One step forward, two steps back

World leaders will be asked to approve the Outcome Document agreed at the United Nations General Assembly today.

Others will comment on important issues such as the fudge on the Human Rights Council, the survival of the proposed Peacebuilding Commission, the absence of any agreement on disarmament and proliferation, the pretty good text on "responsibility to protect", and an incomplete set of proposals to improve the management of the UN.  (For a round-up, see Democracy Arsenal).

The text on development is not much discussed elsewhere, as far as I can see, so let’s focus on that here. First the good news:

  • there are several mentions of the Millennium Development Goals, which are only slightly grudging ("objectives … agreed at the Millennium Summit that are described as the Millennium Development Goals")
  • previous agreements are endorsed, especially Monterrey and the 0.7% target (somewhat surprisingly)
  • the previous proposals to put the United Nations in the driving seat of coordinating development have been toned down ("the UN funds … support the efforts of developing countries through the common country assessment")

And now the bad news.  This meeting was conceived as an opportunity to take stock of progress towards  the goals ageed by world leaders in The Millennium Declaration in 2000. It is now clear that we are not on track to meet the goals. There is nothing in this draft agreement which recognises the seriousness of the challenge that the world faces. Unless we make significant changes in policies in rich countries and poor countries, we have no chance of getting back on track.

The Millennium Declaration said:

We will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected. We are committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.

Spare no efforts? Today’s world leaders face a simple choice.  Nobody seriously contests the analysis that, unless something changes, we are going to fail to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  The current text is business as usual.  Unless our leaders agree at this summit that business as usual is not enough, we are going to fail on their watch.  They cannot say they did not know.  They knew and they did not act.

Update 14 September: PSD Blog links to a debate about whether the MDGs matter.

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