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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Bigger, Bolder Development Goals

Sep. 1, 2015

Leaders from around the world will sit down later this month to endorse a set of targets that could mean life or death for billions of people. They'll gather at the United Nations headquarters to adopt a new package of development goals.

It's been 15 years since leaders last laid out their targets for tackling poverty, combatting disease and promoting gender equality. They drafted eight "Millennium Development Goals," or MDGs, that covered a broad range of global issues, and they gave themselves a deadline: the end of this year. Some of those targets have been hit. Some haven't.

We'll hear from a man who knows these challenges better than most. Jeffrey Sachs is a UN advisor on development. He helped to shape the MDGs. He's been working on the next set of targets as well, and he says this time around, they'll need more support -- and more sustainable methods.

Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs stood up 15 years ago and set the world an ambitious target. He said the number of people living on just over $1 a day should be reduced by half. Today, that target's been hit. The UN says there are a billion fewer people living in such extreme poverty.

Sachs says the MDGs can take much of the credit. He says the goals added focus, effort, attention and resources to the battle against poverty.

Sachs set up a project in Africa to show how people can reach what he calls "the ladder of development" with even minimal support. Mosquito nets, for example, cost a few dollars but can save lives by preventing the spread of malaria. A small bag of seeds can give people the chance to grow staple crops. Sachs says there's no need to throw vast amounts of money at major infrastructure projects to trigger development.

Developed countries made a pledge to give 0.7 percent of their gross national income in aid. But last year, only 5 of them came through.

A UN report in July highlighted a widening gap between rich and poor, and said women and children are suffering the most. Sachs says the international community had other things to worry about in the last decade and a half -- such as wars and the 2008 financial crisis.

As global leaders prepare to greenlight the next set of goals, they're finding extra problems to deal with -- like climate change, widening wealth gaps, terrorism and political instability. Sachs says these issues are all related and need to be addressed. He says that's why the new targets are called the Sustainable Development Goals.

He says sustainable development is for all countries, and it means economic progress, less inequality in society, and more environmental sustainability. Sachs says the message of the SDGs is for the richest countries to get their energy house in order and fix their economies so that they're not creating climate disaster.

Sachs says the goals are more ambitious than the last set -- and broader targets require broader participation. He says it's so hard to have economic development, and to fight extreme poverty and climate change that it can't be done even if all governments tried everything. That's why all parts of society in every society -- civil society, academic experts, scientists, research institutes, universities -- need to be on board and make an effort.


NHK senior commentator Aiko Doden joins Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio to further discuss the topic.

Beppu: Aiko, for the MDGs, all the presidents and prime ministers gathered in New York and they pledged that they would fulfill them by the end of this year. If they couldn't reach those targets, how can they expect to meet targets of something even more ambitious than the current ones?

Doden: I think you have a point there. When presidents and prime ministers gather at the United Nations summit later this month again, they will have to face the fact that their lack of concerted efforts has meant mixed results. Governments promised aid, but they didn't all deliver, and in fact, what's now called phantom aid actually impeded efforts to hit the MDGs. So now, Professor Sachs is launching what he's calling the Social Development Solutions Network, bringing in the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and academia to help reach those goals.

Shibuya: But Aiko, for the private sector, the priority would be maximizing profits. So what kind of contributions are they able to make?

Doden: Yes, but the leading companies, it seems, now know that sustainable solutions means sustainable growth for them too, and many are already taking the initiative. For example, experts say climate change can cause typhoons and flooding, and that can make it difficult for car manufacturers to produce auto parts. It can also dent the purchasing power of their potential consumers. So Toyota is now making low carbon emissions a top priority to mitigate the impact of climate change. Their latest innovation is a hydrogen fuel-cell concept car. Japanese food company Ajinomoto is distributing nutritional powder for mothers in Africa to add to their babies' porridge. Africa is a continent of 1 billion people, where 40% of household income is spent on food, and they understand that fighting malnutrition can be a viable business model.

Beppu: World leaders will definitely have a big task when they gather at the UN headquarters at the end of this month, but how do you see the state of the world in terms of development? Do you think the world has become more precarious compared to the year 2000, or is the world advancing?

Doden: Well, it does seem we have a lot more problems compared to the year 2000. There's still a problem with income disparity, and growth has not been inclusive or equitable. On top of that, there's the challenge of climate change, as we saw. All of this could create a breeding ground for extremism and terrorism -- a recipe for instability. It is paramount that the UN, governments, the private sector and civil society remain committed and understand that it actually does make sense for everyone to achieve the goals.