What are the Millennium Development Goals?

In 2000, world leaders came together at the United Nations General Assembly to adopt the Millennium Declaration. Emerging from this document were the Millennium Development Goals (the MDGs), an ambitious set of targets under eight thematic heading intended to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. Each goal is divided into targets, with progress measured by indicators such as the prevalence of underweight children or the proportion of women in employment.

With the goals due to expire at the end of 2015, discussions are underway around the globe about what might replace them—the so-called “post-2015” development framework.

Why do the goals matter?

The Millennium Development Goals have shaped international development spending and domestic policies over the past decade. For example, funding of aid for healthcare and education—both of which were included in the MDGs—increased at a faster rate than aid focused on agriculture—which was left out. Putting justice in the MDGs now would ensure that international donors give it appropriate attention in funding, and national governments would be given a framework for assessing successful initiatives.

What is the process for determining the new goals?

The UN General Assembly will decide on the final post-2015 goals in September next year. To help inform the debate, a number of different processes have been taking place.

The High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons, appointed to advise the UN Secretary General on the post 2015 agenda, held a number of hearings and published its final report in May 2013. The High-Level Panel was co-chaired by David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Susilo Bambang Yudyohono of Indonesia, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, and comprised 24 additional experts from around the world who were appointed by the Secretary General in July 2013. The panel recommended 12 thematic goals as well as five “transformative shifts,” which would be required to ensure that progress towards each goal would be fair and effective.

The General Assembly has also convened an Open Working Group on Sustainable Development, comprising representatives from 70 countries tasked with making recommendations on the post-2015 agenda. The Open Working Group (OWG), which operates under a mandate from the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development, held eight evidence hearings and published an interim stocktaking report in February 2014, with a final report due by September 2014.

A wide range of consultations has also been undertaken by parts of the United Nations, as well as regional and national development agencies. Supporting all of these processes is the UN System Task Team, comprising experts from more than 50 UN entities and other international organizations.

Further special sessions, consultations, and high-level events will be scheduled over the next 18 months to support and further the intergovernmental discussions, before the General Assembly adopts the final post-2015 goals in September 2015.

Why was justice not already included in the original Millennium Development Goals?

The MDGs did not include objectives for justice or governance, because the political will was lacking, and because these were not considered to be easily measurable—a key element in the concept of the MDGs—despite their importance for effective and secure economic development.

Why should a justice goal be added now?

The Open Society Foundations believes that justice plays a fundamental role in eliminating poverty. Without access to justice, the barriers to tackling poverty become all the more difficult to overcome. There is also growing recognition across the governments, donors, and experts in the development community of the importance of access to justice in development, both as a means of ensuring equitable economic development, and as a way of avoiding violent conflict (a link highlighted in the 2011 Word Development Report). There is also now a greater consensus on metrics that could be used to assess ordinary people’s ability to access justice.