Millennium Development Goals

Meeting of the SI Committee on the Economy, Social Cohesion and the Environment, in Tel Aviv, 22 May 2005

1. 2005 - a key year for the Attainment of the Millennium Development Goals

1.1 The Socialist International reaffirms its strong commitment to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are part of the social democratic approach to governance in a global society. This year offers a unique set of opportunities towards the aim of halving poverty until 2015. The UN Summit in September will review progress on the Millennium Development Goals including the Sachs Millennium Project report proposals, and discuss the Secretary General’s report "In Larger Freedom" based on the Sachs report and the report of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. There is the World Trade Ministerial in December; and the meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the end of the year. All of these opportunities must be used to the full.

1.2 At its Council meeting in Johannesburg in November 2004, the Socialist International underlined that the most important challenge for the next decade lies in the implementation of the MDGs, which were reaffirmed in the Monterrey Consensus and the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The UN General Assembly has decided to convene a High Level Meeting in New York in September 2005 as a follow-up to the Millennium Summit in 2000. The MDGs set quantitative targets for halving extreme poverty by 2015. They aim to cut poverty in its many dimensions: low income, hunger, lack of education, gender inequality, disease, environmental degradation, insecurity of shelter and lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Unfortunately, at existing rates of progress, many countries will fall short of these goals. Although improvements have been made in some areas, a lot is still to be done. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the number of people living in poverty there is still greater now than it was in 1990. Poverty is linked with too rapid population growth. Progress can be achieved by attaining the MDG on the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women together with programmes for family planning.

However, if increased financial resources are made available in line with the Official Development Assistance (ODA) target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP), concrete progress is made regarding innovative financial instruments and if developing countries take steps to improve their policies significant additional progress towards the goals is possible. The SI calls upon all governments to fulfil their commitments to international initiatives in all areas related to the MDGs. Particular efforts will be needed in Africa, which on current rates of progress will not meet any of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The SI expresses its hope that the major event will gather the needed political momentum for a more effective implementation of the agreements reached in Johannesburg and the attainment of the MDGS.

2. Localising the MDGS

2.1 At its Council meeting in Johannesburg the SI stressed the need for member countries to localise the implementation of the MDGs. The challenge of achieving the Goals is enormous and there can be no doubt that getting there will involve major changes at the national and global level. There can also be no doubt that one of the greatest powers for change rests with the billions of local decisions and actions taken every day by local authorities all around the world. The SI therefore stresses the need for local authorities to become active players in promoting and implementing the Millennium Goals.

2.2 It is perhaps stating the obvious, but deprivations faced by the poor are experienced locally. It is therefore of crucial importance to bring the Millennium Goals to the local level by creating ownership by local actors and by adapting the Goals to local needs and priorities.

At the 2000 UN Millennium Summit, 189 Heads of State and Governments committed on behalf of their people in the Millennium Declaration to free their fellow citizens from ‘the abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty’. The Declaration reaffirms universal values of equality, mutual respect and shared responsibility for the conditions of all peoples and seeks to redress the lopsided benefits of globalisation. At the heart of the Declaration are human rights, peace, gender equity, environment and the pressing priorities of the Least Developed Countries and Africa. Eight Millennium Development Goals emerged from this Declaration, firmly committing governments to an ambitious set of Goals and targets by a deadline of 2015:

The Millennium Goals

1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

2: Achieve universal primary education

3: Promote gender equality and empower women

4: Reduce child mortality

5: Improve maternal health

6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

7: Ensure environmental sustainability

8: Develop a global partnership for development

2.3 The Millennium Goals explicitly recognise - in Goal 8 - that eradicating poverty and its underlying causes requires a global partnership for development. In the Goals rich and poor country leaders recognised their shared role and responsibilities to eradicate poverty worldwide. Developing countries pledged to strengthen governance, institutions and policies. Developed countries, for their part, committed to additional and more effective aid, more sustainable debt relief and increased trade and technology opportunities for poor countries.

2.4 The Millennium Goals address many of the most enduring failures of human development. Unlike the objectives of the first three UN development decades (1960s, 1970s and 1980s) that mostly focused on economic growth, the Goals set human well-being and poverty reduction firmly at the centre of the global development agenda. Moreover, the Goals provide building blocks for human development, with each relating to key dimensions of the process. Finally, the Goals reflect a human rights agenda - right to food, education, health care and a decent standard of living as enumerated in the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights - that confer obligations on governments of countries, both rich and poor.

2.5 The Socialist International considers that the Millennium Goals are technically and economically within our reach. With increased accountability and improved budgetary priorities, even the poorest of governments can perform better. What is lacking is the political will to place the Goals at the centre of local, national and international policies. The challenge before us is making governments in rich and poor countries accountable to their pledges. If we carry on in a ‘business as usual’ manner, the Goals will not be achieved by 2015. In the case of Sub-Saharan Africa, Goal 1 (reducing extreme poverty and hunger), at today’s pace, would only be achieved in 2147.

2.6 Parliamentarians, civil society, media, and not least local authorities all need to play their part - each with specific and complementary roles in holding governments to account. The responsibilities of these stakeholders will vary according to the overall division of labour between rich and poor countries. It is the primary responsibility of developing country governments to focus on achieving the first seven Goals - halving the number of poor, getting all girls a basic education, putting an end to child and maternal mortality, fighting HIV/AIDS, and ensuring sustainable development.

2.7 OECD countries must focus first and foremost on delivering on Goal 8 promises - i.e., additional and more effective aid, directed mainly to the poor countries, more sustainable debt relief, and more trade and technology opportunities for poor countries. It is of critical importance for rich countries to deliver on their end of the global deal much sooner than 2015, as the additional aid is actually an input to the 2015 outcome.

3. The role of Local Authorities in OECD countries

3.1 The SI points out that for poor countries to achieve the MDGs, an additional 50 billion US $ is needed in aid from OECD countries. At the same time the SI advocates for the delivery of high quality and more effective aid. Finally, urgent measures are required to fix the faults in the international trading system that continue to hamper the world’s poor from trading themselves out of poverty.

3.2 Turning now to why local authorities in OECD countries should link up to the Goals and what kind of actions might be considered. Agenda 21 displayed the potential of local authorities in OECD countries promoting international issues. Networks were established and concerted action was taken to advance issues of global concern. Now the Millennium Goals provide local actors with an internationally endorsed framework for shaping of political platforms aimed at fighting global poverty.

3.3 However, there is a continuing concern about aid effectiveness. In some OECD countries attempts have therefore been made to link aid flows to achievement of the Millennium Goals. The Goals have in this way helped strengthening the pro-aid constituency by changing the image of ODA from giveaways that support corrupt regimes to concrete programmes that can, for example, reduce child mortality or provide primary education. Against this backdrop, the Millennium Goals constitute an untapped opportunity also for local authorities to engage their constituencies in broad based debates on how to combat global poverty.

3.4 The feature of the "global deal" provides a window of opportunity in terms of widening political platforms towards development issues and increased global responsibility. In fact, local authorities in some OECD countries have already embarked on this road by devoting a small percentage of their budgets to development cooperation. Although mostly a symbolic act, such efforts contribute to set international issues on the local agenda and thereby to enhanced public awareness and interest. The latter is very important for building national constituencies in favour of pro poor policies.

3.5 To ensure that governments deliver on their promises regarding aid, debt and trade - a bottom up pressure is required. Local authorities can contribute to this by advocating with national governments as well as members of parliament representing their constituencies. Organising public events and sponsoring civil society activities are other important undertakings. Broad based alliances between local authorities and civil society organisations around the MDGs might help strengthen the authorities’ power-base and enhance their legitimacy. In many places joint action between local authorities and non-state actors has also contributed to enhancing democratic participation and to better exploit horizontal linkages.

4. The role of local authorities in developing countries

4.1 Even with progress among developed countries on delivering on goal eight, the Millennium Goals will not be achieved unless concerted action is taken by developing countries themselves. Even the poorest country can perform better. And in this effort local authorities are crucial players. The Goals provide locally elected authorities in developing countries with nothing less than a government endorsed framework that can be used to push pro-poor reform and boost spending, inter alia, on health, education and the environment.

4.2 Moreover, the Goals sum up the aspirations of the electorate in dealing with concrete measurable "pocket book" issues everybody can relate to; to have a school nearby with a teacher who turns up at work and books and pencils for students to use; to have at least a hand pump which provides safe water to which women can walk easily, and a health clinic with drugs and a doctor and a nurse. A clear and coherent focus on the Goals can therefore make the agendas of local authorities more politically attractive, help them gain confidence and connect with their electorate.

4.3 An explicit use of the MDGs by local authorities as a framework for service delivery may also help to link efforts at the local level up to nationally and internationally endorsed development-plans and thereby contributing to a boost in development at the local level. More specifically, the value added is that the Goals provide a framework for accountability, donor-coordination, resource mobilisation and comprehensive, targeted and time bound approaches to pro-poor policies also at the local level.

4.4 Decentralisation is by far the most efficient way of delivering services compared to "top down" sectorial ministries. This is because city planning and participation better exploit the synergy between interventions in health, education, water, sanitation and other services. And finally, civil servants or service personnel at the local level are accountable not merely to the powerful sections of society but also to the poor. Both synergy and accountability are crucial features of the MDGs. The Goals applied by local authorities can therefore contribute to sustaining and strengthening the decentralisation process.

4.5 In many countries there are significant disparities in development between regions. The richest regions are often benefiting disproportionally from the development plans of their states, while the more disadvantaged continue to lag behind. For this reason a localised approach for the attainment of the MDGs must always be accompanied by financial mechanisms that ensure a territorial equality within countries. In this context, the MDGs provide a framework for comparing benchmarks and exchanging ideas. In several countries efforts are now underway to launch regional progress reports on MDG achievement. Initiatives that have the potential of creating foundations for public debate around regional and local development priorities and action planning. They may also help reinforce local leadership in support of human development at the regional and municipal levels — all vital prerequisites for MDG achievement.

4.6 Finally, while living at close reach to the basic services of the formal city, large proportions of the urban poor are very often denied the right to access those services. The urban population is also growing at an increasingly high rate and the influx is mostly targeting poor settlements and sprawling slums. Thus, improving the lives of slum dwellers needs to be a central priority for local authorities in the developing countries within overall efforts to achieve the MDGs.

4.7 Turning now to the need for localising the Millennium Goals’ targets. The MDGs provide a global vision for development, but for the Goals to be meaningful, they have to be translated into the local context and adapted to local needs and challenges. The point is that the targets need to be tailored - so that they strike a judicious balance between ambition and realism. Overly ambitious targets are unlikely to trigger action; non-challenging targets are unlikely to mobilise people and resources. The MDGs encourage stakeholders to think globally but to act locally.

4.8 The SI welcomes the joint UN-HABITAT- UNDP programme called "Urban Millennium Partnership - Localising MDGs" that will support local authorities in the implementation of the MDGs and the empowerment of local governance systems. Local authorities associations, at the global and state levels, will be important partners in this endeavour, together with a large number of UN agencies.

4.9 A large number of countries have produced status reports on MDG achievement. Apart from stocktaking the purpose is to inform and mobilise the public. Broad based societal engagement in this process is essential. But unfortunately the reporting done so far has not been sufficiently participatory. Too often it has been a UN sponsored government venture with only limited interaction from other stakeholders. Local authorities along with civil society organisations must therefore demand access to the process and thereby ensure that local views, assessments and priorities are properly reflected in the final document. Members of parliament, especially those elected in the respective regions, must participate in this process.

4.10 The respective MDGs will require different policy approaches depending on local needs and priorities. Thus, there is no one-fit-all approach regarding the role of local authorities in achieving the Goals. Therefore the SI highlights a cross cutting issue of great relevance; namely the need for good governance.

4.11 The SI underlines that accountable and effective management of public financial resources constitute one of the most fundamental responsibilities of publicly elected bodies. The main challenge is to develop institutions and processes that are responsive to the needs of ordinary citizens, including the poor. In this regard the participatory approaches applied in budgeting and public expenditure management serve as an important and very encouraging lesson.

4.12 A similar approach is the so-called gender responsive budget analysis. In the light of women’s crucial role in poor communities, linking commitments to gender equality and women’s human rights to the distribution, use and generation of public resources has proven a most effective way of implementing policies conducive to MDG achievement. This point also underlines the crucial importance of Goal three on gender equity as a trigger for achievement of the other Goals.

4.13 Finally, much of the data needed for accurate monitoring of the MDGs has to come from local data collection - which is subsequently aggregated to provide coverage in the state. But perhaps more importantly, much of the data needed to stir action to meet the Goals within countries needs to be generated locally. Better local governance implies better local data, for instance on who within the local community lacks health care, safe, convenient and affordable water and adequate sanitation. In short, improved local governance has a critical role in ensuring that local development processes do address the MDGs within each locality.

4.14 It is important to recognise that most of the world’s population growth will occur in the cities of developing countries. The 21st century will witness massive and rapid urbanisation, with two billion new residents in cities of the developing world in the next 25 years. This process, though stimulated by economic development, has also led to sharp divisions in growth between cities and among social groups. The next decade will also witness increased urbanisation of poverty. Nearly one billion urban residents in the cities of the developing world are likely to be poor if current trends continue. The number of urban dwellers living in slums and squatter settlements is also expected to rise in these rapidly urbanising countries. The infrastructure in these cities will be unable to cope with the rapid growth of population. As a consequence, the achievement of Millennium Development targets may be the most difficult in the urban areas. Therefore the SI reaffirms that city representatives are indispensable players in overall efforts to achieve the Millennium Goals. They are the level of government closest to communities and have a mandate to ensure that cities are well functioning and sustainable. The SI supports the process of integration of the locally elected within the World Organisation "United Cities and Local Governments" (UCLG) and wishes that this organisation will be more and more associated with the work of the United Nations and particularly the programmes for the attainment of the MDGs.

4.15 Local authorities, working in partnership with civil society organisations and local communities, can make a significant contribution to scaling up and sustaining effective strategies towards achieving the MDGs. To fulfil this potential locally elected officials, mayors and city councils in both developing and developed countries are called upon to think globally and act locally.

5. The UN Millennium + 5 Summit

5.1 In September, world leaders will gather in New York to measure progress since they made the Millennium Declaration in the year 2000. In January 2005, the UN Millennium Project, an independent advisory body commissioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop a global plan for achieving the MDGs by 2015, presented its findings to the Secretary General. The SI welcomes and underlines the optimistic message of the Millennium Projects report "Investing in Development" that although the world is far from attaining the MDGs, if the necessary political measures are introduced immediately, these goals can be met. The Millennium Project Report is a dramatic appeal to governments not to persist with their "business as usual" approach in the face of worldwide poverty. The SI fully supports this appeal. The report contains helpful arguments in support of demands for a reform of development cooperation, for the cancellation of debt, and for a substantial increase in ODA.

5.2 The SI welcomes UN Secretary General Kofi Annan´s report on the implementation of the Millennium Declaration "In Larger Freedom". It formulates politically feasible recommendations for the attainment of the MDGs. The main message of the report is that the aims of the declaration can be achieved, but only if the member states are willing to adopt a package of specific, concrete decisions this year.