What Comes After the MDGs?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to expire in 2015. What now? Many countries are not on the path to achieve MDGs by 2015 and although MDG summits have attempted to look towards creating a post-2015 agenda, there is little consensus on a global development framework. This article discusses several different options for a post-2015 agenda and argues that civil society involvement is critical. Including “the voices of those directly affected by poverty” will greatly advance the development agenda, says Leo Williams, Chairman of Beyond2015.

By Leo Williams

June 17, 2011

What will replace the millennium development goals (MDGs) after their expiry date in 2015? This is an increasingly pertinent question for people working in development, for many reasons: the 2015 deadline is rapidly approaching, the MDGs took 10 years to formulate and agree on a global stage; at least some of the MDGs will not be met in some countries by the deadline; and a recent study, Cafod's 100 Voices, demonstrates that people in the developing world tend to think it is important to have a global international development framework.

Before last September's UN MDG summit, the world was unwilling to spend time thinking about what would happen beyond 2015, preferring instead to focus on achieving the goals. Yet the summit was something of a watershed. Governments realised the importance of planning for post-2015, and this was reflected in the summit's outcome document, which requested the UN secretary general to report annually on the MDGs' progress and to "make recommendations in his annual reports, as appropriate, for further steps to advance the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015".

There are three main options on the table. We could simply extend the MDG deadline, we could build on the existing goals, making improvements based on existing research and consultation, or we could try something completely different. What is crucial to remember is that it took about 10 years to develop the MDGs. We will need to build substantial political momentum to deliver a post-2015 development framework.

Since the 2010 summit, some key initiatives have arisen aiming to shed some light on what should happen after 2015 and how we should arrive there.

The UN's high level panel on global sustainability, which is preparing a report for the Rio+20 summit, suggests that we need global sustainable development goals to replace the MDGs. It is clearly important that the Rio+20 and post-2015 processes are closely interlinked to avoid duplication.

The UN's economic and social council's committee for development policy examined the post-2015 question in March. This was the start of a research initiative to strengthen the UN development agenda beyond 2015 by considering emerging alternative development models that could contribute to improving human wellbeing.

This week, the general assembly organised a panel session to discuss the UN's development agenda beyond 2015. And the recent MDGs follow-up meeting in Japan also provided an opportunity to start international discussions on what happens beyond 2015. There seems to have been no discussion on how such a framework should be developed, and perhaps this is where civil society can make a meaningful contribution.

Beyond2015 is an international campaign aiming to make such a contribution, by ensuring that the process of developing a framework is participatory, inclusive and responsive to those directly affected by poverty and injustice. The campaign consists of almost 200 people, from more than 130 organisations (including NGOs, academic institutions and social movements) from 50 countries. At the World Social Forum in February, Beyond2015 developed a robust set of civil society's essential must-haves for the creation of a post-2015 development framework, which is being used to influence national and international institutions.

Beyond2015 links with global initiatives thinking about the post-2015 question, including the Berlin Civil Society Centre, GCAP and a group looking at post-2015 paradigms convened by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (Cigi). At this early stage in global thinking, it is critical for civil society to speak with one voice, and critical for us all to work together, to think together, to plan strategy together and, most important, to influence together.

It is time for national governments to heed the calls from civil society, to consult their citizens and come up with their position. It is time for the UN to set in place a participatory process to create a framework that is wider than global summits, and includes the voices of those directly affected by poverty.

• Leo Williams is chairman of Beyond 2015