Nov. 28, 2013 (CFAM) – The UN system is gearing up for the next big thing. The millennium development goals are on their way out and countries must decide on a new set of goals by 2015. The goals will determine how development aid is spent for years to come.

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University called the new goals the “last best hope for finding a way forward,” speaking to a working group of the General Assembly on Monday. The working group is taking a preliminary stab at the Sustainable Development Goals, as the new scheme is known. Negotiations will begin in earnest next September.


Sachs is credited with being an architect of the millennium development goals and is considered a global development guru of sorts. He is among those who want a comprehensive agenda that goes beyond fighting hunger, poverty and communicable diseases.

The new scheme promises to be altogether more ambitious, encompassing universally applicable standards on a broad range of social, economic and environmental issues. Some global health and development experts worry this approach is practically unattainable and politically divisive.

Countries and groups are competing for a piece of the pie. Development aid currently stands at roughly $130 billion annually. Because of the nature of UN negotiations, many competing interests will have to be accommodated in order to secure an agreement. This has the potential to scatter resources and lose focus.

Consultations so far have attracted an eclectic array of proposals that include everything from funding for population control, to making abortion legal, to special protections for individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

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On Monday Sachs, who directs the Earth Institute, signaled his own priorities when he spoke of “a world that has become very crowded” with people who are increasingly “trespassing on fundamental planetary boundaries.” He had a hand in a report proposal of the president of the 67th General Assembly recommending 10 broad goals that included “rapid voluntary reduction of fertility” in countries with total fertility rates above 3 children per woman (only Africa has fertility that high), and anywhere where fertility rates are above replacement level (very few countries outside Africa have above replacement level fertility).

Sachs ran a global campaign to have abortion language included in the Millennium Development Goals when they were first developed and again at their five-year review. His effort was rejected.

Sachs expressed the hope his new ten goals would be taught in schools around the globe. He repeatedly compared them to the Ten Commandments.

Population control groups, kept out of the millenium framework, are not the only faction vying for a position in the new scheme.

The UN agency for women is asking for both a standalone goal on gender, as well as gender targets in every one of the new goals. This has the potential of a multiplying effect on funding available to women’s groups, who would stand to receive money under each item of the new development agenda. Many groups that would benefit from such a proposal are abortion providers and abortion advocates.

The biggest challenge for the new agenda will be to maintain and build on the successes and momentum created by the millennium development goals to eradicate poverty and combat communicable diseases. Current plans for a more expansive agenda may not be able to channel the goodwill generated by the millennium scheme.

Reprinted with permission from C-Fam. Co-authored with Rebecca Oas, Ph.D.