My mother never fails to give me good advice. She makes simple but pointed comments that set off a light bulb in my head and convinces me to always choose to do the right thing. Her words have the weight of someone with life experience. The power of hindsight always helps.
The United Nations and the international community could really use the power of hindsight at this moment. The 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is fast approaching, yet progress has been uneven. Economies grew, but the poor were left behind. Remedies from outsiders never worked. Ownership and empowerment drove change. Promises were made but broken. Looking back, we can draw many lessons to do things differently for the next 15 years.
In setting the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which will have a deadline of 2030 on many targets, we have to imagine what we wish to say to ourselves in hindsight in 2030. The UN Secretary -General, in his report “A Life of Dignity for All”, set out his vision for the post-2015 world. He called for a single ambitious and universal agenda—one applicable to all countries and that leaves no one behind—ensuring shared prosperity for all without harming the planet. The new agenda must ‘leave no one behind,’ and be grounded in human rights principles, including universality, non-discrimination, equality, participation, empowerment, and accountability.
The global landscape is changing. New challenges have emerged and old ones have intensified. We see rights abuse, public health emergencies, persisting inequality, unemployment, violence and fragility, growing knowledge gaps, alarming demographic dynamics, and environmental challenges. Excesses of present day overconsumption and production will have to be borne by future generations.
The Post-2015 Development Agenda will need to complete the unfinished MDGs and respond to new challenges, taking into account population dynamics. Countries with an aging population need policy responses to support older adults so as to remove barriers to their full participation in society while protecting their rights and dignity. However, this challenge is not only applicable to the rich countries. Although the older population is growing in all parts of the world, most of the increase is taking place in low- and middle-income countries.
Ending poverty within our generation will be at the core of the new agenda. Poverty rates among older persons tend to be higher than among the rest of the population. In 2012, four-fifths of older people did not have regular income. Many are denied the right to make decisions about their personal finances, property, and medical care. They often lack access to social security, health and productive resources, work, food, and housing. Millions are still unable to access basic services, including transport and health, due to high cost, inadequacy of service, indifference of officials, and age discrimination. A large and increasing number of older people are living with HIV, but rarely receive adequate prevention, treatment, care, and support. As populations age, non-communicable diseases and disabilities can cause dire problems. Therefore, the new sustainable development agenda will need to take a lifecourse approach.
Many older persons are making significant contributions to society, the community, and the family as role models, mentors, educators, and caregivers. Some are taking leadership roles, some continuing their careers for many years beyond the age of 60, and others starting new careers. There is also evidence that when older people’s right to social security is realized, there is a positive impact on reduction of poverty rates, restoration of older people’s dignity, reduction of child labor, and increased enrolment in schools.
To seize the benefits that can come with population aging, countries will need to promote the active and healthy aging of their older populations. This calls for investment in continuing education and lifelong learning; productive investment in the real economy and creation of decent work; urban planning and rural development, taking into account disaster risk reduction; policies to counter discrimination against older persons and strengthen their rights, protection, and integration in societies; and nationally defined health policy and social protection floors.
In the Outcome Document of the Open Working Group recently adopted by the General Assembly, 9 of the proposed 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets refer to older adults in relation to poverty eradication; malnutrition; universal health coverage; lifelong learning; women’s empowerment; social, economic, and political inclusion; and safe, inclusive, and accessible public spaces and transport. The sustainable development goals go well beyond the scope of the MDGs.
The coming year will represent several key milestones for humanity and our shared destiny. The United Nations will celebrate its 70th anniversary. States will seek a legally binding agreement on Climate Change in the COP 21. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development will be held in Addis Ababa.
The new agenda to be adopted in September 2015 will have to be embraced by all and call for a global transformation that eradicates poverty through sustainable development— an agenda that is peoplecentered and planet-sensitive. This is our chance to get it right; our chance to set the world on a path so that in 2030, in hindsight, we can say we chose to do the right thing.
1) United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21 will be held in Paris, France from 30 November to 11 December 2015
About the author
In July 2012, Amina Mohammed was appointed as the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning to coordinate the design of the next development agenda. With more than 30 years’ experience as a development practitioner, she managed more than $1 billion annually toward accelerating progress on Nigeria’s MDGs.