Article: Delivering and Implementing the Post-2015 Agenda at the Country Level

By Andrew Norton

On 14-15 October 2014, I participated in a workshop organised by the Post-2015 Data Test, and hosted by the United Nations Foundation, on measuring and implementing the post-2015 agenda. I had the pleasure of giving the closing remarks. This blog outlines some of my key take-aways and reflections after two full days of discussions.

In some areas achievements in the era of the MDGs were amazing – reducing child mortality by over 40% for example. In other vital areas – such as climate action – we fell short. Looking towards post-2015, we need the next framework to achieve even more. There are at least five ways in which a strong agreement on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can have a global impact.

Firstly, there can be normative effects. While the MDGs undoubtedly had this, they were also seen largely as a way of mobilising North-South transfers. The SDGs will bring that understanding of ‘development’ to a long overdue end. Global solidarity still matters, but in different ways. The change involved in saying that these goals apply for every country will have a profound impact. The current work of the Open Working Group (OWG) and its draft set of Sustainable Development Goals are already generating considerable momentum. We can see this for Goal 10 of the draft report on reducing global and national inequality. The very fact that delegates from 67 countries found a way to agree on a clear and measurable target for reducing inequality at the national level (Target 10.1) indicates that a normative shift is already at play.

Secondly, the SDGs can provide a framework for social mobilisation on justice and human progress at all levels. In Bangladesh, for example, women’s rights advocates are already using the MDGs to demand support and accountability for reducing maternal deaths. The SDG script equips civil society with a range of new and important issues against which to demand for change.

The third impact of the new development goals is that it can provide policy directions in areas that are relevant for both the Global South and North. Moreover, it can build frameworks for peer learning and sharing of experiences on both successes and failures.

The fourth impact channels mobilising resources needed to realise the vision brought forth by the SDGs – both in terms of international transfers and domestic resource mobilisation.

Fifth and finally, the post-2015 agenda can facilitate and strengthen collective action for issues that we cannot solve at the national level, such as climate change.

Building on the identification of these five impact channels we can detect five things that we will need to get traction on for implementation of the SDGs.

First on the list is a coherent vision and goal set. As Debapriya Bhattacharya of the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Bangladesh has pointed out, there is greater need for consolidation and streamlining of the existing proposals from the OWG. Nevertheless, the basis of the vision is clearly and implies that the sustainability lens must underpin our thinking about development in a more fundamental way.

Second, we will need a coherent and effective architecture to carry out a series of tasks. The understanding that the post-2015 goals will be globally applicable but targets will be set nationally has major implications for governance. It will require a central machinery to both motivate countries set the national targets and also embed them in policy processes. And we will need to find ways of making sure that this plethora of national targets still adds up to an over-arching narrative about progress – and allows us to assess how far we have got.

Third, we will need a financing and implementation agenda that delivers. Here, I want to highlight two things that we will need in order for post-2015 to work. The first is something big and meaningful in terms of a global commitment to support the ambition to end poverty and ensure that ‘no-one is left behind.’ The second is the need to re-double efforts on fixing global tax rules to tighten spaces which exist for both perverse (but legal) tax avoidance by global corporations and illegal tax evasion. This is particularly important for curbing hyper-elite wealth accumulation to reduce income inequality and also for securing domestic resources that can better position countries to deliver on the SDGs.

Fourth, the SDGs must be viewed globally as a framework for social mobilisation, advocacy and dialogue. As has been anticipated, this is likely to take the form of multi-stakeholder initiatives around specific issues and concerns. Groups might evolve to exclusively focus on women’s rights or child poverty. This, however, raises the question of whether there will be ‘orphaned’ issues where the policy traction is minimal due to a lack of civil society support.

Fifth, we will need other important processes to deliver. For instance, we will definitely need a successful outcome to the Paris 2015 COP to have a meaningful climate action plan. Unchecked climate change would disrupt social and economic progress massively on all fronts.

Some of the most interesting reflections in the Post-2015 Data Test workshops have been on the big unanswered questions. I discuss three questions here.

Firstly, there is the question of whether linear progress towards a given target is a reasonable model for a world of uncertainty and shocks. This is especially important when states collapse or are overwhelmed, as it can shift accountability and responsibility channels.

Secondly, we must consider how to hold the private sector accountable for contributing to the post-2015 development ambitions. There were regular appeals in the workshop to view the private sector as part of the framework for delivery of the SDGs – but how exactly this responsibility can be framed is not yet clear.

Third and lastly, there is the question of how this agenda can drive efforts to transform the situation of the poorest and most marginalised people. We need to be aware that people suffering from multiple forms of disadvantage will not find themselves included unless there are serious and sustained efforts to address the causes of their exclusion. The need for ‘disaggregated data’ is imperative for measuring progress among the poorest and most marginalised groups. However, to address the power relations that underlie their disadvantage also requires attention to politics. This is a difficult agenda and a long-term one – but without it the SDG project will not work.

Andrew Norton is Director of Research at the Overseas Development Institute