Everything is connected. Rooted in my training as a physician, I have long believed that the greatest global challenges almost always require a holistic response.
I took this perspective with me to the United Nations in 1983, when I was asked by then Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar to establish and lead the World Commission on Environment and Development. Together, we considered the interwoven challenges of environmental degradation, poverty and population growth. Importantly – and for the first time – we had the responsibility of considering these pressing issues not in isolation, but holistically.
It was with these experiences in mind that I read the report of the High-Level Panel (HLP) of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. With the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring in just two years’ time, we now have a golden opportunity to create a new global development framework that both addresses our challenges and fulfils our aspirations. Published last month and submitted to the UN Secretary-General, the Panel’s report will form an important basis for discussions leading to the new framework.
Overall, we should all welcome the Panel’s comprehensive analysis and recommendations. The Panel’s 12 illustrative goals and associated targets, to be met by 2030, go well beyond the scope of the MDGs. They reflect the reality that a more equal, prosperous, peaceful and just world will require a sea change on a wide range of issues.
Gro Harlem Brundtland at an Elders' press conference during Rio+20, the UN summit on sustainable development, June 2012
Eradicating extreme poverty is a matter of political will
We have come a long way since the publication of the report of the World Commission some thirty years ago. Indeed, great strides have been made since the launch of the MDGs in 2000. We have dramatically reduced the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. More people have access to safe drinking water. Fewer children are dying in infancy.
But even a cursory glance will show that while some in the world are experiencing unprecedented levels of prosperity, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Environmental degradation continues, and the effects of climate change have begun to threaten the world’s most vulnerable populations and ecosystems.
It is shocking to me that in a time of such dazzling technological advances, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. We should all welcome the Panel’s reaffirmation that there is a moral imperative to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030. We have the resources and technology to achieve this; we must now summon up the political will to make it a priority.
Development must not cost the earth
Rightly so, the Panel has said that the current approach to development is unsustainable; the business-as-usual model is not an option. The report gives a central place to sustainable development that goes well beyond the goal on environmental sustainability in the MDGs. No less than three of the illustrative goals proposed by the Panel include the word ‘sustainable’ or ‘sustainably’. These goals cover a range of issues: energy, jobs, environmental accounting, biodiversity, soil and desertification. The Panel’s members have emphatically called for sustainable development to be at the core of the new development agenda, as it must be in any development effort in the 21st century.
I hope that the Panel’s call for equitable growth – not growth at any cost but sustainable, inclusive growth that provides equal opportunities for all and takes into account our limited natural resources – will be heeded. If this recommendation is acted upon, I do believe that we can realise a global vision of eradicating poverty, increasing prosperity and protecting the planet.
Girls and women will drive development
It’s absolutely fitting that the Panel has highlighted the importance of girls and women in development. For far too long, we have sat back and allowed our societies to waste half of humankind’s collective capacity and creativity.
The Panel’s report calls for universal sexual and reproductive health and rights, and for an end to violence against girls and women. My fellow Elders and I were especially glad to see that ending child marriage has been included as a target in the goal to empower women and achieve gender equality. As many will know, we have campaigned vigorously on the issue for several years, including founding Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage in 2011. An end to child marriage is certainly achievable by 2030!
The goal also makes it clear that we must end all discrimination against women in the legal and economic sphere, ensuring that they have the equal right to own and inherit property, sign a contract, register a business and open a bank account. All across the world, we’ve seen that when girls and women are given the opportunity to become equal and active members of their societies, countless new jobs are generated and whole families are lifted out of poverty. Empowering and investing in women is key to development.
The world we want
I have highlighted just several of the many positive inclusions in the Panel’s report. There are a great many more, from the identification of the link between development and good governance to the reform of the global financial system. As the process moves forward, we must not lose sight of the ambitions we have for the world we want. Indeed, growing inequality – a disturbing and destabilising trend over the past few years – deserves an even greater focus in the stages to come. The Panel has made an important contribution to the post-2015 process; let’s not lose the momentum now.