From vision to action: how do we break the political deadlock?

Having scrutinised all 60 plus pages of the UN High Level Panel (HLP) report on what should come after the Millennium Development Goals (MDG),  and the various commentaries in response, am I the only one who still feels overwhelmed? Don’t get me wrong it is great to finally have some illustrative goals and targets to spark debate as well as a clear narrative to help guide thinking on development after the MDGs expire.

Lets face it, pulling together a report within 10 months after lengthy discussions, receiving over 800 responses to consultations and no doubt endless hours editing the final paper is not  the most enviable job. For us at Tearfund, and I’m sure for many others, we want to see the rhetoric and good intentions of the panel’s vision turned into meaningful political commitments. Now is the time for all leaders to  adopt a zero tolerance to  low-level ambitions. And with that comes the opportunity for civil society, of which faith groups such as local churches are an integral part, to use expertise and evidence to advocate for realistic and significant change.

So for what it’s worth here are my 3 key suggestions in shifting the post 2015 agenda into action:

1.  The top  priority is for UN member states to avoid shying away from the politically difficult decisions. For example  biting the bullet and agreeing on bold time bound carbon emission reduction targets. Industrialised countries like the UK should strive for emissions cuts of at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020.  It also means businesses committing to emission reductions, although reporting is a good step industry cannot afford to become reliant on reporting alone. Its time for politicians, business leaders and consumers to confront the reality of the situation we face and  accept fundamental changes towards a more sustainable footprint

2.  The report states that without sound institutions, there can be no chance of sustainable development. All nations need to rise towards the challenge of good governance models. During last year’s thematic consultation on governance Tearfund put forward some practical ways to measure transparency, participation and responsive states. Our suggestions included the use of existing global norms and databases that track progress such as the Open Budget Index or World Governance Indicators. This would allow clear guidance on the content of the goals, as well as clarity and comparability in measurement.   In addition there needs to be a greater emphasis on fiscal transparency to enable citizens to see where money invested in their own countries is being spent. Without information and scrutiny it makes the job harder for communities to hold their leaders to account

3. The report recommends that an international conference should take up in more detail the question of finance for sustainable development. The panel suggests that this could be convened by the UN in the first half of 2015 to address in practical terms how to finance the post-2015 agenda. Not the most sexy of topics, nonetheless matching rhetoric with the resources to achieve success must be thoroughly thought through. For the countries where aid is still needed donors and recipients must get smarter at administering aid so that every penny reaches the poorest and most vulnerable. However  it’s clear that we’re moving into an era beyond aid and there is a huge responsibility in mobilising additional resources. For example innovative financing through aviation and shipping towards climate adaptation, tackling fraud to combat the $148 billion lost every year from Africa due to corruption, or what about fully utilising the impact of remittances which by 2014 will surpass half a trillion dollars, four times official development aid. Addressing the money issue needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Last week’s  report is by no means the definitive word on what comes after the MDGs but it does set the tone for next steps. All eyes are now on the Sustainable Development Open Working Group and how the High Level Political Forum will evolve between now and the formation of the new set of goals.

Until then our role as development agencies and those within civil society is to keep opening up the political space for clear, evidence based decision making that demands a response adequate to the size of the global problems we face in the twenty-first century.



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