Where it stands and what next?
The world leaders in year 2000, which heralded new millennium, made historic resolution like never before. There is normally no agreement between two countries on bilateral or multilateral issues. But when new millennium dawned, 196 countries-members of the United Nations-agreed and made resolutions to achieve not one, not two, but eight goals for the betterment of humanity! What a resolution that was. Simply recalling it now- one the eve of 2014-provokes inspiring thoughts.
That was in the Millennium Summit in September 2000. I was working in United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on global agreement of the Montreal Protocol to protect the Ozone Layer. That year the largest gathering of world leaders, not only in the history of United Nations but in all of the history of human civilization, adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme sufferings in the world and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015. This framework has come to be known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that consist of 8 specific goals with its 18 targets and 48 indicators to measure the progress.
The MDGs are the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. They are also basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security.
The Millennium Project that followed in 2002, was implemented by 10 thematic Task Forces, comprised a total of more than 250 experts from around the world including: researchers and scientists; policymakers; representatives of NGOs, UN agencies, the World Bank, IMF and the private sector. The massive exercise at country level was set with most of the attention on the developing countries.
After 13 years, what is the status of that global resolution? In the words of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon:
“Significant and substantial progress has been made in meeting many of the targets—including halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and the proportion of people without sustainable access to improved sources of drinking water…There have been visible improvements in all health areas as well as primary education.
(However) … the achievement of the MDGs has been uneven among and within countries. Children from poor and rural households are much more likely to be out of school than their rich and urban counterparts. Wide gaps remain in basic knowledge about HIV and its prevention among young men and women in sub-Saharan Africa, which has been hardest hit by the epidemic. One in eight people worldwide remain hungry. Too many women die in childbirth when we have the means to save them. More than 2.5 billion people lack improved sanitation facilities, of which one billion continue to practice open defecation, a major health and environmental hazard. Our resource base is in serious decline, with continuing losses of forests, species and fish-stocks, in a world already experiencing the impacts of climate change”.
The mixed success and ‘widening inequality’ of the world as described honestly by UN Secretary-General is difficult to digest while assessing the implementation of the resolutions at the end of the 13th year. But there is distinct good news that could be inspiring and ‘raison d’etre’ for continuing to make resolutions. Each of annual progress reports on MDGs sited the successful implementation of the global efforts of protection of the Ozone Layer. My colleagues and I are proud that our OzonAction Programme was part of that successful implementation of the Goal seven, i.e. ‘Ensure Environmental Sustainability’. The latest 2013 report on MDG states:
“ The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer is an undisputed and still ongoing success story, leading to a 98 per cent reduction in consumption of ozone-depleting substances since 1986. Because most of these substances are potent greenhouse gases, the Montreal Protocol is also contributing significantly to the protection of the global climate system.
One of the reasons for the success of the Montreal Protocol is the wider consultation on targets with industry, governments and NGOs. Once the target dates and phase out of Ozone Depleting Substances were finalized, they were conveyed to the stakeholders for actions and adequate financial and technological assistance was given to them to enable them to meet the goals.
As the target date of the MDGs, 2015, is approaching, a debate on the framework of international development beyond 2015 has started. I was witnessing a debate in Rio de Janeiro where finally of 192 UN member states agreed at the ‘Rio+20 summit’ to start a process of designing Sustainable Development Goals, which are “action-oriented, concise and easy to communicate, limited in number, aspirational, global in nature and universally applicable to all countries while taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities”. The Rio+20 outcome document, “The Future We Want”, also calls for the goals to be integrated into the UN’s post-2015 Development Agenda.
Can we continue to follow the same process of formulating resolutions that we did thirteen years back, particularly when the assessed success is mixed one? Development of MDGs and their implementation programme to achieve them are “top-down” approaches. Targets, time tables, road map, strategies, indicators of progress, and assessment of achievement (or non-achievement) of goals are all finalized at the apex level and then trickled down for implementation to benefit bottom of the pyramid-poor and hungry people.
One of the vital questions goes unanswered is: Are the beneficiaries of the MDGs i.e. billions of hungry, poor, malnourished women and children, environmental refugees, people without access to sanitation, toilets and drinking water, aware of the MDGs and global/national efforts being done for them? Are they part of the decision-making and implementation?
I asked number of poor, farmers, women, students and even government officers at state and district level on this vital information. Their response was blank. However, most of those who were appearing for the competitive examinations and preparing for the interviews for the government and civil services were quite aware of the MDGs! This is interesting and sounds very colonial where beneficiaries hardly knew what is being done for their benefit.
Last thirteen years have not only seen the revolutionary technological changes but also environmental awareness. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), ministries of environment in the 196 countries and numerous dedicated NGOs should be rightly credited to spark off the inspiring actions –though small or even micro level-at the ground zero. Bottom of the pyramid may not be aware of the MDGs, but there is amazing awareness and readiness to take action on environmental protection. People slowly understand the value of the nature and ecosystems on which their life depends.
Such visible change and transformation should now be leveraged while finalizing SDGs. Such change should now be the driving force for the ‘bottom-up approach’. There should be village and community level debate on SDGs, the outcome of which should then reverberate in UN General Assembly in 2015. Once agreed there Can this be resolution for 2014?
By Rajendra Shende, Chairman TERRE, former Director UNEP.