CIVICUS interviews Dr. Changyong Rhee about the Post-2015 agenda

Dr. Changyong Rhee, Asian Development BankDr. Changyong Rhee is the Chief Economics and spokesperson on economic forecasts, trends at the Asian Development Bank (ADB). He has over 20 years of professional experience in government and academia and served as the Secretary General of the Presidential Committee for the G- 20 Summit where he played a role in shaping and advancing the agenda for the 2010 G- 20 Seoul Summit. In previous years, Dr. Rhee also served as Vice Chairman of the Financial Services Commission of the Republic of Korea and played an instrumental role in developing strategic policy responses to the 2008 global economic crisis. In the private sector, Dr. Rhee advised the Shinhan Bank and Woori Investment and was also the director of the financial market think tank, the Korea Fixed Income Research Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University.

How have the Asian and Pacific regions changed since the introduction of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) framework in 2000?

Asia has been experiencing fast growth, contributing to the shift of global gravity to the region. The GDP growth rate of 8.3% averaged over 2000-2011 is faster than any other region in the world and has helped lift almost 300 million Asians out of extreme poverty.

Asia has also performed well on gender-related MDGs. However, the performance varies considerably across sub-regions with East Asia doing much better than Southeast Asia and South Asia while the Pacific Island countries are lagging behind.
In other words, the development gaps between countries in the region have been growing. This rising disparity represents a formidable challenge to the region. Another challenge relates to the environment, both local pollution and CO2 emissions are becoming serious, partly due to growth and rising consumption.

Finally, despite income growth Asia has not been able to improve health-related MDGs. In particular, Asia is unlikely to meet the maternal mortality and child nutrition MDGs by 2015.

What global trends in international production, consumption and development will continue to influence the Asian and Pacific regions over the next 10 years?

The future of Asia will be largely determined by internal forces, most critically by growth prospects in China and India. Regional integration among ASEAN+3 and other regional integration initiatives will also play a significant role in determining the future of Asia.

North America and Europe will continue to be important destinations for Asia's exports as well as sources of foreign direct investment and new technologies. The "return to Asia" foreign policy of the USA will significantly influence geo-politics in the region.

How can a Post-2015 Agenda encourage international consensus that allows countries to take ownership of their own capacity building and development?

MDGs have been criticized as "top down" or "one size fits all" and there are important lessons for building around international consensus for country ownership. There are also significant changes since the MDGs were adopted, with growing influence of emerging economies on world affairs and challenges to the impacts on the environment coming with the high growth in emerging economies.

Any post-2015 framework, in order to be successful in terms of country ownership, must allow a blend of 'top-down' global targets plus 'bottom-up' national and local targets. In a recent paper, we proposed an approach labelled as the 'ZEN' approach for setting a new generation of goals in a post-2015 policy agenda where Z is achieving 'Zero' extreme poverty in its many forms, E is tackling country-specific 'Epsilon' (or 'Extension') socioeconomic challenges beyond extreme poverty, and N stands for addressing the environmental imperatives that underpin global sustainable development challenges.

For successful implementation and country ownership there will be a need to create incentives for countries to set and meet their own incremental standards of domestic success. In general the poorer countries that still face extensive challenges of extreme poverty will look for indications that the goals are accompanied by appropriate levels of support. More advanced developing economies would be concerned about seeing their local challenges addressed and appropriate opportunities for international cooperation, particularly for addressing environmental challenges. The richest economies would like to see that aid is linked to clear results.

What issues, lacking in the MDGs framework, should be prioritised in a new Post- 2015 Agenda?

Establishing the new Post-2015 framework should take into consideration the current structure of the global economy and emerging environmental challenges. Thus, the challenge is toward sustainable development that includes economic, social, and environmental priorities. Moreover, despite rapid economic growth, problems such as rising income inequality, inequality in opportunity, and large-scale ecosystem degradation invite attention in the Post-2015 agenda.
While there are many challenges, there is a limit on the number of goals that such a global framework can accommodate. Some issues that should be prioritized in the post-2015 development agenda include the following:

  • The goals did not adequately reflect upon issues of income inequality and inequality of opportunity, governance, and peace and security, which are enshrined in the Millennium Declaration.
  • The target for hunger and food security deserves a stronger focus.
  • The goal for gender equality was too narrowly focussed on school enrolment, and needs wider emphasis.
  • The goal on education would require emphasizing learning outcomes or secondary level education.
  • MDGs' biggest shortcoming falls under Goal 7 for the environment, and had very limited conception of the developing world's environmental challenges and of climate change mitigation or adaptation.
  • Many countries' underlying data systems do not allow progress to be adequately tracked and there are sometimes discrepancies between national and international estimates for particular indicators. Measures are needed to strengthen data needed for effective and credible monitoring.

How is the Asian Development Bank engaging with the Post-2015 agenda?

The ADB/ESCAP/UNDP regional partnership on the MDGs organized a series of regional and sub-regional consultation workshops on the Post 2015 development agenda and the post-Rio+20 process, leading to the publication and launch of its next regional MDG report, The Post 2015 Development Agenda in Asia and the Pacific: Regional Perspectives. These consultations have solicited the views of government and nongovernment stakeholders around the region on their development priorities. The report will be submitted to the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons (HLPEP) on the Post 2015 Development Agenda during the first half of 2013.

Within the MDG partnership (ADB/ESCAP/UNDP), sub-regional consultation workshops were held in 2012 in: (i) Almaty, Kazakhstan on 26-28 September, with participants from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Mongolia, and the PRC; (ii) Nadi, Fiji on 10-11 October, with participants from Pacific Island States; (iii) Bangkok, Thailand on 21-23 November, with participants from Southeast Asia; and (iv) Siem Reap, Cambodia, on 17-19 December, with participants from Least Developed Member States. The last consultation will be held on 9-11 February 2013, in Dhaka, Bangladesh, for participants from South Asian states.
The forthcoming report will provide: (i) an overview of progress made in Asia and the Pacific region towards achieving the MDGs; (ii) a summary of the lessons learned from the MDGs; and (iii) an overview of the regional perspectives on the Post-2015 development agenda, including how convergence with Sustainable Development Goals could be brought forward.

An inception meeting to formally launch preparation of the report was held with senior officials at UN Headquarters on 14 January 2013. ADB, ESCAP, and UNDP participated in the meeting together with expert panellists set up by the tripartite partnership. It was emphasized that it is critical to capture Asia/Pacific views on the new development agenda. It was discussed that the new development agenda needs to be bold to address the new development challenges such as climate change and rising inequalities and vulnerabilities, but at the same time practical to ensure that the new agenda continues to be a tool for advocacy, which can be easily understood by all stakeholders. There was agreement that the Post-2015 agenda needs to have a global vision with shared responsibilities to leave poverty behind and ensure the well-being of all. However, everybody acknowledged that one lesson learned from the MDGs is that no 'one size fits all' and that we need tailored approaches to national development needs, as in the ZEN approach mentioned above. It was discussed that this approach could be a framework to reach consensus among UN Member States on the content of the new development agenda. Interesting discussions were also held around the challenge to strengthen governance at the national and regional level and the possibility to introduce peer review mechanisms to support the implementation of the Post-2015 development agenda.

ADB and the United Nations are now exploring the possibility of a high-level joint launch of the report before May, when the HLPEP report will be submitted to the UN Secretary General. The venue and context of the launch are among the details being discussed.


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