Updated December 14, 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 will 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 culminated in the establishment of a formal
2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the 70th
session of the U.N. General Assembly on September 25,
2015. This In Focus provides a brief overview of the
MDGs, the new sustainable development goals (SDGs), 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 made a final
push to achieve the MDG targets in recent years, they
simultaneously began a process to establish a global
development agenda for the post-2015 period. Like the
MDGs, the recently adopted new agenda is 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 were referred
to as the sustainable development goals (SDGs), named
after the process started in Rio de Janeiro.
U.S. Role. The United States 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 was on country ownership, the inclusion
of marginalized populations, data transparency, and the
equality of women and girls, among other things.
The Post-2015 Global Development Agenda
Congress did 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. The outcome of the post2015 development agenda process is the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development framework, which identifies 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
Figure 2. 2030 Sustainable Development Goals
consultation process and lessons learned from the MDGs
about the complexity of development, critics assert that the
consensus approach to developing the 2030 Agenda has
resulted 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 agenda, sustainability, is not well defined.
After years of planning, the post-2015 agenda development
process culminated with multiple events in 2015:
On July 13, the Third International Conference on
Financing for Development convened in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia, where developed countries affirmed their
commitment to providing development assistance and
countries agreed to various measures to increase
domestic resource mobilization.
On September 25, the U.N. General Assembly convened
in New York, adopting the 17 SDGs of the 2030 Agenda
for Sustainable Development.
On November 30, global leaders convened 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. An agreement was
reached on December 12.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development takes 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 SDG targets would be established at
the country level, allowing success to be relative to each
country’s starting point and unique challenges.
Broader financing. The MDGs were largely intended
to be donor financed, while the SDGs focus more on
mobilizing domestic and private sector resources,
though foreign 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 implementation of the 2030 Agenda. 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 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. In
his address before the United Nations at the 2030 Agenda
summit, President Obama stated that the United States is
committed to achieving the SDGs.
Marian L. Lawson, Specialist in Foreign Assistance Policy
While the expanded goals and shifting focus of the SDGs
are cited by some experts as reflecting the inclusive
The Post-2015 Global Development Agenda
This document was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). CRS serves as nonpartisan shared staff to
congressional committees and Members of Congress. It operates solely at the behest of and under the direction of Congress.
Information in a CRS Report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public understanding of information that has
been provided by CRS to Members of Congress in connection with CRS’s institutional role. CRS Reports, as a work of the
United States Government, are not subject to copyright protection in the United States. Any CRS Report may be
reproduced and distributed in its entirety without permission from CRS. However, as a CRS Report may include
copyrighted images or material from a third party, you may need to obtain the permission of the copyright holder if you
wish to copy or otherwise use copyrighted material.
https://crsreports.congress.gov | IF10249 · VERSION 6 · UPDATED