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Poverty Times #4

Getting the targets and indicators right

One of the most important innovations of the MDG approach is its ability to make governments more accountable for their performance in improving human wellbeing. By stating goals and measuring progress in clear, straightforward language, the MDGs make it easy for civil society groups to evaluate progress toward human development goals and to issue a public “report card” on a government’s success or failure. Unfortunately the lack of clear, comprehensive targets and indicators for measuring the capacity of ecosystems to provide sustainable environmental income for the poor means that the “accountability effect” of the MDG approach is not yet applicable to the world’s environmental goals. Until the environmental framework of the MDGs is fixed, short-run progress towards the other goals is at risk of being unsustainable. Realigning the MDG framework to correct its environmental shortcomings begins with an acceptance of ecosystems as the key to environmental income, the most direct way that nature affects the poor. This realignment should be guided by the recent findings of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a four-year study conducted by more than 1,300 scientists from 95 countries to ascertain the consequences of ecosystem change for human well-being. The scientists determined that in all regions, and particularly in sub- Saharan Africa, the condition and management of ecosystems is a “dominant factor” affecting the chances of success in fighting poverty. They concluded that the degradation of ecosystems is already a “significant barrier” to achieving the MDGs. In fact, many of the regions facing the biggest hurdles in reaching the MDGs coincide with those experiencing significant ecosystem degradation.

From World Resources 2005: The Wealth of the Poor – Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty. Washington, DC: WRI. World Resources Institute (WRI) in collaboration with UNDP, UNEP, and the World Bank, 2005.