Global Policy Forum

UNDP's Clark: Balancing Water, Food, Energy Key to Post-2015 Goals


The eight MDGs, successful in varying degrees, are due to be replaced by a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) post-2015. Helen Clark, head of the UN Development Program, suggests that these SDGs will be more overarching. Discussions until now have focused on creating a holistic approach to development, one that put greater emphasis on creating a sustainable economy and environment as well. This cross-cutting approach applies to the suggested concept of water-food-energy nexus that accounts for how these are interconnected as well as their economic, social and environmental dimensions. Balance is needed to promote holistic governance while setting measurable and specific goals to encourage political support during their implementation.

By Julie Mollins

February 13, 2013

Global development goals due to replace current anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) when they expire in 2015 could be unified by a concept that calls for an integrated view of economic growth and development, said Helen Clark, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The concept -- the water-energy-food nexus -- aims to create a sustainable economy and a healthy environment by considering how each of the three elements interrelate and are affected by decision-making.

“It’s a more holistic approach  --  without water you can’t farm, without clean water you can’t be healthy, without ways of allocating and looking after the water supply there won’t be enough to meet our needs -- it’s got many dimensions,” Clark said.

“Water is such a cross-cutting issue -- it has economic, social and environmental aspects to it -- it’s very compelling for inclusion,” she told AlertNet after speaking at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) in southeast London on Tuesday.

In her talk, she reported on the status of consultations involving policymakers, government officials and contributors from a range of sectors on drawing up new sustainable targets aimed at eradicating poverty.

The eight MDGs, which have met with varying degrees of success, were established by U.N. member states in 2000. The replacement targets are widely referred to as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The world needs to buy into a collective responsibility . . . to act in a way that is consistent with not breaching planetary boundaries and conserving nature’s resources for future generations,” Clark said.

“The MDGs were very clearly goals that set benchmarks for developing countries -- the SDGs will be a bit more encompassing and obviously stronger on the environmental sustainability strand of sustainable development.”

Globally, almost 1 billion people go hungry, 2.5 billion people lack adequate sanitation and about 783 million people lack access to safe water, according to U.N. agencies.


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s high-level panel on the post-2015 development agenda must submit recommendations to the United Nations in May. It is co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Clark said the major themes were putting in place ways to improve governance, build resilience and sustain the progress countries made, even when times were hard.

Discussions on what subjects to set targets for have looked at workers’ rights, women’s rights, universal health coverage, education and governance, she said.

A U.N. team representing more than 60 agencies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has proposed building the future framework around four pillars: inclusive social development; inclusive economic development; environmental sustainability; and peace and security, Clark said.


Hopes are high among the development community that there will be a sharper focus on collecting reliable data to better measure progress towards meeting the new goals.

Competing interests must also be taken into account, said Barbara Frost, charity WaterAid’s chief executive.

“Goals need to be specific, but also politically attractive to governments, so that they can say they will contribute,” Frost said. “The trouble with too overarching goals is that then they are too hard to show any progress against and then people can actually ignore them, so I think that dilemma that they’re trying to tackle is to get something that’s measurable and specific.”

Attempts to create an inclusive process are impressive and should focus not just on aid, but on all mechanisms countries can use for the wider development agenda, said Penny Lawrence, international programmes director at Oxfam GB.

“You’ve got to be very careful with indicators that they drive the right behaviours,” Lawrence said.  “Don’t choose an indicator that is easy to measure and looks like it’s right, but inadvertently drives the wrong behaviours.”


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