UN replaces millennium poverty plan with sustainable development goals

Promise to world's poor in the ambitious Millennium Development Goals is being reshaped after it becomes obvious it has not achieved its targets

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 10:32pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 10:32pm


When a handful of technocrats from the world's most advanced nations gathered in a UN basement in 2000 to establish global development goals, their objective seemed simply to create a blueprint to help the world's poor by 2015.

But as the deadline nears and many targets remain to be met, the UN is shifting from what it once hailed as the world's ambitious, unwavering promise to the world's poor, known as the Millennium Development Goals, to a more inclusive, participatory and sophisticated approach of the Sustainable Development Goals.

These new goals, which are to be finalised by the General Assembly in the summer, attempt to revise the previous ones by involving more global leaders and seeking to align national priorities with international goals, rather than imposing international goals on countries with widely varying needs and resources.

"We are no longer living in a G20 world. We're living in a G0 world," said Paul Ladd, who leads the UN development programme's team on the post-2015 development agenda.

This shift has reignited a debate in the world of international development on whether common goals can even drive development.

The eight Millennium Development Goals, designed to form a blueprint for international development, have had mixed results. Extreme poverty and global child mortality rates have been halved from their 1990 levels, but progress has been uneven between regions and countries, especially in health and education. In some parts of Africa, measures of health standards have declined.

Yet while the goals had not been met in all areas, even a marginal improvement because countries were trying to meet the goals meant something, since they were "a bunch of completely non-binding, legally unenforceable aspirational targets", said Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Centre for Global Development, a Washington think tank.

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, which focused on straightforward objectives such as alleviating extreme poverty, guaranteeing access to primary education and reducing maternal mortality, the new goals, which will include standards including reducing climate change, ensuring good jobs for all and promoting peaceful societies and strong governance, target the entire world, not just its poor.

That means the new goals include items beyond health and education, including some that are likely to prove difficult, such as action on climate change.

UN diplomats have met 11 times this year to discuss how to align national goals with solutions for some of humanity's biggest challenges. Surveyors have trekked through remote mountains in Peru and Nigeria as part of a global poll to determine international priorities from more than two million people in 294 countries and regions.

Ladd said the result was is a set of goals focused less on good governance and Western-style democracy, which developing countries feared could be used to deny them aid, and more on social, economic and environmental challenges.

But whether goals should be set at all is also part of the debate. Some say they are relics of a bygone time when people thought that if they could set a goal and measure progress towards it, improvement would follow.

"We've got to remember these [goals] are about tracking progress, not declaring what utopia would look like," Kenny said.