Editorial by Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD, on the occasion of the United Nations MDG summit in New York
As world leaders gather in New York to take stock of our collective commitment to the world’s poorest, are they able to congratulate themselves for a job well done?
In 2000, leaders of 189 countries made a historic commitment to end poverty by 2015. Since then, the gains have been uneven. Not surprisingly, war-torn and politically unstable countries are furthest away from reaching the MDGs: on average 40 – 60% behind. And the economic and food crises of the past few years, combined with the threat of climate change, bring further challenges that may set us back even further.
Although we have seen remarkable progress in some areas, women still have little say in many countries, with too many mothers and their children ill and dying. In sub-Saharan Africa people are poorer than ever.
We must build a future of expanded opportunity for all. It is morally unacceptable and economically irrational that in Sub-Saharan Africa 15 % of children die under the age of 5 or that only 1 out of every 3 children goes to secondary school. One solution - investment in women and girls’ education yields the highest returns of all development investments. It improves their economic, legal and political empowerment, reducing maternal mortality, and ensuring higher household incomes with better educated and healthier children.
Absent a major push in the next five years, we will fail to meet our commitment to the world’s poorest. We at the OECD feel a special responsibility towards the MDGs. Their genesis was our 1996 International Development Goals, which were meant to crystallize international aid commitments into a concrete set of development objectives that could be measured and monitored.
To accelerate progress and reach the goals, everyone must do their part – developing countries, their partners and the international community as a whole. Many developing countries are working to reform political and economic governance and make a collective commitment to greater peace and security. And more must make the effort. Given the particular challenges in fragile states, I am encouraged by the new g7+, a group of 13 countries in various stages of fragility who are sharing experience and good practices in resolving conflict.
Their leaders know they must increase domestic revenue – that tax receipts provide a predictable fiscal environment to promote growth and ward off aid dependence. In Malawi, tax compliant businesses are awarded with certificates which allow them access to assistance from revenue officers and are seen by banks as indicators of credit worthiness. The move has pushed tax revenues from 9% in 1998 to almost 15% in 2005. Effective tax systems also discourage the leakage of scarce domestic resources through corruption, illicit financial flows, and tax evasion. The agreement by 13 countries in 2009 to establish the African Tax Administration Forum is a particularly promising development.
Wealthy countries are trying to complement these efforts by taking stronger action in key areas such as tax and illicit capital flows, and resisting protectionism by moving forward on multilateral trade liberalisation.
While aid is not a panacea, it is an important catalyst for development. Since 2000, aid from OECD donors has risen by 55%. Though there has been some slippage of late. New players - emerging donors, philanthropic organisations, special purpose funding initiatives, innovative financing instruments and sovereign wealth funds, have created new sources of development finance. Nevertheless, OECD countries need to meet their aid targets if we are serious about reducing poverty. And we must ensure that aid improves the lives of those who need it most. That will be the focus of the Fourth OECD High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, to take place in Korea next year. The Forum is a key element in delivering on MDG-8 by building ‘a global partnership for development’.
Last but not least, one should also not forget climate change, with possible extreme weather which can ruin crops, damage infrastructure and degrade natural resources. The effects of climate change are felt the most by the poorest, which may see their livelihoods under threat. The entire international community – developed and developing countries - must agree to reduce carbon emissions. Wealthy countries, in particular, must allocate substantial and predictable funding to enable poor countries to cope with the impact of climate change. Developing International Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) is a solution for biodiversity and for the establishment of environmentally sound practices in developing countries.
The OECD is working with the full range of partners to catalyse political will and promote international best practice. Together we can meet our commitment to the world’s poorest, and achieve the MDGs by 2015.