What does a Pro-Poor and Pro-Poorest 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Mean?

Dony El Costa, 28 Jun 2017

Strong sentiments of underachievement in the past decades on all dimensions of sustainable development have led the international community to develop and adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). It’s a transformative and universal Agenda which core pledges are those "leaving no one behind" and "reaching the furthest behind first" principles[i] that member states and international stakeholders are now seeking to operationalise. The task is immense. With universality at their core, the SDGs encapsulate an all-encompassing programmatic agenda which should ensure all goals and targets are met for all nations, peoples and for all parts of society, with a prioritization of those populations and communities who are furthest away from achieving the SDG targets, whom needs should be met first.[ii]


Poverty eradication is the overarching goal of this Agenda, with an "end poverty in all its forms everywhere" goal topping the 17 SDGs, and the first of a list of 169 targets aiming at eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. Goal 1 is expectedly skewed towards social targets but contains economic and environmental targets alike. It covers, to cite a few subjects, monetary and multidimensional poverty, the many inequalities of outcomes and opportunities, and the decent work and social protection agendas. It also links to the Global Climate Action Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.


This broad-based coverage of the various dimensions of sustainable development highlights the "indivisible" nature of the Agenda and the necessity to achieve a balanced progress across all goals, thus underlining their integrated and reinforcing nature. For example, and based on the methodological work deployed by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators (IAEG-SDGs), Indicator 1.4.1 aspires to track universal access to basic services, particularly for the poor and the vulnerable.[iii] This cross-sectoral indicator is expected to assess no less than access to basic infrastructure services (water and sanitation, solid waste collection and management, mobility and transportation and energy), to social services (education, health care, emergency services, housing, childcare, and services for elderly and other groups with special needs), and to quality life services (public safety, urban planning, culture and entertainment, sport and public spaces)!   


The principle of reaching the furthest behind first notably means that development efforts should focus on the poorest of the poor who most often suffer intersecting inequalities and multiple deprivations.[iv]


The main objective is to target the depth[v] and breadth of poverty, and ex-post, to monitor the extent to which growth and multidimensional poverty reduction policies have been pro-poor and importantly pro-poorest. This draws from observations that the global consumption floor - the mean consumption of the poorest stratum - hasn't changed much over the last three decades even though there has been some progress in reducing the number of poor living near that floor; and from widespread evidence that progress of the poorest along the non-monetary dimensions of poverty and human development was lower relatively to that achieved by those populations of the second and third quintiles of income distributions. 


Self-centrally and very selectively, from the perspective of poverty economists, advancing and achieving sustained progress towards poverty eradication, shared prosperity, and multidimensional progress[vii] requires prioritized emphasis on: 1) tackling data deprivation in general, and most importantly closing survey information gaps with the view to improve the measurement of poverty and inequality along their many dimensions and at the level of disaggregation proposed in the 2030 Agenda;[viii] 2) identifying those living in chronic poverty and designing appropriate inclusive economic, social, political, cultural and environmental policies that would lift the barriers to poverty reduction efforts; 3) deepening our understanding of welfare and poverty dynamics[ix] building on the understanding that movements around poverty lines and higher welfare thresholds are dynamic, with a view to strengthening the poor and vulnerable populations resilience to growing sources of vulnerability, avoiding their backsliding into and putting them on sustained trajectories out of poverty; and 4) ensuring peace and security, as poverty eradication sustainable development cannot be pursued in the context of armed conflicts, human losses, and conflicts-driven population movements.


[i] See the United Nations General Assembly resolution 70/1, paragraph 4 [Online]. Available at https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld 

[ii] See for example UNDG, "Universality and The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development From A UNDG Lens", Discussion note.

[iii] The methodological work is led by UN-Habitat and the World Bank, along with consultations with the WHO, UNICEF and UNDP. See the work plans for Tier III indicators, [Online]. Available at https://unstats.un.org/unsd/statcom/48th-session/documents/BG-2017-3a-Tier-III-Work-Plans-E.pdf.

[iv]  It is important to note that the "reaching the furthest behind" principle first applies to every form of deprivation, even though I take a monetary poverty lens here. See for example: Overseas Development Institute, 2014, Strengthening social justice to address intersecting inequalities, Report.

[v] See for example the new "person-equivalent headcount ratio" proposed by Castleman, Foster, and Smith (2015) and introduced by the World Bank in its 2015-16 Global Monitoring Report.

Castleman, T., J. Foster, and S. C. Smith (2015) “Person-equivalent Headcount Measures of Poverty” Institute for International Economic Policy Working Paper Series 2015-10, Elliot School of International Affairs, George Washington University, Washington, DC.

World Bank (2015) Global Monitoring Report 2015/2016: Development Goals in an Era of Demographic Change (Washington, DC: The World Bank).

[vii] See UNDP (2016). Multidimensional progress: well-being beyond income, Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean 2016.

[viii] See United Nations Statistical Commission Forty-eighth session, 2017, Transformative agenda for official statistics, Report of the Secretary-General, E/CN.3/2017/5 ; and Serajuddin, Umar, Hiroki Uematsu, Christina Wieser, Nobuo Yoshida, and Andrew Dabalen. 2015. “Data Deprivation: Another Deprivation to End.” Policy Research Working Paper No. 7252. World Bank, Washington, DC. 

[ix] On monetary poverty and welfare dynamics, see the work of Dang and colleagues at the World Bank. For multidimensional poverty see the recent work of Sabina Alkire and her colleagues at the at the University of Oxford using the Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), which was developed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) with the Human Development Report Office of the United Nations Development Programme. See in particular,

Alkire, S., Roche, J.M., and Vaz, A. (2017). "Changes Over Time in Multidimensional Poverty: Methodology and Results for 34 Countries", World Development, Vol. 94, pp. 232–249.Suppa, N. (2017). "Transitions in poverty and deprivations: An analysis of multidimensional poverty dynamics." OPHI Working Paper 109, University of Oxford.


Dony El Costa is a poverty, energy and environmental economist with an 18-year professional experience in the consulting industry, academia and research centers, and the United Nations System since 2011, holding various positions and assignments notably with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, and the United Nations Development Program.


The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his/her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of neither the Arab Development Portal nor the United Nations Development Programme. 


Note to readers from ADP: for more information on the methodology that Dony El Costa has adopted, await the upcoming paper titled "Leaving No-One Behind in the Arab Region: Revisiting the Pre-Arab Spring Poverty, Growth, and Inequality Nexus and Exploring Trajectories to 2030", which will soon be published exclusively on ADP.

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