Time for change

From the archive.
Gordon Brown listens to some Londoners
(Photo: © Spider Dijon/Flickr)
Gordon Brown, speaking to the UN on Tuesday 31 July, admitted that the Millennium Development Goals are not being met and supported 'concerted action' to redress that.

I am here, he declared, to say that it's also time for change so that we can meet the world's millennium development goals.

We do this best when we all join together in common cause.

…When one month ago I took office as Prime Minister, one of my first acts was to ask Ministers of the United Kingdom Government – from International Development and Foreign Office to Business and Trade, Treasury and the Environment – to report to me on what we must do to meet the world's Millennium Development Goals and to eradicate the great evils of our time: illiteracy, disease, poverty, environmental degradation and under-development.

Earlier this month, the UN Secretary General launched the UN's 2007 progress report on the goals. He said there was a clear need for urgent and concerted action.

Now one month later I have come to New York…to support the Secretary-General's call and to tell the truth: the goals the world has set are not being met and we face an emergency – a development emergency – and we need emergency action if we are to meet them.

I have come today to New York because it was here seven years ago…in this United Nations conclave…with the eyes of the whole world upon us all…that every world leader, every international body, almost every single country signed a historic declaration for the new millennium, pledging to set and then to meet by 2015 eight development goals.

It was a remarkable moment – the whole world coming together as one, the leadership of the poorest countries to be empowered by the obligations accepted by the richest, all of us accepting our shared responsibilities to work together for change.

But seven years on it is already clear that our pace is too slow; our direction too uncertain; our vision at risk.

The Millennium Development Goal to be met in 2015 is to reduce infant mortality by two thirds, but, unless we act, it will not be met by 2015, not even by 2030, not until 2050.

The Millennium Development Goal of 2000, to be met in 2015, is primary education for every child. Unless we act it will not be met by 2015, not even by 2050 but, at best, by 2100.

And unless we act, the planet will by 2015 be suffering not less but more environmental degradation and millions of people will still be struggling on less than one dollar a day with millions of children still hungry.

As the UN Secretary General said earlier this month pointedly and persuasively, 'Millions of lives quite literally hang in the balance.'

The calendar says we are half way from 2000 to 2015, but the reality is that we are a million miles away from success.

…We cannot allow our promises that became pledges to descend into just aspirations, and then wishful thinking, and then only words that symbolise broken promises.

We did not make the commitment to the Millennium Development Goals only for us to be remembered as the generation that betrayed promises rather than honoured them and undermined trust that promises can ever be kept.

So when the need is pressing, when it is our generation that has made historic commitments, when the time to meet them is now short, the simple questions that, to paraphrase the words of an American president, we must ask are:

'If not now, when?

If not us, who?

If not together, how?'

And I believe the scale of the challenge is such that we cannot now leave it to some other time and some other people but must act now, working together.

And so my argument is simple: the greatest of evils that touches the deepest places of conscience demands the greatest of endeavour.

The greatest of challenges now demands the boldest of initiatives.

To address the worst of poverty we urgently need to summon up the best efforts of humanity.

I want to summon into existence the greatest coalition of conscience in pursuit of the greatest of causes.

And I firmly believe that if we can discover common purpose, there is no failing in today's world that cannot be addressed by mobilising our strengths, no individual struggle that drags people down that cannot benefit from a renewed public purpose that can lift people up. For you also know what I know: that the world has the technology to cure, the science to heal, the medicine to save lives.

Past generations had the old excuse.

They could say:

'If only we had the knowledge

If only we had the technology

If only we had the medicine

If only we had the science

If only we had the wealth.'

Today we have the science, technology, medicine and wealth: what we now need is the unity and strength of purpose to employ the ingenuity and resources we have – and to employ them well – to help those who need it.

And we need a compact – the rich accepting their responsibilities to invest, to support, to end protectionism and to deliver our promises; the developing countries accepting their responsibilities to reform, to open up to trade, and to be transparent and free of corruption.

But our objectives cannot be achieved by governments alone, however well intentioned; or private sector alone, however generous; or NGOs or faith groups alone, however well meaning or determined – it can only be achieved in a genuine partnership together.

So it is time to call into action the eighth of the Millennium Goals so we can meet the first seven. Let us remember Millennium Development Goal eight – to call into being, beyond governments alone, a global partnership for development, and together harness the energy, the ideas and the talents of the private sector, consumers, NGOs and faith groups, and citizens everywhere.

The above is an excerpt from Gordon Brown's speech. To read it in full, click here.

Published 2 August 2007

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