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UN MDG Summit Opens with Many Promises Hanging in the Air

Yesterday, I attended the opening session of the MDG Review Summit, formally known as the High-level Plenary Meeting of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly.

While several heads of state and international dignitaries are in attendance, I am observing the spectacle from high up in the fourth floor balcony (the only area open to NGO and other observers). This feels very removed from activism. The restrictions on access have rendered the NGO/activist presence almost invisible.

NGOs were allowed to give their input on the MDGs during the informal interactive hearings of the General Assembly on June 14 and 15th in preparation for the September summit. However, what we felt the most at these hearings was the lack of attendance by heads of state. The world’s leaders just do not seem to be keen on engaging with civil society on the MDGs. This seems to substantiate criticism that they are technocratic and top-down.

Nonetheless, the curtain-raiser to the MDG Summit yesterday had some promising moments and firm promises.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged his commitment to a 20% increase in Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) to meet the MDGs and affirmed that the crisis should not be a pretext for shirking on commitments.

Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero affirmed that Spain would reach its 0.7% ODA target by 2015 despite the effects of the economic recession. He called for an international financial transactions tax and stated that since governments had bailed out banks, it seemed sensible, fair and logical that states would ask for at least a minimum effort from the financial sector to eliminate deprivation around the world.

The opening speeches of the heads of the World Bank, IMF and WTO also made grand appeals to the need to work for the “common welfare of humanity”. However, the pathways they proposed were less inspiring and more business as usual; the first priority, they said, was to promote economic growth and trade liberalization.

Powerful, rights-friendly interventions were also made. Bolivian President Evo Morales gave a speech that attributed the fundamental cause of poverty to unjust distributions of wealth. Switzerland proclaimed the importance of human rights principles of non-discrimination and participation in the implementation of the MDGs.

Of the UN speakers, UNDP’s Helen Clark stood out, saying there could be no meaningful progress unless the principles of equity, human rights and gender empowerment guided efforts over the next five years.

But as most individual countries took the floor, there was the usual lapse into more parochial concerns or endless speeches talking up their government’s progress. Whether heads of state will be able to look beyond lauding their best practices and success stories to address some of key MDG shortfalls will depend on how much they value their promise to attain the MDGs by 2015. 

Posted by Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director on September 21st, 2010
Posted in Blog