Thirty-ninth Report of Session 2012-13 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents

6   A decent life for all: ending poverty and providing a sustainable future



COM(13) 92

Commission Communication: "A decent life for all: ending poverty and giving the world a sustainable future"

Legal base
Document originated27 February 2013
Deposited in Parliament7 March 2013
DepartmentsInternational Development and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 19 March 2013
Previous Committee ReportNone
Discussion in Council27 May 2013 "Development" Foreign Affairs Council and 18 June 2013 Environment Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested


6.1  The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were agreed at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000.[18] They are to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

6.2  The MDGs, with each one's targets and indicators, are set out in more detail at Annex of this chapter of our Report. The target date for achievement is 2015.

The Rio+20 Conference

6.3  "Rio+20" is the short name for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 — 20 years after the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The Rio+20 conference was the biggest UN conference ever: world leaders, along with thousands of participants from the private sector, NGOs and other groups, came together to discuss how to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet.

6.4  The official discussions focussed on two main themes: how to build a green economy to achieve sustainable development and lift people out of poverty; and how to improve international coordination for sustainable development.

6.5  More than $513 billion was pledged to build a sustainable future. At its conclusion, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said:

"Rio+20 has given us a solid platform to build on. And it has given us the tools to build with. The work starts now".[19]

The Commission Communication

6.6  This Communication sets out the Commission's view on the international post-2015 development agenda: ending poverty and ensuring that future prosperity and well-being are sustainable. It brings together the debate about what international framework should succeed the MDGs and the process to establish new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) arising from the Rio+20 — where government leaders agreed that the new SDGs should be coherent and integrated with the post-2015 development agenda.

6.7  The Commission notes that in autumn 2013, a UN special event will take stock of the efforts made towards achieving the MDGs, discuss ways to accelerate progress until the MDG target year of 2015 and consider what could follow after 2015. The Commission first identifies the main global challenges and opportunities. It then evaluates the success of the global poverty eradication agenda and the experience of the MDGs thus far, as well as outlining some of the key steps towards sustainable development as agreed in Rio+20, and outlines key actions. It then describes what the Commission sees as the challenges and elements for a future framework that can be drawn from the experience of the MDGs and the work stemming from Rio+20, in particular the elaboration of SDGs, and indicates how these can be brought together within relevant UN processes.

6.8  The Communication argues that the MDGs had a significant and positive impact and outlines where there has been some success in meeting their targets (e.g. on income and access to safe drinking water). However, it also acknowledges that many targets in the MDGs were not met and that there are weaknesses and gaps in the MDGs as a framework for development.

6.9  The Commission also recognises that, alongside the agreement to develop SDGs, there are other Rio+20 outcomes driving international action and governance on sustainable development, including institutional reform to promote stronger coherence and coordination on sustainable development within the UN system.

6.10  The document includes two annexes: a comprehensive table of current and forthcoming actions in the EU and internationally that contribute to the implementation of Rio+ 20; and a summary of a consultation exercise on the MDG review process and the outcomes of Rio+20 held in summer 2012.

6.11  Building on the "fundamental link between environmental sustainability and poverty eradication" the Commission supports a single overarching framework and integration of the MDG review and SDG process and highlights the future challenges posed by climate change and resource scarcity, and their potential on poverty eradication. That single framework should have five "priority elements":

—  meeting basic living standards;

—  promoting drivers for inclusive and sustainable growth;

—  ensuring sustainable management of natural resources;

—  upholding equality, equity and justice; and

—  peace and security.

6.12  The framework should:

—  integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental;

—  recognise that poverty, prosperity and well-being are multidimensional;

—  cover basic human development, drivers for sustainable and inclusive growth and sustainable management of natural resources;

—  address justice, equality and equity, capturing issues relating to human rights, democracy, the rule of law, empowerment of women and gender equality;

—  have limited goals that are evidence-based, apply universally but respect different national contexts;

—  be developed in partnership with civil society and private sector;

—  have goals and targets for 2030 and include a vision to 2050.

6.13  The Commission continues that, at the same time, the framework should:

—  underline that responsibility for delivery is national but also that resources need to be mobilised from domestic, international, public and private sources; involve a range of national and international actors, public and private in delivery; all countries should contribute their fair share and the goals should induce stronger accountability;

—  be accompanied by efforts to enhance coherence at the institutional level; and

—  be coherent with existing internationally-agreed goals and targets.

6.14  In the immediate future, the Commission wants the adoption of this Communication to be followed by a debate with the Council and the European Parliament during the spring of 2013. This debate should be around the development of a common EU approach position on how the SDGs and the MDG review processes should best be converged and integrated into a single process, in order better to deliver a comprehensive, overarching post-2015 framework. Such a debate should:

—  ensure a comprehensive follow up to Rio+20 and guide the EU position at the UN Open Working Group (OWG)[20] on SDGs, which will report regularly to the UNGA; and

—  contribute to the preparation of the UN General Assembly Special Event on the MDGs in autumn 2013, including the report of the Secretary-General and the UN High Level Panel on post-2015, as well as the first meeting of the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF).[21]

The Government's view

6.15   In their joint Explanatory Memorandum of 19 March 2013, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for International Development (Lynne Featherstone) and her counterpart at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon), say that the Government strongly supports the key message and policy position in favour of integrating the MDG review and SDG processes towards one single set of goals, focussed on eradicating poverty and embedding the principles of sustainable development: the agendas of ending poverty and sustainable development overlap significantly, and two separate sets of goals could create confusion and competing demands. For these reasons, they also welcome the joint working of the Commissioners for Environment and Development, and the High Representative, in producing this Communication; and say that it will be important that the Commission and the External Action Service continue to work closely together in the months and years to come.

6.16  The Ministers profess themselves broadly content with the "elements" and "principles" set out in the Communication, but also say that it will be "important that the EU and its Member States maintain a high-level and flexible approach while we engage in outreach and consultation with others, and so that we are able to respond to, and engage constructively in, the debate on the post-2015 development agenda over the next 3 years".

6.17  They note, in particular:

"the importance given to the enablers of poverty eradication, such as absence of conflict, rule of law, transparency, accountability and other elements of open societies and open economies. Gender equality and the empowerment of all girls and women are also fundamental to development. The UK strongly supports the inclusion of sustainable management of natural resources across the development agenda as a critical part of delivering sustainable development."

6.18  The Ministers welcome the references to "the need for a cross sector and international partnership approach to designing and delivering the new framework", and say:

"The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK is committed to 'getting our own house in order' to help unlock increased prosperity in the countries where the world's poorest live."

6.19  With regard to the MDGs, the Ministers say:

"The simplicity and focus of the MDGs made them a powerful advocacy tool and created a common vision and strategic language through which the international community could rally. This is why the Government agrees that the post-2015 agenda should retain these qualities in a simple, compelling and ambitious new framework with a limited number of goals."

6.20  With regard to the proposal in the Communication that the new overarching framework should aspire to provide by 2030 "a decent life for all" and to eradicate poverty wherever it is found, the Ministers say:

"The UK Government argues that the post-2015 framework should be focussed on eradicating extreme poverty achieved through sustainable development — we must retain this focus on the 1 billion people in this situation. Achieving this will involve updating the goals and targets from the MDGs and addressing some elements that were not included in the MDGs. "Finishing the job" will also mean reaching the poorest, most marginalised and most vulnerable people, and the government is supportive of targets and indicators to incentivise and monitor this.

"The UK agrees on the need to set goals and targets for 2030 but does not have a view on the need for a longer-term vision.

"The Government welcomes the references made to the UN Secretary General's High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda, which is co-Chaired by the UK Prime Minister, in his personal capacity, with the Presidents of Liberia and Indonesia. The Panel is actively engaged and consulting widely with relevant constituencies at national, regional and global levels. It will provide bold yet practical recommendations to the Secretary General regarding the vision and shape of a post-2015 development agenda that will help respond to the global challenges of the 21st century, building on the MDGs and with a view to ending poverty."

6.21  The Ministers then outline what they describe as a cross-departmental approach to the post-2015 development agenda: the Cabinet Office leads in such coordination and involves a wide range of relevant departments, such as FCO, DFID, DEFRA and others, including in the Government's response to this Communication. They also note that the Government is also in regular dialogue with civil society organisations and businesses about this Communication.

6.22  Finally, they say that the Communication "is likely to be responded to in some form" by both the Foreign Affairs Council (Development Ministers) on 27 May and Environment Council on 18 June.


6.23   The Ministers are somewhat vague about the Commission's proposed way ahead. Our assumption is that Council Conclusions will be adopted by one or both of the Councils to which they refer, and that the Commission will then produce a further Communication in the run-up to the UN General Assembly Special Event. Given the significance of the topics under discussion, we envisage that a debate might well be appropriate — either before or after this event, depending on the timing of any further Communication and the summer recess.

6.24  In the first instance, however, we would like the Ministers to provide us with details of the Council's response in due course, and at that time, information about the next steps.

6.25  In the meantime, we shall retain the document under scrutiny.

6.26  We are also drawing this chapter of our Report to the attention of the International Development Committee.

18   The full text of the UN Millennium Development Goals Declaration is at Back

19   See for full information on Rio+20. Back

20   Rio+20 did not elaborate specific goals but stated that the SDGs should be limited in number, aspirational and easy to communicate. The goals should address in a balanced way all three dimensions of sustainable development and be coherent with and integrated into the UN development agenda beyond 2015. A 30-member Open Working Group (OWG) of the General Assembly is tasked with preparing a proposal on the SDGs. See for full information. Back

21   The HLPF is co-chaired by the Prime Minister and his counterparts from Indonesia and Liberia. Back

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