The global fever for football (or soccer, as it may be called) is
increasing as group stages unfold ahead of the FIFA World Cup in
Brazil next year.
So it is, I think, a little excusable to extend the metaphor to other
events - notably the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are due
to come to fruition by 2015. The target date was agreed in 2000 by the
world's countries following a decade of meetings and discussions under
the guidance of the United Nations.
There were eight agreed-upon goals, and they were reaffirmed under the
2010 Action Plan, "Keeping our promise."
In announcing the MDGs in 2000, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
said: "Eradicating extreme poverty continues to be one of the main
challenges of our time, and is a major concern of the international
community. Ending this scourge will require the combined efforts of
all, governments, civil society organizations and the private sector,
in the context of a stronger and more effective global partnership for
"The Millennium Development Goals set timebound targets, by which
progress in reducing income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate
shelter and exclusion - while promoting gender equality, health,
education and environmental sustainability - can be measured. They
also embody basic human rights - the rights of each person on the
planet to health, education, shelter and security. The Goals are
ambitious but feasible and, together with the comprehensive United
Nations development agenda, set the course for the world's efforts to
alleviate extreme poverty by 2015."
I will review two interconnected goals - those of MDG2 (achieve
universal primary education) and MDG3 (promote gender equality and
empower women). Of course all the millennium goals are interconnected
- better health promotes less child mortality and more capable
learning; then in adulthood we hope the young adults will achieve
better global sustainability.
Returning to MDG2 we find the 2010 review noted that primary education
enrollment in developing regions is now 90% - but that still leaves 61
million children missing this education, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Of course, the higher levels of primary education raise demand for
secondary education. Sadly, 71 million youths (aged 12-15) were out of
school in 2010. Yet the literacy discrepancy was narrowing: In 2010
there were 95 literate young women for every 100 young men, even
though their access to secondary schooling remains limited.
We have questions for MDG3 - in some regions a girl's education
remains elusive, or nonexistent, with continuing discrimination in
access to work and in owning economic assets. Generally poverty is
highly correlated to low female education participation; and females
are relegated to the most vulnerable jobs while they suffer
Recently, tens of thousands of Britons called on the U.K. government
to nominate Malala Yousafzai for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is a
Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating
girls' education - she was hospitalized in the U.K. Unusually
outspoken, she was well-known for her education and women's rights
activism in the Swat Valley, where the Taliban had at times banned
girls from attending school.
Meanwhile, the fates of thousands like her go unnoticed, and often
there is no route to emancipation because business ownership is
concentrated in men's hands throughout the developing world.
The high aims of the MDGs are challenged by the Copenhagen Consensus
led by Bjorn Lomborg, which in 2004 brought together a group of
economists who, with input from focus groups, created a list of tasks.
These were the framework for prioritizing explicitly the world's big
problems. Their goal was to achieve the most "good" for people and the
planet based on evidence and with limited financial resources.
In CC04, as the meeting was called, the four top-ranked projects
included three related to health management and one on trade
liberalization. The bottom four (of 17 projects) saw little benefit in
advancing labor migration or climate change programs, including the
Kyoto Protocol. They were seen as "not value for money."
Education did not feature, nor gender issues. However, hunger and
malnutrition were top-ranked issues as well as trade. And we can
appreciate that to make policies stick requires an educated
developing-world workforce, and following a better health policy would
yield a cohort of children better able to learn.
In CC08, reducing the cost of education rose to issue No. 6 and
improving girls' education was No. 8. By CC12, mitigating hunger to
aid children's education had risen to the first issue, and deworming
children to offer better pathways to health and education rose to
Global game plan
One may see the economists' hard-nosed views being expressed in terms
of achievable outcomes in the Copenhagen meetings, whereas the MDG
meetings espoused hopes and pressured underperformers.
David Griggs et al recently pleaded in the U.K. journal Nature (March
2013) for us to move quickly to a more sustainable society after the
end of the MDG period in 2015. Griggs listed six new megagoals (the
SDG framework) that seem to combine the aims of the Copenhagen
Consensus economists with the aspirations of the U.N. experts.
His top goal is expressed as: "Thriving lives and livelihoods. End
poverty and improve well-being through access to education, employment
and information, better health and housing, and reduced inequality
while moving towards sustainable consumption and production."
I think these are realistic, as improving lives and livelihoods would
promote sustainable access to food, water and energy while protecting
biodiversity and ecosystem services. Yet none of these are possible
without changes to local and global economic playing fields. National
policies should place a value on natural capital and place a cost on
We have seen over a couple of decades that world competition in terms
of the MDGs can lift the performance of developing nations. But as the
Copenhagen Consensus suggests, too much cash may be spent on
aspirational issues and not enough on achievable ones. Thus there are
"own goals" - goals we accidentally score against ourselves.
However, the new work of Griggs suggests we might turn national
competitions and winning local goals into coordinated global goals
that combine the U.N. aspirations with the Copenhagen cost-benefits.
There is hope yet.
Frank-Jürgen Richter is founder and chairman of Horasis, a global
Horasis is a global visions community committed to enact visions for a sustainable future. (http://www.horasis.org)
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