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What will the UN General Assembly achieve?

20 September 2013 | Helen Dennis

With Syria weighing heavily on people's minds, it has been common-place to associate the United Nations with inertia, un-reconcilable politics and stalemate. What was established as a forum for the promotion of peace, dialogue and co-operation, has for many, been a disappointment.

And yet, in a globalised world, where issues such as tax justice and climate change connect us all, multilateralism is more needed than ever before.

A million views on poverty eradication

Away from the Security Council, there are perhaps some glimmers of hope. Over the last year, the United Nations has overseen one of the biggest global consultation exercises in history – engaging a million people from around the world in a discussion about poverty eradication.

While the consultation has not been perfect, the desire to do things differently, to innovate and to encourage participation has been very welcome.

Consultations on the future of development have now taken place in 88 countries and nearly a million have taken part in the MY World survey , articulating health, education, an ‘honest and responsive government’, and better job opportunities, as key priorities for the future.

UN General Assembly

On 25 September 2013, world leaders in New York will, at least for one day, turn their attention to questions of poverty eradication and sustainable development.

They will reflect on where we have come from – both the achievements such as the reduction in child mortality – and the challenges, which include growing income inequality, climate change and the need for continued action on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

Christian Aid will be at the 'special event' on the MDGs and Post-2015 agenda, to highlight key priorities raised by our partners in the recent report:

The world we want to see: perspectives on post-2015 (PDF, 1mb)

‘A platform for the voices that matter most.’

This report brings together 17 voices from the global south and gives an insight into our partners' hopes and priorities for the future. It is described by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his foreword, as ‘a platform for the voices that matter most’.

It looks at environmental resilience, tax justice, the inclusion of women and caste-based discrimination. The contributions are all rooted in national experience - whether that’s the impact of climate change in Bangladesh or economic inequality in Brazil.

It is voices like these which we hope will influence the next set of post-2015 development goals.

Our hopes and goals

We hope that the UN General Assembly will next week set out a clear process for defining these goals over the next two years, culminating in a summit to agree future priorities in 2015.

In doing so, member states should actively think about how they plan to engage civil society in their future thinking and negotiations, and how they plan to respond to some of the key issues that have been raised to date.

The risks

There is, after-all, a danger, that the thornier issues will be ignored and that instead of a new framework based on human rights, equality and sustainability, we end up with an ‘MDG 2.0’ set of goals, which fails to address the structural causes of poverty and inequality.

Another risk is the money, or lack of it, although as we point out in our report, we live in a world richer than ever before. It’s just that wealth is concentrated in a few hands and US$21 trillion is hidden in tax havens.

Finally, there are also risks around accountability – this is after-all a voluntary framework and so its power will depend on the extent to which governments are questioned and pushed on new goals by other governments and by civil society in every country.

The next two years will be full of debate and dialogue with the 'special event' an important milestone along the way.  

Our hope is that the eventual result will be one that does justice to the interest and enthusiasm of people around the world, and which drives genuine transformational change in the direction of greater equality and sustainability.



Find out more

Download: The world we want to see: perspectives on post-2015 (PDF, 1mb)

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 About the author

Helen Dennis, senior adviser, poverty and inequality

Helen Dennis is Christian Aid's senior adviser on poverty and inequality.

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