Zero poverty? The Sustainable Development Goals aren’t quite there yet

16 October 2014
Articles and blogs
We now have an idea of what the post-2015 development framework will look like: 17 Sustainable Development Goals and 169 targets.

Clearly this has to be whittled down into less of a shopping list and more a set of priorities, complete with indicators for measuring progress. We need a maximum of ten goals and perhaps 50 targets, expressed in a sufficiently ambitious way to send the right messages to governments and other actors.

But we also need to ensure that eradicating extreme poverty is central to this new framework, which those designing it have committed to. Unfortunately so far they have only been partially successful.

Our 'road to zero extreme poverty' report identified 14 policies needed to eradicate poverty – but only six are strongly represented in the current framework. Four are partly there, and four are not represented at all.

When it comes to tackling chronic poverty, for example, better quality basic education and employment quality measures are in there. Targeted social assistance is referred to by way of a vague commitment to ‘substantial coverage of the poor and vulnerable’. Access to justice for the poorest is there in a goal title – but there is no relevant target. Anti-discrimination and affirmative action measures are there, but mainly for women. And better returns to farmers is only mentioned in the sense of higher agricultural productivity.

In terms of stopping impoverishment, we have strong mentions of universal health coverage and (implicitly) better national disaster risk management – but nothing explicit on taking stronger measures to manage national economic vulnerability, or on a global system to prevent conflict. Insurance against major risks (such as assets, weather or old age) isn’t there at all.

What about sustaining escapes from extreme poverty? Well, the proposed framework does include substantial investment in post-primary education, but there is nothing on including pathways for the poorest children, or effective links to labour markets. Progressive regional and urban development policies are strongly there. As for land policy reforms enabling mobility (ie renting in, renting out), only secure land access is strongly represented.

Making the commitment to universal access to sexual and reproductive health a reality – which made it into the Millennium Development Goals only after a struggle – is absolutely central to all three of these areas; it is strongly represented.

So all in all, there is much to recommend the formulation of the post-2015 framework so far, but we are still not quite there. If we are serious about reaching zero poverty, all these policies need to be included in the final set of agreed targets. If not, the SDGs will fail to deliver on their promise of eradicating poverty once and for all.

It would be great to have a debate on this: did the Chronic Poverty Report get the diagnosis right? Is there more related to this diagnosis buried in the Open Working Group’s 169 targets that I’ve not picked up? Has the OWG articulated too many concerns and in doing so lost sight of some of the essentials of eradicating poverty?