Abstract

The eradication of poverty is one of the largest global challenges facing the world. This article examines poverty reduction goals within the framework of Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It also discusses the relationship between poverty reduction and sustainable development. Poverty reduction and sustainable development are inseparable and poverty reduction is the premise for sustainable development. Furthermore, several key bones of contention on the role of poverty reduction and sustainable development and implications of Post-2015 Development Agenda are also discussed. It concludes that to end poverty and inequality should continuously be given top priority for the Chinese government, because poverty reduction is Chinas soft power. Meanwhile, new ways of poverty alleviation should be explored and government should make great efforts to create a new partnership for poverty reduction and development.

Keywords

Poverty reduction ; Sustainable development ; Post-2015 Development Agenda

1. Introduction

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as the milestone of global and national development, are eight international development goals including halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, providing universal primary education, and ensuring environmental sustainability etc. Although the MDGs of halving extreme poverty and providing clean drinking water have been achieved ahead of schedule, there are still many challenges (UN, 2013 ). Climate change is a serious risk of poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts (OECD, 2014 ). It affects all aspects of the development agenda and multi-dimensions of poverty, from hunger eradication to health care, and from drinking water, sanitation to disaster risk reduction. The poorest and most vulnerable groups globally are likely to be most affected, unless significant efforts are made to change paths and models of development that can mitigate and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change.

As the MDGs will soon expire, the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development held in 2012 put forward the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which replace the MDGs, and which will shape the international and national development priorities for all countries until at least 2030 (UN, 2015 ). On the basis of the MDGs, the SDGs will cover all contents within the framework of Post-2015 Development Agenda and take sustainable development as the core (UNDG, 2014 ). In 2015, therefore, negotiations are expected to be completed on both the new global climate change agreement and the final targets and indicators for the SDGs (UN, 2015 ).

Climate change will increasingly affect the poor (OECD, 2014 ). Sustainable development can only be achieved on the premise of ending poverty. A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, the report of UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda issued in May 2013 summarized the post-2015 national development goal as ending extreme poverty by 2030 and achieving sustainable development, indicating the important status of poverty reduction in sustainable development (UN, 2013 ). The SDGs plays a significant role in promoting global poverty reduction like MDGs. The Future We Want, which is the outcome document of Rio+20 points out that the eradication of poverty is the largest global challenge facing the world and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development (UN, 2012 ). Combining eradication of poverty with sustainable development, the conference pointed out that people are the center of sustainable development, we must respond to the new challenges through inclusive economic growth, reducing unfair phenomena and sustainable utilization of resources. The Report of the Open Working Group on SDGs of the 68th Session of UN General Assembly held in July 2014 sets 17 goals and 169 specific targets in details for sustainable development. Among them, the first core goal is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere (UN, 2014a ). In December of the same year, in the General Report on Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, named The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, the UN Secretary General stressed that the future sustainable development should be based on rights and take people and the environment as core (UN, 2014b ). The report also proposes an integrated set of six essential elements, dignity, people, prosperity, our planet, justice, and partnership, to facilitate the construction and improvement of the Post-2015 Development Agenda (UN, 2014b ).

It will be convinced that poverty reduction, inclusive growth, green growth and the global partnership for development is key areas and the priority direction for global development in the next stage to continue and adhere to the development mode of combining poverty reduction with sustainable development of MDGs and SDGs.

Since 2000, as the largest developing country in the world, China has achieved remarkable results on poverty reduction, making outstanding contribution to the poverty reduction goal of the MDGs globally. The significance of this article is that Chinas role and standpoint will be of great importance to promoting the Post-2015 Development Agenda in the process of development and the cooperation with other developed and developing countries. It is necessary to understand the poverty reduction goal within both the framework of Post-2015 Development Agenda and SDGs.

2. Poverty reduction goals in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

2.1. Core philosophy

2.1.1. Combining poverty reduction with sustainable development

Today, it is widely agreed by the scientific community that climate change is already a reality. IPCC has concluded that human activities are altering our climate system and will continue to do so. The impacts of climate change, and the vulnerability of poor communities to climate change, vary greatly, but generally, climate change is superimposed on existing vulnerabilities. Climate change will further reduce access to drinking water, negatively affect the health of poor people, and will pose a real threat to food security in many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America (IPCC, 2014  ;  OECD, 2014 ). Therefore, the best way to address poverty reduction is by integrating sustainable development into development agenda and planning.

According to the core philosophy of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, we should call on the international community to make concerted efforts to formulate the SDGs and the development agenda, eliminate extreme poverty in the next fifteen years, respond to the challenge of climate change to leave a more clean and green earth to future generations, and spare no effort to promote world peace and security.

Rio+20 Conference reached a consensus on the combination of poverty reduction goals and SDGs, which has become the basic trend of the present discussion on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The eradication of poverty is the biggest global challenge facing the world and the premise for sustainable development. Consequently poverty eradication and sustainable development are inseparable.

2.1.2. Five major transformations

A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, the report of the UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposes to carry out five major transformations: 1) leave no one behind; 2) put sustainable development at the core; 3) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; 4) build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; 5) forge a new global partnership (UN, 2013 ).

2.1.3. Six key elements

In the General Report on Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda, The Road to Dignity by 2030, the UN Secretary General stressed that future sustainable development should be based on rights and take people and the environment as the center. The report also proposes six essential elements for sustainable development, including: 1) Dignity. End poverty and inequality. It is the primary goal of the Sustainable Development Agenda to eliminate poverty by 2030. 2) People. Ensure universal access to health and education services, including women and children. Women and children must have equal access to financial services. 3) Prosperity. Develop powerful, inclusive economies with the ability to transform. Ensure all people, including women, the disabled, youth, elderly and migrant population have decent work, social protection and the access to financial services. 4) Our planet. Protect the ecological system. 5) Justice. Sustainable development requires the states and governments at all levels to be inclusive and participatory and be responsible to the people. Protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. 6) Partnership. Promote global unity and cooperation to accelerate sustainable development (UN, 2014b ).

2.2. Poverty reduction goals

Poverty reduction here refers to generalized poverty reduction. In other words, the poverty we talk about includes not only income poverty, but also multidimensional poverty covering education, public health, drinking water and sanitation facilities. Based on generalized poverty reduction, we can sort out the Post-2015 Development Agenda and SDGs proposed by UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons.

A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development, the report of the UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposes that the SDGs should include 12 universal goals. Corresponding to the SDGs proposed by UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the SDGs, which have been under discussion, include a total of 17 major goals (UN, 2013 ).

Based on the concept of generalized poverty reduction, the goals proposed can be divided into three categories: multidimensional poverty reduction goals, sustainable development goals, and global partnership goals (Table 1 ).

Table 1. Classification of goals of the Post-2015 Development Agenda and Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Classification of goals Post-2015 Development Agenda Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Goals emphasizing multidimensional poverty
  • End poverty
  • End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality
  • End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Provide quality education and lifelong learning
  • Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Ensure healthy lives
  • Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all
  • Ensure food security and good nutrition
  • Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Achieve universal access to water and sanitation
  • Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goals emphasizing sustainable development
  • Secure sustainable energy
  • Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods, and equitable growtha
  • Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for alla
  • Manage natural resource assets sustainably
  • Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Reduce inequality within and among countries
  • Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
  • Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
  • Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
  • Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goals emphasizing good governance and global partnership
  • Ensure good governance and effective institutions
  • Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
  • Ensure stable and peaceful societies
  • Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
  • Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance

a. This can be regarded as a goal emphasizing multidimensional poverty.

Ending extreme poverty and achieving sustainable development by 2030 is the summary of the SDGs, reflecting the significance of poverty reduction in the issue of development. Among them, the first goal is to end poverty. To achieve this goal, the UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposes specific targets of poverty reduction, bring the number of people living on less than $1.25 a day to zero and reduce the proportion of people living below national poverty lines of various countries in 2015 (the specific proportion has not been determined yet). Meanwhile, the UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda also made suggestions on the poors land rights, property rights and social security, and how to combat natural disasters. It shows that the UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda proposed the poverty reduction goals from the perspective of multidimensional poverty.

Among the SDGs, the first core goal is still to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. This goal includes five associated objectives: 1) By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day. 2) By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions. 3) Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable. 4) By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance. 5) By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters (UN, 2014a ).

3. Focus of debate

The focus of debate on the Post-2015 Development Agenda is mainly based on the assessment and reflection on the implementation of the UN MDGs.

3.1. Goal concept and content

The UN MDGs were set to meet the basic development needs, such as ending poverty, hunger, achieving gender equality and access to health and education, while the SDGs stress the combination and balance of social, economic and environmental elements as well as the sustainable development. Therefore, the latter includes many new challenges for development, such as economic development inequality, unemployment, social welfare, lack of energy, climate change and changes in population structure. However, it raises numbers of questions. Should the SDGs pay more attention to poverty reduction or sustainable development? Which should the priority be given to? Is it possible to fully achieve poverty reduction while promoting sustainable development?

3.2. Number of the goals

We have only eight MDGs but the number of the SDGs will probably reach seventeen. Then, there comes a question: How can we make use of the limited resources to achieve so many goals. The capital and resources to cope with these development problems are relatively limited. Which goals should be given priority to? Should we highlight the key goals or pay equal attention to all goals? Will the poverty reduction goal, which developing countries are concerned about, be weakened and fragmented by so many scattered goals?

3.3. Target objects

Should the Post-2015 Development Agenda be formulated for developing countries only or for both developing and developed countries? According to the report of UN High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, the SDGs should cover all people. In other words, the SDGs will not only consider developing countries, but also tackle the development problems in developed countries. The Post-2015 Development Agenda aims at stressing everyone enjoy equal rights. This is one of the major focuses of attention between developed and developing countries. In addition, it is also based on the changes in the distribution of poverty-stricken people in the world. Sumner (2011) discovered that the poor are no longer concentrated in low-income countries. After 2007, 75.9% of the poor lived in middle-income countries, which means the poor in low-income countries only account for less than one fourth of the total poor in the world.

3.4. Poverty standard

No matter the Post-2015 Development Agenda or the Sustainable Development Agenda, compared with the MDGs, the new goals all have shortcoming, but progress has been made already. The shortcoming is that the poverty line set by the goals is too low. Currently, the extreme poverty line which is the poverty standard set by the Post-2015 Development Agenda is still $1.25 a day.

The Background Report of the World Development Report 1990 of the World Bank collected the poverty lines of 33 countries and adjusted them based on the 1985 PPP dollars. The national poverty lines of the six poorest countries (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Kenya, Tanzania and Morocco) are all nearly $31 per capita per month. Accordingly, the international poverty line of $1 a day was set. When the MDGs were set in 2000, we determined to halve the number of people living on $1 a day in the period from 1990 to 2015.

In 2008, the World Bank collected the national poverty lines of 75 countries (including those in transition) and adjusted them based on the 2005 PPP. The average poverty line of 15 least developed countries was $1.25 a day, and the median of the poverty lines of 75 countries was $2 a day. After that, the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme set the extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day. It is obviously not reasonable for the Post-2015 Development Agenda to still use the poverty line of $1.25 a day set in 2008 for the year 2030.

3.5. Responsibility sharing

With the rise of emerging economies in the world, should emerging economies assume greater responsibility in the international development aid? In the MDGs, developed countries pledge to contribute 0.7% of their respective gross national income (GNI) to assist developing countries. However, the number of the developed economies that have achieved this goal is very limited. Especially in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, developed countries face heavier pressure to achieve this goal. With the rise of emerging economies on the international political and economic arena, developed countries hope that these countries will assume greater responsibility for international aid.

4. Chinas standpoint and contribution to poverty reduction

4.1. Chinas achievements in poverty alleviation

Since September 2000, the Chinese government has made firm commitments to support the MDGs. So far China has achieved seven development objectives ahead of schedule and made remarkable achievements in poverty reduction (TMFAPRC and UNC, 2013 ). Since the promulgation and implementation of the Development-Orientated Poverty Alleviation Program in Rural China (2001–2010) in 2001, China has reduced the number of the Chinese people living on less than $1.25 a day (2005 PPP) from 690 million in 1990 to 84.17 million in 2011, achieving the poverty reduction goal of the MDGs ahead of schedule, making outstanding contributions to global poverty reduction. In 2011, the Chinese government promulgated the Development-Orientated Poverty Alleviation Program in Rural China (2011–2020). Under the instruction of the new program and pro-poor strategy, according to the national poverty line, China reduced its poverty-stricken people from 165.67 million in 2010 to 70.17 million in 2014, achieving remarkable results in poverty reduction (LGPADSC, 2011 ).

4.2. China strives to eliminate poverty in response to climate change

To address global problems such as climate change, the reduction in biodiversity, land desertification and the destruction of the ozone layer, China has also been actively promoting the process of sustainable development through timely response to the international situation and developing strategic plans. The 21st Century Agenda adopted by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992 provided action planning for sustainable development and a blueprint for the development of the UN organizations, the central governments and local authorities in the regions with natural environment affected by human activities. Based on its national conditions and the overall situation of the environment and development, China adopted the overall strategy for sustainable development and the policy measure, Chinas 21st Century Agenda in 1994 and signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1998, earnestly fulfilling its emission reduction obligations as a developing country in the commitment period (NDRC, 2007 ). In 2014, the China–U.S. Joint Announcement on Climate Change was signed, making it possible to reach a global agreement on climate change mitigation following the Kyoto Protocol. Currently, the non-fossil energy consumption in China accounts for only 10% of the total. As the worlds largest manufacturing base, China is still facing huge challenges of climate change, energy conservation, emission reduction and other problems related to sustainable development.

4.3. The standpoint on poverty reduction China should stick to

4.3.1. The Chinese government should emphasize ending poverty and inequality as the primary target of Post-2015 agenda

The MDGs mainly stressed ending poverty. Currently, in China and many other developing countries, especially the middle-income economies, poverty is still a serious problem and the phenomenon of inequality of income distribution is more prominent. The SDGs, therefore, should take it as the primary goal to end poverty and inequality, which not only objectively reflects the real needs of developing countries, but is in consistent with our goal of narrowing development gap in the new stage.

4.3.2. The Chinese government should adhere to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities

China, India and other emerging economies can avoid assuming the responsibilities beyond their ability as developed and developing countries are in different stages of development. In September 2013, the Chinese government issued Chinas Position Paper on Post-2015 Development Agenda, which also put emphasis on it. For developed economies and developing countries, the Post-2015 Development Agenda means different development goals. It is a development agenda for developing countries, especially impoverished countries, and in the formulation of the agenda, we should fully consider the national conditions of different countries and strive to make the agenda subject to the national planning of these countries. The country-level consultation is a very time-consuming job but it is really necessary. Developed countries' responsibilities of assisting developing countries and fulfilling their commitments on international development aid for poverty reduction in developing countries should be emphasized. Emerging economies can provide experience in poverty reduction and strengthen knowledge-sharing in the field of poverty reduction under the framework of South–South Cooperation, but developed economies must increase aid on promoting cooperation and knowledge-sharing in the field of poverty reduction.

The Chinese government should emphasize the quality of growth and promote inclusive development. Many countries witnessed economic growth but failed to reduce poverty, with a widening income gap. The Chinese government emphasizes the quality of growth and proposes to promote inclusive development. For impoverished regions and developing countries, it is more necessary to stress the quality of growth and promote fair employment, including promoting social inclusion such as education, health, housing and social security.

In addition, governments should put emphasis on national governments' top-level design in the field of poverty reduction, such as the formulation of poverty reduction strategy planning under the leadership of the countries instead of international development organizations. Governments should also put emphasis on improving local governments executive capacity and giving full play to governments' leading role in poverty reduction rather than strengthening the power of civil society only. In theory, the eradication of poverty is a kind of public service that should be provided by national government and a kind of global public service. Therefore, we should emphasize capacity building for government-led poverty reduction participated by the public for independent development.

5. Potential impacts and challenges for poverty reduction in the post-2015 era

5.1. Middle-income countries are affected

In 1990, most of the poor lived in low-income countries. Among over 50 low-income countries in 1990, more than 20 entered the ranks of middle-income countries in 2010. Today, three quarters of the extremely poor live in middle-income countries. Official development assistance of developed economies is mainly provided for low-income countries, so most of the extremely poor received no international development aid.

5.2. It is difficult to meet the demand of urban poverty-stricken population

In 1990s, people in extremely poverty were mainly scattered in the countryside of low-income countries. Nowadays, one fourth of the extremely poor live in the city. By 2030, it is estimated that the urban population in developing economies will nearly double and more extremely poor people will appear in the city. The poverty line of $1.25 a day was determined based on the situation of the poorest countries and rural poverty, far from meeting the need for responding to urban poverty.

5.3. There are too many additional conditions for poverty reduction

In the past, developing countries had to meet Western democracys universal value condition of being open and transparent, accountability, participation, gender mainstreaming, anti-corruption. The post-2015 Development Agenda increased the sustainable development conditions of sustainable consumption, the protection of ecosystems and species and genetic diversity as well as the political conditions of freedom of speech, association, peaceful demonstration, access to independent media and free access to information. To be fair, no matter for poverty reduction or for sustainable development, developed economies should assume more responsibilities and we should not increase so many burdens for the extremely poor to shake off poverty. In particular, developing countries' self-sovereignty for development should be respected.

5.4. Impact on China needs high attention

In 2015, about 50 million Chinese people lived below $1.25 a day. After the launch of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, it is estimated, the number of Chinese people living on $1.25 a day will probably be less than 20 million in 2016. In other words, China will achieve the goal of ending extreme poverty before 2020. It does not mean China has eliminated poverty, but indicates China will not receive international development assistance, and the international community will even hope China assume more responsibilities for global poverty reduction through South–South Cooperation and tripartite cooperation. Chinas development discourse right of three decades' remarkable achievements in poverty reduction will also gradually fade out the international stage with the implementation of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Poverty reduction, as Chinas soft power, will also be gradually weakened.

6. Implications

Firstly, poverty is a multidimensional phenomenon. The goal of sustainable development is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. To this end, China needs to develop two kinds of poverty assessment standards. The first is for income poverty measured by currency and the other is multidimensional poverty assessment standard reflecting the levels of education, health, housing and living standards. Only when the two standards are combined can we really identify, target at, monitor and assess poverty in all its forms.

Secondly, government should make great efforts to create a new partnership for poverty reduction. Under the international trend of creating a new global partnership, the governmental cooperation-based international collaboration should be gradually changed to multiparty all-round international cooperation. In the field of domestic poverty reduction, we should fully mobilize enterprises, social groups and individuals to participate in poverty reduction and development and make full use of the social resources. Especially under the new normal conditions, when the State Council is striving to create the mode of cooperation between government and social capital, we should explore ways to effectively establish the mode of cooperation between government and social capital to compensate for the lack of government financial resources for poverty alleviation.

Thirdly, ending poverty and inequality should continuously be given top priority. Based on the actual situation of China, for the Post-2015 Development Agenda, we should always adhere to the primary goal of ending poverty and inequality. It not only objectively reflects the real needs of developing countries, but is in consistent with Chinas goal of narrowing development gap in the new stage of development. As developed and developing countries are in different stages of development, we should adhere to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities to avoid making China, India and other emerging countries assume the responsibilities beyond their ability.

Fourthly, new ways of poverty alleviation should be explored. Poverty alleviation and sustainable development supplement each other. Poverty alleviation covers many fields such as health, women protection and environment. We should pay attention to the combination between poverty reduction goals and other associated targets of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, including the combination of poverty reduction with climate change, education, women’ problems and so on. On the one hand, we can attract more international assistance and international cooperation resources for the fields other than poverty reduction (such as environment and education) to provide financial and intellectual support for domestic poverty reduction. On the other hand, we can fully achieve poverty reduction under a broader framework of international development. We should actively explore the new model for low-carbon poverty alleviation and green poverty reduction.

Last but not the least, poverty reduction is Chinas soft power. We must make great efforts to publicize Chinas standpoint for poverty reduction targets to the international community. In addition to the actual situation of our country, we should also take into account the common situation of poverty reduction in various countries in the world. Based on the above analysis, the SDGs are no longer designed for developing economies, especially poor countries. We should achieve good communication and association between sectors and make our proposals consistent with the national development strategy, diplomatic strategy and foreign aid strategy.

Acknowledgements

The article was based on a policy report on Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was funded by the International Poverty Reduction Center in China (IPRCC) in 2014.

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