The World in 2030

The United Nations is vowing to end extreme poverty within our lifetimes. Here's why that might actually be realistic.

The U.N. high-level panel charged with coming up with what amounts to a first draft of the next Millennium Development Goals submitted its report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this week. So what's different than the original MDGs? A great deal, as it turns out.

As most will recall, the MDGs were created in 2000 as a set of global poverty targets to be achieved by 2015. The goals were remarkably clear, concise, and direct for a U.N. agreement, and included targets such as halving the global proportion of people living on less than $1 per day, ensuring that all children had access to primary school, reducing the rate of child mortality by two-thirds, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, and halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water and sanitation. Although progress was highly uneven, the MDGs were widely hailed as a success in mobilizing not only resources, but national and global policies, to address some of the most blatant manifestations of extreme poverty.

With the MDGs concluding in 2015, the international community has been trying to envision what a similar set of goals -- properly updated to reflect a dramatically different world -- should look like. That is where the new U.N. panel -- chaired by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, and comprised of 27 "eminent persons" with diverse backgrounds from around the globe -- came in. (Full disclosure: I served as the senior advisor to one of the panel members, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta.)

Several major forces shaped the panel's work and influenced the report it eventually produced. First and foremost, the panel wanted to embrace a far more universal approach than the original MDGs, one that could be applied to countries across the full development continuum. Equally important, members recognized that they needed to shape an agenda that addresses both extreme poverty and pressing environmental challenges, including climate change, simultaneously.

A significant part of the panel's approach was also driven by an understanding that the original MDGs were least effective in reaching populations that are traditionally excluded from economic life by dint of their ethnicity, caste, geographic location, gender, or other factors. New goals would have to go directly to populations that had always been left behind. Dealing with the issue of inclusion, not surprisingly, also led the panel to embrace an approach that not only addresses the symptoms of extreme poverty, but many of its root causes, and can help spark meaningful jobs growth, particularly for young people.

The report that emerged retains or expands key parts of the original MGDs -- including efforts to end preventable childhood mortality, curb maternal mortality, and end hunger -- but also commits to ending extreme poverty by 2030, with no one on the planet living on less than $1.25 per day. Although some panel members would have preferred a $2 target, the international community has its work cut out for it: Lifting the 1.2 billion people who live on less than $1.25 a day out of extreme poverty by 2030 will require momentous effort by local and national governments, multilateral institutions, philanthropy, bilateral donors, and the private sector working in partnership.

What is perhaps most revolutionary about the panel's report is it effort to foster a far more inclusive environment that connects all citizens to the economic and political lives of their countries. The report includes specific targets on things like increasing the security of land tenure, improving government budget transparency, and ensuring the right of every person on the planet to have a legal identity. As pedestrian as they sound, these are the sorts of obstacles that keep hundreds of millions of people from improving their lives.

The report is also unusually outspoken in making the case for peace and effective institutions as cornerstones of the post-2015 agenda. With more than 40 percent of the world's poorest people living in conflict-affected and fragile states, it is clear that none of the global anti-poverty targets will be met by 2030 if we don't do a better job helping states transition out of war. The report targets a drop in violent deaths by 2030, while calling for measurable progress in access to the kinds of effective judicial institutions that so often undergird peaceful societies.

The report also spells out specific targets for the public's right to information and efforts to tackle corruption. Many of these issues will be subject to fierce debate as U.N. member countries try to finalize an agreement on the post-2015 agenda.

There are clearly some countries that would prefer that governance and peace issues be omitted from the next set of global development goals. But desire to including these factors was not only strong among the panel's members. It reflected the passionate opinions expressed by representatives of global civil society in intensive consultations with the panel. The poorest of the poor know that sound, transparent institutions and freedom from conflict are absolutely central to their aspirations for healthier, better educated, and more prosperous futures. Member states that ignore that wisdom imperil the success of the overall agenda.

The last area of the report that deserves special mention concerns the issues of climate change and energy. The panel rightly recognized that a set of global development goals was no substitute for a negotiated global agreement on climate change -- something all parties hope will happen by 2015. Instead, the panel tried to craft goals that will generate momentum toward those inter-governmental negotiations, while setting clear and achievable environmental and energy targets that make sense for developed and developing countries alike. Such targets will both encourage job growth and push patterns of consumption and production in a far more sustainable direction. The report calls for an end to fossil-fuel subsidies (some $600 billion to $1 trillion per year worldwide, very little of which is actually targeted at the poor), doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix, and sharply reducing post-harvest food waste.

None of this is to say the panel's report is perfect. There are probably more goals (12) and targets (54) than there should be, and there will need to be refinement in some of the new areas added to the agenda to ensure that targets can clearly be measured and tracked at the global level. The report should be viewed as the first act of the play -- an initial step in the process of negotiating a deal on a final text of the next round of global development goals, to be approved by the General Assembly in 2015.

Nonetheless, the report reflects a renewed spirit of multilateral cooperation as well as a genuine appreciation that shared vision can produce historic change. Ending extreme poverty has long been popular rhetoric. Now it is a goal that is within our reach.



The Price of Peace

How much is a U.N. blue helmet actually worth?

In November of last year, Congolese rebels from the M23 movement advanced on Goma, eastern Congo's largest city. As the rebels took the city, the U.N. peacekeepers deployed there stood by, never firing a shot. That dismal performance revived a longstanding debate about the value of the U.N.'s signature activity. The spectacle of Syrian rebels capturing dozens of peacekeepers in the Golan Heights has reinforced the perception of impotence. But the United Nations -- and a number of outside observers -- contend that, even with their profound limitations, peacekeepers at least mitigate ongoing conflict and help prevent the recurrence of conflict once it has subsided.

The debate over the political and military value of peacekeepers won't be resolved anytime soon. Financially, however, the worth of a peacekeeper is clear: $1,028. That's the monthly sum the United Nations pays to states, per soldier, when they contribute peacekeepers to duly authorized missions. It's a dollar figure that hasn't changed much since the early 1990s, even as U.N. peacekeeping has closed some missions, opened others, and undergone significant reform. The static compensation rate has emerged as a significant point of tension in New York, primarily between the states that contribute most troops to missions and those states that foot the bill for peacekeeping.

While there are exceptions, U.N. peacekeeping is an activity mostly paid for by the rich world and carried out by troops from poorer states. The leading troop contributing states (TCCs) are Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Rwanda. The top funders are the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, and Italy. Combined, these countries cover well over 50 percent of the peacekeeping tab, while offering fewer troops than diminutive Jordan. The United States alone pays 27 percent but provides a grand total of 109 peacekeepers. "With a few exceptions," notes George Washington University scholar Paul Williams, "the West has basically left peacekeeping operations." Turtle Bay blogger Colum Lynch recently described the structure as "the U.N.'s own caste system."

Those states providing the manpower believe they are long overdue for a raise. "If your salary had only gone up a little bit since the mid 1990s would you be happy?" asks Williams. The TCCs point out that their soldiers operate in dangerous environments on behalf of the international community. The deaths of five Indian peacekeepers in south Sudan last month -- killed when the convoy they were escorting was ambushed by rebels -- was just the latest example of the costs. In the last decade, more than 800 peacekeepers have died while on mission.

Peacekeeping has always entailed risks, but the kind of missions the United Nations has launched since 1990 have often been especially risky. Cold War peacekeeping missions were usually interposed between organized national armies, with the consent of all parties. Most post-1990 missions have been sent into complex internal conflicts in which the consent of the parties is less certain. "Increasingly, U.N. peacekeepers operate in high-risk environments, where the quest for peace and stability is elusive," U.N. Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Herve Ladsous wrote recently.   

For several years, TCCs have insisted during meetings of the U.N.'s budget committee that the organization increase the base compensation rate. Each time, however, the TCCs faced skepticism from the large funding states. The overall cost of U.N. peacekeeping has climbed to more than $7 billion a year, amid a climate of austerity. The European Union has called for "strict budgetary discipline" in peacekeeping. But there's also an element of mistrust.

The United States and other large funding states have insisted that TCCs provide information on the actual costs that they incur when they deploy peacekeepers. In 2009, all contributing states agreed in principle to provide cost metrics, but very few have actually done so. "The actual cost structure for most TCCs in providing their troops is a big, black box," said one diplomat from a leading funder. "With a few exceptions, TCCs have not been responsive to their agreement to provide data."

The usually unspoken concern among leading funders is that U.N. peacekeeping is actually a money-maker for a number of poorer states, even at current compensation levels. Some TCCs pass on to their troops the full U.N. reimbursement amounts. Uruguay, for example, pays its soldiers their normal salary plus the U.N. reimbursement. But other TCCs pay their soldiers only their normal salaries, pocketing the remainder. These states may be able to supplement their defense spending with U.N. funds. Two scholars who examined Bangladesh's role in peacekeeping identified the financial motive as important:

The financial benefits accrued by Bangladeshi peacekeepers thus play an important role in supporting the economy. Official sources indicate that during 2001-10, the government received $1.28 billion from the UN as compensation for troop contributions, contingent-owned equipment, and other forms of compensation. UN peacekeeping helps the Bangladesh Army to purchase and maintain military equipment that it would not be able to obtain under normal circumstances and to reward its personnel.

Even when TCCs pass on U.N. compensation directly to their soldiers, the sums can create a strong incentive from within the ranks to participate. A Pakistani police official wrote that the U.N. postings "represent a once-in-a-career opportunity to generate savings and gain some financial security." Still, most TCCs strongly resist the notion that they or their soldiers participate for financial reasons. Fearful of offending the countries that provide forces. funding states are cautious about making their concern explicit.

Funding states have other concerns that make them wary of an across-the-board increase in compensation. They note that troops from some TCCs often show up with inadequate or inoperative equipment, but still receive reimbursements for the equipment. An expert panel appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the problem:

There are examples from the field of contingents arriving in theatre without proper training and without the promised equipment and support. There have also been instances where troops have been unable to perform competently the tasks assigned to them. Some troop-contributing countries place restrictions on the use of their troops. These restrictions keep them out of action when their contribution is often most needed, putting at risk other contingents and the mission itself.

TCCs have their own complaints, which go well beyond the rate of compensation. They note that the U.N. often pays them late, in large part because funding states are behind on their peacekeeping dues. They complain that leading troop contributors are not well represented in the senior ranks of the U.N. bureaucracy. They argue that the Security Council -- which authorizes and provides overall guidance to peacekeeping forces -- does not consult adequately with the states that are actually putting boots on the ground. (Even more broadly, many TCCs chafe at the continuing failure of Security Council reform, which might give some of the top contributors greater voice in the U.N.'s premier decision-making body.) 

For the moment, at least, the large funders and the large contributors have papered over their differences. Earlier this month, the U.N.'s budget committee approved key elements of the expert panel report. The package reform deal includes a 6.75 percent increase in the compensation rate across the board, longer deployments for peacekeepers (which should reduce transport and training costs), and bonuses for contingents willing to take on especially risky duties. The agreement provides that the U.N. can dock payments to countries whose troops don't have functioning equipment. And the budget committee also endorsed a new method for surveying certain TCCs about their actual costs.

There's still potential for the agreement to slowly come unstuck. States have to actually implement the reforms, which is never a given. Whether the largest contributing states will participate in the new cost survey -- a key demand of funding states -- remains uncertain. "The root problems may not have disappeared," said one TCC diplomat. Meanwhile, the demand for blue helmets shows no signs of abating. A new operation is gearing up in Mali, and a Syria mission remains possible. The organization will only be able to keep up if the truce holds between those who supply the manpower and those who pay for it.