On 11 March, National Consultation on Post-2015 Development Agenda was held in Beijing. The meeting was co-sponsored by the UN Association of China (UNA-China) and the United Nations System in China. Ms. Zhang Xiao’an, Vice President and Director-General of UNA-China, chaired the opening and closing sessions and addressed the meeting. Ms. Renata Lok-Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in China, attended the opening and closing sessions and addressed the meeting. A total of over 120 participants representing 55 non-governmental organizations, private sectors and research institutions in China, 10 central government ministries, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the China office of 12 international organizations, including the United Nations Development Program, the International Labor Organization, the United Nations Environment Program, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Food Program and the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS, attended the meeting (the list of participants is attached below). The participants included some 70 representatives of non-governmental organizations and institutions, over 50 women representatives, and representatives of the ethnic minority and disabled communities.
The meeting, which is an important part of the national consultation project on post-MDGs co-sponsored by UNA-China and UNDP China Office, aims to build on the outcomes of the Yunnan meeting last December to solicit public opinions for the formulation of post-MDGs with a bottom-up, comprehensive and systematic approach. The meeting included six panel discussions on poverty alleviation, education, environment, health, women and international development cooperation. The participants reviewed China’s achievements in all these areas, discussed the challenges it currently faces, and offered suggestions on the priority areas of the post-2015 MDGs. The main discussions of the meeting are as follows:
1. Poverty alleviation
The meeting recognized China’s notable progress in poverty alleviation since the adoption of the MDGs in 2000, and identified the following experience contributing to China’s success: (1) Promotion of human capacity development through market economy; (2) Free movement of people has created more job opportunities; (3) Incorporation of poverty alleviation into the national development strategy, commitment to both self-development and international cooperation and strong implementation. The meeting pointed out that poverty is a complex economic and social issue closely connected with the other seven MDGs. A holistic approach is required in poverty alleviation in order to address both symptoms and root causes. The government should play a leading role, mobilize the participation of the civil society and strengthen international cooperation with other countries. The meeting also pointed out that to meet the MDGs on poverty alleviation remains a challenging task. The world still has 1 billion people living in extreme poverty. In particular, the 2008 economic crisis and global challenges such as climate change and energy security have added to the difficulties of the international poverty alleviation. The prospect of fully meeting the MDGs on poverty alleviation in 2015 is not an optimistic picture.
In setting poverty alleviation targets of the post-2015 development agenda, the international community should stick to the following principles: adopting a comprehensive poverty alleviation strategy, with focus on eliminating extreme poverty; driving growth and employment, especially carrying out occupational skills training, paying attention to the employment difficulties of vulnerable groups such as women, people with disability, ethnic minorities, youth and migrant workers, and working out a plan for equitable distribution of income; strengthening social safety net, and ensuring the access of the poor population to all public services, including education, healthcare and credit; incorporating disaster reduction and humanitarian assistance into the poverty alleviation strategy, and preventing return-to-poverty caused by disaster and illness.
The meeting recognized the significant progress China has achieved in meeting the MDGs on education by making nine-year compulsory education universal across the country, bringing down illiteracy rate and reducing and cancelling tuition fees. China’s education system is the largest in the world. Education input, which now accounts for 4% of the country’s GDP, has provided strong support for the development of education. China’s experience can serve as a guide for other developing countries. However, the meeting also pointed out that China still faces quite a number of challenges in education equality, education fairness and education accessibility, ethnic minority regions, remote and poverty-stricken areas and vulnerable communities: there is a serious problem of inequality in education quality, and in particular, the education gap and the inequality of educational facilities and curriculum set-up between urban and rural areas need to be improved; more attention must be given to the mental health, nutrition conditions, physical and psychological maturity of the children of migrant workers left behind in their hometowns; schools set up for people with disability are still limited in number and lack quality teaching materials; HIV/AIDS patients are still facing discrimination in terms of equal access to education.
The meeting held the view that the purpose of education is to seek knowledge of life and promote all-around development of people, and the focus of education should be placed on improving the overall competence of people, promoting rounded education, avoiding examination-oriented education and redressing the unfair distribution of educational resources. The meeting proposed the following steps: (1) Improving gender equality in education, and providing equal education opportunities to girls; (2) Making greater efforts to address the difficulties faced by the children of migrant workers in school enrollment, bringing into play the role of non-governmental organizations and volunteers, and ensuring the mental health of left-behind children by sending psychological counselors to rural schools; (3) Increasing educational input for people with disability, enlarging the scope of special-purpose schools, providing teaching materials and audio-video products tailored to the needs of people with disability, and encouraging them to study in normal schools; (4) Enhancing education in ethnic minority regions, and protecting the linguistic and cultural diversity of ethnic minority groups; (5) Integrating family education, social education and school education, and improving education on harmonious society, sustainable development and environmental protection; (6) Making greater efforts to enhance teachers’ competence, paying closer attention to social workers and young volunteers involved in education, and providing more professional trainings for them; (7) Making university education open to the public, developing lifelong education, and bridging the education gap between rich and poor regions through internet education.
The meeting held the view that despite the progress the world has made in advancing the MDGs in the environmental field, there remains a huge gap in meeting these goals. The current situation of the global ecological system is far beyond what the earth can afford; environmental challenges such as loss of bio-species, desertification, marine pollution and air pollution are serious; the means of implementation and oversight mechanism concerning the MDGs on the environment are ineffective; the adverse environmental impact of other global issues is on the rise. China has made huge efforts to meet the MDGs on the environment and achieved some progress in this regard. However, given the rapid industrialization and urbanization currently taking place in China, though some traditional environmental problems have now been put under effective control, new problems like haze, soil and groundwater pollution, and growing emissions of greenhouse gases have emerged.
The meeting held the view that when setting the environmental targets of the post-2015 development agenda, it is important to take into full consideration the following: (1) Paying attention to the connection between different environmental targets and promoting the consolidation and coordination of related targets; (2) Promoting environmental, economic and social progress in a coordinated and balanced manner; (3) Sticking to the principles of fairness, inclusiveness and balance, promoting participation of all parties, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, and working for common prosperity; (4) Pursuing sustainable production and consumption in order to fundamentally resolve the problem of an unsustainable environment.
As for the specific targets to be included in the post-2015 development agenda, the meeting suggested to keep the four existing targets on environmental diversity, biodiversity, drinking water and slums; and add new indicators and targets such as the improvement and protection of atmospheric environment, climate change response, energy efficiency and renewable energy, disaster prevention and reduction, sustainable use of water resources, sustainable consumption and production.
The meeting stressed that in setting out the environmental targets of the post-2015 development agenda, it is also important to pay attention to the means of implementation and guarantee measures. The suggestions made include: the United Nations should continue to play a leading role; strengthening global environmental governance consistent with the principles of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, taking credible steps to remove the barriers to the transfer of green technologies; adopting the necessary policies and measures to promote the participation of various social sectors and stakeholders, and encouraging the integrated use of bottom-up and top-down approaches; encouraging countries to formulate environmental targets and strategies in line with their own national conditions; the international community should consider setting up an oversight mechanism to push for concrete actions of countries.
The meeting held the view that the MDGs have motivated national governments and non-governmental organizations to push for the development of global health, yet there are still many weaknesses to be addressed: first, the MDGs on health are relatively fragmented, and there lacks an overall objective in relation to health in the current MDGs; second, the MDGs have placed too much emphasis on the average performance of countries, yet ignored the differences within countries; third, chronic diseases and social factors affecting human health are not receiving adequate attention; fourth, the impact of health targets has been ignored in the setting of other MDG targets.
The meeting stressed that health should remain a focus in the post-2015 development agenda, and in setting the targets on health, it is important to: observe the principles of fairness, people-first, human rights and social justice, and pay extra attention to the needs of vulnerable groups; take into full consideration the levels of development of different countries, make the targets more in line with the country’s actual needs, and pay attention to the connection of health targets with targets in other fields; enhance the participation of civil society.
It is suggested that the health targets of the post-2015 development agenda should include the following: (1) Making universal coverage of health services one of the targets in the post-2015 agenda, strengthening the health system, increasing spending in public health and upholding fairness; (2) Incorporating NCDs prevention and control and social factors affecting human health into the post-2015 targets; (3) Enhancing capacity building in new health technologies and improving the national innovation system.
The meeting recognized the major achievements the world has made in promoting gender equality and protecting women and children’s rights and interests. The trend of gender mainstreaming is gathering momentum, the relevant laws and regulations are being strengthened, and more attention is being paid on ensuring the gender equality of vulnerable groups. However, there are still a lot to be done in promoting gender equality both in China and globally: the public awareness and recognition of gender equality is still relatively weak; women and children, especially those living in developing countries, are still confronted with grave challenges, and there remains a huge gap between women and men in employment, education, participation in government affairs and other fields; the definition of the groups covered by the MDG target on gender equality is ambiguous. Moreover, it is only limited to traditional areas, and fails to cover such areas as employment and participation in government affairs.
In setting the targets of the post-2015 development agenda on gender equality and the protection of women and children’s rights, the international community should: (1) Keep the target on promoting gender equality in the new agenda, and include more targets on women and children’s rights, such as preventing and stopping domestic violence, eliminating women and children trafficking, combating the use of child labor, reducing the illiteracy rate of women, and encouraging women’s participation in decision making, enhancing the protection and assistance to ethnic minority women, women with disability, old-age women, poor women and women in the mobile population, and strengthening the protection of the rights to education and health of left-behind children; (2) Promote gender mainstreaming, reflect the concept of gender equality in every target of the development agenda, and establish an “indicator on gender gap in development” to oversee the implementation of gender equality targets and evaluate the impact of implementation.
6. International development cooperation
The world still faces daunting challenges in meeting the MDGs on global development partnership. Problems such as the backsliding of global partnership, widening gap of development aid, rising trade protectionism and the lack of funds for the provision of basic drugs call for the attention and solution from all sides.
The meeting stressed that a fair, just, inclusive, non-discriminatory and rules-based international trade and financial system is essential for the delivery of MDGs and the formulation of post-MDGs. The international community should stick to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, strengthen the role of South-North cooperation as the main channel for international development cooperation, and enhance South-South and South-North cooperation. The meeting pointed out that globalization has caused major changes in the international landscape and power structure. In particular, given the rising trend of power shift from the North to the South, from the West to the East, and from the government to non-state actors, the boundaries between the East, the West, the South and the North are becoming blurred. Therefore, countries should follow a multi-stakeholder approach, promote collaboration between government, civil society and private sector, and jointly respond to economic and financial crises, ecological risks, social challenges and geopolitical conflicts. Countries should also strengthen global governance, increase the voice and representation of developing countries in global governance, and work together to promote comprehensive and balanced development, stable, equitable and inclusive development as well as people-oriented development.