On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This comprehensive set of goals aims to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all” as part of a new development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved by 2030, and by including education, health, poverty, climate change and the gender divide on the list of 17 goals, the SDGs place in stark light some of the seemingly intractable challenges facing the world.

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More than a billion people world-wide live in extreme poverty and preventable diseases are a major cause of mortality in developing countries, so why should we care about the environment? The answer becomes obvious once we recall that in developing countries activities based on natural resources, such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries, still contribute more to the economy than industry or services. And since many of the world’s poor depend directly on these activities for a living, environmental degradation hurts the poor disproportionately.

Charlotte Moreau/OECD Observer

“To eradicate poverty we need to direct more development assistance and concessional loans to the poorest nations and mobilise much more private finances for development.” Official development assistance (ODA) reached an all-time high of $135.2 billion in 2014. Even so, not all developing countries rely on ODA to the same extent, and to some of them it may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to other international financial flows. However, for the least developed countries, such assistance represents over 70% of available external finance and more than one-third of their total public revenue and expenditure. This highlights the importance of the target set by the United Nations in 1970: for donors to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income as ODA.

The vision of a world without extreme poverty is not a utopia, but a reachable goal. Yet realising the vision demands that we meet urgent challenges, and that includes overhauling our development goals.

Development aid fell by 4% in real terms in 2012, following a 2% fall in 2011. Though this decline must be reversed, it is not the only issue to address. Also being questioned is how that aid is measured in the first place. As Jon Lomoy explains, while it is high time to revisit the concept of official development assistance, the outcome of the discussion will influence the effectiveness of development policy over the next decade or more.

Could action on gender help jumpstart efforts to make the Millennium Development Goals deadline by 2015? The third goal already explicitly aims to “promote gender equality and empower women” (MDG3), but gender has a direct and profound impact on several other targets, too.

Over the past 50 years, the world has seen unprecedented welfare gains. But these gains have been uneven, and progress indicators may mask absolute numbers that have actually become worse.

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