they need to make the SDGs work.

The SDGs will be financed differently across countries. HICs and many MICs will use domestic public finance. LDCs and other states with limited capacity will rely more greatly on external public finance. Obviously private investment is also important, however I think we need to be smart about our expectations and our approach. We need to worry about the quality of private finance as much as the quantity, and where it goes to whose benefit.

SK: Perhaps more importantly than above, is how we address systemic issues that limit resources available to finance the SDGs and how we support the capacity of developing countries to raise their own domestic resources. Advancements on trade, taxation and illicit capital flight would greatly expand resources available for development. Concrete commitments and support to domestic resource mobilization and institutional strengthening in developing countries would help increase capacities to raise and use domestic resources – which should be our end game as far as the financing discussion is concerned.

– Denis Fitzgerald @denisfitz

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