Just coming out of the Assembly Hall at the UN headquarters in New York, and the excitement about the Pope’s address is palpable. He talked to leaders from around the world who are here to sign off on the new development goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals. It was great and appropriate that the Pope spent much of his time talking about the biggest issues facing the poor.
He rightly pointed out that we need to enable the world’s neediest to escape from extreme poverty and “allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny”. Central to this is the right to education, which the Pontiff referred to as the “basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.”
Apart from writing from New York, I’m also president of the Copenhagen Consensus, a think-tank that has spent the past few years analysing the new development targets, and advocating for the United Nations to make these targets more effective.
While it’s great that the Pope focused attention on how to help the poor, it is unfortunate that he did not take the opportunity to call on leaders to revisit their plans for the so-called ‘Global Goals’. While formed with the greatest of intentions, these are deeply flawed.
Copenhagen Consensus had teams of economists review the United Nations’ 169 development targets, now known as the ‘Global Goals’. These are going to direct an estimated $2.5 trillion in development spending until 2030, as well as countless trillions in national budgets, so it’s important we get them right.
One big problem, which I’ll write more about in the coming days, is that 169 targets is just too many.
When Copenhagen Consensus researchers looked at the targets in their fields (such as water and sanitation, malnutrition, or air pollution), they found wildly varying results: when put into economic terms, some would achieve very little social good and others would achieve a phenomenal amount of good.
Analysis of this research by a panel including several Nobel laureate economists established that reducing the list of development targets to just nineteen of the most important investments would generate four-times more good than trying to do all 169.
The smart policies that would really make the real biggest difference for the world’s poorest include things like boosting international trade, achieving universal access to contraception and family planning, and focusing on eradicating malnutrition.
Over the next days, world leaders are going to speak about the Global Goals and then vote them into force. There are very few days left for them to sharpen the 169 targets into something that would truly help the world’s poor the most. Over the next two days, I’ll write here from the UN General Assembly, discuss the progress that the world leaders are making, and explore in more depth which development targets would make the biggest difference to the planet.
Dr. Bjorn Lomborg directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which ranks the smartest solutions to the world’s biggest problems by cost-benefit. His new book is “The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World”.