Baku Dialogues: FROM THE MILLENNIUM DEVELOPMENT GOALS TO A NEW SET OF GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT PRIORITIES

19-02-2015

Thank you very much, Ambassador Pashayev, for the introduction. Greetings to Faculty, students and other visitors to today's lecture. And thank you again to the Rector, Ambassador Pashayev, and to ADA University, for inviting me to come and speak today. Because there was so little traffic this morning, we have had the chance to look around the campus. It is not so often one gets to design a new university from the very beginning, and what a beautiful university this is with its facilities. I really congratulate you. Who would not want to study in such a campus?

I am told that this university began its life with the objective of training students for diplomatic careers, and it still does that. I'm told that the university today offers a wide range of courses across public and international affairs, the humanities and sciences, business, and engineering and ICT. So, a very well rounded set of disciplines and crucial, of course, to building a diversified and sustainable economy and a cohesive society, and for enabling Azerbaijan to play its important role in regional and global affairs. I have also noted that a number of international students study here.

Today's lecture is about moving from the Millennium Development Goals to a new set of global priorities, called the Sustainable Development Goals, yet to be fully defined. This agenda will be negotiated by diplomats in New York. The post-2015 global development debates are very relevant to anyone aspiring to serve as a diplomat for Azerbaijan or their own country.

Of course, the future success of Azerbaijan - and indeed all countries - is closely linked to the state of the global economy and global ecosystems, and to peace and security in our world. Countries need economies that generate jobs and opportunities, especially for the young generation today, which is the largest the world has ever known: 1.8 billion adolescents and youths. Many are born into societies – in both developed and developing countries - where job and livelihood prospects are uncertain. Countries need inclusive and cohesive societies. They need healthy ecosystems. They need peace. Development plays a major role in advancing all these ends.

Back in 2000, the UN member states got serious about having a prioritized global agenda for development. For those of you who can remember back to the year of 2000, apart from all the anxiety, it was actually a time of great hope. A hope that Perhaps the 21st century would be better than the 20th century, which was a very bloody century. So, in September 2000, Secretary General Kofi Annan invited heads of governments and heads of states to come to the UN in New York and sign up to the Millennium Declaration. I ended up there as a young Prime Minister, and put my signature on the Millennium Declaration. The relevance of that is that the Declaration contained most of the elements that were later launched as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals were embraced by countries around the world. They were embraced by developing countries; many went on to include the MDGs in their national constitutions, and certainly into national development plans, with targets and indicators.

The MDGs set out to tackle extreme poverty and hunger; protect the environment; expand education; advance health, gender equality, and women's empowerment; and foster global partnerships for development. Countries have anchored the MDGs in their development plans, pursued very deliberate strategies to achieve them, and mobilized external support around them. But here we are in late 2014, and these goals will have run their course by the end of 2015, so there are under 500 days to go. The debate on what follows next is underway, and in that regard we also need to look at what was achieved with the MDGs and what needs to be carried over to the next agenda. We also need to assess what the MDGs missed, and thus what the new agenda should pick up. If we look at areas like:

The proportion of the world's people living in extreme poverty – the goal was to eradicate extreme poverty, but the target said “cut it in half”. Well, half has been achieved five years ahead of the target, according to the World Bank's declaration in 2010. This is great for the people who have been lifted out of extreme poverty, but half have been left behind. That's unfinished business that needs to be carried through.

  • The target of halving the proportion of people without access to safe drinking water sources has also been met.
  • On average across the world, gender parity in primary education has been achieved, and most children now enroll in primary schools, although completion rates are not universally high.
  • The lives of many urban slum dwellers have improved, and levels of infant and child mortality have decreased significantly. There is a downward trend of tuberculosis and global malaria deaths, and the tide is turning on HIV.

Yet global trends tend to disguise the significant unevenness in achievements both between countries and within them. For example, the huge movement of many hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty in China has driven up the level of global progress on extreme poverty reduction. However, some countries have seen very little poverty reduction. In others, marginalized groups have been excluded from their country's socioeconomic development. Another specific area that warrants particular mention is the slow progress in reducing maternal mortality rates and providing universal access to sexual and reproductive health– these goals have not done so well, and that points to ongoing challenges in achieving gender equality and in relation to the empowerment of women.

Around one billion people continue to live in extreme poverty. Many go to bed hungry and undernourished every night – with lifelong repercussions for the children affected. Lack of sanitation leaves many people vulnerable to the rapid spread of disease – particularly in the aftermath of the increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters our world is experiencing.

I remember being on a panel, several years ago, with the Minister of Rural Affairs of India. He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and said, “What's wrong with us in India? Far more people have access to a cellphone than to a toilet. What is wrong with our priorities?” In addition, a number of our world's ecosystems are under serious stress, which threatens the ongoing supply of the ecosystem services we all need.

So, there is work to be done on the next global development agenda to ensure that no one is left behind, and that the route to higher human development is a sustainable one.

From the MDG experience, a number of conclusions can be drawn about what helps countries to make fast progress:

  • There is no substitute for effective leadership and governance and strong national ownership of development strategies;
  • Development strategies and plans must be supported by the capacities required for implementation;
  • Funding is essential. But looking to the future of development financing, while official development assistance will continue to play an important role particularly for the low-income countries, it must increasingly play a catalytic role. Alongside increased trade, investment, and the volume of remittances, the contribution to development from the growth of economies and rising domestic resource mobilization dwarfs Official Development Assistance (ODA);
  • The roles of subnational governments, the private sector, and civil society are important in driving development.

Post 2015 process

For the most part, the MDG agenda set targets for developing countries to meet. Goal 8 was a partnership goal, and its indicators included reaching high levels of efficient development assistance, having better trade rules, debt relief (there has been a lot of very significant debt relief), affordable essential drugs, and access to new technologies, especially ICTs. Azerbaijan is a very progressive country in relation to ICTs. It is certainly playing a full role in that respect. But the Sustainable Development Goals agenda is much more transformational than what I have just described. It is about encouraging all countries to transition to sustainable economies and societies, while also focusing on the mechanisms for developing countries to make that transition. Already, the UN Member States have agreed that the post-2015 agenda should have “a single framework and set of goals – universal in nature and applicable to all countries (developed and developing), while taking account of differing national circumstances and respecting national policies. It should promote peace, and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality, and human rights for all.” Those were the words of the outcome document of the leader-level meeting on the MDGs and post-2015 in September last year in New York. The UNDP and the broader UN development system have reached out to the world's citizens for input into the post-2015 agenda. We have launched large-scale consultations through 88 national dialogues, including here in Azerbaijan, and eleven major thematic consultations. The worldwide survey, MyWorld, has had an especially wide reach: so far, around five million people have participated by voting on their priorities for the new agenda.

Here in Azerbaijan, two rounds of consultations have reached out to women and men, youth and children, people with disabilities, internally displaced persons, academics, entrepreneurs, business associations, journalists, and non-governmental organizations, and to rural areas.

There has been a strong focus here on youth issues, with more than 800 young people engaged, including, I understand, through a Model UN workshop hosted here at ADA University. I thank all who have taken part, and I thank the Government of Azerbaijan for its support for this inclusive process. I am told that out of the consultation here there were three areas identified as priorities: the need for economic diversification and inclusive growth; rural development and quality infrastructure; and enhanced quality of
and access to healthcare.

Around the world, the feedback was that the areas covered by the MDGs remain very important, and that the unfinished business - high levels of extreme poverty, hunger, and so on - need to be tackled. In country after country, people have prioritized health, education, and jobs. Interestingly, the next biggest priority after that tended to be honest and effective governance. I think it is the genuine understanding among global citizens that that helps drive the positive development agenda. But interestingly, in the consultation, people have been very clear: it's not just about numbers. It is not just about quantity in the fields of education, jobs or health. It is also about quality. You send children to school because you want them to learn something. You have a health system; you'd like it to provide effective treatment. If you are going to have a job, you'd like it to be decent work. So, meeting their desires for better quality as well as quantity is quite important. In addition, people have stated their desire to live without fear of violence or conflict in fair and just societies that do not discriminate or exclude people because of their minority status or membership of a group that is traditionally discriminated against.

Overall, the consultations have been strongly supportive of keeping the focus on the eradication of poverty in all its dimensions, and of doing this in a way which does not compromise the functioning of the ecosystems on which human life depends.

In terms of formal processes, the UN General Assembly established an Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, which has started meeting in the last year. It reported in July, proposing 17 goals and 169 targets. The report builds on the legacy of the MDGs, covering the unfinished business, but it also broadens the scope with goals in also broadens the scope with goals in inequalities reduction, infrastructure, energy, peaceful and inclusive societies, and other new areas. The agenda would be applicable to all countries, and aimed at shifting the world towards sustainable consumption and production.

As UNDP, we believe it will be important to prioritize addressing the factors that perpetuate underdevelopment and cause development setbacks. High levels of extreme poverty are increasingly concentrated where there is conflict and/or poor governance, a weak state, low social cohesion, and/or high exposure to natural disasters. Think Somalia. These factors can also drive setbacks in states that have made progress – but where there are underlying development weaknesses. Some of the worst conflicts we see around the world at the moment are not in the poorest countries; for instance, Syria was a fairly solid middle income country. Iraq has the petroleum based potential to be an upper-income country when stable.

The underlying development deficits about which UNDP has been writing in its Arab Human Development Reports for the last decade point to these underlying issues which are causing huge setbacks. There are development solutions that help build better governance; establish the rule of law and human rights, including women's rights; strengthen social cohesion and resilience to shocks (whether a natural disaster or conditions that might lead to conflict); and build capacities for peaceful mediation and resolution of differences. We work around the world in these areas, as well as on inclusive and sustainable growth. The MDG experience suggests that the new agenda will be most powerful if it is measurable, clear and concise. That suggests there is still work to be done in prioritizing the new agenda. The UN Secretary General's forthcoming synthesis report on the debate so far, requested by the General Assembly, can give guidance on these matters. Next July, a conference on financing for sustainable development will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This conference will be critical in ensuring that the issue of the 'means of implementation' is fully addressed. Compared to the MDGs, this new agenda will be much more about making policy choices that positively contribute to development at the local, national and global levels. The availability of official development assistance, however, will still be particularly important for low income countries. Overall, the commitment of developed countries to provide ODA at adequate levels is an important trust-building signal to developing countries.

The post-2015 era in Azerbaijan and the region

The outcomes of the post-2015 national consultations in Azerbaijan are broadly consistent with the priorities articulated in the 'Azerbaijan: Vision 2020' national strategy, which aims to move the country to a knowledge-based and diversified economy.

Later this month, Azerbaijan will host the First Global Forum on Youth Policies, in partnership with the Office of the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, UNDP, UNESCO, and the Council of Europe. We hope that the momentum generated here in Baku will have a powerful impact on national and global policies, and will feed into the post-2015 priority setting process. The groundwork is now being laid for the next five-year cooperation plan between the UN development system and the Government of Azerbaijan. The priorities of the new UN-Azerbaijan Partnership Framework for 2016-2020 will be aligned with 'Azerbaijan: Vision 2020', with a focus on promoting sustainable employment, enhancing environmental management, strengthening resilience to disasters, and building local capacities to advance human development.

We enjoy really strong partnerships here and we think that Azerbaijan is in an exciting period of its history, with big opportunities to share its knowledge and experience, innovations, lessons learned from its own development, and furthermore to support other countries to achieve their development goals. The new Azerbaijan International Development Agency has recently been launched, and we are very happy to work alongside this organization and to strengthen our cooperation.

So, Rector, that is my summary on where we are on this transition from MDGs to SDGs. I thank our government counterparts, development partners and the people of Azerbaijan for the strong partnerships, which the UN development system enjoys here. Azerbaijan is in an exciting period of its history, with big opportunities to share its knowledge and experience, and to support other countries in achieving their development goals. UNDP stands ready to work with this country in these efforts.

As the floor has now been opened, I invite you to tell me what you think Azerbaijan's contributions to development and global priorities should be. I would also welcome your ideas on how Azerbaijan and UNDP can work together as champions of global development.

Once again, my thanks go to ADA University and Rector Dr. Pashayev for inviting me to speak here today.