Post-2015 Development Goals - International Development Committee Contents

5  Post-2015 Development Goals: potential structure

54.  Designing the post-2015 framework will not simply be a task of identifying the relevant issues and compiling a list. The way in which the framework is structured will be critical in determining its success. This chapter deals with a number of key structural issues, including targets and timescale.

'Getting to zero'

55.  Under the existing MDG framework some of the targets are phrased in universal terms. For example, target 6B is to achieve 'universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it.' However, other targets are relative, as follows:

a)  Target 1A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day

b)  Target 1C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger;

c)  Target 4A: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate;

d)  Target 5A: Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio;

e)  Target 7C: Halve, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation.[80]

56.  We recognise that relative targets were appropriate when the MDGs were designed, as they were more immediately achievable than absolute targets would have been. However, as World Vision highlights in its written evidence, relative targets had the unintended effect of exacerbating inequality. For example, one of the targets under MDG 1 is to reduce the proportion of people living on less than one dollar a day. It is far easier to focus on someone whose income is already $0.90 per day, increasing their income by just a few cents, than to make a real difference to a very poor person living on $0.50 per day. The relative target may thus have actively reduced the focus on the very poorest. World Vision thus argues that the post-2015 framework should focus on universal targets.[81] Moreover, in his evidence to the Committee, John McArthur, Senior Fellow of the UN Foundation, made the following argument:

Some colleagues and I have recommended a simple vision of getting to zero on extreme poverty as at least one central component of the overall agenda. That means minimum standards for humanity by 2030, with explicit targets for every community, sub­national unit and country in the world.[82]

57.  In his role as co-Chair of the High-level Panel, the Prime Minister has stated publicly that he hopes to see a universal goal on extreme poverty (i.e. zero extreme poverty) included in the new framework, describing this as the 'principal aim' of the post-2015 process.[83] In its written evidence, Development Initiatives argues that the elimination of extreme poverty is achievable by 2025.[84] Following the High-level Panel's recent meeting in London, the Prime Minister indicated that he too believes that the elimination of extreme poverty is achievable:

[...] we agreed that the principal aim of the Panel should be to focus on finishing the job of ending extreme poverty. We think the Millennium Development Goals have made great progress. There is more progress to be made between now and 2015, but we are clear the next stage should be aiming to eradicate absolute poverty in our world. That is something politicians have been talking about for a while, but for the first time I believe this generation really has the opportunity to do it.[85]

58.  We warmly welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to 'getting to zero' on extreme poverty. We firmly agree that this should be one of the new Goals. Whilst this is ambitious, for the first time in human history it is also achievable.


59.  Under the current MDG framework, whilst the UN website tracks progress against each indicator on a country-by-country basis,[86] targets remain global in scope. Progress against MDG targets can thus mask significant inequalities between countries. For example, the MDG target on access to safe water has already been achieved, but this is largely due to rapid progress in China and India. Sub-Saharan Africa remains off track: over 40% of all those without access to an improved drinking water source live in sub-Saharan Africa.[87]

60.  Moreover, even if a specific country is said to be making good progress, there may nevertheless be persistent or increasing levels of inequality (for example, income inequality, gender inequality, ethnic inequality, inequality between urban and rural areas) and a complete lack of equality for the disabled within that country. The MDG target for primary education refers to 'boys and girls alike,' but all other targets are based on national averages[88] and hence mask such inequalities. As Eveline Herfkens argued:

The problem with the goals is they are averages, averages, averages. They really hide the ugly underbelly of globalisation in inequality.[89]

61.  We believe that advancing the rights of women, especially with regards to education, health, land ownership, family planning and protection against early marriage, is central to development. These rights should be explicitly set out in quantitative detail in the post-2015 framework.

62.  Given the incidence of disability, especially in poor developing countries, a high priority should be given both to the prevention of disabilities and to rights, including political empowerment, for people with disabilities.

63.  It is widely argued that the post-2015 development framework should focus more closely on questions of inequality. This could most easily be achieved by using data which is broken down ('disaggregated') in order specifically to monitor progress amongst 'hard to reach' populations (which—depending on the context—may include the poorest people, women, people in rural areas, ethnic minorities, etc.) [90]

64.  There is room for improvement in the means by which progress is measured. Under the MDGs, the tendency to assess progress by means of national averages has allowed great disparities (such as those between women and men, or between particular regions of a country) to be hidden. Under the post-2015 framework, data should be broken down ('disaggregated') by gender and region, and by other variables as appropriate.

Targets and indicators

65.  One of the great successes of the MDGs was that they provided an incentive to improve data collection. In his evidence to us, Richard Morgan, Senior Adviser in UNICEF's Executive Office, argued that:

they [the MDGs] catalysed efforts to improve data availability, data collection and data analysis in developing countries, such that, although I would say we are only halfway there, there is a lot more available in terms of household-level data now than there was 10 years ago.[91]

66.  Under the MDG framework, the robustness of the targets and indicators is mixed. This has in turn had a significant impact on the level of progress towards the Goals. For example, as shown above, the structure of targets and indicators led to an over-focus on enrolment in primary education, at the expense of other issues (quality, completion, and transition to secondary education). Moreover, there is sometimes a contradiction between the goals and the underlying targets. For MDG 1, for example, the goal is to 'Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,' yet the underlying targets require only the halving of poverty and hunger.[92]

67.  Once Member States reach agreement on the post-2015 goals, the corresponding targets and indicators will have to be developed. Since targets and indicators play such a fundamental role, the question of who will develop them is of great importance. The Secretary of State told us that she expected the UN to take the lead on this, whilst Michael Anderson added that:

… a lot of the other countries, and even specialised agencies, look to some UK institutions—ODI [Overseas Development Institute], International Institute for Environment and Development, IDS [Institute of Development Studies]. They are seen as intellectual powerhouses in this area. I think the UK will play an important role not only through the Government but through a range of the think tanks that we have.[93]

68.  The development of robust targets and indicators will be a key determinant of the success of the new framework. We agree with the comments made by Michael Anderson, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy on the Development Goals: UK institutions such as the Overseas Development Institute and the Institute of Development Studies should seek to play an active part in developing these targets and indicators.

69.  One criticism of the existing MDG framework is that its architecture—goals, targets and indicators—confuses ends with means. As Professor Jeff Waage, Professor Andrew Dorward and Professor Elaine Unterhalter have argued:

Some goals and their targets focused on the achievement of impact (e.g. poverty and health goals) whereas others focused on the achievement of inputs, that is they were implementation goals (e.g. completing primary school and access to water). Many of the impact goals (eg. MDG3, 4 & 5) had both impact and implementation targets. Under different goals different emphasis was given to impact and implementation targets and indicators - and while impact indicators could be criticised for failing to specify investments and actions for their achievements, implementation indicators could lead to emphasis on achievement of these targets without consideration of their wider impact (a process known as 'goal displacement').[94]

70.  Professor Dorward therefore argues that—in order to avoid similar confusion arising in the post-2015 framework—there should be:

a distinction between impacts (desired changes in achievement of fundamental objectives), outcomes (results of actions), outputs of actions, and inputs (resources into activities)... According to this way of looking at things, post 2015 goals should all be concerned with impacts (eg poverty, incomes, nutrition security, communication, health status, life skills, sustainable resource use and maintenance, population  growth rates, etc). For many of these there will be useful 'outcome' targets (eg school enrolment,  km of roads per person, health service access and utilisation, etc).[95]

71.  The post-2015 framework should make a very clear distinction between the ultimate 'ends' of development (which should be set out in the goals) and the means by which those ends might be achieved (which should be set out in the underlying targets and indicators).

72.  We have received written evidence which argues that whilst the goals should be global in scope, the underlying targets should be specific to the circumstances of each individual country.[96] As DFID argues:

Many themes and indicators—such as maternal mortality or access to safe drinking water—may apply more readily to developing countries. Others may be relevant and important in all countries—this may be the case in particular for issues around accountability, transparency, or the environment.[97]

Moreover, as John McArthur argued, targets should be specific to country circumstances because "there are principles of sovereignty, and countries should have their scope to do things as they want."[98]

73.  Despite this, it may be unrealistic to expect each individual country to develop its own set of targets and indicators. UNICEF UK suggests that the post-2015 framework should include a 'menu' of targets, able to be 'adapted according to varying national context.'[99]

74.  We agree that the new goals should be global in scope whilst the underlying targets and indicators should be specific to individual countries' circumstances. Individual countries may, however, lack the capacity or political will to develop their own targets and indicators. Therefore, we would propose that various sets of targets and indicators be developed, and individual countries choose the set most appropriate to their circumstances.

75.  Despite theoretically being global in scope, the nature of the MDGs is such that they are unchallenging for developed countries. In her evidence to us, Eveline Herfkens argued that: 'What rich countries should do to put an end to global poverty should be part and parcel of the new compact to make it a fair compact, where both parties have to achieve such an agenda.'[100] The post-2015 agenda should set specific and measurable goals for all countries, including traditional donors and middle income countries, in key areas of international cooperation such as development aid, climate change, tax, trade, transparency, migration and intellectual property rights.


76.  CAFOD points out that given the inevitable time lags in data collection, data on development indicators pertaining to 2015 is unlikely to become available until several years afterwards. In view of this, it argues that the 'baseline' year for the post-2015 framework (that is, the benchmark against which progress is measured) should be 2010 rather than 2015.[101] Richard Morgan was slightly more optimistic about data availability, but nevertheless agreed that the baseline year for the post-2015 framework must be earlier than 2015.[102]

77.  Due to inevitable time lags in data collection, it will not be possible to use 2015 as the baseline year for the post-2015 framework. Whilst it would be desirable for the baseline year to be as close to 2015 as possible, we recognize that—for reasons of practicality—it will have to be several years earlier.

78.  The original MDG framework generally requires the tracking of progress over a 25-year period, with progress monitored retrospectively from 1990 and prospectively until 2015. A small minority of the MDG targets have different timescales, as follows:

a)  Target 3A: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015;

b)  Target 6B: Achieve, by 2010, universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS for all those who need it;

c)  Target 7B: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving, by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss;

d)  Target 7D: By 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers.[103]

79.  In the evidence received by this Committee, there is general agreement that whatever the ultimate timescale for the post-2015 framework, some interim targets are needed, to ensure that progress can be monitored on an ongoing basis. (Such targets do not exist under the current MDG framework.)[104]

80.  Whatever the ultimate timescale for the post-2015 framework, it will be important to include some interim targets, perhaps every five years. This will help to ensure that policymakers' attention remains focused on the framework.

Simplicity and measurability

81.  The MDGs have undoubtedly had great resonance around the world. Eveline Herfkens told us that:

[...] the Millennium Development Goals galvanised attention on issues of global poverty more than anything else ever in the development business has. That has been an incredible achievement. [...] I am personally absolutely convinced that, without the Millennium Development Goals and the campaigns that went with them in several countries in Europe, the 2005 EU commitments on the 0.7% would never have been made. Not everybody lives up to them, but it was really a breakthrough after decades. [...] It was really unique. It took 12 years to build international consensus on these goals, but it had never happened before. Every Government in the world signed up to them, at the highest political level—the financial institutions, the UN system, civil society and local authorities. It has been an incredible help in focusing this agenda.[105]

82.  One of the principal reasons why the MDG framework has had such great resonance is because of its simplicity.[106] John McArthur, Senior Fellow of the UN Foundation, argued in his oral evidence to this Committee that:

I have spent the past 10 years explaining the Millennium Development Goals to people, and by the time I get to Goal 5, the eyes glaze... We have eight goals right now, some of which are highly specific and highly quantified in targets, some of which not. My view is that they all should be, and so that is a criterion for including anything... I would not go to more than 10, for sure, but I would like to keep it close to eight if possible, because that will help.[107]

83.  Moreover, in his recent evidence to the Liaison Committee, the Prime Minister himself recognised the importance of keeping the new framework simple:

The easiest thing in the world is to sit on one of these UN panels, take the Millennium Development Goals and then produce something incredibly complicated. Frankly, I think that is the danger... We've got to try and find a way of describing a simple set of things. [108]

84.  The simplicity and measurability of the MDG framework have been crucial factors in its success. We believe that the post-2015 framework must retain these strengths, and we are pleased that the Prime Minister shares this view. The number of goals should be no higher than 10, and all should have quantifiable targets. If the new framework is to be as successful as the MDGs, this simplicity will be fundamental.

80   Official list of MDG indicators, effective 15 January 2008, Back

81   Ev w222 Back

82   Q 54 Back

83   "The post-2015 development agenda explained", The Guardian online, 31 October 2012, Back

84   Ev w46 Back

85   "UN High-level Panel press statements", official site of the British Prime Minister's Office, 2 November 2012, 'Absolute poverty' is used here as a synonym for 'extreme poverty.' Back

86   Country Level Data, Back

87   United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2012, p 52 Back

88   Official list of MDG indicators, effective 15 January 2008, Back

89   Q 73 Back

90   Ev w222 Back

91   Q 71 Back

92   Official list of MDG indicators, effective 15 January 2008, Back

93   Q 115 Back

94   Ev 51 Back

95   Ev 55 Back

96   Ev w187 Back

97   Ev 46 Back

98   Q 66 Back

99   Ev 70 Back

100   Q 73 Back

101   Ev 80 Back

102   Q 77 Back

103   Official list of MDG indicators, effective 15 January 2008, Back

104   Ev 67, 80, w22, w30, w193 Back

105   Q 71 Back

106   Ibid. Back

107   Q 64 Back

108   Uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken before the Liaison Committee on 11 December 2012, HC (2012-13)484-ii, Q 82 Back

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Prepared 22 January 2013