Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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UN Updates Goals for a Better World

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday,  March 16 / 15

Zack Gross

The era of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is coming to an end.  The quest to reach targets in primary school attendance, maternal-child health, environmental improvement and other areas of concern by 2015 will roll over into a new campaign to reach Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) starting in January, 2016.

A global conference is planned for September of this year to direct UN member states to frame their agendas around these new SDGs that would “transform our world” by the year 2030.  What had been a list of eight MDGs is now proposed to be expanded to a list of 17.  A criticism of the MDGs has been that they were goals targeted at the poor, based on the opinions of (and financed by) the rich. 

The new goals will come from much wider consultation and will be aimed at all nations.  Representatives of 70 countries have been meeting over the past two years to arrive at the new goals, while there have been almost 100 consultative meetings and even door-to-door and on-line global surveys open to anyone.

The original MDG campaign has been successful in some areas but not in others.  Many more children are in school but teachers, facilities and supplies for new students are still in very short supply.  A teacher I visited in Tanzania last summer told me that he now had to cope with 200 students in his classroom.

Many countries are better off today than in 2000, but Sub-Saharan Africa and many parts of South Asia lag behind.  Women are still forced to fight hard to improve their rights.  One billion people on our planet continue to live on less than $1.25 per day, the World Bank’s measure of abject poverty and 800 million people don’t get enough to eat.

The new SDGs reflect new realities and new trends in thinking and action in today’s world.  There is a strong focus on the environment, now more threatened than ever.  Combating climate change, conserving oceans and forests, reversing land degradation and desertification, ensuring proper management of water and availability of sanitation, and making sure that both production methods and consumption rates are sustainable have prominent place in the new list.  For instance, if everyone on Earth lived like Canadians, we would need four planets!

Justice is a larger part of the SDGs whereas some might have argued that charity was too much a part of the MDGs.  Thus, accountability is emphasized to fight corruption and arbitrary rule, gender empowerment and equality are listed, making cities safe and ensuring that all people have access to education are important.  Heads of developing states argued for and won the inclusion of goals that would greatly improve infrastructure in their countries as they see electricity, roads and sanitation as the key to economic and social development.  While the official goals are brief and general, they are broken down into 169 more focused targets.

Some governments, such as Great Britain’s and Japan’s, have argued that there are too many goals and that this will not capture the imagination of the public.  The response by nations supporting the seventeen goals is that rich countries want to see environmental targets dropped from the list as they are not willing to meet them.  Another challenge is the cost of the new SDGs being implemented and a conference to discuss this is scheduled for July in Ethiopia.  Aside from taxes and aid, the UN expects the private sector to contribute to the cost.  It is also hoping that a crackdown on corruption globally will uncover money needed to combat poverty.

Jeffrey Sachs is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a renowned author on development issues.  He describes sustainable development as the “calling card of our time” and says he is “putting a lot of hope” in the new SDGs.  For him, as the SDGs reflect, it is environmental issues that confront our planet with its greatest challenge. Climate-related disasters faced in recent years worldwide have made all people poorer and more insecure, whether due to storms, flooding or drought.

But, says Sachs, words also need to be backed up with action.  He calls upon some of the newer economically strong economies like China to step up and contribute to global funds for health, education and smallholder agriculture.  He also calls upon the international community to “go after the 1800 billionaires to tell them how they can find meaning in their lives by helping to solve the world’s problems”.

The final evaluation of the MDGs has not been written but there has been a lot of anticipation and speculation on what the next global campaign will look like.  We are now beginning to get a glimpse and the hope is that generosity, co-operation and political will among nations will lead to a better life for more of our planet’s citizens.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of the Marquis Project in Brandon.

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