The Problem of Priorities

This decade has witnessed remarkable progress in addressing humanity’s greatest challenges, from eradicating polio in India to cutting extreme poverty in half. But how should the world determine which big challenges to tackle next?

COPENHAGEN – This decade has seen remarkable progress against humanity’s greatest challenges. Consider the declaration of victory over polio in India, which seemed impossible ten years ago. January marked one year since the country’s last reported case. Or look at the strides made against malaria: over the past decade, the number of cases has been reduced by 17%, and the number of deaths has dropped by 26%.

Despite global population growth and economic crisis, absolute poverty – the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day – is falling in every region of the world. In fact, the United Nations Millennium Development Goal of cutting extreme poverty in half has been achieved five years ahead of time.

Just a few years ago, the use of male circumcision as a tool in the fight against HIV/AIDS was largely unknown. Today, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization recommend it as a means to combat HIV/AIDS, and more than ten African countries are implementing strategies to increase its availability. Similarly, the concept of using geo-engineering to respond to climate change has moved from science fiction to an area of serious research.