If you’re a watcher of international affairs, you may have noted the latest missive from the UN last week. It’s the report from the ‘high level panel of eminent persons‘ advising Ban Ki Moon on what the UN’s goals might be after 2015. The Millennium Development Goals expire then, and we’d like some new goals to rally around.
It’s easy to be cynical about or bored by such things, but they’re worth keeping an eye on. If nothing else, they are the nearest thing we have to being able to sit down, as a species, and decide what it is that we want out of the next couple of decades. That’s a thought that I find inspiring and depressing in equal measure – inspiring in the scope and ambition of our goals, depressing when you remember our track record on working together to meet them.
Either way, there’s something compelling about the exercise of writing the list. The sense of possibility is always there, the same childlike simplicity that characterised John and Yoko’s anti-war billboards: “war is over (if you want it)”.
So what’s on the list? These are still recommendations at the moment, but here are the proposed 12:
- End poverty
- Empower girls and women and achieve gender equality
- Provide quality education and lifelong learning
- Ensure healthy lives
- Ensure food security and good nutrition
- Achieve universal access to water and sanitation
- Secure sustainable energy
- Create jobs, sustainable livelihoods and equitable growth
- Manage natural resources and assets sustainably
- Ensure good governance and effective institutions
- Ensure stable and peaceful societies
- Create a global enabling environment and catalyze long-term finance
There’s a lot to discuss in there, particularly since some of them double up. Number 12 looks a lot like it has a Number 13, 14 and 15 bundled in with it: it includes climate change, maintaining the goal of 0.7% of government spending as an aid target, tackling tax havens and eliminating agricultural subsidies, none of which are immediately apparent from the wording of the basic goal. It’s the ‘any other business’ goal at the end of the agenda.
Those familiar with the MDGs will find some comparisons – poverty and hunger have been separated and food security gets a goal of its own. Water and sanitation is in, universal energy access is in, education has a qualitative element to it and goes beyond primary. These things all matter. There are long running debates and campaigns behind each of these seemingly innocuous phrasings.
There are also success stories there that allow us to raise our sights. Education now includes universal access to secondary school because enrolment in primary school has risen from 80 to 90% in the last 15 years. As new infection rates continue to decline, HIV no longer needs a headline goal of its own.
Another thing that’s encouraging is the integration of environmental concerns and economic and social goals. It’s present in energy and resource goals, but crops up elsewhere too. The food security goal includes reducing food wastage, for example.
Of course, there will be plenty of people clamouring for other things, and no list could be perfect. But it’s a good start in my opinion.