EU sets out stall for New York MDG summit

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This article is part of our special report UN Development Goals: Countdown to 2015.

SPECIAL REPORT/ Brussels has set itself a target for next week’s New York Millennium Development Goals (MDG) review meeting of agreeing a roadmap to a post-2015 deal uniting the UN targets with its Rio+20 global sustainability agenda.

The eight MDGs cover a variety of world developmental aspirations – from eradicating extreme poverty to reducing child mortality – and were agreed at the Millennium Summit in September 2000.

With just 15 months to go until the project’s deadline, world leaders will gather in New York on 23 September to review progress and discuss what should happen next.   

“We want to see a clear signal that the two [MDGs and Rio+20 agendas] will come together as, even intellectually, we don’t see how we can work on two separate frameworks,” an EU official told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity.

“We have to try to put these two agendas together into one framework with single goals covering both,” another EU source added.

The Rio+20 conferences originated from an Earth Summit in 1992 that agreed an action plan and principles for sustainable development.

But a 2010 UN General Assembly on MDGs – as well as last year’s Rio+20 Conference in Brazil – both agreed to merge the two projects into a series of ‘sustainable development goals’ that could replace the current MDGs in 2015.

A recent High Level Panel report was coy about proposing detailed and specific examples, “but one thing is clear,” the EU’s development commissioner, Andris Piebalgs told EURACTIV. “For the first time in history we have a real chance to make extreme poverty, once and for all, a thing of the past. We cannot miss that chance.” Some 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty.

Outcomes document

The EU was calling for “an inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process” Piebalgs said, which “could be complemented by a substantive input from the Secretary General”.

EURACTIV understands that these measures are mentioned in a summit ‘Outcomes document’ that is currently circulating. It proposes that Ban Ki-Moon present a report which synthesises the various working groups findings, and that an intergovernmental process lay the groundwork for a heads of state summit that will launch post-MDG goals.

In New York, “we want a commitment to a summit in September 2015 that will decide on a new [post-2015] framework, and a renewed commitment to try to achieve the current MDGs to the maximum extent by 2015,” an EU official said.

“There is still a lot to be done and we’d like to see that commitment renewed by the rich, and also the poor countries.”

A UN progress report published earlier this year showed substantial but uneven progress towards goals such as reducing extreme poverty by a half and ensuring the equal enrolment of girls in primary schools.

Sub-Saharan Africa off-track

But apart from this last target, and that of halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, in every one of the 16 goals the report measures, Sub-Saharan Africa is either off-track, making no progress, or showing a deterioration of efforts. 

Piebalgs said that high rates of growth in Africa were “driven mainly by exports of primary commodities and did not lead to the structural transformation required to reduce poverty in a sustained manner and improve access to public services.”

“Weak institutions and public policies, corruption and infrastructure bottlenecks are also reasons why growth does not benefit all parts of society,” he added.

A new progress report on the MDGs is expected to be published on 23 September, as the New York summit opens.

Post-2015 targets

Debate is expected on issues such as the potential role of the EU’s Financial Transaction Tax and whether to move from the current proliferation of 66 goals, targets and indicators towards a single set.

The wisdom of shifting focus from absolute poverty reduction to global inequality targets may also feature in discussions, along with a timeline for concretely honing the eventual MDG successors

Alhaji Mumuni, the secretary-general of the of the Africa-Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group of states told EURACTIV that the debate about new targets should begin now, and he had his own proposals for two new MDGs after 2015.

“We should be looking at disaster mitigation and conflict resolution, management and prevention,” he said. “Those are critical and we missed them in the [original] MDGs.”

“The goal would be to prevent conflicts as much as possible and, where they erupt, there should be clear ways and means of managing and resolving them,” he added. “We should be able to formulate goals as part of overarching agenda post-2015.”

The ‘Why’ question

However, a co-designer of the original MDGs cautioned that “too much attention”was currently being focused on a successor list of goals and indicators.

“All the stakeholders consider them as a ‘make or break’ moment,” said Jan vandemoortele. “That list will have far reaching consequences for years to come and the only aim of everyone around the table is to influence them.”

“But nobody sees the wood for the trees anymore,” he added. “The whole debate misses out the key question: Why do we need a set of global targets and goals?”

The United Nations set the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be met by 2015. The goals are:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Develop a global partnership for development

In 2008, governments, businesses and other organisations reinforced their commitments to meet the MDGs, raising some €12.3 million in new funds for development. Two years later, the MDG summit adopted a global action plan, again reinforcing the drive towards meeting the MDGs.

  • 23 Sept 2013: UN Millennium Development Goal review summit opens in New York
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  • 2015: Deadline for Millennium Development Goals to be reached

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