Article by Brian Hayes MEP which was published in Metro Eireann, 15th April 2015
Since 1983 the European Union has designated a theme to each year. Devoting the focus of one year to a specific topic helps to encourage debate and rightly puts a spotlight on an issue which needs to be addressed. 2015 is the European year of Development. It is the first time that a European Year has been dedicated to EU Development Policy – clearly a hugely important global issue. It is also important for another reason.
Later this year world leaders will meet in New York for a United Nations Summit to agree a new set of development goals. Known as Sustainable Development Goals, they will state the targets that each UN member state is expected to meet by 2030. They will include goals on addressing poverty, climate change and sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals is a follow on to the Millennium Development Goals which were agreed in the year 2000. These goals expire at the end of this year.
Has the setting of goals achieved anything?
There has been significant progress made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon described the goals as the “Most successful strategy in history in addressing poverty throughout the world.”
The goals have contributed significantly to tackling some of the biggest problems. For example, the number of child deaths has decreased by almost 50% since 1990. More people now have access to AIDS treatment than people newly infected with HIV. Life expectancy has increased and the number of people going hungry has decreased by 100 million in the past 10 years. Overall the number of people living in extreme poverty has halved since the early 90s.
However, this success is not uniform. Not every country has benefited in the same way. Sub Saharan Africa for example has missed out on many of the Millennium Development Goals. It still has huge problems with poverty, poor living conditions and high child mortality rates. Asia in contrast has achieved the most even though it still has substantial poverty. Similarly, a great contrast exists within countries between urban and rural divides. Rural areas suffer with high poverty than compared to urban.
The narrow approach of the Millennium Development Goals was also heavily criticised. The goals consisted of only 8 objectives – tackling poverty, achieving universal primary education, gender equality, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, tackling HIV, ensuring environmental sustainability and developing a global partnership for development. They were especially criticised for having no reference to economic development and human rights.
How will the new “Sustainable Development Goals” differ from the previous goals?
When the Millennium Development Goals were agreed they were supposed to apply to all countries. This didn’t happen as the goals only applied to developing countries. This time around the Sustainable Development Goals will apply to every country irrespective of whether it’s part of the developing or developed world. In fact the use of the phrase “Developing World” is a slightly dated concept given the progress made and the new wealth that has generated in many poorer regions of the world. Much of that progress is down to the Millennium Goals
The process of deciding the Sustainable Development Goals began back in 2012. Representatives from UN Member states produced a plan with 17 goals. The goals range from eliminating poverty, reducing inequalities within countries to tackling climate change.
It is this plan that will be discussed in September when world leaders meet to agree the final goals. It is unlikely that the goals will change between now and the UN Summit in September. Some member States have expressed concerns that the goals are too broad but given the criticism of the ‘narrow’ Millennium Development Goals there is consensus amongst the majority to retain the 17 goals.
Of course, we will never achieve goals or realise our ambitions if we in the Western world don’t commit the necessary funds for global development. That is why I am calling on the government to use the European year for Development to recommit to the development spending target of 0.7% of GDP. I believe the Taoiseach should go to the UN Summit in New
York and set out a realistic timeframe of achieving this target.
Despite the fact that we are emerging from one of the most severe recessions in history, we are still a wealthy country. By setting a realistic time frame at the United Nations in achieving the 0.7% commitment – we will send out a strong signal to the world.