Global development reimagining the goals

We are entering a new age of inequality, especially within countries and especially in the emerging powers     Editorial,

Friday 30 December 2011
Now is the time for making and not breaking new year’s resolutions – and resolutions don’t come bigger than global goals for human development. Discussions have begun on replacing the millennium development goals (MDGs), the world’s framework for fighting poverty. But that fight has not been going as well as it should. Global poverty statistics can be deployed in all kinds of ways, but the essential story of the last 15 years has two elements. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty. Yet more people – about a billion – live in extreme hunger than ever before. We are entering a new age of inequality, especially within countries and especially in the emerging powers.The MDGs, which a British government enamoured of targets helped create, served the invaluable purpose of focusing minds and ministries on some basic human needs. But in their simplicity they also promoted the idea that there is a technical fix to global poverty, requiring of us little beyond a cheque. But in 2011 the idea of progress comes less easily than it did in 2000. Few now assume the west has the answers, the power or the money. We know, for instance, that the problem is not only deprivation, but that our way of life is environmentally unsustainable. Climate change, for which the poor are least responsible and to which they are most vulnerable, is one reason why new goals must apply to the whole world, not just the poor parts of it. Global causes of poverty such as trade rules, small arms and intellectual property, are others. After the Arab spring, it would be an insult if new goals did not, unlike the MDGs, include political rights. And goals should be few in number, for to have many priorities may be to have none.
Global goals would be a profound affirmation of a global community. Yet it would be cynical to pledge new goals without a plan for achieving them. Many parts of that plan – including the global institutions we need – can be found in the United Nations millennium declaration, which the MDGs grew out of but came to overshadow. This is unfinished business.
Is the global development community up to the challenge? The first MDG target – incomes – was met not through development assistance but Chinese growth. Africa is not on track to meet a single MDG. Results suggest the world must set objectives for the development community as much as the other way round. The empty jargon, the overindulgent conferences, the chaos on the ground – such things might be easier to forgive in other walks of life. The first objective should be wider fields of vision, beyond aid, focused especially on conflict. But the effort to set global goals needs to involve much more reflection as well as more action.