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One Thousand Days to Plan a Better World

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SUDAN CHRISTIANS
AP

Over the last six months, there's been something afoot that you probably will not have heard about -even though it could affect the lives of several billion people around the world.

A group of 'eminent persons' including UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been developing ideas for nothing less than a new global plan to tackle poverty and protect the planet. It has the potential to help many of the 1.4 billion people who survive on less than 66p ($1.25) a day, the 900 billion who go to bed hungry every night and the 1.3 billion who still have no electricity.

In short, the new plan could make a dramatic difference - especially if the politicians drafting it listen to what people in poverty are telling them.

It matters because the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have guided a huge amount of work to tackle global poverty, will expire in 2015. That is precisely 1,000 days from this Friday, 5th April 2013. And there is nothing to replace them.

That is a big deal. The MDGs - eight targets for progress on matters such as tackling HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases, as well as hunger, have been an important motivator for action against poverty.

Their very existence has sent a clear message, across the world, that dehumanising poverty is unacceptable. Without this reminder, and with all the other things to distract them, political leaders could relegate tackling poverty to a 'nice to have' rather than a 'must do'.

Hence the need for a new global plan, and one which is developed from the bottom-up, by leaders listening and then delivering.

On the listening front, they have made a reasonable start although the representation and inclusion of people in poverty could have been better. Members of the United Nations' 'High-Level Panel' which will produce initial ideas for the plan have met and talked with anti-poverty and environmental activists over the last six months.

One of the things they have heard repeatedly is that action to protect the environment, including the climate, must be written in to the plan, not treated as an optional extra. This means much better care of natural resources such as soil and water, more sustainable consumption by the world's wealthy and middle classes, more investment in clean energy and more help for communities at risk from disasters such as droughts and hurricanes. Ultimately, we all depend on the natural environment.

Members of the Panel will also have heard about the importance of reducing inequality, including income inequality, which is increasing the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Campaigners have also argued strongly for gender equality remaining a priority - and for action to stamp out discrimination and poverty among people with disabilities, older people and those from ethnic minorities.

Then there is the big question of who will pay - and how - for such goals. Christian Aid, my employer, is campaigning for tax to be a big part of the answer. We estimate that tax dodging by multinationals costs poor countries $160billion a year - money which could and should be spent on schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. We hope the UK will initiate new international action against tax evaders and avoiders at the G8 summit it is hosting this summer.

As for what replaces the MDGs, the next step is for the Panel to produce a report for the UN Secretary-General at the end of May. Quite rightly, the report won't be the last word on the matter but its recommendations will set the tone for debate, so civil society organisations, campaigning groups and activists will study it closely to see how far we have really been heard.

We were told that the new global plan would be produced in an open and consultative way - but has it been and will it have made a difference? The report in May will give us an initial answer.

We are hoping for a document which reflects the huge importance of sustainability and equality - and which does not shirk other difficult but necessary tasks, such as achieving corporate accountability and upholding human rights. With only 1,000 days until the start of the new plan, it is important that these most vital ingredients are recognised now and given priority in all the future debates.

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