On 12 December 2015, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, hailed the COP21 climate agreement in Paris as ‘a monumental triumph for people and our planet’. The UN press office called it a ‘resounding success for multilateralism’. According to the president of the General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, the agreement signalled ‘nothing less than a renaissance for humankind’. Away from the media spotlight, policy makers speak more candidly.
Over the last three years, the United Nations has been working to establish a global sustainable development agenda to succeed the eight Millennium Development Goals, which are about to expire. Unlike the MDGs, which were drawn up by bureaucrats behind closed doors, the new Sustainable Development Goals have been subject to the largest consultation in UN history. Negotiators came up with 17 goals and 169 targets covering everything from abolishing poverty to achieving gender equality to rescuing the planet from climate catastrophe. They are due to be adopted at a UN summit in New York in September. In Addis Ababa last month, member states met to agree on ways to pay for them. The cost of achieving the SDGs is estimated at between two and three trillion dollars a year for fifteen years: roughly 15 per cent of annual global savings, or 4 per cent of world GDP.