We're all developing countries now
As the European refugee crisis worsens, the UN summit in New York to agree on the new sustainable development goals (SDGs) couldn’t come at a more pressing time. Mass movement from the so-called developing world into the EU is a reminder of the stark global inequalities the 17 proposed goals and 169 targets are designed to address.
What’s different – and crucial – this time is that the raft of new targets are being applied universally. Unlike their predecessors, the millennium development goals (MDGs), which only applied to those countries deemed to be “developing”, the SDGs will require all nations to work towards them.
So, in a sense, we are all developing nations from now on. That’s a refreshing and positive message. It says to the global north: you may have much higher GDP per capita, but that doesn’t mean your societies are immune to problems that affect everyone in our interconnected globe. It’s a reminder that the pursuit of prosperity isn’t just something for people far away to worry about.
Consequently, we can hope to see an end to the so-called developed world lecturing the global south on how it should be aspiring to become just like us, with our outdated model of never-ending growth and unsustainable carbon footprints. Instead, there needs to be a universal strategy for change based around prosperity. This will mean different things in different contexts.
There is hope the SDGs will be a catalyst for wealthier countries to do some long overdue introspection of the state of their societies and their impact on the world around them. Goal 10 of the new set is to reduce inequality within and among countries, backed up by a surprisingly specific target to “progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40% of the population at a rate higher than the national average”.
On this score, the US and UK have performed abysmally in recent decades. According to the latest Luxembourg Income Study figures, they are the second and fourth most unequal OECD countries respectively on income distribution. Furthermore, the UK is the only G7 country to record rising inequality over the period 2000–14, the lifespan of the MDGs, according to a report by Credit Suisse.
On the ground, the signs of domestic inequality are there for all to see. UK foodbank use has risen to record levels, with the Trussell Trust reporting to have fed almost 1.1 million people over the past year, while a chronic housing shortageand affordability crisis – most acute in London – is making it harder and harder for people to keep a roof over their heads.
Save the Children’s State of the World’s Mothers report found that Washington DC had the highest infant mortality rate among the 25 OECD capitals it examined. Some other US cities came out even worse, with Cleveland reporting 14.1 deaths per 1,000 live births – a figure similar to that of Jamaica. In San Francisco, an African-American mother is six times as likely as a white mother to lose her baby before her child’s first birthday.
There’s no denying that the SDGs are ambitious and will be eye-wateringly expensive to achieve. One initial estimate has placed their cost at £11.5tn per year.
However, as many societies in the global north become increasingly polarised internally, the SDGs provide an opportunity for our current and future governments to address ever-widening gaps between rich and poor. They also acknowledge that the patronising geopolitical relationship between north and south needs to be consigned to history.
Where will solutions come from?
The global south is already pointing the way to solutions that could be applicable in other global contexts. Rwanda, for example, has managed to combine rapid economic growth with poverty reduction since the genocide of 1994, with over one million people taken out of extreme poverty and inequality falling.
Its approach has been guided by a strategy entitled Vision 2020, which seeks to transform Rwanda from a low-income agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based, service-oriented economy with middle-income country status by 2020. Crucially, it sees growth acceleration and poverty reduction going hand-in-hand, and has used a boom in foreign direct investment to improve services like education and healthcare that build a platform for sustainable growth.
The SDGs represent a huge opportunity to rethink our approach to achieving prosperity globally. To do this, we need to start looking beyond crude measurements like GDP per capita, which tell us little or nothing about people’s quality of life and their ability to flourish as individuals and communities. As all too many people in apparently wealthy nations know, merely being a citizen in the developed world is by no means a guarantee of prosperity.
If we are all developing countries now what lessons can we start to teach each other about inclusive and sustainable prosperity? Find an example of an project that could be a model for inclusive and sustainable prosperity from anywhere around the world and provide a link to it on the Padlet and make a comment about the lesson we could all learn from it.
© UCL Institute for Global Prosperity