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The United Nations Wants to Crush Extreme Poverty

Critics say its draft Sustainable Development Goals fail to deal with the world's richest 1 percent, who are poised to accumulate half of the world's wealth in 2016, according to Oxfam America.
Negotiators at the United Nations agreed Monday to a set of development goals that aim to end extreme poverty and hunger around the world in the next 15 years.
Imagen por Antonio Dasiparu/EPA

Negotiators at the United Nations agreed Monday to a set of development goals that aim to end extreme poverty and hunger around the world in the next 15 years, while fighting climate change and improving management of the world's oceans.

"We can be the first generation that ends global poverty, and the last generation to prevent the worst impacts of global warming before it is too late," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Monday. "The international community took a major step towards achieving this shared goal with this weekend's agreement. Now we must sustain that momentum."


The agreement outlines 17 goals and 169 development targets to be met by 2030. The targets include cutting the number of the world's poor in half while entirely eliminating extreme poverty, defined as living on less than $1.25 a day, doubling the agricultural incomes of small-scale food producers, and reducing newborn deaths to 1 percent of births.

It also sets goals for curbing waste and reducing consumption by cutting food waste in half and phasing out subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, which will top $5 trillion this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. And it calls for countries to commit $100 billion annually by 2020 to aid developing countries in their efforts to address climate change.

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The UN General Assembly will meet in September to formally adopt the goals, which leaders have been negotiating since 2012. The first targets, known as the Millennium Development Goals, were created in 2000 to be met by 2015.

That agreement aimed to eliminate extreme poverty by this year, a target that's yet to be met. More than 830 million people still live in extreme poverty, according to a UN report, a 56 percent decline since 1990. About 14 percent of people in the developing world live on less than $1.25 a day.

"What these goals really do is give us something to aspire to, they give us markers to point to and ambitions to try to fulfill," Ian Koski, a spokesperson for the ONE Campaign, told VICE News. "[Some] folks are saying the Millennium Development Goals were not successful because there are still poor people. There are a billion fewer poor people in the world, and that's a really good thing."


The new goals have a broader scope than the previous set, including an increased focus on gender equality and providing opportunities to women and girls, Koski said. That means more issues are likely to be addressed, but it also may make it more difficult to procure resources for any one issue and to hold leaders accountable for making progress.

"In an ideal world, we would have fewer goals that did more to focus attention and resources more narrowly and acutely on problems," Koski told VICE News. "But what you believe depends on where you sit."

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The agreement also fails to fully account for the effects of income disparities that are vast and growing, despite a target to grow the incomes of the bottom 40 percent of earners, said Takumo Yamada, a policy adviser with Oxfam International. According to a January Oxfam report, the richest 1 percent is likely to amass more than 50 percent of the world's wealth in 2016, an inequality that could mar the UN's efforts to do away with poverty.

"The biggest omission from the all these years of negotiations on the sustainable development goals is 'the 1 percent,'" Yamada told VICE News. "We would have liked to see a recognition that the problem of extreme inequality is a root cause of the many problems captured in the sustainable development goals, with an equal focus on extreme wealth and extreme poverty as two concurrent symptoms of one dysfunctional society."

After the goals are adopted, the UN still faces the challenge of funding programs to meet them. They're also not legally binding in any way, meaning pressure from citizens will play a big role in whether they're actually met, Koski said.

"For as much promise as these goals hold, if leaders are not held accountable for delivering on them, then they'll just be goals," Koski told VICE News. "If world leaders don't think the world is paying attention to this, then it won't get the attention it deserves."

Follow Laura Dattaro on Twitter: @ldattaro