By Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of Save the Children
There are two sessions on the future of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals beyond 2015 at Davos this year – the same number of sessions given to meditation and art walks. The word ‘growth’ features in 11 of the agenda’s headings, ‘human’ in four, but ‘poverty’ gets no airtime at all. Yet, if the World Economic Forum is ‘committed to improving the state of the world’, what happens after 2015 is a critical debate for every government that signed up to the MDGs in the first place, and for every business with supply chains or future customers in emerging and developing countries.
In both the private and public sessions everyone agrees that the current MDGs have proved a great lever for tackling big global issues. The World Bank estimates that the number of extremely poor people in developing countries will fall from 29% in 1990 to 12% in 2015. Child mortality has almost halved from 12m to 6.9m in a decade and similarly spectacular progress has been made in getting children into school. The framework has aligned government aid budgets, spurred partnerships with business, and promoted a search for successful development models that can be introduced elsewhere. There is also agreement that the priority now has to be pushing as hard and fast as possible over the 1,000 days left before the 2015 deadline to make as much progress as possible to meet the current goals. Key to this will be delivering on existing promises.
Looking ahead to post 2015, the major issue of contention is how widely to open up the agenda, with the secretary general talking about encompassing all 26 themes, ranging from sustainable tourism to water and sanitation, which came out of last year’s Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development. At the other end of the spectrum Bill Gates is arguing to keep it simple and focused on the poorest. There was however consensus on the need for additions and tweaks including the need to focus on quality of education rather than just getting children into school, jobs for youth and improving nutrition in order to address the shocking waste of human capital caused by child stunting.
But there were quite different views on what to do about climate change, not to mention corruption, justice and conflict as championed by UK prime minister David Cameron.
The most interesting point, only mentioned in passing however, was about accountability, a shortcoming of the current framework. Whatever ends up being agreed to replace the MDGs we will need to be much clearer about financing and who is accountable for what.