RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
This year, the U.N. is launching a new set of goals, ones that seem to resonate with Pope Francis's message of mercy. They include commitments to end poverty, hunger and AIDS around the world by the year 2030. Some people wonder if the goals are too ambitious. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.
JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Who says bureaucrats don't dream big anymore? The U.N. General Assembly is about to adopt a set of targets for the year 2030 that, if achieved, could transform life on earth. The so-called Sustainable Development Goals replace the Millennium Development Goals, which were adopted in the year 2000 and expire this year. The old goals were ambitious and the new ones even more so. There are 17 targets and 169 sub-goals including to end poverty in all its forms everywhere, combat climate change, cut marine pollution, slash maternal mortality rates by two thirds, provide free secondary school education to every child and expand the global middle class. Some critics say this plan is taking on too many things.
SCOTT WISOR: I think all we've gotten is a bloated list of goals that won't be reached and won't do much to guide development priorities in the coming years.
BEAUBIEN: Scott Wisor is with The Centre for the Study of Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham in England. He says that interest groups fought to shove every issue imaginable into these goals, and the end result fails to balance how some of the objectives are at odds with others. For instance, moving billions of people out of poverty is probably going to lead to a lot more pollution. And he says some of the targets are unachievable.
WISOR: Countries are supposed to grow at 7 percent per year, so this is historically extremely high growth.
BEAUBIEN: China, for instance, had growth of just over 7 percent for the last couple of years. Sustained economic growth of 7 percent is an economist's dream.
WISOR: And then it's supposed to occur across all developing countries. So Syria and South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma are all supposed to grow like this. And if they fail to, then they've failed to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. So it's hard for me to see how that's a useful exercise in guiding development priorities.
BEAUBIEN: But Homi Kharas at the Brookings Institution praises these new goals and says the targets are reasonable.
HOMI KHARAS: Of course we want to be ambitious.
BEAUBIEN: After all, the whole idea here is to say we can make the world better.
KHARAS: If we were prepared to just live in a world where things go along in the same way as they've been going, then we wouldn't need these goals.
BEAUBIEN: The expiring Millennium Development Goals dealt primarily with poverty, education and health in the poorest countries. The new Sustainable Development Goals hit all of those topics but also cover gender inequities, environmental issues, access to water, electricity and communications technology. Even as the world faces droughts, wars, boat-loads of migrants and other problems, Kharas says he's optimistic that these new targets are achievable over the next 15 years.
KHARAS: Of course this is going to be a difficult period; that's actually why we need to have goals and cooperative and collective action. If it was a really great period for development, then every country could just go off and do whatever it wants to do and achieve a certain degree of success.
BEAUBIEN: Whether these goals succeed or fail won't just rest on whether governments and agencies establish certain policies. The world is a messy place. Another earthquake like the one in Nepal or a civil war like the one in Syria could become a major stumbling block for the Sustainable Development Goals. Kharas says that's why it's important to be ambitious from the get-go. Jason Beaubien, NPR News.
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