Education International
Education International

14-16 September at the UN: Will the MDGs fall by the wayside?

published 31 August 2005 updated 31 August 2005

Five years ago, one of the greatest summits in history brought together national leaders at the United Nations. They approved an agenda for building a better world – the Eight Millennium Development Goals – including Education for All – to be achieved in all nations by the year 2015. [see below – 8 MDGs].

The Goals 1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger 2. Achieve universal primary education 3. Promote gender equality and empower women 4. Reduce child mortality 5. Improve maternal health 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases 7. Ensure environmental sustainability 8. Develop a global partnership for development To show how serious they were about their commitments, the leaders agreed to meet again in New York five years later. They would check whether the international community was making real progress, where it was falling behind, where an extra boost would be needed to achieve the targets. The agenda set by the 8 MDGs came at the right time. Since that agenda was adopted in 2000, the major international agencies, notably the World Bank, the UN Development Program, UNICEF, FAO, WHO and others, have focused their efforts on achievements of these 8 goals. UNESCO already had the EFA campaign underway, together with some of these agencies, and with EI’s strong support. The ILO weighed in with its report: A Fair Globalisation; Making It Happen (2004) [1]. President Lula of Brazil took initiatives with the support of President Chirac of France and other leaders. Working groups were set up to figure out the economics and politics of raising the necessary resources. A massive report – technically competent and politically convincing – was prepared for the UN by a team led by Nobel Economist Jeffrey Sachs. With public pressure mounting, the G8 summits gave the MDGs attention, especially when President Chirac of France chaired the G8 in 2003 and Prime Minister Blair of Britain chaired the 2005 meeting. None of this happened by accident. The years from 2000 on have seen the greatest ever mobilization of citizens demanding action of their governments, determined to achieve an end to poverty. G-CAP, the White Band movement, strongly supported by the Trade Union Movement, emerged in 2005 to give this mobilization even more focus and strength. Great rock concerts in support of the campaign attracted media attention around the world. The corporate world joined in through the World Economic Forum, with figures like Bill Gates committing major foundation funds. Our own Global Campaign for Education has continued and stepped up its effort, as everyone – citizens and politicians alike – agreed that Education for All is a key to the achievement of the other seven MDGs. Education was given special attention in this year’s G8 communiqué from Gleneagles, Scotland. And now, and now … what happens next? The world’s leaders travel back to UN Headquarters in New York in just two weeks time. Their Ambassadors and Aides are already working on the Declaration they will approve. And guess what… INCREDIBLE BUT TRUE… the representatives of the United States of America want to delete all reference to the MDGs!!! So the world agrees to review progress – or lack of it – on achievement of 8 key goals, and the most powerful nation says: “well actually, we’re not here to talk about that”. Come on ... can these guys be serious? Unfortunately, they are. Is this why the neo-cons were so desperate to get John Bolton named as US Ambassador to the UN? Given free rein under two successive Bush Administrations, they pour scorn on programmes to tackle poverty. They simply don’t believe in cooperative efforts by nations to address the pressing problems of the world. They don’t even like the World Bank very much, unless it encourages privatization and infrastructure projects that serve their economic interests. Let’s not have any illusions. The neo-cons’ campaign to “reform” the UN, with John Bolton as the point-man, is not about improving management and efficiency. It is highly political. It is about bending the UN to serve the interests of these groups whose funding put the neo-cons in power nationally in the US. They are strong on rhetoric about ending poverty. But they don’t like actual plans with set targets to achieve education for all, or decent health, or clean water, or an end to child labour or prevent HIV/AIDS, or – heaven forbid – promote gender equity in the poor countries of the world. They don’t like debt relief for these countries, either, and are trying to undo the important agreements on debt achieved just a few months ago. This is a highly political and ideological battle. On one side, immense resources, expertise in wielding the levers of power, and intellectual support from a range of well-funded think-tanks. On the other side, a worldwide movement of citizens, with a vision of building a better world, who believe that ending poverty is do-able, and who sense that the messages they are receiving from political leaders don’t add up. Deletion of all reference to the MDGs would not only make nonsense of the MDG +5 review summit. It would be a sign that a particular type of politics is prevailing, despite all our mobilization. It would be a symbol for the politics of non-action on world poverty. Bob Harris EI Senior Consultant to the General Secretary Note: [1]: This was the "baby" of ILO Director General Juan Somavia, who when he presided the UN General Assembly had launched the Copenhagen Social Summit of 1995, which prepared the way for the MDGs adopted in 2000.