In July 2012, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was appointed as co-chair of a UN panel charged with establishing a new plan to eradicate poverty
The ultimate goal of the panel is to reshape the MDGs into a framework that can be accepted by the international community. The panel is charged with achieving sustainable development; in doing so, it will continue to focus on economic, social and environmental issues — identified in a report by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992 as the ‘3 Pillars’ of growth.
However, there needs to be a renewed focus on governance reforms so that recommendations can actually be implemented. One way of getting around these problems would be to involve the private sector and non-government organisations in the development of good quality policies. In addition, issues such as rising inequality, disaster management and managing climate change also need to be solved.
These issues really need to be addressed because the panel only has one chance to create a good framework. If it messes up the first time, a whole plan will have gone to waste. One of the most difficult things about a plan like this is ensuring that the balance is right. The framework needs to be flexible enough so that it fits all countries and stakeholders, but if goals are to be measured there needs to be precise indicators. The MDGs are not binding, which means that policies can be adjusted to the needs of different countries. But such flexibility has its disadvantages because it is harder for the UN to assess the real effect of specific policies.
Asian nations, especially China, India and Indonesia, need to pay attention to the development of the plan. According to the Institute of Development Studies, the centre of global poverty is shifting. Just two decades ago 93 per cent of poor people lived in low-income countries; now 72 per cent of the world’s poorest billion people live in middle-income countries. And as the number of people considered middle-class increases, governments will need to formulate policies to produce enough food, energy and jobs to satisfy them. If they are unable to do so, sustainable development will become very difficult.
Asian countries in particular face this challenge, because of their demography. While Asia is projected to be the economic centre of the world, it still has critical problems. Solving them partly depends on the success or failure of the agenda that President Yudhoyono helps develop.
The idea of sustainable development was first introduced in the early 1980s by the UN, leading to the creation of the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1983 . While the concept has been around for over 20 years, its definition is still contested. As a consequence, while sustainable development has been approved many times at various international forums, its meaning remains vague and open to interpretation. In developing the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the UN panel has the chance to choose its own way — hopefully it takes a liberal approach.
But the most important point in developing an agenda to eradicate poverty is to listen to the voices of the poor. The panel needs to ask itself: how can we involve the poor so they understand that their future is at the centre of our vision?
The world needs a plan to replace the MDGs in 2015. But it cannot afford a business-as-usual approach. The new panel must accelerate the completion of MDG’s, develop an expansive agenda for 2015 and beyond, and establish a liberal definition of sustainable development.
Dandy Rafitrandi is a research assistant at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.