We know that summits don’t always deliver. Declarations are filled with vague promises and half-hearted ambitions, and it’s all too clear that world leaders are attempting to talk the talk but have no intention of walking the walk.
But some of them have been different. At the G8 meetings in Cologne and Gleneagles the leaders of the world’s richest countries agreed historic action to cancel debt and give $50 billion extra overseas development aid a year. And at the UN summit in 2000, world leaders agreed the eight concrete and tangible targets to tackle world poverty that we now know as the Millennium Development Goals.
While it’s clear that some of the promises have not been delivered and that progress has been far too slow, in the last decade millions more children have gone to school and lived to see their fifth birthday. More mothers now survive childbirth than ever. Africa has grown economically and corruption has been exposed.
So at this vitally important UN summit, 10 years on from the signing of the Millennium Declaration, we should recognize the progress that has been made; it shows what’s possible with strong political will and a common purpose. But the international community must build on this and accelerate its efforts. The danger is that just when the world is beginning to make some progress – albeit too slow and uneven – governments will pull the rug on everything that has been achieved as resources are cut and energy is diverted by other priorities.
Public pressure through Jubilee 2000 and Make Poverty History helped achieve these big breakthroughs. Millions of people were mobilized to speak out and the world’s leaders were forced to listen and act. It is unclear whether in these straightened times this will ever happen on quite the same scale again.
It will be interesting to see whether this proves to be another disappointing summit, or whether, despite all the challenges, it fulfils its potential and becomes another key moment in the fight against poverty.