PRINCETON – In 2000, the world’s leaders met in New York and issued a ringing Millennium Declaration, promising to halve the proportion of people suffering from extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. They also pledged to halve the proportion of people without safe drinking water and sanitation; move toward universal and full primary schooling for children everywhere – girls as well as boys; reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters; and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other major diseases. These pledges, reformulated as specific, measurable targets, became the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Last month, ten years on from that meeting, world leaders returned to New York for a United Nations summit that adopted a document called Keeping the Promise, which reaffirmed the commitment to meeting the goals by 2015. The UN press release called the document a “global action plan” to achieve the MDGs, but it is more an expression of aspirations than a plan. What chance do we really have of keeping the promises made in 2000?
As the Yale philosopher Thomas Pogge has pointed out, the task has been made easier by moving the goal posts. Even before 2000, the World Food Summit, held in Rome in 1996, pledged to halve the numberof undernourished people by 2015. By contrast, the corresponding MDG was to halve the proportion of the world’s people who are suffering from hunger (as well as of those living in extreme poverty). Because the world’s population is rising, halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger (and extreme poverty) means that the number will not be halved.