Post-2015 UN Task Team report: Pretty good, all in all


In the rapidly swelling sea of post-2015 publications that is ever lapping at my desk, one report that has been well worth reading properly is the UN System Task Team’s Report to the Secretary-General:  ‘Realising The Future We Want for All’. 

Considering it has been authored by a group of 60 (!) UN agencies plus the World Bank and various other international organisations it is remarkably, almost eerily coherent as a document.  This is not a text that has been track-changed to within an inch of its life.  At times it is hard to believe that such a large number of diverse agencies have generated a vision that is so consistent – but we must presume at the minimum they have signed off on it.  To have done so without turning the text into mush is cause for celebration indeed.

And there is a lot to celebrate in this report.  Several of the key asks and messages that CAFOD, Beyond 2015 and many other civil society organisations have been pushing for receive support and reinforcement – and various other post-2015 commentators will be pleased too.  The case for an inclusive process gets a big bold highlight (p.7), albeit with a light counterpoint in the text.  The three principles of human rights, equality and sustainability (p.23-25) will be widely popular, and support for a holistic approach is welcome.  In line with the weight of opinion in the current debate the report backs a fully global framework – not just one for ‘developing’ countries.  There is explicit acknowledgement of the need to keep a clear focus on poverty and human development (p.9), and balm for most of the key anxieties that are typically raised around this agenda. 

Indeed, it feels like a good amount of listening has gone on.  Much of the language used and the issues included will be familiar to those who have participated in the numerous events on post-2015 in recent months – and we could hazard a guess that the authors have attended a good number of these.  All in all, the piece is as good as any I’ve seen as a flashbulb of where the debate has arrived at in mid-2012. 

An exception to this, weirdly, is the most high profile sentence in the whole document.  The Summary opens by asserting that “The central challenge is…to ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the worlds’ peoples of present and future generations”.  This seems like a very strange claim to me – much more in keeping with the way the challenges were being framed in the 90s before the MDGs were agreed than how they are being framed today.  Despite globalization being presented as ‘the’ central challenge, the term does not reappear in any part of the document, nor is it further justified or explained.

Whilst the content of the report would suggest a wide range of sources have been taken into account, a disappointing approach to referencing seems to have been taken.  Of 48 footnotes, only three reference independent sources – whilst the rest are of texts produced by UN and World Bank system agencies.  Several statistics and pieces of evidence go uncited even when the intellectual claim to them is indisputable (for example, Sumner’s work on p.9).  Whether or not this was done deliberately, only citing your own material really is bad form – and it undermines other efforts around openness and engagement with diverse actors.  It impairs transparency and accountability, erodes trust, and does nothing to dispel the long standing myths around UN/World Bank hegemonic domination in development.    

The most interesting bit of the report is p.24-32, especially the diagram, which sets out four dimensions of “inclusive social development, environmental sustainability, inclusive economic development, and peace and security”.  Personally I like this bundling.  You could interpret it as the addition of peace and security to the traditional three pillars of sustainability (environmental, social and economic); or as a fuller working out of the ‘people, prosperity, planet and peace’ idea which was in misty circulation some six months ago.  The latter is arguably more memorable as a set of labels whilst almost entirely the same content-wise.  An obvious fix to the challenge of how to fit the large number of important issues into one concise framework is to create subtitles, and these look like fairly sensible ones to me.    

Less convincing at this stage is the ‘enablers’ which would work across all four dimensions as means to achieve the goals (rather than goals themselves).  The examples currently given as enablers are in some cases wholly repetitive with what is given in the boxes as potential goals (ie. ‘Universal access to quality education’ as an enabler, with ‘Quality education for all’ as a goal).  But the distinction between ‘enablers’ and ‘goals’ will surely be impossible.  Almost anything you put in either category is will be both a good in itself and a springboard for other crosscutting achievements – and many of the issues being mooted as enablers (for example, ‘sustainable energy for all’) have been well established as candidate goals in their own right.  Whilst I see the temptation of looking to address the means as well as ends, trying to get the agreement on enablers as well as goals is like trying to get the entire world to agree on one single theory of change diagram.  There’s a high risk that this ends up as a confusing distraction, which is simply used to shoehorn issues that slip off the goals list.

But given that the debate is still warming up, it is better to err on the side of being overly ambitious than overly gloomy (there’s plenty of time for all that!).  Ambition is the general tone of the debate as things stand, and I think the Task Team report is a fair reflection of where thinking has got to on the issues as a whole – which even moves this thinking forward in places.  There is much still to be worked out, some mistakes and significant room for improvement, but the overall coherence of the Task Team report bolsters the credibility of UN leadership on this agenda as a whole.

2 Responses to “Post-2015 UN Task Team report: Pretty good, all in all”

  1. IB Online (KW 29): eine kleine Netzschau « Vom Bohren harter Bretter Says:

    […] The Future We Want und die Perspektiven für den post-2015 Prozess nimmt Amy Pollard für das Serpents and Doves Blog vor. Hier sei noch auf den Artikel Conflicting Views about Poverty im Economist verwiesen, der […]

  2. Mwangi Waituru Says:

    Indeed this report will be a very useful document in the coming days and It will inform my thinking and working going forward. None-the-less, there are quite a number of expectations I had on the task team that are un-met.

    Mwangi Waituru, Nairobi Kenya

    I was expecting that the diversity in the team and the level of expertise therein would ‘spring up’ a new controversial idea, some new thinking, some new dogma but as it turned out, the report is mainly a synthesis of positions and ideas already floated. It is a compromise document if not populist doctrine. I would have loved to see some critic of some of the positions we are advancing. For example, reading the document I could not help but remember the new idea in town (Nairobi)- the supermarkets. In this retail concept, the selling point is having everything you need under one roof. Before then, we used to have shops specialized in electronics, clothing, foodstuff, meat, groceries, name it. Today, it is all under one roof. I would have loved to see the document make a case for both a holistic as well as a ‘narrow’ focus.

    Our late Vice President, Kijana Wamalwa, used to say that a good idea should give birth to a better idea. The team was rather prescriptive in its suggestion of an MDGs + flame work. The difference between human an an insect is- if an insect- say a spider(is it an insect by the way?) spins a web, it will do it the same way over and over again, year in year out. But if human builds a house today, pulls it down tomorrow and rebuilds it, you will see a totally new structure.

    The concept of ‘One Size Fits All’ is under siege- can all the proponents of ‘hard law’ stand up. All those that Nicole Richardt (2007) quoted when she wrote ‘Other concerns regarding the increasing use of soft law pertain to its effects on the development of an international legal system since it may “destabilize the whole international normative system and turn it into an instrument that can no longer serve its purpose” (Weiler 1998). Overall, hard law is perceived as more capable of achieving policy change, thereby implying that ‘one size’ fits all or hard law is a better means to achieve policy change across member states.’- Will you all RAISE UP YOUR HANDS.

    The casualness with which the document dismissed the concept of ‘one size fits’ and the idea of a ‘magic-burret’ left me disappointed. My expectation was that the document could have advanced both cases and open up space for the HLP panel and other policy players (if they want that is) to follow the most rarely trodden path, that path of the very slightest possibility of a certain one size that can fit all. Another team might also go out and look for ‘that one magic bullet’ that will trigger all the other desired effects in a magical sequence. Is it possible that for example, if we only prioritized governance or corruption that sustainability and social development would fall in place.

    Talk of sustainability and that reminds me the fact that the document has not made distinction between sustainability under the three principles and sustainability under the four core dimension(Environmental Sustainability). I expected to see sustainability in the form of ensuring that if we lift some people out of poverty today, they will not slide back to poverty tomorrow or that as we lift some out of the poverty line, others are sliding back. In Kenya, we put children in school in 2003 when we introduced free primary education- they are quickly falling out through the cracks today.

    Looking at the enablers made me confused as to what this agenda is for. Last week in Addis, one Masiiwa from the Africa Monitor asked us a question-We need to understand and agree on the objective of post MDG framework. What is the framework intended for?. Is it a development framework, an accountability framework, a diagnostic framework, a benchmarking framework, or an aid coordination mechanism? Is it just a framework to succeed the current MDG framework?

    The report makes it confusing on whether the post 2015 is about ‘tackling poverty’ as outlined in the millennium declaration or enabling human development and economic growth. For a person who has a daily contact with the poor, it is still not clear to me how a dying person, one denied right to food and healthcare can be enabled to enjoy ‘rights’ before the ‘drivers’ of that poverty are removed. I am therefore, still struggling with the question of ‘enablers’ Vs ‘drivers.’

    What I liked about the MDGs is that they are about the living to stop them from dying today unnecessarily. It was an acknowledgment that we have people who are dying and they need to be saved. They are illiterate already and education may benefit their children but it will not make them employable. They have fallen off the cracks already and their means of livelihood has already been taken away from them. They are dying today and we are busy telling them about a blighter tomorrow? I keep on asking, ‘where is their place in the post 2015 framework? Is this discourse an opportunity for these people or a threat?’

    My million dollar expectation was that the task team was going to set the stage where real issues affecting us today can be resolved. Non-the-less, the real issues are still left on the table of the G8/20 and unless we are bold enough to tackle these drivers of poverty at the UN, then the informal groupings will keep on being the real holders of power. Issues under discussion in the group are the ones driving poverty- instability of global currencies, cutting of budgets, rescue plans, commodity prices, development aid, tax havens etc. These are real drivers of poverty and since they have poked their fingers into eyes we must deep our hands into them.

    May I end with a quote I got from one Anthony Mwangi of UNICEF Liaison Office to the AU and UNECA Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

    ‘Current MDGs speaks of reduction by certain percentages of maternal mortality, infant mortality or neonatal mortality, or others. The challenge remains as to who gets to decide which mother and child will fall within the percentage. My hope is that in post 2015 and beyond, when it comes to saving lives, we should aim at saving 100% of lives of women and children.

    I quote a Ugandan Minister of Youth who said: “When a snake threatens your life you do not reduce it, you eliminate it.”

    “When there are 5 mothers, will you try to save only 3 mothers? What happens to the 2 mothers left to die while trying to meet the two thirds percentage?” (my quote)

    “When a house is on fire and 10 people are in it, will you try to save only 6 or all 10 people? In such a situation you will marshal of the support to save the lives of 10 people, even when you do not have the capacity. In that same scenario, when a government does not have the capacity, it should try to marshal all the support it can get to ensure that no single mother or child loses their lives due to preventable deaths.” (my quote)

    To be radical, any preventable death should ideally be treated as a human rights violation. Governments need to fear when mothers and children die needlessly. We should put pressure on governments in this regard.’

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