Is there still hope? Saving the MDGs from drowning

Nuria Molina-Gallart, Eurodad Director, looks at progress made within the MDG process and highlights which are the main issues at stake and the necessary measures to be undertaken with regards to MDG 8 on Global Partnership.

by Nuria Molina-Gallart 

 The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) could never offer a solution to world poverty, nor to structural social and economic injustice. However, they were and are a very important step towards reaching a global agreement for poverty eradication. In the year 2000, after the lost decade of the 1990s when aid levels plummeted and poverty sky-rocketed, the MDGs offered renewed hope for the new Millennium. MDG 8, the last but by no means the least important of the goals, was supposed to develop a global partnership for development to scale up aid and debt cancellation, and to address some of the flaws in the global economic system that systematically undermined sustainable development in the world's poorest countries. Progress on MDG 8 has been mixed.

The good news is that MDG 8, together with political reactions to the 9/11 events in the USA, triggered small but significant steps towards providing more and better resources for development. Firstly, in 2002, the summit on Financing for Development (FfD) in Monterrey agreed to deliver more effective and more aid, called for further debt cancellation additional to Official Development Assistance (ODA), and pushed for greater coherence of the international monetary, financial and trading systems in support of development. Just a few days before the summit, European governments agreed interim aid targets to ensure that progress would be steady and that EU governments would meet the 0.7 percent Gross National Income (GNI) target by 2015. Further progress was made in 2005 in Gleneagles where the G8 summit agreed to cancel up to US$55bn owed by some of the world's most impoverished and indebted nations to free up resources to meet the MDGs. European ODA steadily increased until 2008, and in 2009 more than 40 countries had received debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative.

However, while progress was made, it did not go far enough. The majority of these summits and commitments delivered well under what was necessary for poverty eradication, and civil society warned that efforts would not be enough to achieve the MDGs by 2015.The review of the Monterrey consensus in Doha in December 2008 represented a turn for the worse. Although some positive new commitments were made to effectively combat tax evasion by multinational companies from poor countries, and reference was made to the joint responsibility of creditors and debtors over debt claims, something in the air said that the ambition of the early 2000s was fading. Promises to deliver a global partnership for development had stalled. The financial crisis may have played a part, with fiscal crises spreading in Northern countries being used as an excuse to back away from aid commitments.

The outcome document from the MDG Summit next week in New York, as agreed so far by negotiators, confirms that the last three years of global economic and financial crises have weakened - not strengthened - the political will of leaders to change the way that the global economy and financial systems operate. Leaders are missing the opportunity to push forward structural changes that could help eradicate poverty and global economic injustice. The outcome text shows very low levels of political ambition: it restates aid commitments for 2010 that are clearly off track without taking further measures to enforce them; it does not mention any specific measures to combat tax evasion from poor countries by multinational companies; and it makes only a very weak call to enhance debt restructuring mechanisms, whilst always staying within the existing frameworks which are heavily biased towards the creditorsí interests.

Next week, and in the weeks to come, we need a miracle - one that bucks the trend of ever-lowering ambitions; one that brings ODA commitments back on track to deliver 0.7 percent of GNI in 2015, and more in the years to come; one that establishes a fair and transparent mechanism to deal with debt crises and to cancel illegitimate debts from the South; and one that puts in place strict rules to avoid the bleeding of resources from South to North, in the form of tax evasion by multinational companies, or financial speculation against the most vulnerable economies. Such measures would be a promising start to delivering MDG 8, and a way to renew faith that poverty is a manmade injustice that men and women of the world can defeat.

Nuria Molina-Gallart is Director at the European Network on Debt and Development, Eurodad.

Photo credit: Flikr/UNDP