July 8, 2015
The Post-2015 Global Development Agenda
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) established
by the international community in the year 2000 sunset in
2015 and are likely to be replaced by a new global
development agenda for the period 2016 through 2030. The
“post-2015 development agenda,” as it is often called, has
been the subject of an extensive United Nations-led process
and debate that may culminate in the establishment of a
formal new development agenda at the 69th session of the
U.N. General Assembly in September 2015. This In Focus
provides a brief overview of the MDGs, the draft
“sustainable development goals” that are expected to
succeed the MDGs, key events in the development and
rollout of the post-2015 development agenda, and issues
that may be of particular interest to Congress.
Figure 1. MDG Progress by Region, 2015
The Millennium Development Goals
The MDGs are a group of eight broad development goals
agreed to by 189 U.N. member states—including the United
States—as part of the 2000 Millennium Declaration. They
are aspirational, and commitments are non-binding. The
goals, which governments aimed to achieve by the end of
2015, are (1) eradicating extreme hunger and poverty; (2)
achieving universal primary education; (3) promoting
gender equality and women’s empowerment; (4) reducing
the under-five child mortality rate; (5) reducing the
maternal mortality rate; (6) combating HIV/AIDS and other
diseases; (7) ensuring environmental sustainability; and (8)
developing a Global Partnership for Development. The
goals were further refined by 21 targets and 60 measurable
indicators for monitoring progress.
Since 2000, governments have worked to achieve the
MDGs with mixed results. Goals related to reducing
extreme poverty, access to improved drinking water, and
gender parity in elementary education, for example, have
been achieved in many regions. Far less progress has been
reported on reducing maternal mortality, access to
reproductive health, and women’s representation in national
parliaments, among others. Data also indicates that progress
toward the goals is unevenly distributed across regions and
countries. India and China, for example, have made
considerable progress in achieving the MDGs, while many
countries in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to meet few of
the goals. For some of the goals and indicators, insufficient
data are available to measure progress.
According to the 2015 MDG progress report, the majority
of MDGs are not likely to be fully achieved by the end of
2015. Development experts and political leaders have
questioned whether the goals are realistic and appropriate,
whether donor funding and government accountability are
adequate, and whether progress that has been made can be
attributed to the global goal-setting process.
Source: CRS analysis of MDG 2015 Progress Chart.
Note: Chart reflects the 16 of the 21 MDG targets for which data
are reported in the 2015 progress report.
The Post-2015 Development Agenda
As U.N. member states and other stakeholders have made a
final push to achieve the MDG targets in recent years, they
have simultaneously begun a process to establish a global
development agenda for the post-2015 period. Like the
MDGs, this new agenda would be non-binding, intended to
focus global development efforts.
The post-2015 agenda setting process began at the 2012
U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, in Rio de
Janeiro, which produced an outcome document that
assessed progress on the MDGs and recommended a
process for developing a global post-2015 development
agenda. The intergovernmental processes established by the
Rio conference were completed at the end of 2014, and a
synthesis report by the U.N. Secretary-General on the post2015 sustainable development agenda was released in
December 2014. The draft goals in that report are referred
to as the sustainable development goals (SDGs), named
after the process started in Rio de Janeiro.
U.S. Role. The United States has engaged in the SDG
development process primarily through Tony Pipa, U.S.
Special Coordinator for the Post-2015 Development
Agenda, working with the U.S. Agency for International
Development and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.
State Department documents suggest that the U.S. focus in
SDG negotiations has been on country ownership, the
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The Post-2015 Global Development Agenda
inclusion of marginalized populations, data transparency,
and the equality of women and girls, among other things.
Congress does not have a direct role in development or
adoption of the SDGs, but may have a significant role in
funding programs designed to support the SDGs.
Sustainable Development Goals. Negotiation documents
identify 17 SDGs and 169 related targets. Several SDGs
build upon the MDGs, raising the bar in areas where
progress has been made, while others emphasize new
priorities. Most notably, the SDGs include goals related to
peace and justice, infrastructure, and equality that were not
in the MDGs, and expand upon the goals related to extreme
poverty and environmental protection.
Figure 2. Draft Sustainable Development Goals
While the expanded goals and shifting focus are cited by
some experts as reflecting the inclusive consultation
process and lessons learned from the MDGs about the
complexity of development, critics assert that the consensus
approach to developing the agenda may result in a product
that is not specific enough to be implementable or realistic
enough to be achievable. Some observers are also
concerned that the concept of varying national targets may
undermine accountability and that the key theme of the
process, sustainability, is not well defined.
After years of planning, the post-2015 agenda development
process is anticipated to culminate with three events in late
• On July 13, the Third International Conference on
Financing for Development is to convene in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia, where donors are expected to affirm
their financial commitments to global development and
provide funding targets and timetables, while
developing countries may discuss how their tax and
expenditure policies align with their development goals.
• On September 25, the U.N. General Assembly is to
convene in New York for a summit to adopt the final
post-2015 global development agenda.
• On November 30, global leaders are to convene in Paris
at a United Nations Climate Change Conference to
negotiate a global climate agreement, viewed by many
as essential to implementation of the SDGs.
The SDGs, if adopted, would take effect in January 2016.
Issues for Congress
Source: CRS analysis of https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/
Aside from the specific goals, there are a few general ways
in which the SDGs appear to differ from the MDGs:
• Universality. Whereas the MDGs were largely viewed
as developed country priorities for the developing
world, the SDGs are intended to be universal, developed
through an unprecedented global outreach process and
applying to all countries. This means that the United
States and other developed countries will also be
assessed for progress against the targets.
• Country specific. While there are global targets, as with
the MDGs, many proposed SDG targets would be
established at the country level, allowing success to be
relative to each country’s starting point and unique
Broader financing. The MDGs were largely intended
to be donor financed, while the SDGs focus more on
mobilizing domestic and private sector resources,
though aid is still an important component.
As the world’s leading donor of official development
assistance, the United States will likely play a key role in
funding SDG implementation. Most of this funding would
be appropriated by Congress through annual State
Department, Foreign Operations and Related Agencies
appropriations legislation. Foreign aid funding is shaped by
U.S. foreign policy and congressional priorities, and it is
unclear how much influence, if any, the SDGs will have on
U.S. funding priorities. U.S. foreign assistance programs
already align with the proposed SDGs to a large degree, but
there may be areas of disagreement, particularly with
respect to climate change.
Domestically, Congress may consider whether legislative
action is appropriate to achieve the SDGs within the United
States. Many of the proposed SDGs are of limited relevance
in the United States, where, for example, the vast majority
of citizens have access to food, education, sanitation
services, and energy. However, the United States may not
currently meet targets on proposed goals related to
inequality within countries, inclusive and safe cities, and
representation of women in legislatures, among others.
Marian L. Lawson, email@example.com, 7-4475
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