UN appoints high-level development advisory panel

Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a member of the new UN development panel on MDGs Copyright: Flickr/aktivioslo

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[LONDON] The presidents of Indonesia and Liberia — Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — and the prime minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, are to co-chair a UN panel to advise on approaches to development after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015.

Announcing the chairs to the UN General Assembly this week (9 May), Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, also said he would appoint an assistant secretary-general for post-2015 development planning.

The panel will consider the mixed success of the eight MDGs, which were set in 2000 and provide targets for reducing poverty and promoting social development through such areas as education, reduction of HIV infection rates and infant mortality.

"In the years since the MDGs were agreed, we have made significant progress and learned many lessons on how to reduce poverty," the co-chairs said in a statement yesterday.

This article is part of our coverage of preparations for Rio+20 — the UN Conference on Sustainable Development — which takes place on 20-22 June 2012. For other articles, go to Science at Rio+20

"We now know more about the critical role that economic growth, trade, tackling corruption, effective government and open societies play in creating wealth and unlocking the potential of the poorest countries.

"We look forward to working together to ensure the full realisation of the MDGs, and to listening to many more voices to set out an ambitious, new agenda for ending poverty in the years beyond 2015."

The chairs represent a high-, middle- and low-income economy, each of which can boast of development achievements. Liberia, for example, is one of the few African nations to have met its pledge to spend 15 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on health, while the United Kingdom is one of the few developed countries to be honouring a commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on development aid.

Claire Melamed, head of the growth and equity programme at the UK’s Overseas Development Institute, welcomed the panel.

"Up till now the [post-MDG] debate has very much been at a technical level," she said. "Unless we have a bit of political momentum it won’t happen.

But she warned against another "pendulum swing" in development thinking back to the 1980s-style focus on economic growth, which preceded the MDGs’ almost exclusive focus on health and social targets.

"The danger is a swing totally back," she said. "The opportunity is to create a new consensus which says they are both important."

Ban Ki-moon said the rest of the panel’s membership will be announced after the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil next month (20-23 June).

"This panel is very clearly selected on the basis of progress on poverty and development," Melamed said. "It will be interesting to see, once the rest of the panel is established, whether there are any members from environmental groups or civil society."

There is a widespread view that the MDGs should be followed by a more sophisticated approach that embraces environmental, economic and social imperatives.

This view is being intensively discussed in the negotiations leading up to the Rio+20 meeting and may lead to nations agreeing, at least in principle, to establish Sustainable Development Goals.

How the high-level panel’s work will fit with such an outcome remains unclear.

This article is part of our coverage on Science at Rio+20.