World churches' leader says radical economic change is needed

By staff writers
23 Sep 2010

The General Secretary of the World Council of Churches has written to the UN Secretary- General urging economic change to embed anti-poverty goals.

The Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit says in his correspondence that "without significant transformations in global economic frameworks, the attainment of the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) by 2015 is endangered.”

Referring to the current UN high-level summit on the MDGs taking place in New York, the letter expressed concern that governments need to do more to address the root causes of poverty. The MDGs were adopted by world leaders in 2000.

Without addressing the root causes of poverty, justice-oriented reforms will not be possible, Tveit said in his message. It is these reforms that will end inequality in the current world economic structures, he declared.

“In today’s globalised world, efforts by nations to meet the MDGs are more and more contingent on an “enabling international economic environment,” Dr Tveit continued.

“The WCC believes that addressing the root causes of poverty and the attainment of the MDGs necessitates significant and comprehensive changes in the international financial architecture and trade regime,” he said.

The WCC is a network of 349 member churches and communions from around the world including Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, Indigenous, Peace Church and some Pentecostal and Evangelical churches with memberships totalling nearly 550 million Christians. It works in close cooperation with the Roman catholic Church.

The full letter reads as follows:

In keeping with our faith priority for the marginalised and vision of communities experiencing life in fullness and dignity, the World Council of Churches (WCC) is keenly following the ongoing United Nations (UN) high-level summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) taking place in New York from 20 to 22 September 2010.

We take this opportunity to commend the UN for its leadership in articulating, monitoring and promoting the MDGs as well as improving a space for nation-states to participate and contribute in the critical discourse on surmounting poverty. At the same time, we pray that the MDG Review Summit will produce an action plan that seriously tackles the root causes of poverty and inequality, leading to the attainment of the MDGs by 2015.

Outside of emerging economies, progress on reducing poverty has been sluggish. Any gains have been eroded by the recent global economic crisis which continues to pummel the economies of developed and developing nations alike. In its wake is pervasive unemployment, massive indebtedness, intensified hunger and homelessness and enfeebled fiscal capacities to tackle these challenges.

The crisis has exposed the failure of deregulated and liberalised financial and trade structures in meeting the MDGs and alleviating poverty. Moreover, global and systemic characteristics of this crisis have brought into sharper focus the pivotal function of MDG 8, aimed at fostering a global partnership for development, in attaining the rest of the MDGs. Without significant transformations in global economic frameworks the attainment of the MDGs by 2015 is endangered.

In today’s globalised world, efforts by nations to meet the MDGs are more and more contingent on an “enabling international economic environment”. The WCC believes that addressing the roots cause of poverty and the attainment of the MDGs necessitate significant and comprehensive changes in the international financial architecture and trade regime. These changes ought to enable an equitable distribution of productive resources – capital, technology, land, education, and healthcare – within and among nations in as much as studies by UN agencies have concluded that the lack of access to assets by poor people (especially poor women) and poor nations presents a fundamental obstacle to the elimination of poverty.

The MDG Review Summit must also place importance on the reformulation of multilateral, regional and bilateral trade and investment rules and agreements. This must be based on the commitment to: give primacy to peoples' right to food, water, education, healthcare, gainful employment and the other necessities of life. Supporting small producers, advancing the interests of weak and vulnerable nations and strengthening responsibility for creation is core to the WCC call for the MDG (cf. Statement on “Just Trade”, WCC central committee, September 2006).

In pursuit of just trade, churches have specifically called for international regulations to end agricultural import dumping which has displaced and impoverished millions of small farmers. Just trade also means addressing declining terms of trade faced by developing countries by establishing international commodity agreements setting stable base prices for products.

The development of intellectual property guidelines that promote public health and bolster the fight against HIV-AIDS and other diseases by ensuring people’s access to medicines, and that enable small producers to procure affordable seeds and technologies to foster ecologically-respectful agriculture and low-carbon industries is also crucial. During this MDG meeting and on an ongoing basis, the WCC is engaging itself with promoting among the MDGs, a global strategy for women’s and children’s health.

Insofar as nation-states have the responsibility for upholding peoples’ economic, social and cultural rights, the MDG Review Summit must put in place binding mechanisms and accountability frameworks to ensure that commitments are met and the maximum of resources are made available for the MDGs.

Our hope is that the MDG Review Summit will seriously deliberate and facilitate justice-oriented reforms in the international financial and trade systems that are central to the achievement of the MDGs and the eradication of poverty.

[Ekk/3]

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