From MDGs to SDGs…what does it take to change an M into an S?
Three years from now the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be reached. It is often assumed that the MDGs have been a total failure, but this is not entirely true. Even if many of the goals will not be met by 2015, at least some have been achieved at global level, including those of the MDG drinking water availability target, the improvement in the living conditions of slum dwellers, and halting the spread of HIV.
Successful or not, the MDGs constitute the longest standing paradigm of development thinking. As 2015 approaches, there is a general international agreement that we should develop a new development agenda. The framework for the next MDGs is a topic of heated debate as Rio +20 approaches. In fact, the future of the MDGs seems to be strongly associated with how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be set out at the Rio +20 meeting in June of this year.
Evans and Stevens (2012) have recently published a paper< discussing what should follow the current MDGs. They pose five fundamental questions:
1. Are new goals needed?
2. Should they be universal (for 7 billion people) or just apply to the most vulnerable (1-2 billion)?
3. How broad should they be?
4. Should SDGs subsume, be separate from, or complement the MDGs?
5. Should the new goals be binding or aspirational?
They predict five possible outcomes
1. Full SDGs – universal and binding goals, that provide comprehensive coverage of the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
2. SDG-Lite – a package of goals that has been diluted in an ad hoc way as controversial elements are vetoed during the negotiation process.
3. MDG+ – revised poverty goals that are either less coherent than the current goals (a ‘Christmas tree’ framework), or more so (supporting eye-catching headline targets with a set of ‘capabilities’ that a society needs to develop if it is to reduce poverty).
4. Hybrids – various SDG/MDG blends, such as ‘twin track’ (SDGs running alongside MDGs) or ‘planetary ceiling/social floor’ (respecting global environmental boundaries, while providing a minimum standard of living for all).
5. Car Crash – failure to agree any goals at all.
The debate seems to come down to whether the new set of goals should be represented by the SDGs, by an enhanced and more reasonably achievable version of the MDGs, or by a mix of the two. In simpler words, how should the development goals (poverty focus) be combined with environmental ones (sustainability focus). For many, the SDGs alone cannot replace the MDGs, as responding solely to environmental issues would compromise the progresses made on the development side, in the areas of gender and poverty for example. Contentious arguments also lie in the question of whether the new goals should be universal (and therefore apply also to “developed countries”) or apply only to the world’s most vulnerable people such as those towards whom the MDGs are currently aimed, and whether the new goals should be binding with implications at global or national level (Evans and Stevens, 2012).
Whatever the issues raised and whatever form the new goals will take, they will have to answer to a new paradigm which is that growth and the environment will both have to be considered in the future development agenda. Let us hope that in years to come it will not be just about changing an ‘M’ into an ‘S’, but that politicians will really work on a post-2015 framework with a clearer set of achievable, comprehensive and integrated goals.
Evans A. and Stevens D. (2012): Beyond the Millennium Development Goals - Agreeing to a Post-2015 Development Framework, available online at: http://www.cic.nyu.edu/scarcity/docs/evans_steven_millennium_2015.pdf<