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10 November 2010

The MDG Summit Outcome - Comments from Civil Society

From 20-22 September, close to 140 Heads of State and Government gathered at UN Headquarters for the three-day High-Level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), also known as the “MDG Summit.” The summit sought to accelerate progress towards achieving the MDGs by 2015 and to undertake a comprehensive review of successes, best practices and lessons learnt, obstacles and gaps, challenges and opportunities that could lead to concrete strategies for action.

On the final day of the summit, Member States adopted an outcome document – “Keeping the Promise: United to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals” (document A/65/L.1) – in which Member States set out an action agenda in order to reach the Goals by 2015. In addition, the summit provided an opportunity for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to launch the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health, a worldwide effort by Heads of State and Government, the private sector, foundations, international organizations, civil society and research organizations to accelerate progress on women’s and children’s health.

Civil society reactions on the outcome of the MDG Summit have been diverse; however generally unanimous in tracking backlogs and weaknesses in the MDG process. Many argued that the efforts expressed in the discussions did not reflect the expectations and the needs necessary to approach global issues such as extreme poverty, food instability, and inequality. Most speakers did recognize the new political commitment outlined in the summit outcome document to alleviate extreme poverty, hunger and inequality within 2015. However, they described the outcome document as more aspirational than action-oriented.

ACT Alliance, urging an immediate action on hunger, poverty, trade and human rights, argued that the text "is long on promises and short on detail," and contains few of the practical agreements needed to realise the MDGs by their 2015 target.

Nora Coghlan, Policy Manager at the ONE Campaign, confirmed the lack of a clear framework to meet the goals as the main failure of the summit. She added that although the world leaders recommitted to meeting the MDGs using great language on mutual accountability, national ownership and the role of trade and economic growth in development, no road map will be making individual countries accountable for the next five years.

Disappointment was expressed by Tearfund for the lack of progress made at the summit. Paul Cook, Tearfund’s Advocacy Director, said that “the outcome document adopted by the UN is weak and doesn’t form a good plan which will take us through the remaining five years.” Although “the words within the document are positive and even inspiring, they don not give tangible measures to show how we will achieve” the MDG challenge.

Also ARTICLE 19, Global Campaign for Free Expression, expressed disappointment for the weak commitment made by world leaders, in particular to ensure assistance and accountability at all levels. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, “What the world’s poor received were politicians and dictators grand-standing, pointlessly repeating the awfulness of poverty, and no commitments to sorting it out.”

Oladiran W. Bello, researcher at the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior (FRIDE), noted that the summit had not been a “milestone in the fight against extreme poverty,” but rather an “increasingly illusive search for consensus on the modalities, ends and funding of development assistance post-Washington Consensus.” He highlighted the current transition from a consensus-based aid system to one strained by default interpolar-interdependence. As a result, he underscored that it is a paramount challenge to forge new consensus that reconcile changing economic realities with laudable efforts to narrow the gap between the world’s haves and have-nots.

ActionAid’s Chief Executive Joanna Kerr said that “UN summits will continue failing to deliver so long as leaders keep making empty promises on too many issues. With only five years to go, concerted action on the goals most off track is the only way forward. With the world still reeling from a global food crisis and the threat of another looming, world leaders should have initiated an emergency response here at the summit.” According to ActionAid poverty will increase and a billion people will go to bed hungry due to the fact that no fully funded plans of action for tackling poverty were actually announced.

Lawrence Haddad, Director of the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), was disappointed that the outcome document did not adequately address the issue of inequality to accelerate progress on the MDGs.

Amnesty International warned that the summit failed to “identify an effective way to hold governments to account for achieving their MDG commitments or for ensuring that their MDG efforts are consistent with their human rights obligations.”

Owen Barder, Director of Aidinfo, highlighted that the MDG summit has shown three quite different views of development and warns for the substantial gap between advocating a big heave of more aid to ignite a cycle of industrialization in the poorest countries, a focus on more transparent and accountable institutions in developing countries and in the development system, and political change that protects the rights of society’s most marginalized groups in whatever country they happen to live.

On a more positive note, Archbishop Ndungane, president and founder of African Monitor, said that the outcome document “is comprehensive, touching on almost everything that needs to be addressed if MDGs are to be met.” He added that “there are some specificities on commitments as these are measurable and therefore can be tracked,” and that “the specific amounts committed by specific stakeholders is also a step in the right direction.” Nevertheless, he also raised various concerns including the fact that there is no guarantee that the concrete commitments will go beyond the international lip service; and that the mechanisms of enforcement (of commitments) are not clear.

Kate Higgins, fellow researcher at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), noted that the MDGs “have mobilized unprecedented support for global poverty reduction. Five years from 2015, we need to acknowledge the value of the MDGs, face up to their strengths and weaknesses and use evidence to inform next steps. In doing so, and keeping our promises, I think we can accelerate progress on the MDGs.”

The Global Campaign for Education (GCE) analyzed what the MDG Summit delivered in relation to the Education For All (EFA) objectives.

Results UK, did a similar analysis to see what the MDG Summit delivered for the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria. It highlighted the “set of eleven all-encompassing commitments” in the outcome document that aim to “achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support services for AIDS, TB, malaria and neglected tropical diseases,” including through adequate funding. However, it warns that the effectively delivery upon these commitments remains uncertain.

According to Emma Seery, Oxfam’s spokesperson, the summit could have been just a mirage. "The promises look good from a distance, but the details are hard to see, and when the world’s poorest people most need help, pledges could still vanish into thin air.” She continues that leaders “failed to acknowledge their collective disastrous failure to meet their aid targets.” She concludes that “we need answers on how the money that’s been promised will be raised, and the hard work starts today.”

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