Fifteen years ago, the most powerful people in the world sat down and made an unprecedented commitment to ending global poverty. Heads of the world’s leading industrial powers distilled a wildly ambitious plan into eight catchy goals to enter the new century: the Millennium Development Goals were born.
This year marks the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the launch of their successors, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So how did we do and what remains to be done?
The MDGs have driven monumental progress across the global issues of extreme poverty and hunger; education; gender equality; child mortality; maternal health; HIV/AIDS and other diseases; environmental sustainability and establishing a “global partnership for development”. Born out of the United Nations’ Millennium Declaration, the MDGs for the first time set hard targets and timelines for all countries to contribute to the changes we all wanted to see. Achievements include:
- the number of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved
- 91% of people aged 15-24 are now literate
- developing regions have met the target to eliminate gender disparity in schools
- the global under-five mortality rate has dropped by more than half
- maternal mortality worldwide has declined by 45%
- 7.6 million deaths from AIDS were averted between 1995 and 2013
- 91% of the global population is using an improved drinking water source
- official development assistance from developed countries increased 66% between 2000 and 2014
But it is no surprise that such an ambitious agenda has experienced challenges, shortfalls and navigated many steep learning curves. As the final UN report on the goals declares, “the work is not complete and it must continue in the new development era.” For all their progress, key shortcomings of the MDGs are cited as: an inadequate commitment to reaching the poorest and most excluded; a lack of recognition of the impact of conflict and violence on development; not enough focus on effective and accountable governance; not ensuring inclusive growth and failing to adequately integrate economic, social and environmental development agendas for genuinely sustainable development. In methodology, opportunities to improve with the SDGs include better and wider consultation across all stakeholders (not least the significantly expanded SDG panel to include heads of developing states); locally-specific targets and solutions over one-size-fits-all approaches; and far better systems for collecting relevant, accurate and timely data to monitor such vast and complex change. Data capture is a major challenge in development work – often outdated and unreliable, particularly from developing countries where the information it can provide is most critical. This was a key learning from the MDGs, which struggled with largely incomplete, inconsistent and unreliable data, explaining why there aren’t simple answers to how they have performed.
Looking forward, the SDGs, adopted by the UN at the Sustainable Development Summit on Friday, mark the dawn of a new development era for 2015-2030. These new goals claim to build on these lessons, with SMART targets that track progress at more relevant levels, and more reliably, with investments in the infrastructure needed for better data collection. It is acknowledged that in forging a multilateral operation, the MDGs focused too heavily on global goals over the individual needs of different countries. For example, while the global target of halving extreme poverty has been met, this was largely thanks to huge economic growth in India and China pushing the poorest people in those highly populous countries over the $1.25 a day extreme poverty level, while overshadowing those states –the majority of which are in Sub Saharan Africa – that have significantly underperformed.
One of the most obvious differences between the MDGs and SDGs is the number of targets. The MDGs consisted of 8 top line goals, under which 18 targets were set. In contrast, the SDGs include 17 goals comprising an eye-watering 179 targets. Begging the question of whether the MDGs’ relative simplicity made for a more accessible and engaging programme. Project Everyone, an initiative of film director and Comic Relief founder, Richard Curtis, is determined to make them more well-known than ever, with a mission to communicate the SDG goals to 7 billion people (roughly the global population) in 7 days, marking the huge advances in communications technology and distribution since the MDGs were launched. Indeed the MDG report boasts mobile phone subscriptions have increased tenfold in the last 15 years and internet penetration is up from 6% to 43% worldwide.
There is no doubt that the SDGs are more comprehensive, better informed and have a more widely consulted strategy than the MDGs, while the original pioneering 8 goals have laid invaluable foundations for a global anti-poverty strategy which should continue now until the job is done. As Hans Rosling’s findings, which we shared last week suggest, ending extreme poverty is no longer a pipe dream but a very achievable reality within the next 15 years. As issues like environmental sustainability, migration and food security become threats which increasingly surpass national borders to become global crises, our world leaders should be more invested than ever and as Project Everyone hopes to achieve, this should be a project we all keep a very close eye on.
For the full list of SDGs, click here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/?menu=1300