Image credit: UN - Photo: 2022

The World is in Deep Trouble—& the Sustainable Development Goals in Jeopardy

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The warnings came from the highest echelons of the United Nations, from UN Secretary-General António Guterres and President of the 193-member General Assembly Abdulla Shahid.

The message was clear: the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) desperately need help for their very survival, eight years ahead of their 2030 deadline for full implementation.

Addressing a ministerial meeting of the three-day High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on SDGs on July 13-15, Guterres remarked: “Our world is in deep trouble—and so are the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Some 94 countries, home to 1.6 billion people, face a perfect storm: dramatic increases in the price of food and energy and a lack of access to finance.

“And so, there is a real risk of multiple famines this year. Next year could be even worse if fertilizer shortages affect the harvests of staple crops, including rice,” he cautioned.

“Time is running out. But there is still hope,” he said, “because we know what we need to do.”

If you want the SDGs to be reality, he said, “end the senseless, disastrous wars—now. Unleash a renewable energy revolution—now. Invest in people and build a new social contract—now. And deliver a New Global Deal to rebalance power and financial resources and enable all developing countries to invest in the SDGs.”

Let’s come together, starting today, with ambition, resolve and solidarity, to rescue the SDGs before it is too late, he declared.

The ripple effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have hit amid a fragile and uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, while the climate emergency is gathering pace.

But the lingering question remained: Will the world’s rich nations—and warring parties—respond to this appeal for help?

Shahid, President of the UN’s highest policy-making body, was equally concerned about the current state of faltering SDGs.

“The volume, magnitude, and scale of complex challenges to sustainable development are arguably both unprecedented and unrelenting. From deepening climate change and regional conflicts, to rising inequality and food insecurity, the challenges we face threaten to derail the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda.”

Yet, there is hope; hope that together “we can not only pull through but come out stronger, more resilient, and more sustainable”, he noted.

According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022, released by the United Nations on July 7, the climate crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased number of conflicts around the world have placed the 17 SDGs in jeopardy.

The Report highlighted the severity and magnitude of the challenges facing, mostly developing nations, with cascading and intersecting crises creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, and affecting all the SDGs, the blueprint for more resilient, peaceful and equal societies. 

The HLPF, attended by more than 125 heads of state and deputy heads of state, along with more than 2,000 ministers, high-ranking officials and other registered participants, is described as the central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs.

The meeting, whose theme was “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.

  • Goal 4. Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all
  • Goal 5. Achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls
  • Goal 14. Conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
  • Goal 15. Protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss
  • Goal 17. Strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development

The ministerial segment of the meeting, convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) took place July 13-15 with the adoption of a declaration.

Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of ECOSOC, told delegates: “As the world is struggling to recover from COVID-19 amidst continuing crises, the HLPF will reflect on how recovery policies can overcome the crises, reverse the negative impacts of the pandemic on the SDGs and move countries on to a path to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda.”

Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), said the COVID-19 pandemic halted or reversed years of development progress. 

As of 2021, nearly 15 million people worldwide have died directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. More than four years of progress in alleviating extreme poverty have been wiped out, and 150 million more people facing hunger in 2021 than in 2019.

Over the past two years, an estimated 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person instruction. The pandemic severely disrupted essential health services. Immunization coverage dropped for the first time in a decade and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.

As grim as the scenario sounds, he said, “We shall set a course for achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through recovery and response: enact new ways of thinking and open up new possibilities”.

In addition, before the pandemic, progress was being made on many important SDGs, such as reducing poverty, improving maternal and child health, increasing access to electricity, improving access to water and sanitation, and advancing gender equality.

As the SDG Report 2022 underscores the severity and magnitude of the challenges before us, this requires accelerated global-scale action committed to and following the SDG roadmap.

“We know the solutions and we have the roadmap to guide us in weathering the storm and coming out stronger and better together,” said Schweinfest.

Achim Steiner, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), said: “Unprecedented price surges mean that for many people across the world, the food that they could afford yesterday is no longer attainable today. This cost-of-living crisis is tipping millions of people into poverty and even starvation at breathtaking speed, and with that, the threat of increased social unrest grows by the day.”

He pointed out that policymakers responding to the cost-of-living crisis face difficult choices, particularly in poorer nations. The challenge is how to balance meaningful short-term relief to poor and vulnerable households at a moment when most developing countries are struggling with shrinking fiscal space and ballooning debt.

“We are witnessing an alarming growing divergence in the global economy as entire developing countries face the threat of being left behind as they struggle to contend with the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, crushing debt levels and now an accelerating food and energy crisis”, said Steiner.

“Yet new international efforts can take the wind out of this vicious economic cycle, saving lives and livelihoods—that includes decisive debt relief measures; keeping international supply chains open; and coordinated action to ensure that some of the world’s most marginalized communities can access affordable food and energy.”

The final declaration adopted after the meeting, included the following observations and commitments by the 193 member states:

We strongly reaffirm our commitment to the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, recognizing it as the blueprint for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerating the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, leaving no one behind.

We are gravely concerned that, for the first time in decades, the global poverty rate has increased, and millions have been pushed back into extreme poverty.

We further reaffirm the importance of achieving global food security and express deep concern over the drastic increase in hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity, increasing the risk of famine around the world, especially in developing countries.

We reiterate our commitment to reach the furthest behind first, as the pandemic and the deteriorating global economic situation are harming especially the poorest and most vulnerable and have direct consequences on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

We reaffirm that there can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development. We are gravely concerned, in this regard, by the increased and ongoing conflicts in the world, which are affecting global peace and security, respect for human rights and sustainable development. We call for full respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law and condemn any violation of those principles and law. [IDN-InDepthNews – 18 July 2022]

Image credit: UN

IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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