by Priyash Bista

Geneva – The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were supposed to create benchmarks for the developed world’s commitment to eliminating global poverty. The target date for completion is next year, and despite the fact that the U.N. still refers to the effort as “a milestone in global and national development efforts,” the record of the MDGs is spotty at best. Only three of the eight goals have been met and the overall commitment to those that are outstanding is vague at best. Rather than scrap the MDGs when their time is up, the U.N. is rebranding them as “Sustainable” Development Goals. The intention is to extend the lagging program past 2015.

When the goals were established  in September 2000, world leaders who signed  the United Nations Millennium Declaration, effectively committed their countries to a global partnership to “ensure that globalization becomes a positive force for all the world’s people.” The world has changed drastically since then, and the U.N. clearly hopes that the Sustainable Development Goals will meet a broad range of new challenges.

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 6.38.53 PMThe SDGs trace their origins to the third Earth Summit, also known as Rio+20, which was held in June 2012 to “re-direct and renew global political commitment” by concentrating on the objectives established at the first Earth Summit in 1992. The key areas were: poverty reduction while promoting jobs growth, clean energy, and more rational, sustainable resource usage.

These goals have pivoted substantially from economic and cultural stability towards deeper integration of environmental sustainability. The WWF’ (World Wildlife Fund), among others, points out that  “Ignoring the key role natural resources and ecosystems play in delivering development would undermine both future gains and past achievements and ignore the rising economic and social costs to countries and individuals of environmental damage and degradation.” As climate change becomes more costly, we need to develop strategies that maintain the natural systems around us.

One remaining major Sustainable Development Goal open working group still needs to take place before the program is presented to the UN on the 68th session of the general assembly from the 14th to the 18th of July. According to Connie Martinez of IUCN, 190 countries and organizations have already assembled their list of goals. Martinez is hopeful that the UN will take these into consideration and not waste resources during the upcoming negotiations.

Sheung Fulai (UNEP economics and trade director) suggests that carrying the SDGs   forward depends on “4 wheels”: clean technology, natural capital, human resources, and social institutions, with priority given to poor and disadvantaged peoples.

Hans Herren (President and CEO of The Millennium Institute) cautions that there needs to be greater emphasis on the toolbox to be used when things breakdown. Herren insists that if institutions and governments had made better use of these tools in the past, the Millennium Development Goals would have had a much greater impact during the past 14 years.

While corporations are essential to driving investment, corporate influence needs to be toned down, as corporations tend to focus on short term issues that can distract from longer term, sustainable solutions.

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While there are those who see the MDGs as a failed effort, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan points out that the  motive for creating them was to have actionable goals, which sharpened awareness and highlighted the critical issues that plague much of our world today.  The objective was  to translate vision into action.  Annan notes that the general public   embraced the MDGs, but  government leaders were hesitant and tended to use the MDGs mostly as a vehicle for winning votes. Sustainable Development Goals, Annan says,  will seek to maximize focus on the environment and minimize the harmful ways we exploit resources by including stakeholders more directly in the process.