Sustainable development is the most urgent challenge facing humanity. The fundamental question is how the world economy can continue to develop in a way that is socially inclusive, advances human rights, and ensures environmental sustainability. The fight against extreme poverty through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has made great progress over the past 15 years, but more than 1 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty. Inequality and social exclusion are widening within most countries. As the world population is estimated to rise to 9 billion by 2050 and global GDP to more than U.S.$200 trillion, the world urgently needs to address the sustainable development challenges of ending poverty, increasing social inclusion, achieving human rights and sustaining the planet.
During 2014-2015, the Member States of the United Nations will be negotiating a declaration of commitment on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will be approved at a major international summit in late 2015.
The SDGs will be different from the MDGs. They will be a broader set of goals addressing economic, social and environmental challenges; they will be universally applicable to all countries, they will require action at all levels, and many more stakeholders are involved in design and implementation than ever before. Strategies to mobilize the massive increase in financing required to achieve the SDGs are being developed by the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing, the Global Partnership on Effective Development Cooperation, and others.
Now we must take on the challenge of building an innovative SDG monitoring and accountability mechanism through an ongoing inclusive approach, as its future legitimacy require openness. There are five key attributes of monitoring and accountability mechanisms that I believe are essential for the SDG era to catalyze bold and transformative action:
Attribute 1. Inclusive and Multi-Stakeholder Governance
The emergence of the broad-based multi-stakeholder SDG movement requires the creation of new institutional platforms to realize SDG "mutual accountability," where multi-stakeholder inclusion is the hallmark of governance. We know, for example, that the success of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (Global Fund), GAVI, and the Global Partnership on Education can partially be attributed to a balanced representation of governments, civil society, and the private sector. The conferring of voting rights to all stakeholders is the new norm in 21st century governance structures. Another example is the UN-led Every Women Every Child platform that includes a wide range of stakeholders in its governance structure. Finally, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is another important model, whose operational structure includes actors in governments, civil society and the private sector, at the country and global levels.
Attribute 2. Universal, Voluntary and Commitment-Based Approach
For the SDG agenda to be successful, we have go beyond simple accountability rhetoric and move to a "commitments-to-action" model. This too, is in fact, not new. There are several successful models of stakeholders voluntarily using a commitment-based approach. Shared and joint commitments by partners from governments, civil society and the private sector can inspire faster and bolder action, can garner enhanced citizen and media attention; and can contribute to the mobilization of resources from internal and external sources.
Sharing of best practices, innovation, leveraging of new markets, and the application of new technologies can also be stimulated by these collaborative and committed-based approaches. There are important lessons to be learned from the success of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the Sustainable Energy for All partnership and others models, where periodic commitments to action are voiced and made in public fora. The Open Government Partnership (OGP) offers a model where participating countries make voluntary commitments for action, domestically within their own borders, and they are also given the opportunity to make commitments towards global and/or regional efforts. This critical feature levels power and enables all countries, rich or poor, to be equally responsible for action.
Attribute 3. Independent Review Mechanism
Commitments-to-action must be paired with an "Independent Review Mechanism" or IRM. An IRM would allow local, regional and global experts to objectively assess technical soundness, ambition, and assess progress towards the "commitments to action." The African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and AIDS Watch Africa (AWA) are peer review models that warrant further consideration. Another example is how the Every Women Every Child initiative utilized a WHO-convened Independent Expert Review Group to monitor progress towards commitments made. Finally, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a model that uses local institutions for conducting independent reviews.
Attribute 4. Broad-Based Youth and Citizen Engagement
As part of the "MDG era" there has been a rolling appreciation for citizen engagement in the monitoring and accountability efforts. Nevertheless, we know that authentic citizen engagement in institutional platforms can transform policy, mobilize resources, and empower bolder action. The recent experience of the Arab spring uprisings and the increased level of activism being seen around the world is catalyzing major political transformations, with both huge risks and opportunities for the SDG agenda. Now is the time to generate greatly enhanced models of youth and citizen engagement as part of the SDG "mutual accountability" mechanism. Local youth- and citizen-driven monitoring and accountability mechanisms are essential for improving budget transparency and service delivery outcomes. If citizens are enabled to pay attention, respond and engage, and then take responsibility and action, then everyone can be empowered to foster an enabling environment for "mutual accountability" and measurable results.
Attribute 5. Open-Sourced and Transparent, Data-Driven Action
There is a lot of discussion underway about how to operationalize a data revolution in support of the SDGs. Official global and national statistics are essential. However, we now know that what has been labeled as "official data" must now be supplemented by other sources. Over that past 10 years we have developed the tools, technologies and techniques to gather different kinds of data in unprecedented ways.
A unified hub of static and dynamic data can now be created. This can be accomplished through the creation of an open-sourced data platform and standards that ensure inter-operability of both quantitative and qualitative data from multiple sources and institutions across the SDG agenda. Over time, and with appropriate governance, open-sourced data that is generated from multiple sources and at multiple levels of operation can be fully linked: from the local/city level, to country level, to regional level, and ultimately to the global level.
We also know we can begin to build immediately if we join forces to connect existing data sources, hubs and aligned new ventures, such as the No Ceilings: Full Participation Project and the Paris 21 proposed Global Partnership on Development Data. Robust use and visualization of open data and evidence will provide the basis for transparent measurement and tracking systems to monitor progress towards "commitments to action," targets and the SDGs.
The World Bank Group IFC Standards on Environmental and Social Sustainability and the UN Global Compact's "Communication on Progress" are important example of how accountability and transparency norms are also being applied to the private sector. In fact, many of the tools that will drive a new way of doing business in the collection of data rest in the private sector. The newly launched UNEP Live and the recent experiences with the open-sourced search for debris from the Malaysian Airways Flight 370 are important examples of what is possible if we can make SDG-related data open, vibrant, engaging and relevant.
Call for a Multi-Stakeholder SDG Monitoring and Accountability Mechanism
The ambition of the post-2015 SDGs as a successor to the MDGs is incredibly exciting in its paradigm-busting breadth and ambition. This also makes it more challenging and more complex to ensure "mutual accountability" for results. Given the advances in human cooperation and technology, we know that the SDG era can usher in and foster a new culture of "mutual accountability." Such an accountability mechanism would allow resources from internal and external and public and private sources to clearly target the most pressing needs. The evidence needed for action will be driven by shared data and common knowledge.
I conclude with the wise words of the late Nelson Mandela, a man who knew that change was a long walk, and a hard climb. As he famously said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Mr. Mandela understood commitment and he understood when the time was ripe for a new way of doing things. I believe that all stakeholders can and must generate the courage and political will necessary to bring forth "mutual accountability" so that together we can create a world that could defined by the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.