Poverty Eradication in 2030 Agenda: China’s Efforts and Their Potential Impacts
The UN’S 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development represents an updating of the UN Millennium Development Goals based on integrated development. China is implementing the 2030 Agenda in light of its own conditions, and seeking to achieve an early harvest in poverty eradication.
In September 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (hereinafter referred to as “the 2030 Agenda”), in which 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS) constitute the guideline and direction of effort for UN member states to continue fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGS) over the next fifteen years (2016-2030).1
Speaking at the Summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping said: “China makes a solemn commitment that it will shoulder the responsibility of implementing the post-2015 development agenda, and seek solidarity and cooperation to constantly push the cause of global development.” As the world’s largest developing country, China has made remarkable achievements in the implementation of the United Nations MDGS, especially in the eradication of poverty and hunger. On this basis, how China implements the 2030 Agenda, particularly Goal 1, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” is noteworthy. This article is intended to explore and analyze China’s implementation of the key goal and its implications for global implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
SDG 1 in the 2030 Agenda
The 2030 Agenda and the United Nations MDGS have a clear inheritance relationship. The MDGS are derived from the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000. The Declaration sets out the direction and mandate for the development of mankind in the new century, and its Part III places special emphasis on the determination of the United Nations and its member states to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected.” And its Part IV states that “we must spare no effort to free all of humanity, and above all our children and grandchildren, from the threat of living on a planet irredeemably spoilt by human activities, and whose resources would no longer be sufficient for their needs.”3 On this basis, the UN proposed in 2001 eight human development goals to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women by the end of 2015, constituting the MDGS.4
More than a decade after the formation of the MDGS, countries around the world, in particular developing countries, have made significant efforts to implement this set of development goals, especially Goal 1, “To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger,” and achieved remarkable results. According to the MDGS Report issued by the UN in July 2015, people around the world have improved their lives because of the tireless efforts of countries (largely developing countries) to implement the MDGS. The number of people living in extreme poverty worldwide declined by more than half, from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015, most of which was achieved after 2000.5
While the implementation of the MDGS has yielded tangible results, particularly with regard to the overarching goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, meeting the target of reducing extreme poverty rates by half five years ahead of the 2015 deadline,6 there are still quite a number of goals and targets that have not been achieved as the MDGS approach the deadline, and millions of people are left behind, especially the poorest and those who are disadvantaged by gender, age, disability, race or geographical location. Therefore, in order to maintain the unprecedented positive momentum of development of the MDGS, and also in order to continue to address the unresolved issues of the MDGS in the next 15 years after the MDGS expire and deliver the commitments made in UN Millennium Declaration, the United Nations has been promoting the formation of a post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda since September 2010. After five years of efforts, the international community has finally drawn up the 2030 Agenda through intergovernmental negotiations within the framework of the United Nations. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the agenda replace the MDGS and set the direction for future global sustainable development.
To a large extent, the SDGS are both continuation and transcendence of the MDGS. In discussing the drafting of the United Nations post-2015 development agenda, the majority of developing countries stressed that the new development goals should be based on the MDGS. China was firmly on the side of developing countries, stating clearly that “The Development Agenda beyond 2015 should be based on the MDGS and those unaccomplished goals should be included in the development goals beyond 2015.”7 Meanwhile, the Chinese government pointed out that “The agenda should keep pace with the times and meet new global challenges.”8 The 17 SDGS and 169 specific targets in the final draft of 2030 Agenda reflected the principle that the Chinese government had reiterated, namely “Ensure continuity and keep
forward-looking.”9 Goal 1 of the 2030 Agenda, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” is undoubtedly a manifestation of this principle.
In fact, the Sustainable Development Goal 1 and Goal 2, “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” are inheritance and development of the Millennium Development Goal 1. Furthermore, while Target 1.A of MDG 1 is “Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day,”10 Target 1.1 of SDG 1 is “By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere, currently measured as people living on less than $1.25 a day.”11 Clearly, it is through the efforts of all countries in the world, mainly developing countries in the process of implementing the MDGS, that a solid foundation
has been laid for setting Target 1.1 of SDG 1 in the 2030 Agenda. The goal of eradicating extreme poverty for all people by 2030, as set out in the target, is the full development of MDG 1.
SDG 1’s development and even transcendence of MDG 1 is reflected in the following two aspects:
First, SDG 1 is broad while MDG 1 is relatively narrow. Unlike MDG 1, which emphasizes poverty reduction and hunger eradication in developing countries, SDG 1 is to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere.” This means that the goal is not only set for developing countries, but also for developed countries, because against the backdrop of globalization, poverty is not only an issue for developing countries, but also for developed countries. This means that the goal of poverty eradication in the 2030 Agenda is universal, based on a framework of goals that is binding to all countries, both developing and developed.
As the 2030 Agenda has repeatedly stressed, “All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan,” and “As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind.” There is no doubt that the slogan “No one left behind” is fully reflected in the series of specific targets for SDG 1. For example, Target 1.2 of SDG 1 states that “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.” Target 1.3 requires all UN member states to “implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable.”12 It is clear that the “countries” here includes all countries, developing and developed.
Second, SDG 1 is comprehensive, paying full attention to the relationship between poverty eradication and integrated development in economic, social and environmental dimensions, while the MDG 1 is relatively simple, focusing only on poverty reduction and eliminating hunger. Since the MDGS present a
clear “silo structure”13 that ignores the relevance of different goals and targets, interaction among the eight goals is insufficient. For example, MDG 1 focuses only on poverty reduction and hunger eradication, which has, to some extent, a negative impact on the achievement of all eight MDGS, including Goal 1 itself. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in the report What Will It Take to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals? An International Assessment, stated that progress towards the realization of MDGS is likely to accelerate if these goals are addressed simultaneously, rather than separately.14
Unlike the “silo structure” of MDGS, the SDGS in the 2030 Agenda place great emphasis on the integration of goals. Since the 17 SDGS and their specific targets are designed based on integrated development in economic, social and environmental dimensions, all the specific targets have, to varying degrees, integrated economic, social and environmental development. In turn, the integrated development can combine the goals and specific targets together, thus avoiding the silo structure among the goals. SDG 1 and its specific targets are obviously typical in this regard.
Take Target 1.3 for example. It is consistent with Goal 16 which puts emphasis on sustainable social development, “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.” Target 1.4, “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,” is in line with the promotion of sustainable economic growth based on SDG 8, “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent
work for all.” Again, Target 1.5, “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” focuses on environmental issues, which interacts with SDGS 9 and 11, respectively “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation” and “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.”15
China’s Approaches to Implementing SDG 1
In the process of promoting the realization of MDGS, the Chinese Government has actively explored the possible ways and, based on its national conditions, accumulated rich experience in this regard and stepped out a path of development with Chinese characteristics.16 To a large extent, China will continue to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in light of its own conditions, as it did in implementing the MDGS. One priority for China’s action plan for the 2030 Agenda is SDG 1, in which China will strive hard to achieve an early harvest.
Soon after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, on November 23, 2015, the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held a meeting to deliberate and adopt the Decision on Winning the Battle against Poverty.17 At the CPC Central Committee meeting on poverty alleviation and development work held in Beijing on November 27, 2015, President Xi Jinping emphasized that “it is the essence of socialism and the Party’s mission to eradicate poverty and improve people’s livelihood. Realization of common prosperity is our solemn commitment to the people of the whole country.”18
The decision by the CPC Central Committee to win the battle against
poverty in China has a significant connection with the 2030 Agenda, as President Xi Jinping has clearly pledged at the UN Sustainable Development Summit that China will shoulder the responsibility of implementing the post2015 development agenda. Judging from the time interval between the 2030 Agenda and the CPC Central Committee decision, it can be concluded that China’s focus and early harvest in implementing the 2030 Agenda is the full realization of SDG 1, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.”
Specifically, China’s solutions or approaches to implementing SDG 1 are as follows:
First, the five new development concepts of innovation, coordination, green, open, sharing are the guiding rules for implementing SDG 1 in China. The communiqué issued at the fifth plenary session of the 18th CPC Central Committee on October 29, 2015, pointed out: “China should highlight and implement the concepts of innovation-driven development, balanced development, green development, open development and development for all, in order to fulfill the goals of the 13th five-year period, overcoming obstacles and sharpening its edge in development.”19 There is no doubt that these five new development concepts are the guiding principles of China’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda, because these concepts are interrelated with the 5P concept, namely, “people, planet, prosperity, peace, partnership,” put forward by the 2030 Agenda. The 5P concept is the guiding principle of SDGS and their specific targets, including “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.”
Second, China’s implementation of SDGS is integrated with its overall implementation of the 2030 Agenda. According to the Decision on Winning the Battle against Poverty, China will lift more than 50 million rural residents out of poverty by the existing domestic standards in 2016-2020. In order to achieve this goal, the Outline of the 13th Five-year Plan for the National Economic and Social Development has determined that major infrastructure and ecological projects, such as in transportation, water conservancy, electricity and
information, should be tilted to the poor areas, and the subsidy standards for rural road construction should properly be raised. Consolidate and upgrade safety of rural drinking water, formulate and carry out electrification for poverty-stricken villages, speed up process broadband network covering in poor villages, and gradually convert sloping field with a gradient of over 25 degrees to forestland and grassland. At the same time, actively promote the role of new urbanization and agricultural modernization drive in poverty alleviation, so that eligible rural population can live in urban areas. The policies, funds and projects to support rural areas, farmers and agriculture should lead towards poverty-stricken areas, and industry that can boost the development of poor villages should be encouraged.20 Noticeably, the method adopted by China to eradicate poverty is fully consistent with the transcendence of “silo structure” emphasized by the 2030 Agenda.
Third, implementing the SDGS in two steps. Undoubtedly, the goal of poverty alleviation in the Decision on Winning the Battle against Poverty will be achieved in a timely manner through the top-level design of the 13th Five-year Plan and the joint efforts of the Chinese government and people. However, it should be noted that all poverty reduction measures and the final outcomes of the 13th Five-year Plan provide a solid foundation for China to fully implement the objectives of the 2030 Agenda. According to the international poverty line of $1.25 per day, there are 200 million people living in extreme poverty in China.21 Therefore, to lift more than 50 million poor people by domestic standard completely out of poverty in the next five years is groundwork for lifting 200 million people living in extreme poverty by international standard by 2030. China’s approach to eradicating poverty in two steps is based on China’s actual conditions, with obvious Chinese characteristics and is also an important way for China to implement the
Fourth, launching comprehensive social mobilization efforts on the national level to achieve all the specific targets of SDG 1. According to the UN definition, social mobilization is “a broad-scale movement to engage people’s participation in achieving a specific development goal through self-reliant efforts.”22 This means that China needs to mobilize the whole society to raise awareness and understanding of the 2030 Agenda, in particular the SDG of poverty eradication and other closely related SDGS. Under the influence of the long-lasting and dominant social mobilization, people’s attitudes towards life, their individual expectations and value orientation will be directed to the cause of achieving sustainable development, which will help effectively implement overall elimination of poverty. Whether by continuously enhancing top-down social mobilization, actively improving public awareness of broad participation, promoting widespread use of mass media, pushing forward participatory social mobilization, or by giving full play to civil societies, private sectors and individuals, all are important ways to carry out comprehensive social mobilization to realize poverty eradication.
Fifth, strengthening cross-sector policy coordination and adjusting relevant laws and regulations to escort the implementation of SDG 1. The Chinese government, upholding the standard of promoting and serving sustainable development, will provide policy and legal guarantee for implementing the most important SDG of poverty eradication. China has set up a leading group to promote the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, formulated overall plans for poverty eradication, reviewed the major policies, projects, issues and annual work schedules, and coordinated policy-making and implementation of specific departments. The domestic coordination mechanism of the leading group is composed of 43 government departments. The 43 bodies, while taking their respective responsibilities, will achieve synergy and efficiency by exchanging information, coordinating policies and orchestrated action, so as to guarantee the smooth implementation of SDG 1
and other goals.23
Implications of Chinese Approach to Poverty Eradication
In implementing the MDGS, the UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has for many times praised China’s great contribution to the global implementation of the MDGS, believing that China’s solid work sets an example to other countries.24 Therefore, we have reason to believe that China’s implementation of SDG 1 can lend experience as well as influence to global action of the 2030 Agenda.
First of all, China will put SDG 1 at the center of implementing the 2030 Agenda, combine the reality of China’s development with the five guiding principles of innovation, coordination, green, open and sharing, and work hard to achieve SDG 1 in two steps in line with its national conditions. In addition, China will mobilize the whole society to participate in poverty elimination, and adjust and improve relevant laws and regulations through cross-sector coordination, in order to promote the total eradication of poverty. All these are inspirational for the international community to carry out the 2030 Agenda. All the SDGS in the 2030 Agenda have universal significance and are consistent with the MDGS. China regards the total eradication of poverty as priority to and early harvest of implementing the 2030 Agenda. This could set an example for other countries in the world, and help the international community fully grasp the key points of implementing the SDGS.
The 2030 Agenda is carried out by each country in the world. The goals can only be reached when solutions and paths are designed under the guiding principles in conformity of each country’s actual conditions. The world can draw some experience from China’s practices that are made based on its
Second, while China prioritizes poverty eradication in implementing the 2030 Agenda, it is also concerned with the interactive promotion between poverty alleviation, economic growth, social development and environmental protection. This approach will undoubtedly benefit the global sustainable and integrated development of society, economy and environment. For example, the Decision on Winning the Battle against Poverty set out clearly that “industries with local characteristics should be encouraged and their development plans should be made to help people go out of poverty;” “the project of ‘one town one product’ should be promoted to build a series of special agricultural bases with broad participation in poor areas.”25 This is an approach to combining poverty eradication and economic growth, which benefits both. Another example is that the Outline of the 13th Five-year Plan stated that “through the safety net of social security policies, we need to lift the rest of poor people without or partially without labor capacity out of poverty.” This is a manifestation of the connection between poverty eradication and social security as well as social development.26 As an additional example, the Decision on Winning the Battle against Poverty pointed out a way to eradicating poverty in an ecological manner. It stated that “major national ecological projects, such as converting farmland to grassland and forestland, natural forest protection, forest shield construction, treatment of stony desertification, treatment of sand, protection and rehabilitation of wetlands, comprehensive treatment of sloping fields, and returning pasture to grassland, should lean towards poor areas and promote people’s participation and benefits from these projects.27 Obviously, these measures adopted by China to integrate poverty eradication with economic growth, social development and environmental protection are practicable and can offer some experience to other developing countries.
To conclude, China’s practice in implementing SDG 1 and other goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will provide rich experience for all in the world to go beyond the “silo structure” among different goals. Under the leadership of the central government, China will implement five major projects from 2016 to 2020. From the targets and details of these projects, we can find that China’s goals are closely related to other SDGS. First, “End poverty by developing” is inseparable from SDG 2 “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” and SDG 8 “Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.” Second, “End poverty by migration” is connected with SDG 6 “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all,” SDG 7 “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all,” and SDG 9 “Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.” Third, “End poverty by promoting ecology” is closely related with SDG 11 “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” SDG 12 “Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns” and the conservation of marine and terrestrial ecosystems and resources set in SDGS 14 and 15. Fourth, “End poverty by promoting education” is responsive to SDG 4 “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Fifth, “End poverty by providing social security system” is mutually complementary to SDG 10 “Reduce inequality within and among countries” and “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development” in SDG 16. To sum it up, if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is considered to go beyond the “silo structure” in terms of theory and design, then China’s specific plans to implementing SDG 1 prove that the “silo structure” can be surpassed in practice. That will certainly exert a direct and positive impact on the international community’s implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
The 193 Member States, at the UN Sustainable Development Summit held from September 25-27, 2015 in New York, officially adopted the historic new agenda, entitled “Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”