The Declaration of the Millennium Development Goals

More than a decade after the establishment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), ample confusion persists regarding their genesis. In particular, many people misunderstand the relationship between the contents of the September 2000 UN Millennium Declaration and the original MDG Targets that were extracted from that Declaration. As recently as 2012, I have heard senior global policy figures state a belief that, “The Millennium Declaration did not establish any quantitative targets. Those were set afterwards.” This is not correct. All of the MDGs’ original formal Targets were established in the Millennium Declaration.

The roots of the misunderstanding probably lie in the U.S. government’s stance from mid-2001, when the MDGs were first used as a policy term, through September 2005, when President Bush first used the words “Millennium Development Goals” in public. During the interim period, U.S. officials would commonly state that, “The United States supports the goals of the Millennium Declaration but not the Millennium Development Goals,” or that “The United States supports Goals 1 through 7 but not Goal 8.” When looking at the actual contents of the Millennium Declaration and the original MDG Targets, neither statement is logical.

The following describes the issues through the form of an FAQ structure.

1. Which Targets were taken directly from the Millennium Declaration?
All of the original MDG Targets were taken directly from the Millennium Declaration. Following the September 2000 Millennium Summit, the UN General Assembly mandated Secretary-General Kofi Annan to prepare a long-term roadmap towards the implementation of the Millennium Declaration. Annan in turn commissioned Assistant Secretary-General Michael Doyle to coordinate a process to extract the development-related outcomes of the Millennium Declaration and thereby crystallize the priorities for follow-up.

In working through the prose of world leaders’ commitments embedded in the body of the Millennium Declaration, Doyle and his team (which included people like Jan Vandemoortele of UNDP and others from UNICEF, the OECD, World Bank, IMF, UNFPA and later WHO) identified a subset of 18 politically agreed commitments, which they categorized under eight overarching “Goals.” These 18 commitments were labeled as “Targets.” Ten out of the 18 Targets were quantitative in nature and nine out of ten set a deadline for 2015, the exception being the slum dweller Target for 2020. Table 1 lists the original 18 MDG Targets next to the relevant passage(s) from the Millennium Declaration. [The 18 Targets were later expanded to be 21, based on 2005 intergovernmental agreements, as described under point #6 below.] Appendix 1 includes the complete Development section of the Millennium Declaration.

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