Imagine an international gathering at the United Nations reporting after 15 years of meetings that it had achieved none of its goals — especially its number one goal of ending extreme poverty and hunger by this year. This happened at the Sept. 25-27 U.N. Sustainable Development Summit, which followed up on the U.N. Millennium Summit held in 2000.
Fifteen years ago, the assembly of 149 heads of state, U.N. agencies and international financial institutions set a series of objectives — the Millennium Development Goals. The eight goals sought to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, combat life-threatening diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and build a “global partnership for development.”
This year’s summit did not even acknowledge the failure to reach the goals projected in 2000. The U.N. instead set yet another 15-year target to end extreme poverty and hunger, as well as 16 other goals, by 2030 in a project called Sustainable Development Goals.
It is important to evaluate this new project’s chances of success. The fate of millions of desperate people worldwide hangs in the balance. The gap between the richest 1% and the very poor is greater than ever. Poverty and hunger have vastly increased. Climate and environmental destruction have worsened. Imperialist-led wars have forced an enormous migration crisis.
The goals of reducing poverty, hunger, increasing literacy and solving the climate crisis have inspired individuals and organizations worldwide. Who could argue with such laudable aims?
However, the truth about these U.N. summits is that while promising global transformation, they are part of the capitalists’ war on the world’s people. The accumulation of wealth and power has accelerated through these global initiatives because the largest corporations dominate the plans. The biggest banks, transnational companies and financial institutions, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, structure these projects. Their objectives are to expand capitalist markets, maximize profits and restructure the developing countries more tightly into their economic web — not to redistribute the world’s wealth.
International convocations and U.N.-sponsored gatherings, such as the 2005 Millennium +5 Summit, the 2008 Doha Conference for Development, the Millennium Development Review Summit and the 2012 Rio +20 Sustainable Development Conference, have reinforced and legitimized capitalist growth policies as the only way forward.
Changing the hunger count
The Millennium Development Goals were declared an overwhelming success in solving the problem of world hunger by statistically changing how underfed people were counted. The U.N. and nongovernmental organizations declared it “the most successful anti-poverty movement in history,” which cut global poverty in half. (Guardian, July 17) But was it really reduced?
Studies have exposed how this alleged feat was accomplished by moving the goalposts back to 1990 and changing the methodology for estimating the number of hungry people. They included China’s and Vietnam’s progress — which accounted for 91 percent of the reduction of underfed people since 1990 — even though these countries had nothing to do with the Millennium campaign.
Canadian and U.S. scholars and leaders of organizations focusing on sustainable agriculture reported that, by looking at the actual data on global hunger, the real numbers of the underfed had risen from 868 million to 1.33 billion people. (Tufts University, “Framing Hunger: A Response to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2012,” June 2013)
Several questions arise: Why did this Millennium effort fail to meet its goals of ending world poverty and hunger or ensuring environmental sustainability at a time of the unprecedented growth of global productive capacity? Who is making the decisions? What policies are being implemented and in whose interests? Will another 15 years of using the same capitalist market approach yield better results?
There is clearly a political agenda behind the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. These goals rely on projections of neoliberal economic planners who espouse a so-called “trickle-down” economic approach. This capitalist view contends that economic growth in production and profits for capitalist investors will “trickle down” to improve the lives of millions. Their measurements are contrived to prove that capitalist policies are successful.
Schemes to privatize human needs
The 2000 and 2015 summits’ goals focus on outsourcing development to private sector financing — to corporations and banks. Their projects in developing countries are described as “public-private partnerships.” They impose privatization plans in education, health care, water, sanitation, mass transit, ports, infrastructure and other areas. Each privatized service or industry must function first as a source of corporate profit and capital extraction. Maximum deregulation is also a goal. These measures in fact rob countries of their resources and destroy their ability to resist the domination of transnational capital.
Each privatized service is also a source of increased indebtedness. These debts can only be paid later with austerity programs. Harsh structural adjustment plans result in public school and hospital closings.
Peasants and subsistence farmers are driven off the land because agribusiness is given the major role in food development. Tens of millions of the landless pour into urban centers; many are forced to migrate.
The reality is the global food surplus can meet all human needs. But food is still unaffordable to millions of people because corporate agribusinesses are not interested in developing locally grown and sustainable crops. Their only goal in processing, storing and shipping food is to get it to locations where it can be sold at a profit.
Hand in hand with the 2015 summit’s goals go the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the TransPacific Partnership; they create an international legal framework of corporate power that preempts all environmental and labor laws. The capitalists’ “rights” to reap profits supersede human rights and countries’ sovereignty.
Sustainable development should mean planning for current human needs without compromising future generations. This is at odds with capitalism’s relentless drive to maximize profits everywhere.
People before profits
Missing from the goals of the past and present U.N. summits is the concept that food, clean water, education and health care are basic rights of every person. The U.N.’s plans omit any mention of more equitable distribution. Past international conferences on reparations and debt cancellation have been pushed off U.N. agendas.
Since the Millennium Goals were announced in 2000, there has been no mention, other than vague calls to end war, of U.S. wars that have been the greatest source of infrastructure demolition, massive homelessness, destruction of schools and medical services — and the cause of massive migration from the Middle East and North Africa.
It is essential to challenge the corporate culture and decision-making process of U.N. summits on “development,” as well as U.N.-sponsored climate summits. These include the Oct. 19-23 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 21st session of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC (COP21) set for Paris in December.
The Campaign for People’s Goals for Sustainable Development is building one such effort. Its statement, “Reclaim Our Future — Oppose the Corporate Development Agenda,” has more than 155 signers from civil society and people’s organizations in more than 45 countries. It warns that the U.N.’s policy agenda will further concentrate power and wealth in the hands of the 1% and deepen dispossession and environmental plunder. The campaign calls for developmental goals that put people before profits.
Ultimately, sustainable development and human rights for all can only be achieved by a socialist revolution and the building of socialism, a system that puts the needs of the world’s people and the planet before the profits of the rich. Such a revolution in the United States, the citadel of imperialism and finance capital, will hasten the liberation of peoples around the globe.