A high-level meeting with Amina Mohamed, The UN Special Advisor on Post 2015 Development Planning, hosted by the International Development APPGs
The meeting was attended by MPs, Peers, NGO representatives and post-2015 liaison officers from a number of government departments and representatives of embassies of the developing world. The meeting was chaired by Lord McConnell.
Amina J Mohamed has been at the heart of the post-2015 process since the start at high-level panel when leaders were creating the first documents on post-2015 two years ago. Since then, she has been responsible for taking that document to the stage where is could be presented to the general assembly in December and is now leading the global consultations on the draft goals with a view to securing an agreement among the member states of the United Nations in September.
Lessons from the MDGs going forward
Amina spoke of her experience of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in Nigeria where she acted as the Senior Special Assistant to the President of Nigeria on the MDGs. She revealed that she didn't support them initially due to the narrowing down of the goals, specifically for education under the 'Education for All Agenda' and said that many lessons had been learned from the MDGS.
She also added that taking up the MDG agenda was a condition of the debt relief granted to Nigeria from 2005. She criticised the MDGs as being absent of the context in which the MDGs had to be achieved and said that in Nigeria, much of the enabling environment wasn't there (infrastructure, power, human resources & institutions).
She explained that the job of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was not only about the 'unfinished business' of the MDGs but also to have a new integrated universal agenda. The idea is to move the development narrative and approach to a bigger agenda by conceptually moving from a north-south relationship to looking at larger economic and environmental issues. The MDGs were the agenda of what the north could do for the south and didn't include goals for the north as well. More stakeholders are being brought in to inform the agenda- civil society, academics, parliamentarians and business.
In addition to agreeing on set of seventeen goals and 169 targets they have also agreed with a group of experts on the financing and what recommendations would be put through for the means of implementation in addition to reporting and accountability. The aim is to come to an agreement which is not an additional plan for countries but one that feeds in to their own visions and plans.
There has been lots of discussion about the 17 SDGs not being a neat set of goals and there being too many targets, as well as it not being scientific enough for us to take down to the country level and implement. However, she argued given that it started at 500 goals when the 193 UN members were asked about their priorities, it is a considerable achievement.
2015 a unique year for international development
Amina said that 2015 will see three separate processes significant for the future; the COP21 climate change meeting in Paris in December, the SDGs in September and the Financing for Development conference in Addis in July.
The goals will probably stay as they as the member states are very clear that that's what they own and want to take to country level. In the 169 targets, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed and member states are looking at technical proofing of them and discussions on the targets and indicators are on-going. However, a set of goals complete with targets and indicators should be ready by September 2015 together with a means of implementation in terms of financing and technologies.
She revealed that in New York they are having a difficult discussion about monitoring and accountability. The word 'accountability' used to have the connotation of accountability on one side and not the other. They now talk of as review and monitoring at three levels, the country level, the regional level and the global level. She asked how the UK will hold itself accountable at the national level and within own UK's own constituencies also.
Before January 2016, the data gaps need to be fixed and that it's essential to bring partners into an agenda that leaves no-one behind. She said the UN report on this continues to be taken up together with the recommendations. The full report is available here.
Regarding Finance for Development in Addis in July. The UK by leading on the 0.7% agenda gives it a concrete foundation to speak from. However, more is than ODA is needed, in particular, better use of domestic resources such as tax collection. Finance needs to come in from private equity and from other innovative financing and the conference in July needs to work out what sort of instruments would be needed for this.
July is not a pledging conference but it should give signals to commitments that can be made for very big expenditures on heavy ticket items of infrastructure and clean energy including how we tackle cities. In health, it's not just making a vertical fund to deal with immunisation but we're looking at the whole of the health systems to avoid another crisis like Ebola in West Africa.
When SDGs are agreed in September, this will send strong signals to the climate change conference in December. Much of what is being asked for on climate change will be seen in the SDGs. Amina highlighted, that this is the last generation that is going to have a chance to do something meaningful on climate change and that the conversation and meeting in December needs to include Ministers of Finance who deal with disaster risk resilience. Ministers need to stop separating the budget or the conversation into two separate things: climate change affects health, education and people and this needs to be better communicated.
Amina explained- It's not just about a hand-out; it's about a global village. Regarding terrorism and violent extremism, she said it's not a question of a Band-Aid- more humanitarian aid is always needed and welcome because of the urgency of saving lives but the root cause is what needs to be better understood. She argued that this new agenda should be used as a tool to try to fix these root causes.
In the case of Boko Haram in Nigeria, where Amina is from, she called for investments over the long term and the willingness and incentives to take money into a really fragile situation. She added that the predictors for what takes a child, an adolescent or an adult into ISIS or Boko Haram don't work anymore and said everyone has to look inwards and find out what happened to our core values.
She concluded that we are no longer seeing the usual peace and security challenges that we have been use to over the last three/four decades, it's going to need one of transition from what we know to what we don't know. We have the ability and tools but we have to deploy them in a way where human rights are not an add-on but they're at the core of what we do.
Q & A:
Role of Parliamentarians in the SDGs agenda
Lord Chidgey (Chair of the Africa APPG) asked about the impact of the Busan Principles and the related series of indicators which included how robust parliamentary oversight was in the recipient countries. He asked how important parliamentary oversight is and how it should be integrated.
Secondly, he asked where the UN sees the role of the private sector and speculated over the success of some DFID programmes currently delivered by the private sector.
Amina suggested Parliamentarians have three roles in the post 2015 agenda.
First, providing s greater understanding of what the development agenda ought to be going forward. The development agenda is an integral part of a country's plan and budget. Legal instruments (to encourage investments or tax reform) and backing for domestic mobilisation will be needed to support investments for this coupled with capacity building within parliament. She added that partnerships between parliamentarians may be able to reinforce this and commended the work of the Inter Parliamentary Union.
Secondly, Parliamentarians and specific committees have a role to play in the appropriation through understanding the national budget and backing the spending plans of the Executive and holding them to account for any spending gaps. They have a role in forming the checks and balances and aims of spending along with a role in making those investments happen.
Lastly, is parliamentarians' oversight function. She recognised that this is often a challenge and they are working on a set of measures for oversight of results delivery at the government level through discussion with statisticians and the UN system of Human Development Indicators on indices that could be used for that. She added that if responsible business is coming into the agenda and they're using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their results, those KPIs need to be aligned with the human development expectations of the SDGs. Business must not exploit people and the environment and operate just for profit- there needs to be alignment with the goals and indicators.
Specifically at the parliamentary level, parliamentarians need to develop a set of measures, checks and balances for their oversight of whether there is alignment with what is expected. The specific role for parliamentarians and other levels of the Government at the country level is being dealt with by the High Level Political Forum Resolution that went through at the UN.
Regarding the role of the private sector, business needs to be a part of this agenda but they need to be a responsible part. Civil society and Government are concerned about levels of business exploitation. She referenced the Mbeki report on illicit funds and the inditement on multi-nationals but argued that with the right checks and balances and good partners, a business case for sustainable development could be agreed on.
Amina argued that this is not CSR, this is about business models changing to be responsive. Economic transformation happens when people and the planet are at the centre. It is important that this is in the language that goes in to the outcome document for the Financing for Development conference. The indicators for accountability are being checked as when it comes to the partnerships between the government and the private sector or multi-nationals and local businesses in many cases it is not balanced.
Leaving no-one behind
Lord Limber said that given there are an estimated 245 million widows worldwide, are widows included in the SDGs.
Amina took the opportunity to reiterate the importance of leaving no-one behind and that said every country need to identify who that vulnerable bottom line is. She said civil society has started to name the vulnerable groups which are left behind and it is important that that they are specifically recognised in the indicators. Innovative ways of addressing these groups need to be found when strengthening institutions, they need to be able to cope with the most vulnerable.
Baroness Tongue (Co-Chair of the Population & Reproductive Health APPG) asked if women's reproductive health was going to be in the SDGs and when the final draft would be published.
Amina revealed that the SDGs as they currently stand are almost 'cast in stone' and no-one holds hope for reducing or changing them. They are unlikely to change and are becoming more fixed as the conversation continues. The first six of them are the 'unfinished business' of the MDGs they then go on to cover the economic agenda, the environment, justice and the partnership goals. Sexual and reproductive health are on the agenda and use language that fits in with the Beijing Declaration of 1995.
No cherry picking- a universal and target based approach
Lord Hannay: (Chair of the UN APPG) questions the goals in that the monitoring and oversight mustn't differentiate between developing and developed countries, he argued that there be some difference in oversight for primarily donor and recipient countries.
Amina responded that the universal approach is a new way of approaching development and that 'development' under the MDGs was not what development is in Latin America or in the Arab region. The Arab Region is not interested while there is still foreign occupation because there is no peace and so there is no development. It must remain universal, there is mistrust that if you unpick it just a bit you will lose the goals that have come in on justice, rule of law and peace and the development agenda will stay the same as before.
On targets, there is hope for clarity and direction by the end of March. However, it is unlikely to be finalised before Financing for Development Conference in July in Addis. If the Addis conference does not satisfy a means of implementation to every goal then the targets become a subject of discussion again.
Helen Morton- Save the Children highlighted the disconcerting narrative coming out of New York regarding 'a pick and choose agenda' and cherry picking low hanging fruit in terms of goals and targets.
Amina admitted that there is a big gap coming from New York in communicating the thinking and the process to the country level. When capitals come to New York, all targets are discussed again from scratch. At the country level, people are still looking at the targets individually rather than as a package. She added that the goals come as an integrated whole and the targets are meant to knit them closer together.
Clare Hickson- Self Help Africa stated that the MDGs had a tendency to be taken individually and there wasn't much to knit them together. I.e. education charities just focused on the education MDG. She asked if there was anything about the process which has led up to these new goals which means that they will be seen in a holistic way rather than just as concern to certain sectors.
With regards to Aid effectiveness, Amina reported that the OECD and DAC were trying to build coherence around the messaging amongst stakeholders on the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation. She added that there's now a wider remit, a wider sense of stakeholders but also warned that as the number of stakeholders continue to expand without any frame or check balance, they could also distort and fragment people's policies and plans because they are they are so much more readily available and accessible than other sources of financing. She added that the UN are hoping for some more serious discussion on this at the Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC) next meeting in April to how this fits with the monitoring and reviewing of the goals.
Agriculture and the SDGs
Lord Cameron (Chair of the APPG agriculture and Food for Development) asked what role smallholder agriculture plays within the development agenda.
Amina responded that the implementation discussion at country level is where the role of agriculture will come in. Agricultural planning will often be an integral part of what happens in national planning. She added that the President of Colombia had launched a commission for the national plan and to integrate these 17 goals before they' are set.
The African position is about that full value chain, no weak links equals economic transformation. However, taking 'Grow Africa'- women were happy to see that they can get empowering ideas through their cell phones but financial exclusion means they cannot access markets- inclusive approaches that understand what is needed from an enabling environment and sustainability are essential.
Zero targets and attainability
Ben Simon- ACU asked about indicators and how realistic zero targets such as end 'End hunger' are.
The technical proofing and the meeting with the statisticians' commission said putting out a set of indicators before September is impossible, Amina disagreed. She said that a set of global indicators is achievable but more work has got to be done at a country level. With a universal agenda, you're never going to get to that level of specificity.
Regarding the ongoing partnerships that under the UN Secretary General, eg 'Every Woman every Child', 'The Zero Hunger Challenge' , these policy frameworks have an effect on every goal and it is still unclear how this will all fit and be accounted for. She called for input from NGOs and parliamentarians on this. The 'Every woman, every child' have just reviewed their work and have just embarked on another 15 years global health strategy; many of these issues have come up.
Data Revolution- sharing knowledge
A representative from a development consultancy agency spoke of the lack of knowledge and experience sharing within development agencies. They suggested publishing methodologies and research findings so that they could learn lessons from each other in order to improve and better use the industry.
Amina commented that the data revolution may help in terms of getting serious about the effectiveness of donors. She added that lessons will be missed but that a lot of what was done to get to these goals and targets was learning. When the UN data revolution report came out, the need to share statistics, data and understanding of the collaboration between traditional data and big data was acknowledged. The challenge is to provide the incentives to make sharing information work for everyone for the public good.
Financing for Development agenda and Ministers of Finance
Lord Nigel Crisp (Chair of the Global Health APPG) asked whether parliamentarians in the UK or international NGOs should be doing anything in preparation for the Financing for Development Conference in Addis in July.
Member states have agreed that the SDGs are a frame for the Financing for Development agenda. What is not clear is the discussion between the two processes and what they see as a common understanding of success in Addis. More clarity is needed around the level of ambition, who needs to be there and what commitments need to be made. She added that the private sector may have some trouble finding itself in the agenda and therefore their role needs to be made very clear. Overall, she said they want strong, highest level representation at Addis to make the commitments and that all partners should be there as it cannot be a meeting where the south talks to the south. She encouraged parliamentarians to ensure the UK sends high level representation.
Lord McConnell (Chair of the Great Lakes APPG) asked if from a western country, that is an event that should be attended by a Chancellor and not a development Minister.
Amina responded positively adding that if Ministers of Finance are not in; there isn't an agenda. She added that Minister of Finance need to see their budgets as not just about GDP but looking for results in jobs and in women's and children's lives. Right now, Ministers of Finance do not have this on their radar but we need them engaged and leading conversations about the development agenda.
Financing for Development & the role of civil society
Amina explained that the UN wants to see engagement with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) where the outcome document is explicit about their role throughout the agenda and thereafter. She said these discussions are starting now in New York and Brussels. If Ministers of Finance don't see CSOs role, then they won't miss it in the outcome documents but if they are aware of their role, then they will look for it and ask for it. She added that the government of Ethiopia are feeling the pressure on them to open up and are discussing opening up the conversation with African civil society a month before Addis to ensure that in Addis there is something concrete for CSOs.
Reporting & Incentives
Amina said there cannot be one platform for reporting, what is needed is to strengthen the institutions, the data, the statistics and the mechanisms needed for country level to report to its citizens and to be accountable to them. This would then need to be synthesised at the regional level and taken up to the global level in New York where it will report annually to ECOSOC and over time to the General Assembly.
The modalities and what is reported on are still up for question due to the large number of targets and indicators. Most important are the incentives to ensure Governments want to progress through using an index that would get actions to improve where they are. Incentives such as wanting to learn, get ahead, to show your competitiveness.
Amina explained that there has been a lot of discussion about using a model similar to Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review and it was mentioned in the synthesis report that it has been a good experience. It's the same peer review mechanism with the AU African Peer Review Mechanism. However, she questioned where are the teeth in a peer review; as a lot more people want to see actions outside of a review.
She warned that despite the effectiveness of peer review 'naming and shaming', in extreme cases there may be push-back to even wanting to continue with the voluntary reporting. The key problem is finding the incentive to be part of this. Consequently, it's essential to strengthen the institutions capacity to report accurately and hold Governments to account. She said civil society are essential in this strategy and need to be an integral part. She said independent funding for this was important along with finding the role for each stakeholder.
Health systems- preparedness & surveillance
Baroness Hayman asked that in light of the lessons from the Ebola outbreak, regarding a health goal, whether it would have the correct indicators for preparedness, surveillance, strength and effectiveness of systems.
Amina responded that it is important that while the UN and WHO are learning lessons that they are documenting and sharing it and that it feeds the universal healthcare goal. She hoped there would be both international and local lessons learned and that regarding some of the cultural practices that were seen as exacerbating the issue are not just termed as a bad cultural practice but just seen as not appropriate at that time.
Six themes is the Synthesis Report
Aidan Harris- Open Society Foundation asked about the thinking behind the six themes in the synthesis report. (The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet. The report proposes an integrated set of six essential elements: dignity; people; prosperity; planet; justice; and partnership).
Amina explained that the six elements were introduced as a response to politicians request for clarity over what the goals overall were trying to achieve. The bottom line is we are trying to ensure a life of dignity for everyone which means dealing with the inequality and the end to poverty. This can only be achieved when prosperity is inclusive, people and the planet are at the centre of it and by identifying the rights to be delivered to people (and women, children and boys).
All six themes are what the seventeen targets are trying to achieve. The discussions in the report over each target enables countries within their visions and plans. It also provides an opportunity to ask a question about roles and responsibilities- government cannot implement this agenda entirely by itself. At the same time, we don't want to outsource it to the business sector; we want to have partnerships and collaborate.
Governance & Delivery of the SDGs
It was suggested by an attendee that similarly to the analysis of the MDGs as being for 'best delivered' purposes that this may also be a concern for the SDGs. They asked which one would be most challenging in terms of governance and delivery.
Amina revealed that there is a huge trust deficit regarding the delivery and accountability of the SDGs and that the discussion is still very much north to south. She commented on the health care system in the UK and the fact that 1 in 5 are going to bed hungry in the United States. Regarding middle income countries where there are huge issues of inequality the challenge is leveraging those Governments to use their resources to do the right thing.
Building the capacity of communities to be involved with development and education and for it to be accountable to them was the only way to ensure accountability and delivery. Regarding education, she said that the standards we have in the north should be the aim in the south but by working with the local government. The education system should be truly are representative of the communities to ensure the right curriculum etc. She added that in Africa, they have suffered a lot just in terms of curriculum due to outside influence on it which wasn't appropriate for the environment (i.e. too many subjects at primary school level).
UK's implementation at the national level
Sarah Nelson from the Cabinet Office said that the UK Government is committed to implementing the agenda in its totality but wonders how much focus to give to targets that aren't so relevant for the UK but are more aimed at the least developed countries. She said it needs to be recognised that the realities of different countries being at different stages of development.
Amina expressed concern that ambitions for the goals could be capped when the reality and implications for the UK are realised. She added that the UK is ambitious for developing countries but less so for itself. She spoke of the 'second Europe'- the Europe we don't talk about, adding that the problems within the UK and Europe are from exclusion and inequality and that it's the same all over the world. She concluded it's about providing incentives to ensure no one is left behind.
On Migration, Amina proposed that forced migration won't happen if there is the needed investments in the countries of origin- whilst actively protecting people's rights and having an exit strategy.