The idea of world or global citizenship is an important one. At a time when so many of our most urgent challenges take a global form, it makes sense that the notion of citizenship should expand beyond narrow national interests and that people across the world should experience a sense of responsibility to those outside their local or regional communities. One of the most prominent uses of this idea currently is Global Citizen, an advocacy website and annual music festival. On September 26, Manhattan’s Central Park will be packed with tens of thousands of enthusiastic young people, eager to see artists such as Beyoncé, and just as keen to express solidarity with the world’s poor.
Sadly, the admirable social consciousness Global Citizen taps into looks like it’s going to waste. The campaign offers a hopelessly depoliticized picture of poverty—which is always a political problem above all—and fails to make serious demands of key institutions. From the perspective of the world’s poor, the Global Citizen Festival looks less like a strategic intervention on their behalf and more like a demonstration of young Americans’ support for a doomed agenda for global “development,” one that serves the interests of the rich and powerful first and foremost. As young people concerned about these issues, we urge Global Citizen to do better.
Global Citizen’s campaign is founded on holding governments accountable—through Twitter and e-mail blasts from its members—for fulfilling commitments that they’ve already made, to work towards achieving the UN’s new Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The Global Goals, which will be adopted by UN member nations at the UN Sustainable Development Summit this weekend, are the follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were announced in 2000 and expire this year. They represent agreement on principles that are supposed to guide development policy around the world for the next 15 years.
The Global Goals seem ambitious at first. The list of 17 lofty Global Goals (and 169 sub-targets) includes: “end poverty in all its forms everywhere,” “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” and “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”—all by the year 2030. According to GlobalCitizen.org the festival’s purpose is to serve as “a critical lever for achieving policy and financial commitments that will shape the success of the Global Goals over the next 15 years.”
Ending world poverty in 15 years might sound impossible. That’s because it is—at least without a massive reordering of our world economy, which demands precisely the kind of political discussion Global Citizen avoids. Critics of the Global Goals have called them “a high school wish-list for how to save the world,” “worse than useless,” and a “betrayal of the world’s poorest people.”A study done by economist David Woodward shows that poverty eradication is impossible under our current global economic system. Even under the most ideal conditions, it would take 100 years to bring the world’s poorest above the Global Goals’ poverty line of $1.25/day, and this amount of growth, in a carbon-constrained world, would have devastating environmental consequences.