Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity


Views from the Center


CGD hosted a meeting yesterday with Ambassador Brice Lalonde, UN Executive Coordinator of Rio +20 as well as representatives from the US Government, NGOs and the private sector.  It was an opportunity for Lalonde to give an update and ask for feedback on preparations for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development to take place in Rio next June.

The discussion was under Chatham House Rules, but two themes were clear from the discussion.  First, the strong view that the event should be about ‘development’ rather than narrowly on the environment –and a focus on the idea of the green economy as being the best way to promote broad-based development.  That suggested, for example, thinking not just about renewable energy, but universal access to energy.  Or not just sustainable agricultural practices but doubled production.

Second, while there is unlikely to be a long negotiated text with agreed actions, a proposal floated by the government of Colombia is gaining traction: that Rio + 20 should agree a set of “Sustainable Development Goals,” or SDGs for short.  In the spirit of a conference focused on broad-based development, the goals would present targets for global progress in areas such as poverty reduction, food security, health and urban renewal alongside targets for renewable energy, deforestation and biodiversity, for example.

The Colombian proposal even notes a precedent for the SDGs: “Defined internationally, like the MDGs, [the SDGs] would serve both for comparing results as well as furthering opportunities for cooperation, including South-South cooperation.”  Indeed, the Millennium Development Goals, which cover targets for global progress in areas such as poverty reduction, food security, health and urban renewal, seem like a very close parallel indeed.

The original MDGs are set to expire in 2015.  And the 2010 MDG summit mandated the UN Secretary General to initiate a consultation process of what would come after 2015, and to recommend in his annual reports ‘further steps to advance the United Nations development agenda beyond 2015,’ according to Andy Sumner, who has been tracking the thinking about the future of the MDGs.  So far, it isn’t at all clear to an outsider if the people thinking about SDGs and the people who are thinking about MDGs are thinking together, thinking in parallel or thinking at cross purposes, but you do have to wonder: do we really want two separate sets of development goals launched at big UN conferences within three of years of each other?  All of which, let us hope, sets the field for the construction of a cross-collaborative effort by the UNDP, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Environment Program and other partners to begin the process of developing and writing MDGs 2: The Greening.

I have been working on a couple of papers with Andy Sumner on the MDGs, which we hope to complete in the next couple of months.  The first is a retrospective look at what has been achieved over the past ten years.  The second looks forward to think about goal setting in 2015.  As Andy’s post linked above suggests, we’re part of a growing mob of development folks trying to thrash out ideas in that direction.  And one thing that most of us have been saying is that it is time to start the process of developing any new MDGs now. There needs to be time for discussion and debate.  Even more time consuming, if the Goals are to cover any new areas, there needs to be an effort to ensure we actually have the data to monitor progress (we didn’t when the maternal mortality goal was set in 2001, for example).  So it is great news the Colombian proposal may force the issue –it will be interesting to watch how it plays out.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.