NEW YORK (AlertNet) - The Millennium Development Goals may not be perfect but they are simple and straightforward - qualities diplomats and others fear could be lost in the process of crafting new targets to replace the MDGs, which expire in 2015.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon underscored this on Tuesday in remarks to members of a high-level panel charged with working out what comes next.
“We need a clear post-2015 development agenda - an agenda with shared responsibilities for all countries, with the fight against poverty at the fore and sustainable development at the core,” he said.
Of the eight MDGs set 12 years ago, only those concerning poverty, slums and access to drinking water have been met so far. Efforts are being stepped up to try to achieve the other five goals on universal primary education, reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, and promoting gender equality.
But a lot has changed since 2000, according to a report from the Post-MDGs Contact Group, a discussion forum for government and civil society representatives from around 20 countries set up by Japan late last year.
“In particular, the following issues are important: growth and employment; equity and equality; setting national targets; emerging and re-emerging issues including the environment, disaster reduction, access to water, food and energy; demographics and governance,” said the report.
But the danger is that including too many of those issues in the next set of goals - widely referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - could be counterproductive, experts warned at Tuesday’s discussion.
The session heard comments from development practitioners and researchers, as well as some of the high-level panel’s 26 members, including former Japanese prime minister Naoto Kan.
Its three co-chairs - Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and British Prime Minister David Cameron - were not present, but the entire panel was scheduled to meet later on Tuesday for the first time.
The strength of the current MDGs is that they comprise a short and simple list, according to Claire Melamed of the London-based Overseas Development Institute. The panel charged with identifying new objectives must beware of “complexifying” the agenda and importing problems that other agencies are trying to solve, she said.
Mark Suzman, managing director of international policy and programmes at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, expressed concern about “diluting the focus of the MDGs” with issues that are harder to resolve, such as security, good governance and sustainable access to resources.
Heikki Holmas, Norway’s international development minister, suggested that even the name of the panel - officially called the High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda - should be simplified. He also noted that “to fight corruption is very important in achieving the new MDGs”.
Chernor Bah, a youth advocate from Sierra Leone, told the panel members: “Keep your promises.”
“The dream of education, the dream of living free of hunger, the dream of not having a death sentence if you’re pregnant…those promises have not been kept,” he said, referring to progress on the current goals.
“We want stability. They say that peace is a utopian word. As young people we refuse to accept that. We want a world where we can live to see our dreams,” he added.
Panel member Kadir Topbas, the mayor of Istanbul, said youth are very much on the agenda: “We are here preparing the future for the next generation, looking at what we have now and what we will give to them tomorrow.”
Gunilla Carlsson, Sweden’s minister for international development, noted that half her colleagues on the high-level panel are women. “The role of women in development and women in the world will have our full attention,” she said.