Leaders from across the globe are meeting in New York this week to attend the United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals. UN member states and international organizations adopted the MDG targets in September 2000 as a means of mobilizing the international community to achieve a common set of social and economic targets in developing countries by 2015. Yet the global economic crisis has installed numerous speed bumps on the road to global development, and leaders will need to develop a stronger and more aggressive game plan this week if they are serious about achieving their ambitious aims.
The Millennium Development Goals:
1. Eliminate extreme poverty and hunger through achieving full employment and decent work for all
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender parity and women’s empowerment
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Cease the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Institute environmental sustainability
8. Cultivate a global partnership for development—including a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction—both nationally and internationally
Today’s volatile economic climate has contributed to uneven progress in reaching these development targets and has significantly slowed, if not reversed, many countries’ progress toward reaching these goals. The global economy enjoyed healthy growth in the first half of the 2000s, making it possible for many counties to invest necessary resources into development and see positive returns on their investments. But the global food, fuel, and financial crises have stalled their forward momentum.
The United Nations can gain renewed momentum, but it will have to recast the MDGs in a few important ways. It will have to:
- Evaluate the importance of the MDGs in a new framework that explains why these goals are important for the economy, health, and safety of all countries—not just developing countries.
- Build coherent, long-term development plans. The UN initially conceived the MDGs as a mobilization tool, but delivering results will require a shift. The 2015 deadline should no longer serve as a cut-off, but rather as a target for developing sustainable plans to move forward and garner funding to implement them.
- Establish a public-private forum to explore innovative financing solutions and best practices.
- Place the creation of more and better employment at the center of these long-term development plans.
Results to date show that some countries have made significant advancements toward some of the MDGs. The global poverty rate has fallen from 46 percent in 1990 to 27 percent in 2005. There are 96 girls for every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, up from 91 girls per 100 boys in 1999. And new HIV infections worldwide declined by 16 percent from 2001 to 2008.
But this is not enough. The MDGs have placed much emphasis on the need for donor countries and organizations to fund efforts on moral grounds. But there are strong economic, social, and political arguments for doing so, as well. The MDGs are an essential tool for raising living standards in developing countries by promoting economic mobility. This creates new sources of global aggregate demand, which helps developed economies, too. Raising living standards contributes to public health and political stability, which help improve global security.
The MDGs proved to be a successful mobilization tool until the economic crisis. But coherent, long-term development plans have to fuel these goals to deliver results. Ad hoc development projects do not contribute to long-term sustainable development. The summit in New York must address bringing stakeholders together around well-conceived, long-term development plans that extend beyond 2015 rather than ad hoc targets. And what happens after 2015? The 2015 deadline must be a target date to garner funding and develop comprehensive development strategies rather than a cut-off point for achieving the MDGs.
Global leaders must formulate a long-term plan of action on a global level, but also on regional, national, and local levels through government and civic engagement. And financial and technical assistance must come from diverse sources—from UN member state governments and international institutions, as well as from within the private sector. Public-private partnerships can help promote the development of a nimble and robust framework to approach these development targets and encourage the exchange of innovative financing grounded in evidence-based strategies. These relationships are in the interest of business leaders as well, since development fosters the expansion of global markets by creating additional consumers for goods and services offered by the private sector.
Finally, just jobs must be at the heart of these long-term development strategies because employment that is equipped with decent wages, good working conditions, and labor rights is in the hardnosed economic interests of all nations. Deteriorating working conditions and global labor unrest directly jeopardizes industries and investments from the world’s most developed countries. Ensuring just jobs will generate balanced growth, reduce global inequality, and help people everywhere improve resilience in the face of future economic crises.
This week’s summit is the ideal backdrop for leaders to evaluate top priorities and strategize on how to make measurable advances on key MDG targets while carrying the weight of a powerful global downturn. They must approach this ambitious development agenda with a sense of pragmatic idealism—the same idealism they had when they signed the accords 10 years ago. But this time they must come to the table with a renewed commitment and a more strategic long-term plan of action even beyond 2015.
Sabina Dewan is Associate Director of International Economic Policy and Isha Vij is a Special Assistant for Economic Policy at the Center for American Progress.