International Development CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Richard Jolly, Institute of Development Studies

1. We should not lose sight of the fact that the MDGs are historically a great achievement, with widespread commitment from developing and donor countries and public awareness far beyond any earlier development pledges or goals of the UN. It is difficult to think of any specific human goals which have ever gained comparable global support, comparable only to the UDHR and other Human Rights Instruments. Public awareness is itself remarkable and we must make sure this is not lost after 2015.

2. This said, before the MDGs the UN has set some 50 goals in the years since 1960. Each of these goals and their outcomes are listed in detail in one of the volumes of the UN Intellectual history—Richard Jolly et al, UN Contributions to Development Thinking and Practice (Bloomington, Indiana University Press) 2004 pages 259–267. Most of these goals had a fair record of achievement. The eradication of smallpox is the only example of a goal fully achieved (though one year late) but most goals were considerably achieved by a considerable number of countries. Only three have largely been recorded as failures—the reduction of Maternal Mortality, the accelerated reduction of literacy and the 0.7 goal for ODA. I am attaching a paper I wrote which sets out the UN record and related issues more fully.

3. As regards the future, the incorporation of human rights in both the post 2015 goals and in the process of fulfilling them has strong support among many staff members within the UN and, of course, among many NGOs. It is worth emphasising that the UK government is in a good position to help work towards incorporating human rights in the post 2015 agenda, both because there is considerable all party support for such an approach and because it fits with many past UK international positions. If the government is willing to be strategic, it could team up with other governments in Europe in pursuing this approach as well as with some countries from the South such as India, Brazil, Chile and Costa Rica and hopefully Ghana, Egypt and some countries from Southern Africa.

4. As brought out in the discussion on Monday, there is a major need to adapt post 2015 goals to the regional context and move away from formulas such as halving the distance between a country’s present level and long run universal access or achievement. This seemed a good universal formula at the time to adopt global goals while avoiding the need for country specifics but as we can now see more clearly, it shifted the emphasis from rates of progress and meant that the poorest countries had furthest to go to be on track. This time, more attention should be given to starting points and to equity and narrowing gaps both within countries, within regions and globally.

5. The special needs of the Least Developed Countries and the small island states also deserve some mention. Note that the UN’s category of LDCs is different from the Less Developed Countries as defined by the World Bank and the IMF which focus only on low incomes as opposed to the UN’s emphasis on the economic and human vulnerabilities of the LDCs. Since many of the LDCs are Commonwealth countries, the UK government has a natural reason to be allies for attention to their needs.

6. Finally, and most important, the post 2015 objectives must shift from the over-emphasis on accelerating economic growth as the single most important action for the reduction of poverty, and for the achievement of other goals, towards broader recognition of the other national and local actions required, many of which are possible with little or no growth. I am not suggesting that economic growth has no part to play, nor that at a time of recession and economic slippage in many countries, there is not a need to emphasise economic recovery. But too often in the past, an increase in economic growth rates has been treated as the single most important action required, nationally and internationally, when what is needed is a shift in the structure and composition of growth, with more emphasis on many sectoral specifics. For the reduction of poverty, inequality, malnutrition and a host of other human advances in health and education, this broader approach will be even strongly needed in the future.

October 2012

Prepared 21st January 2013