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Transitioning From the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals

30 September 2014|Briefing note

Briefing note by ECLAC Caribbean Chief, Diane Quarless (September 2014)

Convened in 2000, the Millennium Summit provided world leaders an opportunity to reflect on human development over the millennia, and to craft proposals for addressing the common challenge of globalization in a manner that would benefit all peoples. Their reflection revealed that the gains of human development efforts up to that time were largely skewed towards more affluent countries, and ultimately created an inequitable situation where the benefits and costs of globalization were not evenly shared – a situation that left developing countries and those in economic transition in a disadvantaged position.

In response to this situation, world leaders agreed to the Millennium Declaration with a view towards promoting equity among nations through sustained efforts that would ensure a fully inclusive future for all humanity. The mechanism through which these ideals were executed was the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which would be implemented until 2015.[1] All nations were charged with the responsibility of implementing the MDGs, and of measuring progress in their achievement both at the national and regional levels.

Despite the Caribbean’s continued challenge with the availability and accessibility of relevant data, considerable progress has been made in meeting some of the MDG goals. Using undernourishment as an indicator of poverty, Cuba and Guyana met MDG 1targets in the 1990s,[2] Haiti and Jamaica have made considerable progress, and Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago have registered improvements. According to the 2013 MDG report[3], the Caribbean fully achieved the drinking water target under MDG 7 ahead of the 2015 deadline. The subregion was also reported as being on track in meeting the target on halving the proportion of society suffering from hunger and halting the spread of and reversing the incidence of tuberculosis. The report also noted that the Caribbean had gained ground in increasing access to primary education. Other reachable targets were identified as being the halving of the proportion of people without access to basic sanitation, and the reducing of the under-5 child mortality rate between 1990 and 2011 by more than 50%. Noteworthy efforts for the Caribbean were its stellar reduction in the number of newly infected people with HIV, down by 43 per cent between 2001 and 2011.  

With respect to maternal mortality, a few countries recorded a reduction in deaths per 100,000 live births from 1990 – 2010, namely Barbados, which decreased from 120 to 51; Saint Lucia, from 64 35; and Belize from 71 to 53. However, despite this progress and based on the latest trends, many low- and middle-income countries, including countries in the Caribbean, will not achieve this goal.[4]

Undoubtedly, the subregion must continue to move forward by reviewing the shortfalls of the MDGs while still celebrating its successes. As the 2015 deadline for achievement of the MDGs comes to an end, it is time to encourage careful design of the post-2015 development agenda through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In this regard, the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, appointed a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons and charged them with the responsibility of developing a set of SDGs that would be discussed by countries. The High-Level Panel declared that the SDGs should reflect a universal agenda and focus on five transformational shifts: (i) leave no one behind; (ii) put sustainable development at the core; (iii) transform economies for jobs and inclusive growth; (iv) build peace and effective, open and accountable institutions for all; and (v) forge a new global partnership.

Armed with the lessons learnt from the MDG experience and ideals of the Millennium Declaration, while considering the five transformational shifts, the panel encouraged the global community to strengthen their stride towards securing:“…… a collective responsibility to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality and equity at the global level……”,  while remaining: “…….committed to making the right to development a reality for everyone and to freeing the entire human race from want.”[5]

After the World Summits in 2005 and 2010, leaders realised that the work of the MDGs had to continue beyond 2015, and that in many instances this work had just begun. It is anticipated that the SDG’s will be the vehicle for advancing this work to the benefit of all mankind.


[1] MDG Image:  ://

[2] Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2004, Rome, 2004.

[3] United Nations, 2013. The Millennium Development Goals 2013

[4] ://

[5] Resolution 55/2 United Nations Millennium Development Goals