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The post-2015 sustainable development agenda: perspectives from business and civil society

Time (GMT +00) 18:00 19:30

Michael Anderson - Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the UN Development Goals
Claire Melamed - Head of Growth, Poverty and Inequality Programme, ODI
Andy Wales - Senior Vice President, Sustainable Development, SABMiller
Phil Bloomer - Director, Campaigns and Policy Division, Oxfam


Adam Green - Senior Reporter, This is Africa, Financial Times

Claire Melamed kicked off with an overview of the key strengths of the MDGs: they were a limited number of focused goals linked to concrete targets, so progress could be tracked. Individual goals were used flexibly for advocacy, and we need similar flexibility for any post-2015 goals.

Michael Anderson noted that while some of the MDGs worked well, others did not. He flagged the danger with measurable goals, of ‘hitting the target but missing the point’. Post-2015 goals need to build in measurability without missing out on broader transformational development.

Phil Bloomer pointed out the failure of MDG8 (on global partnership), in terms of fair trading systems (failed Doha Development Rounds) and access to medicines.

Andy Wales noted that for business the MDGs were useful to some as high level goals, but many in the private sector didn’t even know they existed. In spite of this many companies understand their impact in development terms. Post-2015 goals should help businesses understand their full impacts.

Where is the commitment from the rich world and OECD to pursue intellectual property rights, the pharmaceutical industry, tax evasion /avoidance and transfer pricing? Does a post-2015 framework need to be more aggressive on these issues, rather than just voluntary?

Phil Bloomer: $160bn is lost from the poorest countries annually due to tax evasion, and the responsibility lies not only with evaders but also those who allow evasion. Equitable growth and climate financing will rely on governments ensuring effective tax collection. It’s essential that business takes its responsibility to pay tax where it’s generated seriously; and that we close down tax havens.

Claire Melamed: it’s a choice between ‘the what and the how’. The ‘what’ are the outcomes (e.g. education access). MDG8 was focused on the how, and we need to explore partnerships, to strengthen the ‘how’ without jeopardizing the what. But holding on to (uncontroversial) development gains can be at the expense of tackling some tough but important issues. Making progress on these (e.g. tax and environment) would pose enormous gains, but also much more risk.

Michael Anderson agrees we have to advance tax collection, as this is essential to effective states. We need to explore areas for consensus around these tougher issues, but also recognise that ‘not every problem has a goal-shaped solution’.

Do we even need future goals? Claire Melamed thinks we do, and the UN High Level Panel is already working through options. The post-MDGs are the ‘canary in the multilateral coalmine’: if world leaders can’t agree to common future global development goals to end poverty, we may as well forget the big stuff e.g. climate / trade.

Michael Anderson: We’re looking to the HLP reporting by 31st May 2013. There will then be a 2 year negotiating process at the UN including with the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. There are big risks around this conversation, and specifically that we agree to nothing, or to too much, e.g.: 1. a ‘laundry list’ of things; 2. things that are vague and wooly and can’t be implemented; 3. things that are politically not implementable.

The UK Prime Minister’s view is that we’re in a very different world to 2000, and need to look realistically at how we can help countries develop their own sustainable financing, growth and environment approaches. We are heading to one set of development goals within one framework.

But what role for business in all of this? Andy Wales: With rapid growth and urbanisation trajectories set for Middle and Low Income Countries in the coming decades, it’s important that businesses radically change how they use their resources and do business, in terms of value chains. Starting with the opportunities of how major business actors and entrepreneurs can engage (as opposed to the UN governmental process), would lead to a ‘broader development church’ for post-2015 goals.

Businesses that are pushing back on engaging in development threaten their own ‘bottom line’ in the medium-long term, since unsustainable business practice might lead to some short term gains but erodes the resource base on which they rely. But businesses tend to be compartmentalised into short projects, so long-term sustainable planning would require a big cultural change for business.

Phil Bloomer: This is why the HLP needs to deliver something bold and radical in its vision. Their decisions will define the path of our planet in the next 50 years. All earth systems are now defined by human activity, and the ecological crisis is linked intimately to development / poverty reduction, so taking development means talking sustainability.

We also live in a world of dangerous levels of inequality– ‘there is redistribution, and it’s going in the wrong direction’; the world’s richest 1% control 40% of the planet’s wealth; the bottom 50% control 1%. The World Economic Forum has placed inequality among the top global dangers.

The HLP has to find a way of concretely tackling these things, meaning sustainable growth with equity. While private sector has a role, Governments have to do redistribution of wealth so it reaches the social foundations. That’s why Oxfam has come up with ‘the doughnut of planetary boundaries’ on a safe operating space for humanity, which offers protective limits on social and environmental challenges.

But is there a trade-off between growth and redistribution, or can these go hand in hand? Claire Melamed doesn’t think so: there are many examples of how countries have grown differently, with wide variation in social impacts. The MDGs showed development isn’t only about growth, but also improving people’s lives. We can’t return to ‘growth first’ days of the structural adjustment era, and need to grow equitably. E.g. Brazil is achieving this through a social protection and redistribution model.

A post-2015 framework must also balance social investment objectives with productive investmentfor economic transformation / job creation. But it cannot create a single path to development, and must seek consensus on the end goals, allowing space for different countries to take different routes.

There is a role for donors to improve on MDG8 (global partnership); though fairer trade terms and other promises made even in context of MDGs that have not been fulfilled. But the post-2015 process can’t be seen as a magic bullet that will make the main sticking points go away.

Andy Wales argues for building value chains from thebottom up to help share the benefits of growth, and tackling illicit market flows linked to informality. Business also has lots to do on sustainable resource management (e.g. water and wastage). 

Phil Bloomer thinks that the role of effective and accountable states will be fundamental to future development, and there’s a need to agree that shrinking the state to ‘make way for enterprise’ is not helpful to development. The HLP should also:

1. Define a goal about reducing inequality and sharing the benefits of growth in society (this could be measured by GINI coefficient); countries have done this differently: Brazil through redistribution systems; Vietnam through strategic investment for poor women producers; and SouthKorea through land reforms

2. Ensure post-2015 goals stick to the maximum of 2 degrees limit on global warming. 


·         When value chains are under pressure it’s important that they don’t ‘push stress downwards’ on small scale producers. Labour rights should apply to the whole supply chain.

·         How to incentivise the good stuff and disincentivise the bad stuff (for private sector)? The HLP could define voluntary shadow targets for private sector, and CSOs could hold them to account.

·         What about thinking global and acting local, using the power of local networks? E.g. atarget for effective local cross sector partnerships, tied to delivery not to talk.

·         Transparency and accountability will be important for other goals and in its own right; could be the biggest difference between MDGs and a new framework, and to address tax questions. Either as a tool to track post-2015 commitments, or as standalone goal, is not a magic bullet (needs enabling context).

·         Financial transactions tax could be incorporate post-2015. Seeks to generate socially useful revenue out of financial trading and markets; 14 European countries have already decided to implement it.

·        Fragile states missed out most from the MDG framework as it assumed capable states; a new framework has to address this, but the challenge is that emerging powers don’t all agree it’s a priority.

·        There is a very different conversation among emerging powers on development, so post-2015 will need to seek consensus on the end point rather than all the ways and means of getting there.


As we approach 2015, the target date for the internationally-agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the conversation about what should replace them is increasing in volume and momentum.  On 31 October, the UN’s High-Level Panel on the post-MDG agenda begins a three day meeting in London, hosted by the three co-chairs, UK Prime Minster David Cameron, President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia. 

On the eve of that meeting, we are bringing together three of the key constituencies that inform this debate.  Business, NGOs and academia all have a role to play in shaping the post-2015 agenda and implementing the new agreement.  At this event, Oxfam, Business Fights Poverty and ODI will bring representatives from all three groups together to discuss what they would like the High-Level Panel to recommend.   

The discussion will build on other events on this topic.  On 25 September, ODI and BFP co-organised an event was held in New York to coincide with the 2012 UN General Assembly on the topic of 'Business, the MDGs and Beyond.  In the same week, NGOs had an opportunity to talk directly to the HLP at an outreach event to mark the beginning of the process.

This event brings the conversation to London, at the same time as the Panel are convening to start the first of their substantive discussions, which will shape both their final report and the whole post-2015 agenda.