The journey from the millennium development goals to the sustainable development goals.

Author:Nanda, Ved P.

    A discussion of this topic will not be complete without at least briefly touching on the meaning of these two terms--development and sustainable development. A marked shift has occurred in our understanding of the meaning of development. Instead of being equated with economic growth, development is now seen as being linked with human development. In 1990, the United Nations Development Program ("UNDP") issued its first annual Human Development Report, (1) introducing the Human Development Index ("HDI"), which measured development not by income alone as traditional economists had done, but by indicators reflecting "life expectancy, literacy and command over the resources to enjoy a decent standard of living." (2) In his foreword to the report, then-Administrator of UNDP, William H. Draper III, stated:

    [W]e are rediscovering the essential truth that people must be at the center of all development. The purpose of development is to offer people more options. One of their options is access to income not as an end in itself but as a means to acquiring human well-being. But there are other options as well, including long life, knowledge, political freedom, personal security, community participation and guaranteed human rights. People cannot be reduced to a single dimension as economic creatures. What makes them and the study of the development process fascinating is the entire spectrum through which human capabilities are expanded and utilized. (3) HDI continues to be a composite measure of indicators along the same three dimensions. For example, in the 2014 Human Development Report, the HDI is defined as "[a] composite index measuring average achievement in three basic dimensions of human development--a long and healthy life, knowledge and a decent standard of living." (4)

    This focus on all aspects of peoples' well-being was aptly captured by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's perspective of development as freedom, (5) which embodies the concept of human choices, capabilities, freedoms, and empowerment. Meanwhile, in 1996, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development ("OECD") published a paper (6) suggesting a set of "International Development Goals," which formed the basis for the Millennium Development Goals ("MDGs"). Also pertinent is a declaration adopted by heads of State and Government at the U.N. Headquarters, the United Nations Millennium Declaration of September 2000, (7) which enumerates human development goals along with a few targets and a timeframe to measure progress. The world leaders' commitment to reducing extreme poverty by creating a new global partnership, and setting out a series of time-bound targets for the years 2000-2015 became known as the Millennium Development Goals ("MDGs"). As the MDGs expire at the end of 2015, the U.N. General Assembly adopted their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals ("SDGs"), in September 2015. (8)

    A study of the process that created the MDGs and SDGs and their impact on various aspects of peoples' well-being will follow this introductory section. However, it is appropriate to discuss here the origin and evolution of sustainable development ("SD"), a concept that integrates economic, social, and environmental considerations into the development process and provides a framework for decision making aimed at ensuring human well-being. I have previously written on this topic (9) and hence will briefly recount the pertinent groundwork to provide a context for the discussion that follows this introductory section.

    Almost three decades after World War II, in June 1972 world leaders met in Stockholm at the U.N. Conference on the Human Environment ("Stockholm Conference") to address the challenge posed by continuing environmental degradation. (10) Although the Stockholm Declaration adopted at the conference did emphasize the importance of economic and social development," the conference did not address the relationship between environment and development despite pervasive poverty in many countries. There was a sharp divide between the rich and the poor countries because, while the rich countries were primarily interested in environmental protection, the poor countries did not want development issues to be sacrificed at the altar of environment. (12) Regrettably, this divide still remains as a point of tension between the Global North and South; the pursuit of sustainable development reflects an effort to bridge the divide.

    The term sustainable development was first used in a report by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources ("IUCN") that explicitly linked conservation and development. (13) However, the term was popularized by the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development ("Brundtland Commission"), which defined sustainable development by explaining that "[h]umanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." (14) The Commission emphasized the linkage between the environment and development and the integration of economic and environmental considerations in decisionmaking. (15)

    The next event that emphasized linking of environment and development was the "Earth Summit," the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development ("UNCED") in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, which marked the 20th anniversary of the Stockholm Conference. (16) The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (17) adopted at the conference clearly set the tone of a human-centered focus, as in Principle 1 it proclaimed that "[h]uman beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature." (18) Principle 5 of the Declaration focused on the eradication of world poverty as it called on all states and all people to "cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world." (19) A detailed action plan entitled Agenda 21 (20) gave in-depth meaning to sustainable development as it placed high priority on the links between poverty reduction, economic efficiency, and environmental management.

    A decade after the Rio Conference, world leaders met in Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in August-September 2002. (21) They adopted the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development as well as a "Plan of Implementation" that strongly reaffirmed their commitment to the principles adopted at the Earth Summit ("the Rio Principles") and the full implementation of Agenda 21. (22) Then, in 2012, twenty years after the Rio Conference, world leaders again met in Rio de Janeiro at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (23) to adopt the successor to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals. (24) The final report of the Conference, the Outcome Document, is entitled "The Future We Want." (25) And finally, on September 25, 2015, the U.N. Summit adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Summit's outcome document, "Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development." (26)

    Part II recounts selected highlights of the journey from MDGs to SDGs. Part III provides a bird's-eye view of SDGs with special attention to human rights. Part IV is the concluding section.


    1. The U.N. Millennium Declaration

      After reaffirming in the United Nations Millennium Declaration the fundamental values of freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility, (27) world leaders recognized the need for advancing on several fronts: development and poverty eradication; (28) environmental protection; (29) human rights; democracy; and good governance. (30) They resolved that they "will spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than a billion of them are currently subjected." (31) Thus they resolved "to create an environment--at the national and global levels alike--which is conducive to development and to the elimination of poverty." (32)

      World leaders further resolved that by the year 2015, "children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling and that girls and boys will have equal access to all levels of education." (33) By the same time, they resolved "to have reduced maternal mortality by three quarters, and under-five child mortality by two thirds, of their current rates," (34) and to have "halted, and begun to reverse, the spread of HIV/AIDS, the scourge of malaria and other major diseases that afflict humanity." (35) They also resolved to "promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable." (36)

    2. The Millennium Development Goals

      The MDGs were designed to reflect the Millennium Declaration vision. But when they were finally released something had been lost in translation, as there was a glaring omission of an important component of the Declaration--human rights, democracy, and good governance. As later discussion will show, the lack of a human rights focus in the MDGs has led to severe adverse consequences.

      Eight goals with eighteen time-bound targets and forty-eight indicators for quantifiable commitments to be reached by 2015 constitute the MDG framework for securing selected socioeconomic rights. (37) These goals are: (1) eradicate extreme poverty and hunger--halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people suffering hunger and living on less than U.S. $1.25 per day; (2) achieve universal primary education; (3) promote...

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