January 15, 2015 / 2:28 PM / 4 years ago

Malala, Tutu back global anti-poverty push in 'crucial year'

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Almost 1 billion more people will face a life of extreme poverty unless world leaders make progress on poverty and climate change at two crucial summits this year, according to a campaign backed by public figures such as Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai.

Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, the joint winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, speaks at Birmingham library in Birmingham, central England October 10, 2014. REUTERS/Darren Staples

The “action/2015” campaign was launched on Thursday by 1,000 groups - representing interests ranging from human rights and the environment to development and health - to put pressure on governments ahead of a U.N. summit in September.

The New York summit is expected to see world leaders agree on a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the next 15 years to replace and build on the 15-year-old Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire this year.

Three months after the U.N. summit, policymakers will go to Paris to thrash out a global climate change pact.

An open letter signed by Yousafzai and a host of celebrities, entrepreneurs and activists including actor Matt Damon, singer Shakira, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates and campaigner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, warned governments that there were millions of voices they could not afford to ignore.

“They are voices of all ages from every corner of the planet – the voice of a young girl currently deprived of education ... a pregnant mother deprived of healthcare ... young people deprived of decent work ... a family from a minority group fearful of discrimination by corrupt officials ... farmers forced to migrate to cities as climate refugees,” the letter said.

“Their voices will roar ever louder against the inequality and injustice that keep people poor,” it added.

The number of people living in extreme poverty - less than $1.25 a day - could be 886 million higher if leaders fail to deliver this year compared with a scenario of “resolute action”, action/2015 said, citing work done by the University of Denver.

The MDGs agreed in 2000 set eight broad goals, including to end extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.

Critics say the goals were overly influenced by donors, neglected the poorest people and missed key elements of development such as climate change, good governance, human rights and the quality of education.

Supporters say the goals helped to galvanize and expand efforts to help the world’s poorest people.

“The MDGs sometimes get a critical appraisal ... but overall, I would say this has been one of the best periods for development,” Jonathan Glennie, director of policy and research at charity Save the Children, told a press briefing in London.

“We’ve seen poverty go down very, very significantly. Unfortunately we haven’t seen inequality go down,” he added.

The current draft of SDGs, produced after a series of formal discussions, panels and U.N. working group meetings, includes 17 goals and 169 targets ranging from ending hunger to combating climate change and conserving oceans.

Critics say the list is too long to be effective. But many development experts worry that talk of reducing the goals could result in too many being cut.

As well as seeking an end to poverty and inequality and a faster transition to renewable energy, action/2015 is also calling for better governance and for leaders to be held accountable.

“One of the key things that unites all organisations that are part of action/2015 is wanting to make sure that the data is clear. You can only hold people accountable if you can measure what they’re doing,” said Jamie Drummond, co-founder of the anti-poverty ONE campaign group.

“People must be able to follow the money, follow the metrics, to hold leaders accountable,” he told reporters.

Writing by Katie Nguyen; Editing by Tim Pearce

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