Shared Responsibility and Joint Accountability: Advancing the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Contributing author Hany Besada discusses responsibility and accountability in the post-2015 development agenda, giving us insight into shifts in the actionable policy platform of the process to include climate change as an integral part of sustainable development.

By Hany Besada

On May 30, 2013, the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda released “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development,” a report which sets out a universal agenda to eradicate extreme poverty in all its forms by 2030 and deliver on the promise of sustainable development.[1] This followed months of work by the High-Level Panel, which was tasked in July 2012 by the United Nations (UN) secretary general to act as counsel for the formation of a new global agenda beyond the 2015 target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). [2]

The following paper argues that the post-2015 development agenda will need developed and developing countries to accept their proper share of responsibility in accordance with their resources and capabilities as driven by five fundamental shifts. These will be:  1) The eradication of extreme poverty in all forms, 2) Inequality and inclusive economy transformation, 3) Peace and good governance, 4) Forging a new global partnership, and 5) The future of sustainable development given environmental, climate change obstacles. [3] Such five fundamental principles would transform our static understanding of development challenges into a dynamic model for action. Thus, the following paper will discuss each one of these shifts individually, with particular emphasis on a discussion of environmental sustainability and climate change as a structural change in the post-2015 agenda’s vision of human security, cooperation, and vulnerability. It will also stress the inclusion of the principle of non-discrimination (“leave no one behind”) as crucial in achieving a development methodology that strives to center dignity and human rights in an agenda built around human security.

The Post-2015 Development Agenda: Establishing New Norms

As the MDGs come to an end, responsibility for the Post-2015 Development Agenda will be shared among a comprehensive group: national governments, local authorities, international institutions, business, civil society organizations, foundations, other philanthropists and social impact investors, scientists and academics, and, of course, citizens.[4] In fact, shaping popular opinion in support of the MDGs and post-2015 development agenda will be a critical component for which every stakeholder will be responsible. Over time, popular opinion and general consensus of a particular topic can and should develop into an international norm. Before discussing specific shifts and recommendations, the following section speaks to the important cooperation changes that must be implemented for the future success of a development agenda moving forward.

At the forefront, establishing the post-2015 development goals as strong international norms will be an important part of achieving their outcome. Such goals must be measurable for society to observe how well these international norms are being met. It is for this reason that the UN High Level Panel recommends the development of measurable indicators used to observe progress for a limited number of high-priority goals with a clear time-frame and target.[5] It even recommended a consortium of UN agencies to consolidate multiple reports of the various goals into a central, yearly review of how the agenda is being implemented.[6] Without UN leadership in this regard, the agenda will risk losing momentum and the potential for resolve will be compromised.  The UN is taking extensive action on the elaboration of an agreement to follow the quickly elapsing Millennium Development Goals. According to the High Level Panel, a series of targets need be established to follow the expiration of the MDG’s, as it is of utmost importance for the credibility of the UN within the international community.

The rise of the data revolution is sure to improve the quality and quantity of development data available to the multiple stakeholders. As mentioned previously, this means established targets and indicators will need to be measurable on a variety of scales. In order for the global framework for development to be embedded in national plans, targets will need to be locally owned. Ownership of these targets at the local level will be essential in establishing targets, goals and indicators that are tangible and context specific, recognizing the culture, realities and perceptions of local communities.

At the local level, two important elements to successfully implementing local ownership of targets and increasing measurability of goals can be identified. First, it will be necessary to strengthen the reliability of existing indicators. Facilitating the collection and the quality of already existing data will set a base line for measuring future data as well as establish and increase the level of trust between groups. Second, an environment that will enable and favor Community Based Organizations (CBOs) for increased collaboration and interest based solutions will be necessary for data to be measurable.

At the national level, in order to favor collection of data and ensuring that targets and indicators are locally owned, significant investment in telecommunications infrastructure as well as verification systems will be necessary. Reaching a broader audience by increasing the dialogue on public policy as well as creating more inclusive policies and building trust between different actors will play an important role and making development data more measurable. Moreover, it will be important that indicators and data not only be measurable and representative of local realities, but also integrated in the decision making process to reinforce accountability.

On the international scale, increased collaboration will be of importance in establishing a structure and norms for tackling extreme poverty and emphasizing sustainable development practices. An international agreement on a single agenda and a profound recognition of all the stakeholders will be essential in forging a global partnership for data and increasing measurability. With this understanding, the paper can now begin to unpack the fundamental shifts that should be at the heart of the future development agenda.

Unpacking the First Four Fundamental Shifts: Understanding the New Development Agenda

 I. The Eradication of Extreme Poverty

The first fundamental shift must come in the eradication of extreme poverty in all forms. Already, the goal will be found in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the principle of leaving no one behind. Furthermore, this principle is also shared by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The post-2015 agenda now has the opportunity to take a definitive stand against extreme poverty. It should strive to end hunger and extreme poverty in all its forms. This would provide a marked difference from the MDGs target of reducing the levels by half. Similarly, multipronged strategies that address a variety of intersectional factors–such as unemployment, education, natural disasters, healthcare, climate change, infrastructure, and local conflict–will be necessary to achieve success in this goal, as well as in completing the others. Further, these strategies must target the most vulnerable members of society to bring about any meaningful change.[7]

II. Inequality and Inclusive Economy Transformation

The concept of transforming economies for jobs and inclusive growth will focus, within the parameters of the post-2015 agenda, on the sustainability of economic growth as one that will be “supported by a global economy that ensures financial stability, promotes stable, long-term private financial investment, and encourages open, fair and development-friendly trade.”[8]  A crucial element of this strategy will be to solidify decent job opportunities so that the poorest members of society are able to transition into the middle-class.

Priority should be given to economic policies and investments that raise productivity and add value so growth generates further growth. Investment in infrastructure is one example. This is important when considering that generating a stable environment is critically necessary for businesses to thrive.  While peaceful coexistence will be a central tenet of this last priority, it also refers to a wider policy that will be inclusive of the legal system and regulatory regimes found within a country.

Furthermore, sustainable consumption and production patterns are an essential outcome for which private business and government share an equal responsibility. Both should strive to eliminate environmental and socially dangerous practices. This includes deforestation, increased carbon emissions and pollution levels, toxic waste dumping and overfishing to name a few.[9]

III. Peace and Good Governance

Transparent and accountable public institutions can support peace and good governance.  By building effective institutions with these attributes, citizens will be better informed on how their taxes are being spent, what is happening with their scarce natural resources, and how they can be more involved with political processes. As a result, political officials will be less inclined to abuse their power and steal from the public purse. This fundamental shift will also support the post2015 agenda’s focus on sustainability as natural resources are more likely to be used and excavated in ways that benefit the general public when transparency and good governance are institutionalized.[10]

 IV. Forging New Global Partnerships

While the first three fundamental shifts (and the fifth, to be discussed later,) will require action primarily at the national level, the act of forging a global partnership will require actors to operate at an international scale. Thus, forging new global partnerships is not just an important shift, but a strategy that must be written into the post-2015 agenda.

With improvements in the generation of more cooperative global policies, domestic transformations can only become inevitable. In fact, one important point the UN High Level Panel observed from the MDGs was that global targets with any degree of local success were embedded in national policies. When taking the post-2015 development goals into account, each national government will should be responsible for deciding their own appropriate starting points and localized strategies, which will vary from country to country and even city to city. Evidently, local ownership will be an important part of any development strategy, and it is a significant lesson for the post-2015 agenda.[11]

However, lack of human, financial, and technical resources will remain and be an obstacle to the implementation of effective local ownership of the goals for some countries. In these cases, international partners and agencies will share responsibility for developing and implementing development strategies with local government. According to the UN High Level Panel:

“In many circumstances international partners and agencies will be invited to assist in helping countries implement their plans and achieve their targets – on average 30 official development partners, many with more than one development agency, are operating in each developing country.”[12]

Ultimately, countries will not be forced into doing something they do not want. Instead, they will be asked how they would like to contribute domestically and best help grassroots actors achieve localized targets.

To be clear, goals, targets, and priorities will vary from country to country according to their own local socioeconomic environments, geographies, and histories. Each country will be expected to contribute to the targets. However, the difference will lie in the speed and extent. For example, high-income countries may be expected to progress further and faster in clean energy targets while middle-income countries may be expected to focus on education, healthcare, transparency in government, and infrastructure. These are not definitive areas of focus for these types of countries. The prevailing point is that low-income countries cannot be expected to focus on the same targets and achieve the same success as middle-income or high-income countries.

The Importance of the Fifth Shift:  Sustainability, Climate Change, and Development (with examples from India and Africa)

 I. A Framework Shift: Environmental Sustainability in Development

In conjunction with other ongoing seminars, such as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which is one of the core discussion points of the High Level Panels and the fifth fundamental shift, the issue of environmental sustainability and its potential causal impacts on developmental progress will stress the importance of urgent and collective action required by public and private sector collectively.

The High Level Panel highlighted that, with climate change being the overarching concern, governments, businesses, and individuals “must transform the way they generate and consume energy, travel and transport goods, use water and grow food.” [13] The introduction of new technologies, reduction of unsustainable consumption, and mobilization of the private sector will be crucial. The panel proposed feasible, cost-effective options, such as construction of energy-efficient buildings, improved vehicle aerodynamics, recycling waste, and soil restoration. In addition, incentives, such as taxes, subsidies, regulations, and sustainability certification and compliance programs were proposed to encourage change.[14]

Powering affordable and consistent sustainable energy sources will be fundamental in curbing the effects of climate change and its potential impacts on developmental progress. For Africa, access to sustainable energy will be a precursor in achieving development goals beyond those of the energy sector and connecting economic growth, social equity, and environment[15]. Improved cooperation between the public and private sector in closing the infrastructure gap, namely for sustainable energy infrastructure, can have a multiplicity of positive developmental impacts.  Infrastructure can increase the capacity of productivity and efficiency of an economy, and generally has a high rate of social return.

In the theme of forging a new global partnership, technical assistance, technology transfer, and information sharing will be crucial for implementing public-private partnerships and closing the infrastructure gap in Africa. Lessons learned from emerging national economies such as those of the BRICS will be an important element in assuring that a framework for infrastructure development and appropriate policies for public-private partnerships are effective and coherent in Africa.

India will prove to be an important partner in south-south cooperation initiatives with African countries. Already, it has successfully implemented the public-private partnership model, having received large scale investments from the private sector for infrastructure development, allowing it to close the infrastructure gap. The government of India has focused on enabling tools for operational efficiency and has witnessed an increasing acceptance for the model due to favorable policy reforms and growth.[16]

India’s success in implementing this model will make it a significant partner for Africa. The Indian government has approved sharing the agreements and legal documents necessary for implementing the public-private partnership model in Africa, emphasizing the role of the private sector in development.[17] Closing the infrastructure gap through public-private partnerships will be an imperative stepping stone in creating the environment for innovation and introducing the new technologies needed for environmental sustainability.

Yet, as it is evident through lack of a clear and decisive resolution in COP 18 and 19 (The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), the willingness and commitment of states to tackle ever growing concerns over the environment remains to be seen.  The COP 2012 season, which was held in Doha to no one’s surprise, failed to produce a specific commitment from parties whereas in 2013 season only modest success was achieved in regards to deforestation agreement.[18] Like before, any binding commitments on emission reductions proved elusive yet again.[19]

II. Developmental Impacts of Climate Change

As the evidence on the impacts of climate change grows, two realities are becoming clear. First, that the heaviest price for a warming planet will be paid by the world’s poorest, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and other fragile regions. Second, the current configuration of global governance is incapable of addressing this decline and those new types of thinking and solutions are desperately needed.

In many African countries, the impacts of climate change are already being felt. Rising temperatures and rainfall variance are often described as “threat multipliers,” or conditions that exacerbate existing problems in the continent and threaten to overburden states that are already environmentally, socially, and politically risk-prone.[20] More frequent droughts and rising energy costs will increase the scarcity of water and food resources, particularly among the rural poor. Key pillars of economic development, such as agriculture, transportation infrastructure, and health will see themselves as affected, as all are sensitive to climatic disruptions such as flooding and drought.

Social and political tensions, already high in many fragile African states, will be worsened by flows of forced migration and heightened competition for scarce resources, threatening stability and peace. These are no longer hypothetical scenarios. The world witnessed many of these outcomes following the 2011 drought in the African Horn. In many Arab countries, too, declining water resources and rising sea levels pose threats to peace, health, and development.  Yet while the global state of the environment moves ever-closer to thresholds of irreversibility, a solution at the level of national governments appears increasingly out of reach. As a recent analysis by Pricewaterhouse Coopers noted, stagnating decarbonization efforts at the international level mean that “governments’ ambitions to limit warming to 2°C appear highly unrealistic,” and that global warming of at least 6°C could be possible by the end of the century.[21] At that point, according to Kevin Anderson, Deputy Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, warming patterns may be “incompatible with an organized global community” and is likely to be “beyond “adaptation.”[22] Distressingly, however, this knowledge has not resulted in significant policy changes; instead, fear has triggered denial and paralysis.

The developmental impacts of a 6°C rise are certain to be enormous. Agricultural food production, while projected to increase with a rise in average temperatures from 1 to 3°C, would actually decrease with temperatures above this range. For an expected world population of 9 billion by 2050, a 6°C rise in temperature would induce chronic food insecurity, with adverse implications for childhood malnutrition, as well as lifetime economic earning potential and health. In terms of water resources, the changes in the terrestrial water cycle induced by a 6°C temperature would increase water shortages for many countries significantly.
Two countries specifically affected are Uganda and Tanzania, both paying the price for rising temperatures via a significant reduction in crop yields due to drought, with yields scarcely responding to local needs.  Unable to quickly respond to international trade of commodities, the decline in crop production in these countries causes trade imbalances which negatively impact economic development.  Policy measures supporting social security programs will be needed to curb the adverse effects of climate change on food security. The needs of the poorest members of these communities will need to be addressed by pro-poor policies that increase support for small scale farmers as well as create mechanisms to guarantee that the poorest segments of society will be included in the policy process.

The adverse effects of climate change have also been seen in drought-affected pastoralist communities of Kenya. The forced migration of pastoralist communities in search of livelihoods results in loss of income for vulnerable segments of the population, heightened competition for scarce resources, and conflicts over access to land. This climate and resource based conflict negatively impacts development progress and will require coherent, coordinated and committed policy strategies that emphasize partnership between the public and the private sector. As per the post-2015 development agenda, these policies will need to be localized and inclusive in order to curb the effects of climate change in Kenya.

Moreover, resource scarcity due to climate change is prompting many developed states and foreign investors to purchase large plots of land in African countries to address their food security concerns. Acquisition of large scale farming land and fresh water sources in economically vulnerable countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan is another consequence of climate change and the growing international concern of food security.  The production of cash crops on this purchased land is intended for domestic consumption and is exported to the country of purchase. Although such investment might lead to improved infrastructure and technology transfer, in many cases it causes a reduction in the volume of agricultural commodity available to markets of the local communities, impeding on their development.

III. Climate Change: Mitigating the Impacts

What, then, is to be done to achieve the sort of transformational change needed to mitigate the adverse developmental implications of a warming planet? There are several existing trends which can be built upon.

First, our basic approach to thinking about economic growth can be redesigned to mainstream environmental and social priorities into macroeconomic policy-making, such as the idea of a “green economy” and “green jobs.” Existing technologies already address up to 70 percent of greenhouse gas reduction potential; resource efficiency and sustainability principles need to be integrated into long-term economic thinking and education.

Second, environmental action must come from above and below the level of national governments. The C40 alliance of mega-cities committed to climate change action, for example, is a demonstration of how sub-national actors and jurisdictions are stepping into the policy-making breach.

Third, the increasing involvement of private sector actors in environmental sustainability, risk-management, and adaptation strategies should be encouraged and expanded. The private sector has much to contribute in terms of supporting government planning in specialized sectors, producing and interpreting data, innovating and showcasing new technologies, and as a source of funding and investment. National governments and inter-governmental bodies must do more to engage these businesses in mitigation and adaptation policy-making, and promote more incentives for business models that align economic profits with sustainable development.

Fourth, the rise of social networking platforms and information technologies is greatly accelerating the pace, scope, and impact of global social and political movements. Decision makers in both the public and private sector have become less insulated from the pressures of grassroots political movements, which effectively utilize these tools to communicate their message. While an imminent “Sustainability Spring” may be overreaching, the potential for rapid political mobilization by the global citizenry on environmental issues is greater now than ever before.

Ultimately, without a binding commitment at the international level to dramatically reduce carbon emissions, none of these measures will be sufficient to avoid large-scale environmental, social, and economic disruptions in fragile states. Ironically, the regions of the world, which have benefited least from a carbon-intensive global economy, are now posed to pay the highest price. Urgent action is needed by leading countries to create, apply, and demonstrate new mechanisms for environmental sustainability, including adaptation strategies, for a warming planet.


The high level Panel report of 2013 is a major breakthrough that profoundly put sustainability at the heart of the development agenda. The report clearly makes the case that poverty is intricately linked to the natural environment and sustainability issues with respect to natural resources. The results were the direct byproduct of other environmental conferences such as COP 18 and 19 that tried to raise the issue of sustainability and impact of carbon emission on the future of development.

Clearly, industrialized countries have a fundamental role to play when it comes to tackling poverty and sustainability challenges, both at home and in developing states.  It is important to recognize that all major stakeholders have a shared responsibility and joint accountability in advancing the post-2015 development agenda. The challenge now is to how best shape these bold recommendations and strong aspirations into concrete and tangible actions backed by realistic yet bold targets.


Hany Besada is a senior fellow at the Centre on Governance, University of Ottawa, and an adjunct research professor with the Institute of African Studies at Carleton University in Canada. He is also the project investigator on the Qatar Foundation’s National Priorities Research Program. Previously, he was a research specialist with the UN High Level Panel Secretariat on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Besada is completing his PhD in Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick.

The author extends a special thank you to Megan O’Connor and Jason McFarlane for their research assistance and consultations on this piece.




Appendix I

The Warsaw Framework for REDD+ Initially pledged USD 280 million in the form of payments to be made to developing countries that can show that they have protected their forest resources. The Adaptation Fund also reached its target funding of USD 100 million enabling it to finance adaptation projects in developing countries that are especially vulnerable to climate change.[23]


Appendix II

In regards to reduction of carbon emissions, negotiations produced the familiar attitude about a “shared vision for long-term cooperative action” and “nationally appropriate mitigation actions.”[24] While the assembled nations ratified a schedule to replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2015, there is still no clear road-map to an agreement that both developed and developing countries will accept.  The same scenario happened again in COP 19 as members failed to reach a conclusive agreement and instead opt in for continuation of national domestic policies.

Subsequently, it was decided that in the first quarter of 2015 each country would submit its “contribution” to bringing down emissions. These figures would then be subject to an assessment by other countries to determine how fair and reasonable they were. However, it is unclear what the size of these “contributions” will be and if they would ultimately be enough.

In addition, there is a lack of clarity about how developed countries would raise the USD 100 billion they had earlier pledged to provide annually by 2020 to help developing countries counter climate change. It remains to be seen how much public funds developed countries will actually give to the Green Climate Fund and how much they expect to come from private sector investment.[27]



Citations and Notes

[1] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013.

[2] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “Letter from the Co-Chairs.”

[3] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “Executive Summary.”

[4] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “Five Transformative Shifts.”

[5] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “The Shape of the Post-2015 Agenda.”

[6] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “Implementing the Post-2015 Agenda.”

[7] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “Five Transformative Shifts.”

[8] ibid.

[9] ibid.

[10] ibid.

[11] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, under “Implementing the Post-2015 Agenda.”

[12] ibid.

[13] High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda 2013, 8.

[14] Ibid

[15] Sustainable Energy for All: Africa Hub, Powering Affordable, Reliable and Sustainable Energy, African Development Bank, 2014, 2.

[16] Earnst and Young, Accelerating Public Private Partnerships in India, 2012, 9.

[17] African Development Bank, Lessons in Private-Public Partnerships (PPP) from India, 2012.

[18] See appendix I

[19] See appendix II.

[20] U.S. Department of Defense 2014, 8.

[21] Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Too Late for Two Degrees? Low Carbon Economy Index 2012, 2012,

[22] Climate Place, Climate Change Briefing for Policy Makers, 2012.

[23] United Nations, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under “Warsaw Outcomes.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Climate Change: Theatre of the Absurd,” The Economist, 2012,


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