The UN post-2015 report - new targets, less pain, new gain

subscriber | 31 May, 2013

No destitute people by 2030. Arm the world's poor with cell phones and broadband so they can check if their governments are hoodwinking them or not. Let private business and finance in on the development turf, so they can do the job of creating growth. Tear down the remains of the Cold War wall, with its prejudices, in our heads and move forward as one. Development and sustainability can only be achieved through united action.

Those are some of the takeaway's of the post-2015 development report, presented by a high-level panel led by Prime Minister Cameron of the UK, President Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia to UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon yesterday.

The aggressive new target, that everyone in the world should be out of poverty and have a shot at a decent life by 2030, is a tall order.

But given the extraordinarily speed with which we have travelled over the past 25 years, why not.

The report is pretty honest and reasonably balanced, seeing what it is. There is something in there fore everyone. Unlike, lets say, 25 years ago when UN reports have improved sharply over the past 25 years. What was a massive amount of gobbledygook, impossible to read and make sense of - largely due to the wet blanket the Cold War threw over the world back then, is largely gone.

At least if we ignore the very stodgy old headline for the report: "A new global partnership: - eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development."

The underlying theme is that yes we can continue to grow the world's economy big time. And yes we can do so by a combination regulation and innovation.

Two memorable quotes:

"We need a transparency revolution, so citizens can see exactly where and how taxes, aid and revenues from extractive industries are spent".

"We also call for a data revolution for sustainable development, with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens. We should actively take advantage of new technology, crowd sourcing, and improved connectivity to empower people with information on the progress towards the targets".

The fundamental short-coming of the post-2015 report, that major issues that are not traditionally developmental a such, but that hugely affect development, are left out or are sparsely mentioned. This may be to strike under the belt, but the report itself wants to look 'beyond aid".

Here are some hugely important matters that are as important for rich countries as for poor:

* The world's industrial supply-chain is as un-sustainable as  it gets. Multinational corporations are creaming off labour markets and are pushing around profit's according to who has the best offer. And the best offer is not very good for anyone in the long term. In fact it is not. Global manufacturing is unsustainable in its present form.

* The world's poor countries are not trading on equal terms.

* The global finance industry commands enormous unchecked powers. A financial meltdown of the kind we experienced in 2008 can happen again, and again. Meltdowns affect development countries the most as aid dries up and the world economy is thrown into recession.

* The technology and media revolution, which the report sees as a hugely important positive factor, is in the hands of a few mostly American tech companies. Poor people are not initially profitable. Measures must be in place to finance research and product development on a wide scale to fast track MDG replacements. There is an underlying belief that individualised solutions, be it crowdsourcing or social media, causes transparency. Conventional, professional research and reporting to the broader public need urgent attention too.

There is a healthy consensus that we are all in it together. And yes we are. We are even on Facebook together and can email whoever and get a very quick response from anywhere in the world. but our underlying self-interests tend to dent original intentions so that what comes out is not always recognisable.

Largely the world is a better place today than even 10 years ago in a number of development areas. And largely the world at a decision making level are defining problems and solutions more the same way. We understand exactly what the other guy is saying. We have tried a fair amount of things that did not work. And also jointly know fairly well what does work.

Naturally political divisions are still there. We have different regional, national and personal interests. Ideologies are still alive, in particular cultural ones. But the international middle-class is growing fast. And it is a consumerist, or for that matter anti-consumerist, class that crave for words like "opportunity".

The main thrust in the new report it to make a point why sustainability and development  cannot be separated. The report introduces a new level of parity between the developed world and the developing world that is a reflexion that the world's economic balance is shifting. E.g. south-south trade has exploded. Trade and FDI between China, India and Africa is fast closing in on the North America and Europe.

The changing circumstances also mean that many former aid recipients have moved on - China, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Africa, Namibia, Angola - a number of booming oil based economies in Africa. And with it also the matter of global sustainability, as the global carbon foot print expands. This too changes the conversation.

A number of the MDG's have been achieved or at least the numbers look better than before, although there are enormous disparities and gaps left. Some of those disparities have become localised. India's 40 billionaires, its sizeable middle class and politicians are expected to take responsibility for chocking health indicators.

Industry sociologist Manuel Castells envisaged, in his book The Information Age over 10 years ago,  how new divisions between those who are inside the information society and those who are outside will create a new global social order.  And we can easily live in La Paz, Miami, Lyon, Stockholm, Kiev, Athen's, Bagdad, Lusaka or Chandigarth and still be part of that international networking community. We can, if we are good at alghoritms, move from any part of the globe to Silicon Valley.  The majority that don't make it are stuck in distant slums, further away from those who decide than ever before.

There is a healthy unity in the report, that includes leaders across the spectrum, that the world cannot move forward and win the war against poverty if global sustainability is not linked. And if not rich and poor nations are changing their behaviour.

Another extremely healthy point  is that the responsibility for global development and sustainability is not a zero-sum-game. We live in a highly dynamic, mobile world where connectivity is increasing as are opportunities.

The consensus in the report does paper over many, many cracks. Largely by not mentioning most of them. While there is a strong onus in the report on better governance, transparency, end to corruption and to use technology to monitor new targets and to give citizen's their right themselves monitor their own governments, much less is said about more transparency and accountability in the private sector.

The door is still only half open, or less. But it won't close again. The new emerging powers, in particular the Bric countries, are gaining weight and will have much more of a say in the next 15 years. It is hard to say how much, but the process is accelerating. The old 'West* is giving in as it also needs to renegotiate the deal.

An underlying aspect, that also glues us more together and hopefully creates a minimum of unity to be able to turn unturned stones is that there is absolutely no certainty anymore. To turn introvert equals proverbial suicide. Rich countries cannot expect to stay rich if they are not highly flexible. The playing field must be levelled for the sake of a new interdependence.  And poor countries know there is another world out there. The Internet has helped them to have a glimpse into the perceived paradise.

We are, as the UN slogan reminds us, one. Will this report fire us up to set those neccesary new targets,  reduce human pain, and collectively all gain? It may.

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