Later this month, a high level panel convened by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will deliver its recommendations on what should come after the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

It's no ordinary panel. Co-chaired by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, it brings together senior government and private sector representatives as well as academics and members of civil society. Emilia Pires, Finance Minister of Timor-Leste and Chair of the 19-member g7+ grouping of fragile states, speaks for the interests of that group.

No one could criticise the Secretary General or the panel for not being inclusive. Indeed, both have made a virtue of developing a plan which promotes 'global ownership of a shared development agenda'.

This is a contrast to the way the MDGs were created. In a recent interview with The Guardian's Poverty Matters blog, the chief architect of the Millennium Development Goals, Mark Malloch-Brown, recalls the smallness and 'relative casualness' of his team working in the basement of the UN in New York creating the framework that would eventually shape international development policy for the next 15 years.

But those days of exclusivity and casualness are well gone. In the years since the Millennium Development Goals were agreed, participants in the international debate on development have expanded to include an array of actors ranging from the original participants (recipient countries, traditional donors as represented by the OECD's Development Assistance Committee and multilateral organisations) to include emerging economies, international non-government and civil society organisations, think tanks and universities, major private philanthropic organisations, and development focused business bodies.

This new, pluralistic world, despite or perhaps because of its inclusiveness, presents some major challenges in achieving a constructive consensus on what should succeed the MDGs. And a big question is, how globally relevant will the next set of goals be?

At the heart of the MDGs is the goal of eradicating poverty. One of the success stories of the MDGs is that, for the first time since poverty trends began to be monitored, the number of people living in poverty began to fall in every developing region. The proportion of people living on less than US$1.25 a day fell from 47% in 1990 to 24% in 2008. 

East Asia has achieved spectacular success in reducing poverty, with extreme poverty falling to 13.8% of the population, a drop from just under one billion people in 1990 to 284 million in 2008. By 2025, four of the world's 10 largest economies will be in Asia. Asia will account for almost half of the world's economic output and China for about half of that. Furthermore, the combined output of China and India is expected to exceed that of the G7 (US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan) by the early 2020s. Australia's Asian Century White Paper notes that in 1980, income per capita in developing countries in Asia was about one-thirtieth of that in the US. By 2025, the gap will be down to one-quarter, owing to increased economic opportunities, improved health care and better access to quality education. 

So as East Asia continues to drive down regional poverty at a remarkable rate, one might question the relevance to the region of any globally inclusive set of development goals which have poverty eradication at their core. Yet alongside the success of Asia lies the Pacific experience, where Pacific Island countries have struggled and largely failed to meet the MDG targets. The challenge, then, is achieving a global development framework that resonates with countries as different as China and Tuvalu.

The Lowy Institute, in partnership with University of Melbourne, the Asia Foundation and ANU is hosting a conference in Melbourne next week late this week to examine the role of aid in Asia and the Pacific beyond 2015. The conference aims to flag three important considerations for any post-2015 development framework: 

  • The scale of Asia's growth over coming decades will make it the world's biggest economic zone, increasingly able to address its own poverty challenges.
  • What does this changing face of poverty in Asia mean for the future of aid?
  • And as the international development agenda evolves, what chance is there of achieving a global framework that is relevant to Asia and the Pacific?

How the conference answers these questions will be the subject of a follow-up post.

Photo by Flickr user TylerIngram.