Ending poverty through sustainable development and leaving no one behind

A child plays with a bicycle tire in Korogocho, a slum that is home to some 200,000 people in Nairobi, Kenya. What do we need to keep the momentum of achieving the Millennium Development Goals? Photo by: Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

As two African women and development leaders deeply involved in efforts to irreversibly end poverty and set the world on a more inclusive and sustainable path, we have reason to celebrate the great strides made in the 14 years since world leaders signed up to the Millennium Development Goals.

With less than 500 days to go for the 2015 deadline, the international community has the opportunity to accelerate actions and enhance momentum toward realizing the unfinished business of the MDGs.

MDG 1 — to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty — was met in 2010, five years ahead of schedule. There have been other significant developments — as many girls as boys now in primary school, child deaths dropping dramatically, access to clean water expanding and significant progress in the fight against deadly diseases.

Yet we know there is much more to be done. More than a billion people still live in extreme poverty — a billion people barely surviving each day, and women continuing to die in childbirth, while our youth, especially our girls, are excluded from the benefits of growth. Societies and economies will need to be universally transformed to address the great challenges of our time, among which are ending poverty, ensuring rights, tackling climate change and addressing inequality. These persisting and new challenges are threatening to undo the advances we have made.

Climate change especially is threatening to reverse development gains as it destroys livelihoods and infrastructure, devastates crops and undoes people's efforts to climb out of poverty. At the same time, rising and extreme inequality is undermining growth, corroding social stability and robbing the poorest people — especially women — of the support they need to improve their lives and survive shocks. The challenges are daunting, but solutions are within our reach.

Crucial to success in keeping up momentum on the MDGs, and for achieving sustainable development well beyond 2015, are political and financial investments. These will need to be treated with equal ambition and courageous leadership.

A first order priority requiring serious political engagement is the question of how to integrate economic growth, human development and environmental sustainability in a single agenda. Significant progress toward an ambitious post-2015 development agenda is being made as consensus-based proposals have emerged from intergovernmental deliberations on goals and targets as well as financing options and technology cooperation. These interim outcomes are an impressive achievement, mindful of the scope of the proposed goals and means of implementation options. Moving forward, these key proposals will be further debated and shaped by civil society organizations, think tanks, researchers, development practitioners, legislators, private sector and ordinary citizens from all over the world.

The work we are all doing to inform the intergovernmental deliberations leading to the agreement of a new global framework for development will shape the ambition of our common future.

Financially, the best use of all available resources must be made for ending poverty. Measures to promote economic growth are very important, but they are not enough. Social development and environmental protection are key to reducing poverty — and requires concrete means of implementation.

Finance for development has the potential to reduce inequality when it is well-targeted and complements spending on public services, especially health, education, jobs and social protection. The role of the data revolution will be key to ensure that we leave no one behind.

Over the past decade, foreign direct investment and remittances have come to make up the largest aggregate share of resources flowing to developing countries. In many countries, official development assistance remains an important but insufficient source of financing for development. It’s important that the international community continues to support developing countries to mobilize domestic revenues, stem illicit financial flows and invest in public services as a means to reduce poverty and inequality.

Unlocking resources for sustainable development will also require cooperation and collaboration on reform of global tax rules. Financial secrecy, and tax evasion and avoidance drain revenues that could be invested by governments in social spending and poverty reduction. Fair and well-functioning tax systems will be vital to mobilize resources for development going forward. Strong institutional system for skill sets will be critical for success.

The need for financing to deal with the causes and effects of climate change — the costs of both mitigation and adaptation — are also essential. World leaders have promised $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries adapt to a changing climate and reduce their emissions. While private finance has an important role to play in mobilizing these funds, action is also needed by developed nations’ governments to pursue this commitment.

A global effort to set the world on course for a better future is going to take rising to these challenges. A world of dignity, equity and prosperity for all is within our grasp if we move forward decisively and together over the next year.

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About the authors

  • Amina J Mohammed

    Amina Mohammed is United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on post-2015 development planning. Mohammed was previously senior special assistant to the Nigerian president on the Millennium Development Goals, coordinating $1 billion in debt relief funds to meet the MDGs in the country. From 2002-2005, she served as coordinator of the Task Force on Gender and Education for the U.N. Millennium Project.
  • Winnie Byanyima

    Winnie Byanyima is the executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. A grass-roots activist, human rights advocate, and world-recognized expert on women’s rights, she began her career as an engineer in her native Uganda. Appointed to the diplomatic service in 1989, she represented Uganda in France and at UNESCO. She was a member of parliament for 10 years in Uganda, and thereafter served at the African Union Commission. She was UNDP’s director of gender and development between 2006 and 2013.