In recent decades, billions of people have seen sharp improvements in the quality of their lives. About 700 million fewer people suffered from extreme poverty in 2010 than in 1990, and the proportion of poor people in the world has more than halved. The world has witnessed massive improvements in access to primary education, drinking water and basic health services. A concerted global development effort galvanised by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has certainly contributed to these improvements, as has the emergence of burgeoning new markets and technological breakthroughs that have facilitated global trade and investment.
But as with all broad trends, a closer look shows that the development goals remain a work in progress. While many countries–China, of course, but also Brazil, India and South Africa–have performed extraordinarily well over the past few decades, others, starting from a much lower point of departure, have a longer way to go. Though some very poor and fragile countries, such as Guinea, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone in Africa are starting to show signs of progress, they remain extremely poor, according to a recent World Bank report. In fact, today, 48% of the Sub-Saharan population still lives on less than US$1.25 a day. The report warns that fragile states are unlikely to make the most of the MDGs by 2015.
Another factor to bear in mind is how the global economy has changed since 2000. The higher economic output of developed and emerging markets around the world is posing serious burdens on the environment. Inequalities have risen between and within countries, jeopardising social cohesion and stability, as protests from Brazil to Egypt and even Sweden testify. War continues to wreck the development hopes of millions of people and fragile or conflict-affected countries face the biggest challenges to achieve the MDGs. Improvements are clearly needed.
The MDGs served to focus minds, gather collective strength and grasp the development nettle once and for all. They rallied governments, international organisations and global civil society behind simple, clear and common objectives. “Goals help define the vision”, stated the 1996 OECD report “Shaping the 21st Century”, which helped establish the international process leading to the eight MDGs, namely, fighting extreme poverty and hunger, child mortality, and disease, improving primary education, gender equality, maternal health, ensuring environmental sustainability, and building a global partnership for development. From that time forward, the OECD has supported the MDGs.
The MDGs expire in 2015. Although they might not have been fully reached by then, and have inevitably earned their critics, this does not mean we can walk away from them. Rather, they should be improved and made fit for purpose. International efforts are under way to create a goal-based development framework for post-2015, with the OECD with its expertise and experience, continuing to play an active role. A new goal-based framework will need not only to build on the strengths of the MDGs and address their shortcomings, but also to bring them to a new level. The world has changed since 2000, and so have our needs, our understanding and our expectations.
It will not be an easy job. The sustainable development agenda points to the importance of integrating social, economic and ecological sustainability. Issues such as reaching the most excluded, addressing the devastating effects of conflict and violence, and tackling unemployment have also been signalled as key ingredients of a post-2015 global goals framework. The set of goals must clearly and adequately address the multiple dimensions of poverty, inequality, inclusiveness and gender equality. Finally, the new framework will need to account for new geographies of growth, poverty and power, new development actors, new resources and technological capabilities, and ever-increasing interdependencies, all of which are reflected in the OECD Strategy for Development.
The world we live in is an increasingly global one and OECD countries are key stakeholders in its future. Development co-operation is at the heart of what our organisation does and a central part of our founding mission to meet the “hopes of less developed lands”, as President John F. Kennedy put it in his State of the Union address in 1961. There are numerous areas in which the OECD believes it can make a real difference in supporting the emerging framework of goals, targets and indicators.
The first obvious place to look is data. Achieving any set of goals requires monitoring progress along the way using solid, reliable data. The OECD is building on its expertise in measuring development finance to provide a broader, more comprehensive view of new and emerging modalities. At the same time, it is working with developing countries to strengthen their own statistical systems through the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century (PARIS21). And it is helping to meet growing demands for new holistic measurements to address the complexities of poverty and inequality with the OECD Better Life Index and the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI).
The OECD’s vast policy-shaping expertise should also prove valuable with some of the challenging issues mentioned above. Governments can turn to OECD’s experience in putting green growth at the heart of development; in tackling complex challenges such as gender equality and women’s rights; or in education, with the PISA for Development programme. Our Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) work can help to ensure that decisions in one area do not undermine goals in another, like inclusion or climate change. Where governance is weak or violence and war wreak havoc, we are helping to build effective institutions and accountability mechanisms through the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), which is at the centre of the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs). And the application of the OECD’s expertise in domestic resource mobilisation is already fuelling development in countries as far spread as Colombia, Kenya and Viet Nam.
The OECD will put this veritable armoury of tools and analysis at the disposal of development in the post-2015 era. The organisation will launch, for instance, a “knowledge-sharing alliance” to open up its inter-disciplinary policy expertise and peer networks to partner countries. It will continue to support the Global Partnership for Development, and to hold OECD member countries to account on their commitments while helping them to improve their own development co-operation efforts.
The MDGs may not have been as successful as many had hoped, though we always knew reaching them would pose a major challenge. However, trying to achieve the MDGs has been a hard lesson and opened up opportunities for the future. And if new evidence is confirmed, they have set forth targets which even the poorest countries can strive to reach.
As OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría has said, poverty is the ultimate systemic threat. Now our generation has a real chance of making poverty history. By mobilising collective resources and expertise, by co-operating fully and frankly with each other with the unified commitment of developed and developing countries acting as partners, will we manage to achieve our vision. It is an opportunity the OECD is determined to seize.
World Bank (2013), “Twenty Fragile States Make Progress on Millennium Development Goals, available at www.worldbank.org
© OECD Observer No 296 Q3 2013