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Opinion

Post-2015 Development Applied to Canada

September 11, 2013

by KRISTEN SHANE

Published by Embassy News

For the full article, please click here.

The world is hammering out a new set of development goals that may, unlike before, be tracked in all countries—rich and poor. But some analysts say developed countries like Canada could push back.

The thought is that the federal government might be uncomfortable having the world scrutinize it on progress in vulnerable populations like Aboriginals or on touchy subjects like climate change, for instance.

One expert, however, says he doesn’t foresee this so-called universality as a problem, pointing out that Canada already tracks its progress on these sticky issues, so there’s no new threat. And the Canadian government will likely get to set its own national targets.

There’s also doubt about whether the new development goals will come together at all. A complex United Nations goal-setting process is lumbering forth with many hurdles to jump. The current set of Millennium Development Goals have yet to reach their 2015 end date and governments, think tanks, foundations, and other actors the world over are already elbowing each other to get their preferred issues in the post-2015 agenda. Trying to rein in these diverse interests and produce one global set of goals could be tough.

Grappling with universality

In 2000, 189 United Nations member states agreed to focus on achieving eight goals by 2015. They included wiping out extreme poverty and hunger, improving maternal health and lowering child mortality.

These Millennium Development Goals dominated the global development agenda for the last decade. Some of the goals have been met, and the United Nations is pushing one last time to achieve more.

Meanwhile, it’s also facilitating the establishment of post-2015 goals through several channels. One is a group of high-profile individuals tasked by the UN secretary general to come up with a road map. Chaired by the leaders of Indonesia, Liberia and the United Kingdom, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons’ May report outlines an agenda “applicable to both developed and developing countries alike.”

The Millennium Development Goals focused on the poorest of the poor and developing countries. The idea is now that greater global interconnectedness—seen through financial shocks and climate change, for instance—shows the need for truly worldwide goals. Plus, there’s recognition that poor people don’t just live in low-income countries but wealthier ones too.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon picked up on this in his own July report on the topic, which evaluated the common threads in the high-level panel’s report and those of other groups involved in the goal-setting process.

“The key elements of the emerging vision for the development agenda beyond 2015 include…universality, to mobilize all developed and developing countries and leave no one behind,” he wrote.

How would Canada react? 

That could cause some head-scratching among Canadian policy-makers, says Kate Higgins, who closely follows the post-2015 development discussion as a researcher with The North-South Institute think tank.

“I’m not sure that countries like Canada at the moment quite understand the implications of universality. And I think there could easily be pushback,” she said in an August interview.

“Because this would…involve countries like Canada monitoring their contributions to sustainable development at home and abroad in an internationally co-ordinated process.”

In a July roundtable talk at NSI’s Ottawa office, Ms. Higgins spoke on the same subject: “How do we ensure these governments are comfortable thinking about the Dakotas [in the United States], or the northern Australias, or the northern Canadas, about what these populations and vulnerable groups are potentially facing and what sort of introspection some of these countries might need to do if they’re truly going to engage in a global agenda that has legitimacy?”

John Sinclair, a distinguished associate with the North-South Institute and a member of the McLeod Group of development advocates, said how the politics will play out in Canada and elsewhere is a difficult to predict. But there could be Canadian pushback.

“Because we see this thing as…an invidious comparator,” he said.

The Canadian outlook could be: “Why do you want to go to the trouble of including us in a process which is obviously really a problem for those other countries.”

He said that Canada is sometimes sensitive about UN criticisms.

The United Nations right-to-food envoy reported on Canada last year. Then-immigration minister Jason Kenney said the envoy’s Canadian visit was a “waste of resources,” and “the UN should focus on development…in countries where people are starving.”

Barry Carin, a senior fellow with the Centre for International Governance Innovation think tank, acknowledged Canada has problems, but said it now measures its sensitive issues.

“It’s just a question of saying in addition to measuring, the issue is setting a target. And I think that you remove all of the political difficulty, from an international perspective, if you say, ‘No, no it’s the business of the Canadian government to set targets in Canada.’ Who’s going to disagree with that?”

The high-level panel suggested that in a few cases of basic rights there should be minimum global standards, but in other cases each country should set its own national targets for meeting a universal goal.

The government will be under tremendous political pressure to set ambitious targets, Mr. Carin said.

It’s more likely that poor countries will protest universal goals than rich ones, he said. Some very poor countries are concerned that if the spotlight now shining on them in the Millennium Development Goals is spread globally, it will dim the world’s attention to their needs. Canada could funnel resources into meeting its own education targets, and give less to Bangladesh or Haiti for theirs, for instance.

For its part, the Canadian government says it’s too soon to comment on what the next set of goals will look like.

“Discussions on post-2015 objectives are ongoing and consideration will be given to a variety of options,” wrote Nicolas Doire, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, in an email responding to the idea of Canadian pushback.

But he said Canada welcomes the high-level panel’s report, which gives the international community “a solid foundation for discussions on how to move forward.”

Bumpy road ahead

The path ahead promises to be tough, said Mr. Carin.

The world isn’t even close to consensus on the issue. Two paths are supposed to come together to create the final goals by 2015: one focusing on sustainable development, and the other on traditional poverty reduction in the same frame as the Millennium Development Goals.

There’s tension between those advocating on either side, said Mr. Carin. Poor countries are saying: “You can worry about sustainability when you’re middle income, we’re worrying about survival,” he said.

Besides national governments, non-governmental groups with focus areas ranging from failed states to stopping violence against women are all “shouting from the sidelines” to ensure that their issue takes priority, he said. He even took part in the shouting match for CIGI through a consortium that presented a set of proposals to UN officials.

For its part, Canada has worked on the issue through the UN General Assembly.

The Canadian government gave $1 million to UN-led thematic and country consultations on the post-2015 agenda, which took place in more than 60 countries. It also co-sponsored with Senegal and in partnership with Germany a thematic consultation on education in March.

And when Homi Kharas, executive secretary of the secretariat supporting the high-level panel, came to Ottawa for the July NSI roundtable, he and his chief of staff briefed DFATD officials including the development deputy minister Paul Rochon.

But it’s not clear what Canada wants to see in the post-2015 agenda. When asked, Mr. Doire wrote that Canada is talking with the international community about the goals and he repeated that “consideration will be given to a variety of options.” He also said the government “will continue to engage and inform Canadians throughout this process.”

Analysts say Canada has been a participant through bureaucratic channels, but it’s been largely sitting on the sidelines.

Mr. Carin said if he were working for the government, he would do the same.

“It’s not clear where we’d run on the field,” he said. It’s better to keep heads down than take a stand and risk making enemies so early on in such a complex process, he said.

But Mr. Sinclair said if Canada wants to have any influence, it should act soon to do constructive lobbying with likeminded allies.

Canada’s next big chance to do that will be on Sept. 25 at a one-day session at the UN in New York that will focus both on what’s left to do in the MDGs and what comes after 2015.

The secretary-general has encouraged member states to “provide clarity on the road map to 2015.” They will be the ultimate decision-makers.

The road to 2015

A primer on some of the groups involved in the creation of the next set of development goals, which is expected to be hammered out by September 2015.

Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals—An intergovernmental group of 30 representatives nominated by UN member states. Expected to propose goals and targets addressing economic, social and environmental issues to be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda.

Timeline: Established January 2013. Phase 1 (March 2013-Feb. 2014): discussion. Phase 2 (Feb.-Sept. 2014): negotiations and report production.

High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda—Chaired by the leaders of Indonesia, Liberia and the United Kingdom and made up of 27 people from government, the private sector, civil society, and academia. Tasked by the secretary-general to give a roadmap on the agenda.

Timeline: Following meetings and consultations in 2012 and 2013, it delivered its report in May.

UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda—The secretary-general established this internal team to co-ordinate UN preparations for the post-2015 program. UN outreach included 11 global thematic consultations, country-level talks in more than 60 countries and a global survey.

Others—NGOs, philanthropists, businesses, anti-poverty groups, think tanks, academics and others want their voices heard.

Sources: UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service, NSI