Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 7 October 2013

Moving for development?

Political leaders reviewed the UN’s Millennium Goals and agreed to launch negotiations for a Development Summit in 2015, a welcome re-commitment to development which is difficult to achieve.


Political leaders took part last week in a United Nations special event to review progress in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is a landmark UN project to boost social development.

They concluded that there has been some progress in the eight goals but much more needs to be done before 2015, when the targets are due to be achieved.

For example, although the goal to halve the number of people in extreme poverty has been reached, the goal to reduce hunger is still elusive, with the world still having a billion malnourished people. 

And there are many advocating for poverty and hunger to be eradicated altogether, not just reduced. 

It is clear that efforts must be intensified before 2015, and moreover there has to be a follow-up to the MDG project.

Thus the special event’s most important decision was to ask the UN to hold a summit of heads of governments and states in 2015 to adopt a United Nations’ Post-2015 Development Agenda.

A one-year negotiation will take place starting in September 2014 on what this post-2015 Development Agenda will consist of.

The 25 September event included speeches by political leaders of governments and states at the opening session and in four subsequent roundtables.  Other speakers included ministers, business leaders and civil society representatives. 

The MDGs and the Development Agenda that will follow it are significant because governments and the public worldwide hold the UN in high esteem.

What is decided by the UN after consensus is reached among the governments can have an impact in the priorities and policies that countries decide on.

Of course it is the developing countries that are more greatly influenced, since the developed countries, especially the big ones like the United States, formulate their national policies without much reference to the UN or other global agencies.

Meanwhile, the UN is also organising events that follow up on the June 2012 Rio-Plus-20 Summit. That summit brought together political leaders to discuss “sustainable development”, the interface between environmental problems, social development and economic growth, known as the three pillars.

A UN working group is developing a set of “sustainable development goals” which the world and each country will strive to achieve. Sessions have already been held on poverty, nutrition, food security and agriculture, land degradation and employment.

November and December will see sessions on macro-economic policies, economic growth, trade, finance and the “global partnership for development”, which is a code for North-South cooperation to benefit developing countries.

Another Rio-Plus-20 follow-up is an expert committee on how to help developing countries to finance their sustainable development programmes.

This committee is discussing how much money the developing countries need, from where the funds will come, and what it will be used for.

It will have a tough time.  Aid is already declining, due mainly to the economic crisis in Western countries.  And there is little appetite in these countries to increase or even maintain aid levels.

Yet “new and additional finance” is what the developing countries are asking for.  To tackle environmental crises like climate change and biodiversity loss, they don’t want to divert scarce budget funds from health care or education.

And they also want to boost economic growth through infrastructure and other projects.

Each of the pillars – environmental, social and economic – is costly to build and requires extra funds.

The post-2015 Development Agenda is an opportunity to review the state of the global economy, the need to update commitments to social development, tackle widening social inequalities inside and between countries, and the environmental crises.

Addressing all these will require more than formulating new goals to replace the MDGs.  Systemic issues like the factors causing the global economic crisis and that are driving the environmental crises need in-depth analysis.

And finding solutions are even more difficult, as can be seen in the impasse in the

negotiations at the World Trade Organisation, and the difficulties in finding a global solution to the climate crisis, or even to introduce adequate regulations to prevent new financial crises.

Nevertheless, it is excellent that governments and civil society will now be debating these big issues in the UN as it moves towards a Development Summit in 2015.

It was agreed that the Development Agenda will include the following:

·         Commitment to poverty eradication and sustainable development. 

·         The central imperative of poverty eradication, commitment to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger. 

·         The intrinsic inter-linkage between poverty eradication and promotion of sustainable development, and the need to integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development.

·         It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all.