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Opinion: An opportunity to rid the world of poverty is on the horizon

A concerted push for global development, the Millennium Development Goals, will wrap up next year. The UN is meeting today to discuss what comes next – inequality and climate change must be on the agenda this time.

Jim Clarken

FIFTEEN YEARS AGO the world promised to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty, send every child to primary school, and reduce the number of children dying before their fifth birthday and the number of women dying while giving birth. The goals, known as the Millennium Development Goals, should be achieved this year.

Now the UN is discussing what comes next – what new global goals should be set to help millions of people to escape poverty and hunger.

An agreement to include two new goals – on inequality and climate change – could transform lives, save our planet and leave our children a world that’s capable of sustaining them into the future. An historic opportunity is on the horizon. If countries agree on a common framework so much more can be achieved.

Described as unrealistic and unattainable, the original MDGs were first dismissed as requiring too much progress too fast. Yet, since their adoption, the goal of cutting in half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been met.

A major omission in the original targets

The MDGs were effective; both in their simplicity and their focus. Yet the twin challenges of inequality and climate change can derail years of progress if we don’t act now to deal with them.

By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of a few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives. And as climate change devastates crops and livelihoods, it undoes poor people’s efforts to feed their families.

A plan for addressing inequality was a major omission in the original MDGs. We know that global poverty is declining, but income inequality is soaring and billions of people are being left behind by economic growth.

In proposing a standalone goal to reduce income inequality, we back the proposal by former Chief Economist to the World Bank and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz that the income of the top 10 per cent should be no more than that of the bottom 40 per cent.

Recently, Oxfam revealed that the world’s 85 richest people have as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion. That figure was recently revised. Now the richest 66 have the same as the bottom half of humanity.

Ignoring inequality again will undermine the struggle to eliminate poverty and injustice both at home and in developing countries. We can only lift up those at the bottom if we aim to dilute the extreme wealth at the top.

Climate change is devastating crops

At the same time, climate change is threatening to undo progress made in confronting poverty over the last decade. More than 800 million people face hunger because of changing weather patterns. Through its devastating impact on crops and livelihoods, climate change is predicted to increase that number by as much as 20 percent by 2050.

We propose dedicated goals on climate change and energy, food and hunger, water, and risk, as well as integrating targets to reduce global warming throughout the framework. Action on climate change in the framework for development after 2015 could create significant political momentum and increase ambition for a strong global climate deal.

We cannot hope to end extreme poverty if we don’t tackle the economic, political and social inequalities that are adversely affecting the poor at home and abroad.

If we get it right, a bold new framework for global development next year, together with agreement at the UN climate talks in Paris, could provide the impetus for a transition to a more equal world – a world without the scourge of poverty and climate change.

Jim Clarken is the CEO of Oxfam Ireland.

Read: World’s wealthiest 85 people own same amount as half the global population

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Jim Clarken

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