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UN Secretary General Dr Ban Ki-moon today presented his synthesis report on the post-2015 Development Agenda. Entitled “The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet”, this is Ban Ki-moon’s updating of the Millennium Development report (which Kofi Annan rather more modestly called “We the Peoples – The Role of the United Nations in the 21st Century).

I note in passing that the former penchant for having development “Decades” covering distinct topics has now swollen into a 15-year catch-all cycle. WHO’s Health for All, which all of us were supposed to be enjoying by the year 2000, was taken over by the UN and prolonged into 2015 in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This is now being extended to 2030 in a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched by the Secretary General’s report.

Well, health was not achieved by all by the year 2000; nor will all the MDGs be achieved by most countries by next year. With the 17 SDGs more than doubling the eight MDGs, one might conclude that the opportunities for failure are that much greater. While this may be true, in a literal sense, we should recognize that the real value of these efforts lies in providing a coherent structure for development work, and a rational way to measure and assess the results.

“Data” is the big word in Ban Ki-moon’s report. He proposes nothing less than a “data revolution to make information and data more available, more accessible, and more broadly disaggregated, as well as for measurable goals and targets, and a participatory mechanism to review implementation at the national, regional, and global levels.” Whether we succeed or fail, thus, at least we will be able to measure it.

The report presents an obligatory mantra of “Six Essential Elements for delivering the SDGs”, with health categorized under “People: to ensure healthy lives, knowledge, and the inclusion of women and children”. Here is the totality of what Ban Ki-moon says about health:

The agenda must address universal health-care coverage, access and affordability; end preventable maternal, new-born and child deaths and malnutrition; ensure the availability of essential medicines; realize women’s reproductive health and rights; ensure immunization coverage; eradicate malaria and realize the vision of a future free of AIDS and tuberculosis; reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases, including mental illness, nervous system injuries and road accidents; and promote healthy behaviours, including those related to water, sanitation and hygiene.

No surprises there, then.

It is a little disappointing that the “knowledge” part of the Essential Element on People focuses only on asserting a right to education for children and adolescents. However, the implication that knowledge is essential for development appears under various guises throughout the report. For example, Ban Ki-moon calls upon Member States to scale up cooperation for the sharing of technologies, strengthening knowledge and capacity building, and to make the necessary policy adjustments to facilitate these actions. He stresses that such technologies and knowledge should be transferred to developing countries on favourable, concessional, and preferential terms. Moreover, he says, the global intellectual property regimes and the application of TRIPS flexibilities should support sustainable development.

Ban Ki-moon proposes to establish an online, global platform to map existing technology facilitation initiatives, needs and gaps (including in health), enhance international cooperation and coordination , and promote networking, information sharing, knowledge transfer, and technical assistance. Roll on the UN Observatory…

Clearly the report offers plenty of work, which will require a myriad of hands and a mountain of money. We know perfectly well that by 2030 we will not have achieved dignity for everyone, much less ended poverty, transformed all lives and protected the planet. Still, we will have made another start, and there will be plenty of data to scrutinize when the next report is launched in December 2029.

Looking ahead, since we need more superlatives and might as well follow the expansive trend by moving to a 20-year cycle, I propose that the next report be called something like “Universal Nirvana by 2050”, and that it should be positively stuffed with UN-DGs. We won’t reach those either, but we will certainly die trying.