Today, the new sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years has been officially launched at the UN Summit in New York. At this historic moment, we are launching the final blog of our SDGs countdown, on SDG 1, the goal to “End poverty in all its forms and everywhere”. At the core of ambitions of the SDG framework, this goal is closely linked to several of the other goals: SDG 2 (ending hunger), SDG 5 (promoting gender equality), and SDG 8 (ensuring decent work), and SDG 10 (reducing inequality).
The Millennium Development Goals Agenda, also focused its first goal on the poor, aiming to halve the number of people in extreme poverty. Considerable progress has been made: in 2010, 21% of people in the developing world lived with less than $1.25 a day, contrasting to 43% in 1990 and 52% in 1981. Despite such improvements, in 2015 more than a billion people worldwide still live in extreme poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
The Sustainable Development Agenda now draws attention to the need to end poverty in all its forms. But what does this exactly mean? Tackling poverty in all its forms means leaving the traditional measurements of income as the main indicator of poverty aside, and working with a multidimensional approach of poverty. Such an approach has first been developed by the Indian economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, who described development as freedom, and poverty as the deprivation of capacities. In that context, “capability reflects a person’s freedom to choose between different ways of living”, according to Sen.
The debate on assessing poverty in a broader sense, with different dimensions of poverty, has been spearheaded by UNDP and partners through the creation of the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) which is being used in the annual Human Development Reports. The MPI works with indicators reflecting acute deprivation in health, education and standard of living, and states that almost 1.5 billion people in the 91 countries covered by the MPI live in multidimensional poverty.
A multidimensional view on poverty is also at the root of many social protection programmes being implemented in developing and emerging countries worldwide. Such initiatives aim to ensure that the poor, if needed, will have a minimum standard guaranteed by the government, so that their basic needs won’t prevent them from fulfilling their activities. Conditional Cash Transfers Programmes (CCTs), such as the Bolsa Familia in Brazil, the Prospera (previously known as Oportunidades) in Mexico or the LEAP in Ghana, are examples that well-developed social protection programmes can be an effective instrument to reduce poverty and inequality. The implementation of nationally appropriate social protection system has therefore been included to SDG 1 through its target 1.3.
Poor people are also more vulnerable to shocks; whether those are economic crisis, or climate related phenomena such as floods or droughts. Target 1.5 reinforces the need to increase the resilience of the poorest so that they can cope better with such events. Failing to do so can also undermine inequality reduction and its related objectives.
Even if most of the efforts to end poverty need to be done in developing countries, attention must also be given to the threat of rising poverty in developed countries as well. Early this year, Oxfam issued a report on poverty in Europe calling attention to the rise of poverty and inequality in the continent, mostly due to models of growth that concentrate wealth in the hands of few, economic crisis and unemployment. Such warning demonstrate that one time or periodic investments in poverty reduction is not enough to eradicate poverty since these leave many hovering around the poverty line finding themselves pushed below when exposed to life shocks. Rather it is important to address institutionalized and systemic factors that create poverty and inequality in the first place. This is the challenge of a transformative SDG agenda.
The RIO+ Centre has worked extensively on the topic of poverty reduction, inequality, with a particular focus on social protection programs. Earlier this year this work culminated in a south-south exchange between Brazil and African governments. RIO+ and UNDP worked in close partnership with the Government of Brazil, the African Union, the Government of Senegal, the Instituto Lula in Africa to host an International Seminar on Social Protection, which had its recommendations endorsed by 70 Ministers of African countries at a high-level meeting in Ethiopia. You can also check the Rio+Centre publications page for more resources on social protection.
We would like to invite you to follow the UN General Assembly and the adoption of the SDG Agenda at http://webtv.un.org/live/ and get more information on sustainable development from this informative Knowledge platform. We are accompanying an historic moment, let’s all contribute to the achievement of the SDGs: www.globalgoals.org.
 Sen, Amartya: ‘Development as capability expansion’, p. 5, in http://www.ophi.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Sen-2003_Development-as-Capability-Expansion.pdf