The United Nations is embarking on a complex process to lay out priorities for post-2015 economic, social and environmental development. Here’s what you need to know right now.
By Peter M. Robinson
In 2000, world leaders gathered at the opening of the United Nations’ “Millennium Summit” in New York agreed on an ambitious to-do list for economic and social development – the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Setting themselves a deadline of 2015, they pledged to make meaningful progress toward, among other things, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality and combating the spread of infectious diseases.
As we approach 2015, a lot of progress has been made. Thanks mainly to continued economic growth in China and other emerging markets, extreme poverty is on track to be more than halved worldwide. With a new influx of public and private funding, rates of new HIV/AIDS infection have fallen, as have worldwide deaths from the disease. Not every indicator has shown such positive results, and of course outcomes in individual countries vary widely. But on balance, while their ultimate contributions to development may be open to question, the MDGs have illustrated the possibilities of setting priorities and focusing resources toward achievable goals.
Although we believe that the UN did not adequately consult with business in developing the MDGs, many in the private sector took the MDGs as a guide, and set their own targets and initiatives to contribute to the progress. Companies such as The Coca-Cola Company, Pfizer and Procter & Gamble, to name a few, stepped forward with their own programs. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has joined with the UN Development Program and the International Business Leadership Forum over the past ten years to recognize dozens of companies for such achievements with the World Business and Development Awards.
So, you may ask, what’s next? And why should I care? Good questions. There are a lot of things in play, and USCIB is working closely with our members, our global business network, the U.S. and other governments, and the UN system to monitor developments across the board. Here’s what you need to know right now.
At the broadest level, the UN will establish a post-2015 development agenda that encompasses not just economic and social priorities but a strong environmental component as well. As of this moment, there are multiple tracks, converging on high-level discussions in the UN General Assembly over the next two years.
At last summer’s Rio+20 Summit in Brazil, UN member states agreed to develop “sustainable development goals” to guide green growth policies. Part of these may be devoted to delivering on post 2020 climate change commitments, a key goal of the ongoing UN climate negotiations, a key priority of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Separately, the UN secretariat has laid out a sprawling consultative strategy to develop a Post-2015 Development Agenda encompassing 11 themes, 100-plus national consultations, new networks for stakeholders, etc. A high-level panel including Unilever CEO Paul Polman has been established to provide input from the business community and other groups.
USCIB will focus on the most influential potential outcomes and institutions. We have attended the first negotiating meeting of the UN group developing new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the successors to the MDGs, and will continue to follow that process closely. We are also taking part in the work of the UN Environment Program to help guide the development of metrics and indicators to gauge progress toward sustainability.
Business involvement is critical
This is an opportunity to learn from the earlier MDGs experience, and build in private-sector involvement to underscore the importance of economic development and governance issues. In addition, business believes a balance must be struck between environmental goals and economic growth so that one does not overshadow the other. It is important that we help the UN to get it right, and for that reason, the business community should be at the table. If the UN focuses on relevant, achievable benchmarks, that will ultimately enable business to prosper and help advance broader societal goals.
We are already working closely with each leg of our global network – ICC, the International Organization of Employers, and the Business & Industry Advisory Committee to the OECD – to develop meaningful, timely contributions to the UN’s post-2015 agenda. This is important, because the post-2015 development agenda will involve a panoply of UN specialized agencies (UNCTAD, FAO, WHO, etc.). It is essential that business be engaged across all of these efforts, and that all relevant UN agencies be open to productive dialogue with the private sector.
USCIB is also preparing recommendations to help inform the U.S. government’s contributions to the SDGs, reflecting the reality of how our members do business in global markets – and how they work to support contributing to green growth and sustainable development. This time around, if we can ensure that business is engaged in the process from the start, the results will be far more relevant and beneficial for humanity.
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