International Development Committee Written evidence submitted by the Department for International Development

1. Introduction and Context

1. The global development landscape has evolved significantly since the MDGs were agreed in 2000. As Robert Zoellick noted in his address at the RAND Graduate School in June 2012, the balance of power in the world economy has shifted, with developing countries now the engines of global growth and desiring to be the stewards of their own futures.1 Beyond this, new sources of development finance have mushroomed as have the number of development actors, instruments and delivery mechanisms.

2. It is in this context that the international community must come together to consider the framework that should replace the MDGs. The challenge is significant. A new framework will need to reflect a changing world with new challenges and priorities. It will need to stay simple and focused on the needs of poor people across the world. It will need to be agreed by countries in very different stages of their development processes. Non-state actors, like the private sector and civil society organisations, will need to be involved in its development. And, above all, it must reflect the priorities of poor people themselves.

3. HMG is committed to playing a leadership role in this process.

2. Effectiveness of the MDGs and Lessons Learned

4. There has been good progress against many of the MDGs. Extreme poverty ($1.25/day) has fallen globally from 43% in 1990 to 23% in 2008 and is projected to fall to 16% in 2015.2 The global targets for halving the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day (MDG1a) and halving the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water (MDG7c) were both met in 2010. Progress has also been good for primary completion (MDG2.a) and gender equality in primary and secondary education (MDG 3.a), with developing countries being close to “on-track”. However, progress has been less positive for the health MDGs. Infant and maternal mortality (MDGs 4.a and 5.a), and access to basic sanitation (MDG 7.c) are significantly “off-track”.3

5. MDG7 has not been successful in focussing attention and action on environmental sustainability. With the exception of that on ozone, all10 MDG7 targets are off-track, six severely so. All have implications for development because the poorest people in the poorest countries (the “bottom billion”) are heavily dependent on natural resources—forests, fisheries, agriculture—for their livelihoods and poor people will suffer most from the impacts of climate change.

6. Progress has also varied across regions. It has been strongest in East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean. It has been less positive in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa is lagging significantly compared to other regions on most MDGs. Non-fragile, middle income countries have achieved, or are on track to achieve, six MDGs whilst non-fragile low income countries are on track to achieve three.4 Not a single low income fragile or conflict-affected country has yet achieved any of the MDGs.5

7. Within regions and countries too, progress has varied. UNDP notes that, “The reality is that most countries may achieve progress on some goals and face a unique set of challenges in achieving others; there is a wide variation of progress.”6

8. It is difficult to establish with complete certainty the link between the adoption of the MDGs and improved development outcomes. What evidence exists suggests that:

The MDGs have generated an unprecedented degree of global political consensus on development, and put poverty reduction at the heart of international development policy. They have created a common strategic language and increased the focus and coherence of international development efforts. The World Bank has on its website, “The World Bank is committed to helping achieve the MDGs because, simply put, these goals are our goals.”7

The MDGs have been a strong communications and advocacy tool. They have been much more visible than previous goals or measurement frameworks. A search of publications on Google database reveals that since 2000 the term MDGs has overtaken Human Development Index in terms of number of references and is gaining on GDP per capita.8

The MDG framework supported the scaling up of debt relief initiatives for low income countries. The heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, launched in 1996 by the membership of the IMF and World Bank, was scaled up in 2005 with the introduction of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). The aim was to free up additional resources for the poorest countries in order to help them reach the MDGs.9

There is evidence that the MDGs have informed how ODA has been spent. For example a much higher share of increased spending on education has gone on basic education than on secondary. There has also been an increase in the share of ODA spent on reproductive health and water and sanitation.10

The MDG framework has had some influence on policy and spending at the national level in developing countries. A recent survey by UNDP found that 85% of developing countries had incorporated one or more of the MDG goals, targets or indicators into national-level policy. Some countries, such as Thailand and Cambodia integrated the MDGs into domestic policy-making to a much greater extent.11 For countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, government spending on social sectors (health and education) as a percentage of GDP has increased from around 5.6% in 2002 to around 7.5% in 2010.12

With its focused set of targets and indicators, the framework has encouraged better availability and quality of data in developing countries. It has also enabled a focus on results rather than inputs and spending. 85% of DFID’s focus countries have improved their performance against the World Bank’s statistical capacity indicator, and, with the exception of Yemen, all of them have increased the number of MDG indicators that they have data for since 2000. This focus on measurement and results is increasingly critical in sustaining support for development assistance in developed countries.

9. But there are lessons to be learned on the MDGs as a framework and on the process for agreeing them.

The process for agreeing the MDGs has been criticised as donor-driven, with low ownership at the national level in developing countries themselves.

Aid dependent governments in particular have felt under pressure to show progress against the MDGs, due to the importance that donors have placed on them. This may at time, have distorted their national priorities.

The MDGs were intended as global targets, and the targets for 2015 were calculated on the basis of global trends. However they have been applied and used to evaluate progress at country level. Some argue that this has drawn attention away from good progress in some countries, particularly in Africa, that might be off track on MDGs, but have made significant gains from a low base.

The goals focus on averages and can mask significant inequalities, when they are applied both nationally and globally. Research by UNICEF has found that in some cases progress on child mortality was achieved nationally even though the poorest saw no change. Some argue that the goals have created perverse incentives that focus on those groups that are easiest to pull above the poverty line, neglecting those that are hardest to reach.

The MDGs have been criticised for having goals that are quantatively oriented and that pay little attention to the quality of the outcomes. This is a criticism that has often been used with reference to the education sector—where the focus on enrolment has often been considered to be at the expense of the quality of the learning outcomes.13

There have also been suggestions that some of the indicators lacked ambition—leading to criticism that they represented business as usual trends rather than transformative change.

The MDGs are sometimes considered to present an over-simplified understanding of development and what drives poverty reduction. The past decades of development have demonstrated that there is no simple formula for development. It is not just a technical, engineering problem, or a question of good economic management. And it is not just about human development or well-being. The centrality of politics and political incentives has become much better understood—as has the difficulty of capturing this in a framework.

3. Purpose and Coverage of a New Set of Goals

10. There was no explicit stated purpose for the original MDG framework—though it was widely understood to be a mechanism to enable implementation of the Millennium Declaration. Richard Manning offered a retrospective purpose as being “to encourage sustainable pro-poor development progress and donor support of domestic efforts in this direction”.14 This purpose statement was loosely defined to shape both domestic efforts and donor support, and to reconcile broader development with the need to focus on the poorest.

11. There is a debate about whether a future set of global goals should be focused on (i) poverty reduction/eradication, (ii) development, growth and prosperity, or (iii) “sustainable development”. While these overlap, they are somewhat distinct.

12. HMG’s view is that a new framework should maintain an explicit focus on reducing absolute poverty, achieved through inclusive economic growth and development. 1.3 billion people still live in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.25/day. At the current rate of progress, around 1 billion people will still be living below $1.25 a day in 2015.15 Internal DFID projections suggest that, even under an optimistic scenario of global growth rates similar to those in the 2000s, poverty (defined as people living below $1.25 p/day, in 2005 PPP term) would stand at around 824 million by 2030, or 9.9% of the global population. In a more pessimistic scenario of growth reverting to the level of the 1990s, poverty in 2030 could remain as high as 1.154 billion by 2030, or 13.9% of the population. It is therefore right that a new post-2015 framework should maintain a focus on poverty and on improving the lives of the poorest.

13. For the world to eradicate poverty forever, we need a global effort to improve the lives of the poorest people wherever they live, recognising that the biggest challenges face the poorest people in the poorest countries. Today, around 41% of the world’s poor live in fragile states, compared to around 20% in 2005.16 If this trend continues, it is likely that the majority of poor people will be living in fragile environments in the coming decades. The majority of the world’s poorest people already live in Middle Income Countries (MICs) and this proportion is also likely to rise over the coming decades as countries continue to grow and transition out of Low Income Country (LIC) status. Internal DFID projections suggest that, under optimistic growth forecasts, the share of poor in MICs will increase from 68% now to 74% by 2030.

14. A new framework will thus need to be relevant for low income countries such as Benin, middle income countries such as Indonesia, and fragile countries, such as Somalia. In the past, many Middle Income Countries, with development strategies extending well beyond poverty reduction, have not always seen the MDGs as an overarching framework guiding their policy-making. A challenge will be to ensure that they see it as a useful policy-making tool. This will require their playing a full role in the design of a new framework.

15. The focus on poverty eradication will have further implications for the coverage of the new framework. 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.

4. Principles for a New Set of Goals

16. It is generally agreed that a new set of goals should maintain the simplicity, measurability and focus of the MDGs. It is also useful to envisage it as being made up of three types of elements:

(1)Successful elements from the current MDGs to secure the gains made and “finish the job” on the MDGs that have not been met.

(2)Important elements that were missing in the MDGs and lessons learned.

(3)Elements reflecting new challenges in a changing world—to ensure the agenda remains relevant and useful in the future.

17. Beyond that a new framework will need to:

Be ambitious.

Reflect the diverse conditions of Low Income Countries, Middle Income Countries, and fragile and conflict affected states.

Propose lasting, durable solutions.

Be actionable and owned at the country level.

Be simple, easy to understand and prioritised to ensure that there are between six to 10 compelling headline goals.

18. The world will need to adopt a pragmatic approach to the post-2015 framework. The process to agree a new framework will not be the place to tackle complex international negotiations which have their own processes. A new framework will not be compelling if it attempts to be an over-arching theory of development.

5. The Content of Future Goals

19. It is generally agreed that a new framework should “build on the MDGs”: deepen the reach of the current MDGs and reach people that do not yet have decent living standards and access to quality services. In some cases new indicators and targets will be needed to deepen reach and impact. For example, an education goal could emphasise learning as well as enrolment. In some instances, existing indicators will remain relevant—for example child and maternal mortality—and here the challenge maybe to adopt new, ambitious targets.

20. But a focus on human development outcomes alone will not be enough in a new framework. There is strong evidence that economic growth is the principal enabler of long-term poverty reduction17 and growth must be a central part of any new framework. We need to find ways to promote a more inclusive and sustainable growth pattern—by focusing on generating productive employment and improving access to marginalised groups, and enhancing productive capacity in developing countries.

21. To eradicate poverty, the foundations that enable people to improve their lives need to be established: good government, the rule of law, tackling corruption, transparency and accountability, free markets—these help create the conditions for the economic empowerment of the poor and remove the conditions that hold prosperity back. This is what the Prime Minister calls the “Golden Thread of development”. It is not a prescriptive agenda about the necessary steps to growth. Rather, it is a people-centred understanding of development, which has national transparency and domestic accountability at its heart, and which is based on the understanding that societies and economies are more likely to develop when they are more accountable and open. It is a proposition supportive of “country ownership” and nationally-defined priorities.

22. Managing environmental risks and our ability to use natural resources sustainably will heavily influence our ability to achieve lasting poverty reduction. Energy, natural resource management, and the need to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change are among key development challenges in many countries. A new framework will need to address these.

23. Conflict-affected and fragile states face particular challenges, and these were not explicitly addressed in the MDGs. Yet there are strong correlations between conflict and poverty. On average, for example, poverty rates are 21% higher in countries affected by repeated cycles of violence than in stable countries.18 The New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States agreed at Busan promotes five Peace and State-building Goals intended to create a conducive environment for delivering on the MDGs in fragile states. These goals include fostering more inclusive political processes, addressing injustices and strengthening people’s security, generating employment and improving livelihoods and greater accountability. The post-2015 framework could build on this, and build in the need for conflict prevention and institution building.

24. The UN Task Team report on the post-2015 development agenda19 suggests that the post-2015 agenda needs to be shaped around four dimensions—inclusive social development, inclusive economic development, environmental sustainability, peace and security. This model can provide a useful starting point for discussions.

25. Beyond these dimensions, the new framework will need to maintain an important focus on women’s rights and gender equality. Despite progress on women’s rights over the past 15 years, gender inequality remains a major driver of poverty. The Prime Minister has noted that “where the potential and the perspective of women are locked out of the decisions that shape a society, that society remains stunted and underachieving. So enabling women to have a voice is a vital part of improving governance and achieving sustainable and equitable growth.”20 There is a case for a global development agenda which addresses and monitors the elimination of specific gender gaps, and seeks to transform the structural factors that underpin gender inequality.

6. The Link between the “Sustainable Development Goals” and the Agenda Being Considered by the High-Level Panel

26. The proposal for Sustainable Development Goals is timely and welcome. It has helpfully drawn attention to the importance of integrating environmental sustainability issues with a new development framework. The process to agree SDGs will be important in bringing environment and development objectives together in a post-2015 development framework to begin a dialogue on lessons learned from MDG7 and how to better reflect environment in a post-MDG framework

27. At Rio it was agreed that an Open Working Group (OWG) on SDGs would be established .The OWG will play a major role in the post-2015 process. The UK Government will support, and contribute to, the work of this group once its membership is agreed, including by encouraging members of the private sector and civil society to engage with any consultation exercises. At the same time, HMG is clear that there should be one single framework of global goals from 2015 and that different processes should be integrated into one single track at an appropriate point in the near future.

28. The terms of reference for the High Level Panel call upon it to consider environmental sustainability as a core dimension and to consider how the SDGs relate to the broader Post-2015 development agenda. It is likely, therefore, that the Open Working Group and the High Level Panel will be overlapping in their scope but each will be able to add value by bringing different perspectives to the debate through its different membership. The two processes must be coordinated and coherent—as agreed at Rio+20—and both should contribute to Member States’ consideration of one single post-2015 development framework.

7. Engagement and Outreach

29. The politics of development have changed significantly since the MDGs were designed in the late 1990s: the geopolitical balance of power has shifted, poverty is taking on new dimensions and the actors tackling—and creating—development challenges have changed.

30. Extensive outreach and engagement of all of these stakeholders will be indispensable if a new framework is to be seen as credible and legitimate, if it is to have buy-in and support, and if it is to be a useful tool at the country level. The process must be open, transparent and inclusive. It will need to reflect the new geopolitical context: emerging powers should play an active leadership role, as should civil society and business.

31. Above all, the process should find ways to hear the voices of poor people themselves. They have first-hand experience of poverty. An initiative is needed that will reach the most vulnerable and marginalised people, to learn from their experiences of poverty, and to allow them to engage in the formation of new framework.

32. The perspective of non-state actors will be critical. Business, for example, will be able to contribute unique perspectives on the barriers that prevent investments and pro-poor growth in developing countries, and to offer insights on how a new framework could incentivise them to do more, for example, to make their supply chains more sustainable, or to better measure and demonstrate their impact on development. Civil society will play an important role in bringing the voices of poor people and different constituencies and interest groups to the table.

33. The High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda will need to undertake extensive outreach to inform its deliberations and conclusions. There are at least five main opportunities for outreach:

(1)The extensive national and thematic consultations planned by the UN Development Group.

(2)Global outreach to citizens through a dedicated website, and through new technology based communications (eg SMS).

(3)Face to face interaction between the panellists and a range of actors from different constituencies.

(4)Individual consultations by the panellists themselves, in particular with those constituencies with which they are most familiar (this might be regional, or by sector/constituency).

(5)“Piggy-backing” on appropriate opportunities to engage with existing processes (including through AU, Commonwealth or ASEAN meetings).

8. Measuring Progress

34. Time-bound targets are at the heart of the current MDG model. Many commentators have argued that it is precisely time-bound nature of the MDGs that gives them influence. Indeed, those targets which are specific and measurable (eg “reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day”) have had significant more traction than those that were not quantified (eg “make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications”). In the case of MDG7, the absence of agreed numerical targets for 7a and 7b has meant that the headline reporting on MDG7 has focused on the water and sanitation target,21 drawing attention away from the broader environmental sustainability thrust of this Goal.

35. Targets are a useful political tool to incentivise focus and action. They allow for benchmarking. They generate a sense of momentum and jeopardy, and they can be helpful in directing resources to particular ends. They are a use advocacy tool. Targets can also incentivise a focus on measurement, data and results.

36. But targets can also skew resource allocations, and create perverse incentives. The MDGs were criticised for the way that global goals and targets were translated top down into national targets. A different approach is needed that fosters real country level ownership and accountability, while enabling benchmarking and incentivising action and results.

37. One model for doing this would be though agreeing global goals, global metrics and nationally defined targets. Such a model puts governments in the driving seat for developing their commitments, based on their level of development and national circumstances. It links the targets to national planning, allows for much better ownership, and still allows for benchmarking. The global goals could either be framed in terms of targets (eg “eradicate poverty by 2030”) or in general terms (eg “health and well-being for all”).

9. Timescale: The Period a New Framework could Cover

38. The issue of the timescale of post-2015 framework will an important consideration of the High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda. It will be important for the Panel to carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option. In doing so, it may be useful to think about questions such as: (i) what time period is most likely to incentivise action and change, and (ii) what reliable projections for different poverty metrics are available for the years ahead.

39. A longer timeline—perhaps 2050—could recognise that development is a long term process, and that national plans and monitoring capacity take time to establish and deliver results. It would provide some stability and long term vision. It will allow the international community not to have to “re-invent” the wheel regularly.

40. A shorter timeframe—2025 or 2030—would fit better with political cycles, and as such could be more likely to incentivise action than goals which are perceived to expire in a distant future. It is easier to maintain pace and attention over a shorter period of time, potentially allowing for greater and sustained momentum. The argument for a shorter time frame is supported by the difficulty of projecting poverty measures beyond 2030, given all of the assumptions underpinning projections. A shorter timeframe also allows for flexibility to adapt a framework to emerging realities. The effects of climate change, for example, were not factored into the MDGs, but have since been recognised as being central to poverty reduction.

10. Financing Global Goals

41. National revenues will be the main source of revenue for financing a new set of global goals, as they were for the MDGs.

42. International flows contributing to development have increased significantly—both in number and in scale—since the MDGs were agreed. Private sector investments, new philanthropies, remittances, new donors such as China have changed the landscape of development financing. According to the IMF, portfolio equity flows, Foreign Direct Investments and workers’ remittances have all overtaken Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) as flows to developing countries.22 HMG has been at the forefront of developing innovative development finance mechanisms such as the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm), Advanced Market Commitments, and more recently the Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG).

43. ODA will remain important, and HMGhas committed to spend 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on international development from 2013, making it the first country in the G20 to keep its promise to do so.

44. In this context, it is right for discussions on development finance to be wide-ranging in scope. The UN Financing for Development (UNFFD) process and the work of the Rio+20-established-UN Intergovernmental Committee on financing for sustainable development will be important for discussions on development finance. The High Level Panel on the post-2015 development agenda may wish to consider how MDG 8 could be built upon in a new post-2015 framework and discuss how accountability, transparency and global partnerships, including and beyond aid, can support development.

45. It will be important for discussions in the High Level Panel to focus on the substance of what will constitute a new framework, and not to be dominated by financing considerations. In the medium term, it would be useful for discussions on the post-2015 development agenda to link in with that on financing. The UN Financing for Development (UNFFD) process and the work of the Rio+20-established-UN Intergovernmental Committee on financing for sustainable development, will be important fora for this.

Annex A


The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire in 2015, and the Secretary General of the UN has appointed a High-Level Panel to assess what should replace them. Co-chairs of the High-Level Panel are the British Prime Minister David Camerson, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia.

At Rio +20 it was agreed to set up a process to establish Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations General Assembly will appoint a group of representatives from 30 countries by September to develop the goals.

The Committee has decided to launch an inquiry on the post-2015 agenda. We therefore invite organisations and interested individuals to submit written evidence on the following:

Lessons learned from the adoption of the International Development Targets and the Millennium Development Goals: in particular how effective has the MDG process been to date.

How should the “Sustainable Development Goals” be established following Rio +20 relate to the “Development Goals” being considered by the High-Level Panel?

The coverage of future goals: should they be for developing countries only or should progress be monitored in all countries?

The process: are the right voices being heard? What are the opportunities for and constraints to global consensus?

Targets: was the MDG “target-based” approach a success? Should it be retained? How should progress be measured?

Financing global goals: are new mechanisms needed?

The role of the private sector and other non-state organisations.

Timescale: what period should the new framework cover? Was the 15-year timescale for the MDGs right?

The content of future goals: what would be a good set of global goals? What continuity should there be with the MDGs, and how should the unfulfilled MDGs be taken forward?

30 October 2012

1 Zoellick, Robert (2012), “Getting Stuff Done: Commencement of the Pardee RAND Graduate School”, Santa Monica, California

2 World Bank (2012), Global Monitoring Report—Food Prices, Nutrition and the MDGs. Washington DC: World Bank.

3 World Bank (2012), Global Monitoring Report—Food Prices, Nutrition and the MDGs. Washington DC: World Bank

4 World Bank, (2012), Global Monitoring Report—Food Prices, Nutrition and the MDGs. Washington DC: World Bank.

5 World Bank, (2011), World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development. Washington DC: World Bank.

6 UNDP (2010) Beyond the Midpoint: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, New York: United Nations Development Programme.


8 Kenny, C & A Sumner, 2011, More Money or More Development: What have the MDGs achieved?, CGD Working Paper 278, Washington DC: Centre for Global Development.

9 UN (2006), “The Millennium Development Goals Report 2006”, United Nations, New York

10 OECD DACdata on ODA flows by sector;

11 UNDP (2010) Beyond the Midpoint: Achieving the Millennium Development Goals, New York: United Nations Development Programme.


13 UN Task Team on the post-2015 UN Development Agenda, (2012), “Discussion Note: Review of the contributions of the MDG Agenda to foster development; lessons for the post-2015 development agenda”. New York: UN.

14 Manning, Richard (2009) Using Indicators to Encourage Development: Learning Lessons from the MDGs, Copenhagen: Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS)

15 World Bank (2012), “Global Monitoring Report Food Prices, Nutrition, and the Millennium Development Goals”

16 L Chandy and G Gertz (2011), “Two trends in Global Poverty” Brookings Institute

17 Dollar, D, Kraay, A (2012), “Growth is good for the poor”, Journal of Economic Growth,

18 World Bank, 2011, World Development Report: Conflict, Security and Development. Washington DC: World Bank.

19 UN Task Team on post-MDGs (2012), Realizing the Future We Want for All: Report to the Secretary General, New-York: UN.

20 Cameron, David (2012): Speech on family planning, London 11 July 2012.

21 World Bank (2012), Global Monitoring Report—Food Prices, Nutrition and the MDGs. Washington DC: World Bank.

22 IMF (2009), World Economic Outlook.Washington DC; IMF.

Prepared 21st January 2013