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How the new global development goals will apply to the US

Earth, eastern hemisphere --NASA

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) draw to an end in 2015. Eight targets, from halving extreme poverty to reducing biodiversity loss, set out the development agenda for the world’s low and middle income countries. Talks about what will come next are still underway.

What is known is that the set of global targets that will replace the MDGs will be truly global. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as they are being called for the moment, will set benchmarks for improvements for Bangladesh, China, Malawi and the United States.

“It is striking how beneficial it would be for the United States to achieve the majority of the goals and targets. And in fact, from trying to reduce infant mortality rates to increasing agricultural output, the United States is already engaged in trying to make gains on most of these fronts,” wrote John Norris, Molly Elgin-Cossart and Casey Dunning in a report for the Center for American Progress.

Like the MDGS, the SDGs will be non-binding goals. There are no penalties for missing targets or failing to comply. However, by setting up targets that all countries will agree on creates an environment of mutual accountability. By including Western nations like the United States in the targets, the flow of accountability is not longer directed only at the world’s poorest nations. Further, it signals the acceptance that progress is a global endeavor.

“Healthier, more prosperous, productive, and stable societies make for good trading partners and reliable allies,” say the authors.

The number of proposed SDGs was trimmed down to 16 goals last week. They are in part informed by a series of inputs and surveys from UN agencies, NGOs, global leaders and civil society. Discussions were kicked off in May 2013 when a U.N. High Level Panel formed to look at the post-2015 agenda delivered a recommendation of 12 goals and 54 targets to the UN Secretary General.

Critics of the MDGs have called the targets arbitrary and ineffective. Despite their shortcomings, the MDGs have set the standard for development over the past decade. This knowledge fuels the deliberate process of creating the SDGs.

working document from the Working Group tasked with discussing the SDGs shows the wide range of progress the 16 goals hope to encapsulate. The broad categories have applications to every countries. While the US will not have to worry about eradicating extreme poverty within its own borders, its investments and aid money will support the efforts in other parts of the world. Focus areas on sustainable agriculture, international trade and climate change are examples of goals that will have immediate effects on Americans.

For its part, the Center for American Progress report identifies the need for some flexibility in the SDGs. That does not mean that countries should solely set their own targets. There need to be broad and shared goals so that there are global benchmarks and an easy way to compare the progress of countries against each other. Doing so will require high-level coordination and better data and reporting to ensure that information is accurate.

“It is our hope that this report is the start of a more specific and focused conversation on implementation and the practical implications of universality in the post-2015 development agenda,” blogged Elgin-Cossart in Global Dashboard.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]