Action implications of focusing now on implementation of the post-2015 agenda

The consequences of the global financial crisis still ripple through the international system after the initial surge in global economic cooperation and governance immediately following the crisis. The ultimate effects have been that, while some elements of the international system of institutions have gotten stronger, the system as a whole is now seen as weaker, fractured, and driven more by geopolitical conflict than by institutional norms and frameworks.

The issue is how to move the global policy agenda forward in such a way that substantive progress induces institutional strengthening. The next two years offer new opportunities for creating a positive symbiosis between policy advance and systemic improvements.

I. The U.N. global agenda

The United Nations global agenda has three tracks that relate to each other and provide opportunities to pull the world together around an integrated, comprehensive strategic vision for the world’s people and strengthen the international system in the process.

The first track is the elaboration of a sustainable development agenda for each and all countries, not just developing countries, but advanced industrial economies and emerging market countries too. This effort is already well underway and will result in a summit of global leaders in September 2015 at the U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) in New York. This process entails a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030 to be developed and affirmed by and for all countries, and which succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that culminate in 2015 and applied only to developing countries. This post-2015 goal-setting process will provide the substantive, cross-cutting, multidimensional agenda for the next 15 years. It is simultaneously a social, economic, and environmental agenda that relates goals to each other in functional terms requiring coordination among public and private sectors, ministries, civil society groups, and international institutions.

The second track is the financing for development (FFD) track, which goes well beyond reliance conceptually and practically on foreign aid or official development assistance as in the past. FFD for the SDGs includes a focus, first and foremost, on domestic sources of finance beyond government revenues. FFD is engaged in searches for innovative sources of finance, private sector mobilization of resources, creative market incentives and mechanisms, initiatives by civil society organizations, and development of entrepreneurial and small- and medium-size business opportunities that address global issues. This effort resulted in a global leaders meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in July of 2015 that reached agreement on the major thrusts for mobilizing resources for the post-2015 agenda (Kharas and MacArthur (2014)).

The third track is the global climate change negotiations currently under way to achieve a global agreement on the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC), which will result in a global summit in Paris in December of 2015. While these detailed negotiations on climate are a separate track, it is clear that the sustainable human development trajectories being put forward in the post-2015 agenda impact and are crucially affected by the efficacy of the climate change arrangements worked out in the UNFCCC agreements in 2015.

Whereas these three tracks operationally are going forward separately, the substantive aspects of each track affect and are affected by the content of the other two. The ultimate convergence of these three streams of activities and actions will have to occur in the beginning of 2016 at the global, regional, and national levels if the implementation phase is to be successful. A business-as-usual approach will not be satisfactory if at the global level, for example, the international institutions are unable to coordinate their work, or if at the national level ministries remain within their “silos” of sectoral expertise and responsibility.

Synergies exist between goal areas that cannot be realized without coordination across sectors and institutions, impacting goal achievement (see OECD 2014 PCD). A systemic approach is necessary at all levels to address the global challenges identified in the post-2015 agenda.

II. The G-20 summits for 2015 and 2016

A major opportunity presents itself in terms of providing impetus, momentum, and leadership for these large work streams and their convergence by linking the G-20 presidency of Turkey for 2015 with the G-20 leadership of China in 2016. Turkey and China working together in tandem within the G-20 Troika over the next two years to explain, support, and sustain the mobilization effort toward the post-2015 agenda could be a major contribution to it but also strengthen the global system of international institutions in the process. For the Turkish G-20 summit, scheduled to take place in November 2015 in Antalya, between UNGA in New York in September and the UNFCCC in Paris in December, Turkey could use part of its G-20 summit to have the leaders of the world’s largest advanced and emerging market economies explain to the world the nature, importance, and relevance of the SDGs to domestic concerns and priorities of ordinary people.

A weakness of G-20 summits thus far has been that G-20 leaders have become trapped by finance ministers’ issues and discourse and have failed to connect with their publics on larger issues of direct concern to people everywhere. The post-2015 agenda provides an opportunity for G-20 leaders to lead their people in understanding how global efforts relate to domestic conditions and why dealing only domestically with issues will not suffice to advance the human agenda where the global interface is extremely palpable. G-20 leaders, under Turkey’s leadership, could step out beyond the technical jargon of finance ministries and central banks, as important as those issues continue to be, and directly address the longer-term, fundamental conditions that affect the lives and livelihoods of all people. They would thereby strengthen their own leadership profile internally by explaining the global dimensions of domestic issues as means of creating public support for the sustainability issues in the post-2015 agenda.

Past experience with the International Development Goals (IDGs) of the 1990s and the Millennium Development Goals since the early 2000s  demonstrates that linking the goal-setting effort to the implementation phase yields powerful results by capturing the political momentum of the goal setting phase and carrying that energy forward directly into implementation efforts. If Turkey and China were to work together in 2015 and 2016, thereby bridging the goal-setting year in 2015 to the beginning of the implementation phase in 2016, they could provide the catalytic leadership and continuity that would maximize the staying power of the momentum from one phase to the next.

China, for its G-20 summit preparations in 2016, could focus on developing a road map, in concert with the other countries and international organizations and especially with the United Nations, that would explicitly keep alive the activities, groups, and initiatives manifested in the goal-setting phase into the next phase of implementation beginning in 2016. These combined efforts by Turkey and China could jump-start societies focusing on accelerating efforts to transform their societies by mobilizing policies and resources for highly related goal areas of direct benefit to their people.

The immediate effects of coordinated sequential efforts by Turkey and China in their respective G-20 years to advance the post-2015 agenda would be to strengthen the relationship between the G-20 and the United Nations on the agenda itself and to strengthen the G-20 summits by having leaders lead on issues of central concern to their people, strengthening the G-20 as a leadership forum in the process. For these results to occur, Turkey and China would need to begin to work together now to develop concordance in their individual efforts and initiate activities that would benefit greatly by beginning now and running through 2016 and beyond.

Accelerating implementation: Several initiatives could be undertaken now that would set up the dynamics for accelerated implementation in 2016 and beyond.

  • National strategies for achieving the SDGs: Encourage countries to adapt and adopt the SDGs to their respective priorities and social, political, and cultural contexts through deliberate decision processes and wide societal engagement.
  • The role of parliaments: Bring parliamentarians and parliaments into the goal-setting process so that they are aware of the legislative, regulatory, and budgetary implications of the post-2015 agenda.
  • The role of domestic ministries: Bring finance ministers and other domestic ministries and agencies together with foreign ministers in the goal-setting year to set in motion mutually involved functional relationships and operational guidelines to enhance implementation across sectors.
  • The G-20 as broker and mobilizer: The G-20 could act as a broker between the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO), Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and regional development banks and the U.N. and its agencies to assure not just coordination but more intensive interactions that would be designed to accelerate the mobilization of resources and as well as policies and private sector activities that would enhance implementation.
  • The policy role of the OECD: The strong, substantive role of the OECD in G-20 summits on issues high on the G-20 agenda—such as structural reform, tax base erosion, development, environment, energy, employment, and social issues—position the OECD to continue to provide important substantive inputs to the G-20 in 2015 and 2016. The OECD would enhance the relationship of its 34 members with G-20 emerging market economies by OECD involvement in both the G-20 and the U.N. post-2015 agenda.
  • Financial stability and the SDGs: Encouraged by the G-20 summits, the IMF, the Financial Stability Board, and the OECD could work together to integrate the financial regulatory reform agenda into the post-2015 U.N. process by clarifying the linkages between financial stability, regulatory reform, and incentives for long-term private investment in infrastructure (crucial to all the SDGs) and in productive activities which generate greater employment and growth.
  • Multi-stakeholder participation in implementation: G-20 summits can facilitate multi-stakeholder processes for engaging civil society, labor, private sector, religious, academic, and expert communities not only in the G-20 summits, as is the current practice, but also in the post-2015 agenda and its implementation, connecting societal leaders with the SDG agenda.

III. The overarching importance of a single global agenda

If these efforts to bring together a wide cross-section of domestic and international agencies, public and private sector leaders, stakeholders, and civil society actors are to translate into actions that are meaningful to the lives and livelihoods of people, a single set of goals is essential. The lesson learned from the IDG-MDG experience was that the tendency to differentiate roles by identifying different institutions with different sets of goals was real. The United Nations had inadvertently put forward the Millennium Declaration at the September 2000 U.N. General Assembly that had “millennium targets” which were similar but not identical to the International Development Goals (IDGs). The IDGs had been developed in the mid-1990s by OECD development ministers and subsequently were endorsed by the World Bank, the IMF, the U.N. and the OECD. In fact, in 2000, for the first time ever, the heads of those four institutions signed, and the institutions themselves published, a joint report, A Better World For All: Progress towards the International Development Goals.

Despite the appearance of unity and in part because there was a lack of concordance between the Millennium Declaration Targets (MDTs) and the IDGs, there was a moment in March 2001 when it looked like there might be a decisive divergence between the U.N. and the Bretton Woods institutions, with the U.N. taking the lead on the MDTs and the World Bank and IMF taking the lead on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Process (PRSPs), leaving the IDGs marginalized altogether. This potential division of labor was thwarted by a decision to reconcile the differences between the MDTs and the IDGs by forging the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which embodied the principal elements of both. The MDGs surfaced and were endorsed by the Monterrey Summit on Financing for Development in March of 2002, keeping the major global institutions on the same page with bilateral donors and the same path moving toward achieving the MDGs in 2015.

Most people who know about the MDGs think their origins began at the U.N. in the year 2000. It is an often overlooked fact that the MDGs only came forward in 2002 to bridge the potential divide between the Bretton Woods institutions and the United Nations. If that divide had occurred, it would have been disastrous from a goal setting-goal implementation point-of-view. This history is quite important to bring forward into public light now because it illustrates divisive dangers that currently lurk under the surface threatening unity if not squarely addressed.

From the perspective of prioritizing implementation, the truth is that multiple sets of goals blur the strategic vision, fail to communicate direction, weaken effective leadership, and encourage special pleading for differentiated interests instead focusing on the common, public interest. The U.N. has the lead role in global goal setting and has strengthened its own role in the global system in recent years. However, looking forward now to the SDG implementation phase, a danger might be that the Post-2015 agenda could be seen as the creature and captive of the United Nations, whereas it must be fully endorsed and internalized within the global system of international institutions as a whole. For that to happen, it would be necessary to move now, during the goal-setting year, to include all the relevant international and domestic actors that are crucial to the implementation phase of the post-2015 agenda.

The implications of including the post-2015 agenda in the G-20 summits in 2015 and 2016:

  • It would make clear to relevant publics and actors that this set of global goals is universal, applicable to advanced countries, emerging market economies, and developing countries; it is not a “development agenda” but a “sustainability agenda,” which is broader, more strategic, and higher on the policy agenda of most countries.
  • It would make clear the inextricable dynamics between domestic priorities and global goals; the SDGs are not foreign policy objectives or aid targets for development; they are domestic priorities affected by global impacts and generating global spillovers that need to be managed, not neglected.
  • It would make the incorporation of finance ministers and domestic ministers with foreign ministers, along with international institutions, an imperative, rather than a utopian, ideal.
  • It would make obvious the need to have a wide range of international institutions dealing with health, labor, education, women, climate, and the environment on the same page with the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions working together toward the SDGs.
  • It would link the need for multi-stakeholder participation in goal setting to the goal implementation phase to mobilize support, policies, and resources but also to reveal and work on the interconnectedness of the goals themselves taken as a whole. 

Hence, the critical imperative is that there be a single narrative, a single set of goals, for all the domestic and global players to relate to, affirm, and implement. Otherwise, a fractured global order will produce lower-yield outcomes, and competition among priorities, sectors, and actors will result in poorer goal performance than would be possible with an integrated, concerted approach where all actors are working toward the same ends.

IV. Possible G-20 Actions by Turkey and China

Turkey has developed a process for the G-20 summit scheduled for November 14-15, 2015 in Antalya. Implementation, inclusion, and investment—the three “I’s”—are the overarching themes already established. The three “I’s” ties are tightly tied to the Australian G-20 outcomes—implementing action plans to achieve the incremental growth target of an additional 2 percentage points of GDP by 2018; including lower-income people in growth and lower-income countries in the global economy; and investing in infrastructure.

Each of these priorities is supportive of and compatible with the post-2015 agenda, even though they are not yet directly addressed to it. A decision by Turkey to include the post-2015 agenda in the 2015 G-20 would be easily achieved by cross-walking the SDGs over to and into the three “I’s” and vice versa. The central priority of the post-2015 agenda is, after all, “implementation.” The overarching meaning of the six elements of the post-2015 agenda (dignity, prosperity, justice, partnership, planet, and people (U.N. SG Synthesis Report December 2014)) is their impact on “inclusion.” And “investment” in infrastructure is crucial to all of the 17 SDGs.

The three pillars for Turkey’s 2015 agenda are: (i) strengthening the global recovery and lifting potential growth (the 2 percent target); (ii) enhancing resilience (financial regulatory reform]; and (iii) buttressing sustainability. Clearly, the third pillar on sustainability opens the door for the incorporation of the post-2015 agenda into the Turkey G-20, if Turkey wishes to do so. And the other two pillars fully support the sustainability agenda and are linked to it, or need to be.

For China, the post-2015 agenda presents a unique opportunity for the Chinese government to seize on a global agenda that has specific, strong, and visible links to the domestic concerns of the Chinese people. China could use the 2016 G-20 summit both to provide international leadership for global cooperation and to demonstrate the connection of global issues to domestic conditions through their impact and spillover effects. Because the post-2015 agenda is a universal agenda, by prioritizing it in its G-20 summit, China would be embracing the multiplicity of its own identity as a developing country but also as a dynamic emerging market economy that is destined to eventually play a global leadership role equivalent to advanced countries.

Furthermore, China seems intent on being a competitive nation in various spheres while at the same time being cooperative in others. The G-20 summit presidency for China in 2016 provides China with an opportunity to strengthen its role in international cooperation by being ambitious in the reach of its agenda for the G-20 in 2016, by its conduct as a member of the G-20 Troika for the next three years, and as the host government for the G-20 in 2016. By choosing to support Turkey in its consideration of incorporating the post-2015 agenda in the G-20 summit in 2015 and by China itself addressing the implementation issues in 2016, China would be reaping the demonstrably higher-yield gains generated by linking the SDG goal-setting phase in 2015 to the implementation phase in 2016.

Integrating the three tracks of SDG goal setting, financing for development, and progress on climate change actions is complementary but complex. While challenging, China has sufficiently high stakes in the outcomes of all three of these tracks to have a national interest in leading a global effort over the next three years to energize the convergence of agendas and institutional mandates necessary to generate bigger outcomes for people everywhere, including in China.

V. Results: Strengthening global governance and leadership

What follows from the analysis here is that the decision to include the post-2015 agenda in the Turkey and China G-20 summits would be a choice about the substance but also about the process of global economic governance, in which the G-20 has a leadership role. To do so in the way outlined here, would:

  • Strengthen the global system of international institutions by bringing them together around a single comprehensive, integrated sustainability agenda;
  • Create synergies between the United Nations and the other international institutions rather than identifying the post-2015 agenda with the U.N. alone and relying unnecessarily on the U.N. for its implementation;
  • Connect G-20 leaders with a broader human and planetary agenda beyond economics and finance, which in turn would connect G-20 leaders with their publics as they visibly address the domestic concerns of their people in their global context; and
  • Strengthen the role of the G-20 in global economic governance by putting the G-20 out in front as a broker among stakeholders, a catalytic coordinator of relevant domestic and international actors, and a leader on behalf of the concerns, lives, and livelihoods of people.

Selected References

Colin I. Bradford (2002), “Toward 2015: From Consensus Formation to Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. Issues for the Future: The Implementation Phase”, Development Economics Department (DEC), The World Bank, December 2002.

Colin I. Bradford (2014), “The Changing World Economy and Global Economic Governance”, power point presentation at the Korean Delegation seminar “The OECD and Global Governance”, OECD, Paris, December 11, 2014.

Colin I. Bradford (2014), “Global Economic Governance and the Role of International Institutions”, Second High-level Policy Forum on Global Governance:  Scoping Papers, UNDP Beijing China, 22 October 2014.

Colin I. Bradford (2015), “Governance Innovations for Implementing the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda: Conference Report”,  Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., March 30, 2015.   

Ye Yu, Xue Lei and Zha Xiaogang (2014), “The Role of Developing Countries in Global Economic Governance—with a Special Analysis on China’s Role”, Second High-level Policy Forum on Global Governance:  Scoping Papers, UNDP Beijing China, 22 October 2014. Authors are from the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies.

Homi Kharas and John McArthur (2014), “Nine Priority Commitments to be Made at the UN’s July 2015 Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia,” October 2014.

OECD (2014), “Policy Coherence for Development and the Sustainable Development Goals”, Paris: OECD, 10 December 2014, prepared for the 8th Meeting of the National Focal Points for Policy Coherence for Development (PCD) held at the OECD on 17-18 December 2014.