Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals – the challenge of this generation

Speech to the The Internet Governance Forum he IGF 2013 is being held in Bali, Indonesia on 22-25 October. The overarching theme for the 2013 IGF meeting is: "Building Bridges"- Enhancing Multistakeholder Cooperation for Growth and Sustainable Development".

A video of the speech can be watched here
I want to cover four areas in my presentation
  1. A little of history of the MDGs
  2. Their implementation
  3. The development of SDGs in the run up to Rio – I’ll leave Jan Gustav in the final session to take you from  Rio to now
  4. Some lessons for World Summit on the Information Society process

  1.  The history

I remember well the preparations for the Millennium Summit in 2000. It was happening just as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) was starting to gain traction. Like many environment and sustainable development NGOs ‘Stakeholder Forum’, which I was then the Executive Director of, made a strategic decision that the Millennium Summit seemed to be going nowhere. We therefore decided to put our efforts in securing what we hoped would be a new deal between developed and developing countries to deliver Agenda 21 this we hoped would be at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in September 2002. Of course the election in the Unites States later in 2000 and 9/11 was to considerably derail WSSD.
How wrong we and others were about the Millennium Summit!!! In the last three months before the Millennium Summit the UN Secretary General, the OECD and the World Bank came forward with what became the Millennium Development Goals – these were drawn from the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) targets which were part of their 1996, strategy paper Shaping the 21st Century.
Millennium Goals
There MDGs, as most of you know, are broken into eight different overarching goals.

  1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger
  2. Achieving universal primary education
  3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women
  4. Reducing child mortality rates
  5. Improving maternal health
  6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability
  8. Developing a global partnership for development

Clearly this was a top down approach to target setting and brought the wrath of many NGOs at the time. The entire MDG process has been accused of lacking legitimacy as it failed to include, the voices of the very participants that the MDGs seek to assist. Since then of course most have become supporters and have helped in trying to see the targets achieved.
Not all the targets were agreed to in 2000. For example, a sanitation target was added under MDG 7 after _the WSSD meeting and the Global Partnership MDG was amended after the 2005 World Summit 

  1. Their implementation

The 1990s saw significant commitments made by governments at the Rio Earth Summit, the Copenhagen Social Summit, the Cairo Population Conference, the Beijing Women’s conference, the Istanbul Human Settlement conference and the Rome Food Summit.  But by 2000 it was clear governments seemed to be unable to implement across such a wide set of areas and were having significant problems prioritizing resources. The MDGs were an attempt to simplify this, with just 8 goals and   21 targets
Some of the criticism of the targets was that they were not ambitious enough.
Target 7D, for example aims to “by 2020, to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum-dwellers.” For context, India alone is estimated to have close to 100 million slum-dwellers. 

One of the significant results of the Summit in 2000 was that ODA started going up again compared to the period from 1992 to 2000 which saw no real increase in ODA over nearly 10 years. The next ten years were to see ODA double from around $60 billion to over $120 billion a year. This went a long way to accelerate implementation. A challenge that was underlined in 2008 at the UN Special Session on MDGs when the UN Secretary General said this about the development agenda:

“Looking ahead to 2015 and beyond, there is no question that we can achieve the overarching goal: we can put an end to poverty” 

But he also recognized the challenges of the financial crisis to reaching these goals when he went on to say:

“We face a global economic slowdown and a food security crisis, both of uncertain magnitude and duration. Global warming has become more apparent. These developments will directly affect our efforts to reduce poverty: the economic slowdown will diminish the incomes of the poor; the food crisis will raise the number of hungry people in the world and push millions more into poverty; climate change will have a disproportionate impact on the poor. The need to address these concerns, pressing as they are, must not be allowed to detract from our long-term efforts to achieve the MDGs. On the contrary, our strategy must be to keep the focus on the MDGs as we confront these new challenges.”

The reality is now we will only reach a few of the MDG targets as in many developed countries ODA has dropped. The Netherlands became the first country to reach, then drop back below the 0.7% of GNP target. On the positive side, the UK will reach that target with the support of all political parties- one of the consequences of the Band-Aid generation – those UK citizens who in the 1980s raised millions of $$ for Ethiopia and other famines under the leadership of the  pop star Bob Geldof. It started with the single “Do They Know It's Christmas” possibly the most influential pop song for development aid. 

  • A few of the key reasons we’re seeing some of these goals met include: Yearly global report on progress
  • Annual review of progress of individual goals through the UN Annual Ministerial Review and the biannual Development Forum.
  • Government aid departments focusing on the goals – though at the detriment of other areas who have lost funding
  • National implementation strategies linked to support from the UN and the World Bank

  1. The development of SDGs in the run up to Rio

The idea of sustainable development goals was articulated in July 2011 at a Rio+20 government sponsored event on the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development. Held in Solo Indonesia by Paula Caballero Gomez, the Director of Economic, Social and Environment at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Colombia the event was supported by the Government of Guatemala and later by the governments of Peru and UAE. 

The original proposal for the SDGs was grounded on the idea that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) had played a significant role in focusing the world community. But that focus was too narrow. Seven of the eight goals were targeted at only the developing countries. The only universal goal focused on the environment, MDG7, was, as I mentioned, seen to be very weak. The original proposal for the SDGs advocated reinvigorating the spirit of the MDG7 by updating the sectoral chapters of Agenda 21 and of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation with up-to-date sectoral targets. 

Although the original proposal significantly evolved during the following months, the Solo Chair's text already reflected the value of this new idea: " There was a significant interest on the discussion on the sustainable development goals." (Solo Message, 2011) The Chair’s text also recognized the likely difficultly in negotiating new goals during the Rio+20 processes when it said: 

"In the context of goals related, in particular, to the sustainable energy goals advanced by the Secretary-General’s Advisory Group, there was a feeling that negotiating specific goals would bog down the negotiations." (Solo Message, 2011)

In September NGOs and other stakeholders met in Bonn for the UNDPI NGO 64th Conference on Sustainable Societies Responsive Citizens and were the first to respond to the idea of sustainable development goals and went ahead in proposing to governments a list of 17 SDGs. These were then reflected in the Rio+20 UN briefing papers.

In the run up to Rio+20 there was much conflict between environment and development communities. The development community wanted to continue the MDG approach and the sustainable development community wanted these new goals to be all encompassing addressing both poverty eradication AND sustainable development. That any NEW goals needed to be universal and would also address issues such as consumption and production to enable all of us to live in a more sustainable way on this planet. 

I will let Jan Gustav take the story from Rio+20 but I want to end by saying that one of the most significant outcomes from Rio+20 was the agreement that there should be a set of sustainable development goals. The question of course was left open - what would be the relationship to the MDGs?. But what RiO+20 did do was start a rebirth of sustainable development as the main conceptual frameworks for development in the twenty-first century and by doing so offer a real chance that we might be able to address the challenges ahead together. 

  1.  Some lessons for WSIS process

So what can we learn from this that might be useful for the WSIS community.

  • That money follows Goals – This was clear for the MDGs and so if you do not have any targets or indicators under the new goals the amount of money for your work will reduce
  • That engagement with the preparatory process will be critical for your agenda
  •  That any national follow up mechanisms need to integrate with your national follow processes – there is only room for one
  •  That collaboration with other sectors will help deliver your agenda – working in silos does not work

I am sure Jan Gustav will have additional comments to make – so to end, I leave you with the words of Albert Einstein

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”


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