In 1990, the General Assembly concluded that its goals for the Third UN Development Decade had not been attained. It set new priorities and goals for the growth of the developing member nations with its International Development Strategy (IDS) for the Fourth United Nations Development Decade (1991–2000). Within one year of its passage, however, the former USSR had dissolved, forever changing the landscape of international economic relations. Many of the assumptions on which the IDS had been based were upset by the historic forces that were thus set in motion.
In September 1990, the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries set targets for official development assistance (ODA) to those nations. The General Assembly, through the new IDS, urged industrialized countries to reach or surpass those targets. It also recommended that developing countries try to raise their rate of industrialization by 8–10% and increase their annual food production by 4%.
The General Assembly set forth six goals for the new IDS that amounted to an early manifestation of a new philosophy of "sustainable" development that would be vigorously developed at the historic UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), two years later. The goals of the IDS were:
The philosophy for the new IDS was based on the principle that, because the developed countries have the greatest influence on the international economic environment, they have a special responsibility for the success of development efforts. It also recognized that speeding up development would require strenuous efforts by developing countries to increase domestic savings, raise investment and investment returns, hold down inflation, exercise monetary and fiscal discipline, maintain realistic exchange rates, and allocate resources more efficiently.
Improving the state of international trade was paramount for any development plan. The Uruguay Round of the GATT talks were stalled and protectionism was on the rise in the developed nations. The strategy proposed that the following actions be taken to accelerate international trade in the 1990s:
Other provisions of the IDS included establishing more stable commodity markets, obtaining concessional terms for the transfer of technology to developing countries, and finding agreement on a way that the intellectual property system (which protects ownership of copyrights, trademarks, industrial designs, and patents) can promote development while protecting intellectual property. It also recommended that work on international rules and standards to govern the exchange of technological information (the code of conduct on the transfer of technology), which had come to a halt at the end of the 1980s, should be completed.
The underlying causes of economic stagnation also were decried. The IDS called for the eradication of poverty, hunger, adult illiteracy, lack of basic education for women, and runaway population growth in developing countries, and noted the catastrophic deterioration of the environment by shortsighted development projects.
In 1992, the Secretary-General gave the General Assembly a guardedly optimistic report on the progress of the IDS to that point. The developed market economies themselves had grown by only about 1% in 1991. Although a recovery had begun in 1992, it was considered to be weak. There was concern that the urgent needs of the newly independent countries of the former USSR, often referred to as "economies in transition," would divert assistance from developing countries. Per capita incomes remained stagnant or declined in all the developing regions, except South and East Asia and China. The debt crisis of the developing countries had not worsened, but little progress had been made in terms of debt relief and forgiveness. However, some of the Latin American countries had again become creditworthy.
The 1993 Report on the World Social Situation , commissioned by the General Assembly to review the implementation of the Declaration on Social Progress and Development made 20 years earlier, also was cautiously optimistic. It noted the positive direction of reform in the United Nations system towards coordination between various UN agencies with operations in the same countries. "Although the major development goals, proclaimed more than 20 years ago in the Declaration on Social Progress and Development, have not changed significantly, the priorities, approaches and emphases have been reviewed and renewed, as the understanding of the forces behind development have deepened. Thus, emphasis is now on assisting the recipient countries to strengthen their institutional capacity to sustain the development process" the report said. In other words: helping them learn how to help themselves.
In October 1999, as the Second Committee began consideration of sustainable development and economic cooperation in the year 2000, it reviewed a report evaluating the implementation of the commitments and policies agreed on in the IDS. The report concluded that though there were improvements in the 1990s, economic growth had not accelerated in all developing countries. The Uruguay Round had led to progress being made with the betterment of the global trading system, but the international financial system had not been stabilized. Nor had there been a marked improvement in international development cooperation. The world's least developed countries had seen "negligible" economic and social advancement during the decade. For future purposes, the report went on to differentiate between growth, which may carry with it negative social consequences, and development, which means more than simply increased purchasing power (as reflected in gross domestic product per capita). According to the report, development also pertains to education, health, and environmental standards, as well as to social (including gender) equity. For this reason, "the spotlight is now shifting from a focus on macroeconomic challenges to a number of institutional preconditions, including good governance, transparency and accountability, decentralization and participation and social security," said the UN report. Acceptable and viable development strategies in the new millennium would have to take into account the prevailing circumstances in developing countries, which could not be expected to keep pace with industrialized, developed societies in the North.
The economic and social initiatives of the 1990s had highlighted that neither growth nor development necessarily eliminates poverty, which was one of the key objectives of IDS. The UN concluded that sustainable development, of both urban and rural human settlements, was directly linked to the alleviation of poverty, which became the focus of economic and social development at the dawn of the 2000s. At the October 1999 meeting of the Second Committee, the Group of 77 developing countries and China presented draft resolutions for the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (which technically began in 1997 and extended through 2006). On 9 December 1999 the General Assembly voted to implement the Decade and called on all nations to formulate and implement "outcome-oriented national strategies and programs" and set time-bound targets for poverty reduction. The Assembly further called on developed countries to strengthen their efforts to achieve the agreed target of 0.7% of their gross national product for overall official development assistance, and within that target to "earmark 0.15% to0.20% of their gross national product for the least developed countries." Acknowledging the information age, the Assembly resolution highlighted the importance of strengthening the cooperation between developed and developing nations in order to "promote capacity-building and facilitate access to and transfer of technologies and corresponding knowledge."