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In less than one year, the agreed threshold for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will be here. The record since 2000 is better than the generally slow progress in the 1990s. Indeed, the latest MDG report documents show that the proportion of people in dire poverty worldwide will have been more than halved; all developing regions will have achieved virtual gender parity in primary education; the clean water access goal will have been reached along with impressive results in fighting malaria and tuberculosis. In other areas, global measurements indicate shortfalls, some substantial. Primary school enrollment is still not universal; chronic child malnutrition remains far too high; child and maternal mortality rates have fallen but inadequately; and sanitation standards have fallen short. And while a few countries will have been able to achieve all goals, the majority will have fallen short on several. Conflict-prone states will have made limited progress or moved backwards.
Several of the UN system’s organizations were slow to sign up to the supposedly universal agenda. Starting in 2012, states and secretariats have framed a new set of “sustainable development goals” (SDGs), again intended to focus UN operations. In 2013 a high-level panel chaired by three serving heads of government established some important parameters, two in particular. First, any new set of goals should build on the MDGs but have more breadth, including concerns about economic growth and jobs, promotion of peace and security, and inclusive governance. Second, they should be universal—that is, not distinguishing developing and developed countries in a global partnership.
From January 2016 until 2030, the UN will have a greatly expanded development agenda. Its implementation will raise several challenges. Business-as-usual will not do.
How will new SDG concepts such as security or governance be determined? Subjective and contested measurements along with better capacities for statistical compilation are required.