MDG summit declaration exposes fissures within G77

Members of the G-77 convene for their 33rd annual ministerial meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York in September 2009. Disagreement among members on how the plight of low-income countries and regions should be addressed surfaced during this week's talks on the action agenda for attaining the Millennium Development Goals. Photo by: U.N. /Paulo Filgueiras

After tense negotiations, United Nations members are putting the final strokes on an action agenda for achieving the Millennium Development Goals that is expected to be signed by world leaders later this month in New York.

The declaration is meant to take stock of and add momentum to international poverty-reduction efforts, which have been accelerating as the 2015 deadline for achieving the MDGs nears. It is expected to be signed at the U.N. High-level Plenary Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals, to be held Sept. 20-22.

Over the past few days, negotiations between U.N. member states reached somewhat of a fever pitch as a handful of unresolved issues came to the fore, including the question of how much responsibility for economic growth should be ascribed to industrialized countries and members of the Group of 77 developing nations, according to U.N. sources.

The MDGs set ambitious targets – some of which appear hard to reach within five years – on issues such as poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, the eradication of extreme hunger, as well as access to primary education and various health services. Lately, donors have been honing in on MDGs 4 and 5 – maternal and child health – as the engine, or “multiplier,” of international development.

A 28-page “draft outcome” document dated Sept. 8, 1 p.m., obtained by Devex, contained “AGREED” labels on all but five of the 71 paragraphs. Previous drafts have been floated for months; the declaration was expected to be finalized as soon as Thursday, Sept. 9.

One final sticking point relates to foreign occupation: The U.S. and Europe sought to delete a paragraph noting the “resolve to take further effective measure to remove obstacles to the full realization of the rights of people living under colonial or foreign occupation,” while G-77 members sought to strengthen language on foreign occupation.

Another point of debate this week was the degree to which the plight of least-developed countries, landlocked countries, small island developing states and other regions should be addressed. The issue exposed fissures within the G-77, which includes China, Brazil, India and other emerging nations whose recent economic growth far exceeds that of other nations, particularly those in Africa.

A strong focus on a variety of disadvantaged regions is necessary “to build up our resilience,” said Dessima Williams, permanent representative of Grenada to the U.N. and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States.

“Threats have multiplied,” she told a group of reporters Sept. 9 in New York. “We wanted that understood.”

While industrialized nations appeared eager to focus the document on least-developed nations – with an eye on Africa – Williams stressed that development assistance, even in financially challenging times, should reach a broader crowd.

“I don’t think development has to be about triage,” she said, arguing that middle-income countries deserved international assistance as much as poorer countries did.

“Income isn’t the only way to judge [a country’s] development need,” she said.

More broadly, the debate over the declaration’s wording centered around a “philosophical tone difference” between G-77 members who believe that donor nations have not lived up to their funding pledges, and Western nations, which sought “a document that is more optimistic” and focuses on what has been achieved and what should be done next, said Sir Mark Lyall Grant, U.K. representative to the United Nations.

Civil society groups are still reviewing the draft, but insiders predicted there would be criticism about the declaration’s lack of detail or ambition, especially when it comes to addressing human rights of marginalized communities, an issue that is particularly tricky given the politically explosive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In an initial statement, Emma Seery, Oxfam’s spokeswoman, said: “This document lacks the adrenaline boost to accelerate the MDGs, and with only five years left, world leaders coming together in New York must commit to concrete actions that will ensure all people are lifted from poverty in our lifetime.”

A host of governments and civil society actors are set to pledge billions in development assistance as well as services, and several leaders from the developing world are expected to pledge policy reforms meant to accelerate economic growth. World leaders will set up an accountability framework meant to track pledges – the ONE campaign and World Health Organization, for instance, are said to be spearheading the monitoring of health-related pledges. Civil society groups are in the process of setting up parallel mechanisms to monitor on-the-ground implementation of development initiatives.

Devex News – live breaking news coverage of the Millennium Development Goals and the Sept. 20-22 U.N. MDG summit in New York.

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    Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.