Beyond the World Summit on the Millennium Development Goals

Nearly 140 Heads of State and Government gathered at U.N. Headquarters on September 20 to 22, 2010 for the second World Summit to review implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000, including pledges from halving hunger and poverty by 2015 to dealing comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries.

At the September High-level Plenary Meeting, more than 80 partnership events took place, reflecting a range of initiatives required to reach the MDGs. Some focused on advocacy and raising long-term awareness, while others concerned major campaign initiatives to be launched in support of specific MDGs. Many of these resulted in announcements of new initiatives, including several on women and children’s health.


The summit sought to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs by 2015 and to undertake a comprehensive review of successes, practices, lessons, obstacles, gaps, challenges and opportunities that could lead to concrete strategies for action. In advance of the summit, the U.N. secretary-general released his report, “Keeping the Promise,” which calls for a new pact to accelerate progress in achieving the goals in the coming years. The report provided a basis for negotiations in the run-up to the summit.

Many civil society groups called for a “Global MDG Breakthrough Plan” that would, among other things, take a more holistic approach to the MDGs; strengthen participatory human rights-based accountability frameworks for MDG implementation at national and international levels; foster new development paths more consistent with full and productive employment, food security, social inclusion and environmental sustainability; and initiate major reforms in international economic and development cooperation pertaining to Goal 8 — a global partnership for development — given the major setbacks in MDG implementation caused by the global economic crisis.


The outcome document, “Keeping the Promise: United to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” identifies the lessons learned over the past 10 years, including the barriers to implementation and opportunities for further progress. It also is serves as an action agenda to achieve the MDGs by 2015, which reviews each of the eight MDGs individually and makes recommendations to advance progress on each of the goals. It concludes with a section called “The Way Forward,” which provides guidance on the ongoing review of implementation.

Key themes of the summit included ensuring success of the forthcoming 10th Conference of the Parties of the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan; incorporating the MDGs into national and international development policies; the interrelationship of the MDGs; the need for improved accountability and delivery on commitments; and the importance of women in achieving the MDGs.
In addition, a Global Strategy on Women’s and Children’s Health was launched and received initial contributions of US$40 billion.

Once the final outcome document was produced, many NGOs expressed disappointment because it was not the detailed action plan for redoubling efforts that many had hoped for. Rather, some characterized it as a series of “baby steps in the right direction.” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon felt, however, that the outcome was, “the maximum and best we could expect at this time.”

The outcome document did recognize slow and uneven progress within and between countries and also setbacks in some areas. “Hunger and malnutrition rose again from 2007 through 2009, “ the text reads. It acknowledges “slow progress” in reaching full and productive employment and decent work for all, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, achieving environmental sustainability and providing basic sanitation. It also concedes “new HIV infections still outpace the number of people starting treatment.” The text expresses “grave concern” over the slow progress in reducing maternal mortality and improving maternal and reproductive health.


The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) presented a report on “Combating Poverty and Inequality.” It emphasized the role of comprehensive social policies grounded in universal rights and supportive of patterns of inclusive growth and structural change, social cohesion, and democratic politics. DESA’s “Rethinking Poverty” disputed the contemporary technocratic vision of poverty reduction and affirmed that eradicating poverty requires actions leading to sustainable economic growth, productive employment creation and social development as part of an integrated framework of economic and social policies for the benefit of all citizens. The “Chronic Poverty Report 2008–2009” described five main traps that underpin chronic poverty and outlined key policy responses to these areas. It emphasized that the development of a “just social compact” between citizens and states must be the focus for poverty eradication.


The secretary-general and many civil society groups put strong emphasis on setting up much stronger participatory mechanisms to hold governments accountable for their MDG commitments. According to this line of thinking, a key missing dimension in MDG implementation is the need to firmly anchor the MDGs in a human rights framework. This would mean reporting MDG progress to national and international human rights oversight bodies and much more disaggregated and human rights–adjusted MDG reporting to ensure that averages do not mask major disparities between groups, especially among women and girls, migrant workers, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.
Amnesty International made a statement that the final-outcome document was far too weak on this score. “Despite much rhetoric on the importance of accountability, the summit failed to identify an effective way to hold governments to account for achieving their MDG commitments or for ensuring that their MDG efforts are consistent with their human rights obligations.”


One achievement of the summit was a commitment to adopt macroeconomic and other supporting policies for more inclusive and job-intensive patterns of growth and higher incomes, including through developing social infrastructure and productive capacities, agricultural and industrial development. The summit stressed the “the need to create full and productive employment and decent work for all and further resolve to promote the Global Jobs Pact as a general framework within which each country can formulate policy packages specific to its situation and national priorities in order to promote a job intensive recovery and sustainable development.”
This includes ensuring that women benefit from such measures, especially by closing the wage gaps between men and women and recognizing women’s unpaid work, including caregiver work. In fact, the text emphasizes, “investing in women and girls has a multiplier effect on productivity, efficiency and sustained economic growth.”


The now-familiar tension between national and international responsibilities was reflected in summit deliberations, but the outcome document did not go beyond reiterating the multilateral consensus on policy space achieved during the 2004 11th U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XI), with its attendant failure to address (a) the need to integrate greater policy space for developing countries in existing global rules to make them fairer; (b) inappropriate external conditionalities imposed by donors and international financial institutions; and (c) lack of policy space resulting from dictates of international market forces on national policy choices.

In the weeks leading up to the summit, a coalition of 60 countries called for the adoption of a financial transaction tax that could raise, depending on how broadly based, up to hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funds to finance the MDGs and to deal with climate change mitigation and adaptation. This idea achieved no traction at the summit, and governments reverted to the well-worn formula of “voluntary mechanisms.” While the outcome document does refer to the need to combat tax evasion, capital flight and enhancing international cooperation on tax matters, it falls short of the many calls for the UN to establish an intergovernmental committee on international tax matters.


The summit outcome makes many references to civil society participation at all levels in the next phase of implementation of the MDGs and views such broad consultations and participation as integral to promoting and strengthening “national ownership and leadership” in the design, implementation and monitoring of national development strategies.
The many partnership arrangements that resulted from the summit were among its most significant outcomes.


If there is one positive message from the 2010 summit, it is that the MDGs are achievable, despite the obstacles and recent economic setbacks faced by many countries, especially developing countries. The tools, technologies and resources are available if they can be mobilized effectively both at the national and international levels. There are a great many success stories—more than ever before. Many countries have made substantial progress. The world is gaining ground on the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015—a tremendous success if it can be achieved. With the deadline approaching fast, the challenge is to put resources where they will have the greatest impact—education, jobs, health, smallholder agriculture, infrastructure and green energy.


The secretary-general took several related initiatives that will significantly impact the future implementation of the MDGs. These include:

(1) Establishment of an MDG Advocacy Group of eminent personalities who have shown outstanding leadership in promoting the implementation of the goals. This group will support the secretary-general in building political will and mobilizing global action to make the MDG summit a turning point in the collective effort to achieve the MDGs by the 2015 target date.

(2) Appointment of Ms. Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile, as the head of U.N. Women, created by the United Nations General Assembly in July 2010 as a new entity to accelerate progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide. Ms. Bachelet brings to this critical position a history of dynamic global leadership, highly honed political skills and an uncommon ability to create consensus and focus among U.N. agencies and many partners in both the public and private sector.

(3) The Global Pulse Road Map. Global Pulse is intended to harness “new sources of real-time information, innovative approaches and emerging technologies to close the information gap. It will bring together the analytical resources and expertise of the U.N. and its partners to provide high-quality, actionable information for the global community. It will design and manage a sustainable open-source technology platform to bring together tools, people and information for agile, evidence-based decision-making. It will stand up a network of capacity-building Pulse Labs in developing countries to harness grassroots innovation and build sustainable resilience to crises from the ground up.”
Global Pulse could provide a nodal point for readers of Brain World to keep informed about implementation of the MDGs and for KIBBS and IBREA to be active participants as NGO partners with the U.N.

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