We Need to Go to Zero!

Christian Friis Bach

A family living in an urban slum in Sonagachi, Kolkata, India. © UN Photo/Kibae Park
A family living in an urban slum in Sonagachi, Kolkata, India. © UN Photo/Kibae Park

We need to unite the world in a strong effort to eradicate extreme poverty, promote sustainable development and ensure the right to a better life for everyone. Drawing up a future development framework from 2015 onwards is a main priority in the international development dialogue and will demand bold vision, an inclusive process, and a good deal of realism.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have no doubt made a significant and impressive contribution to addressing a number of critical development challenges, not least providing social progress and lifting millions out of poverty. However, social exclusion and inequalities have not been sufficiently addressed. The consequence is clear—more than 1.3 billion people still live in extreme poverty. This situation must be addressed as part of the future development agenda.

Denmark recently hosted, together with our partners Ghana, UNICEF and UN Women, an international leadership meeting to address the challenge of growing inequalities. It brought together a large number of decision makers from all regions of the world. A strong message from this meeting was that we all have a collective responsibility to bridge the gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. I believe it is an ambition we can achieve. Increasing inequalities are not accidents of fate, rather they persist because of discrimination and as a result of particular policies. Inequalities can thus be addressed through transformative policies, including the promotion of human rights and inclusive green growth.

First we need to ‘go to zero’, in the sense that we need to eradicate extreme poverty and, by doing so, build on the fundamental human rights and the core principle of universality. I strongly believe that any future development agenda needs to integrate a stronger link to human rights as key values and enablers for sustainable development. To me there is no doubt that a human rights-based approach to development has to be part of the solution. Human rights serve as a powerful means of redistribution of economic, social and political influence and opportunities. They function as an equalizer by allowing the same equal rights to all people and I believe that a human rights-based approach will help us in getting to zero.

Some have argued that the current MDGs contradict the core human rights by only halving the share of people without access to food. That is simply not good enough. By going to zero we can create the necessary link to the core human rights. The right to food is being operationalized by universal access to food security. The right to education is turning into universal access to quality education. The right to water is turning into a goal for universal access to clean water. The right to basic health services is turning into a goal for universal access to health services, including sexual and reproductive health.

Similarly the human rights principles of anti-discrimination must be turned into a strong goal for equality—with a special emphasis on gender equality and sexual and reproductive rights. Gender equality must be there as a separate goal and a strong cross-cutting principle.

Life in Gaza © UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan
© UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

Secondly, a new development framework should address the situation of fragile states and recognize that peace, security, and development are interconnected. The complex situation in fragile states represents perhaps the greatest challenge in getting to zero. No low-income fragile state has reached a single MDG. There will be no development without peace, and no peace without development. Without doubt, a new development framework therefore has to take a comprehensive and integrated approach to fragile states. In practice, this could be done by building on the ‘New Deal’ for engagement in fragile states, including the peace-building and state-building goals with their comprehensive approach to security, justice, social improvements, legitimate politics, and economic progress.

And finally, a new development framework after 2015 should encompass inclusive green growth. In fact, there is a reciprocal positive relationship between equity and economic growth. Reducing inequality can serve as a growth engine in society by creating social capital, and inclusive growth can help lift people out of poverty. This growth has to have a green profile and be sustainable. There is no inherent contradiction between economic growth, poverty eradiation, and sustainability. On the contrary, it is important to emphasise the vast opportunities for synergy between these dimensions in a future framework. Green growth is not about obstacles, it is about opportunities.

In short, I believe a new set of global development goals must be based on a common vision to eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development. We need to unite the world in a strong effort to eradicate extreme poverty, promote sustainable development and ensure all people the right to a better life.

Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Co-operation, Denmark

Further information on the ‘Global Thematic Consultation on Addressing Inequalities’:

WIDERAngle newsletter
March 2013
ISSN 1238-9544