Photo: The 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development concluded on 16 July, following a full day of Voluntary National Reviews, and the continuation of the High-Level General Debate in the afternoon. A Ministerial Declaration was adopted during the closing session on the theme 'Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.' Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth - Photo: 2018

UN Conference Warns Of Huge Backlogs Before Achieving Global Development Goals

By Ramesh Jaura

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – Three years since the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted by the UN, at first glimpse progress seems to have been made in “transforming our world” by implementing “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.”

But senior UN officials admit that a closer look at what little has been achieved and the gargantuan tasks ahead to fulfil the “pledge that no one will be left behind” leave no room for complacency.

The Group of 77 (G-77), the largest intergovernmental organization of developing countries in the UN – meanwhile encompassing 134 countries –also shares such reservations.

As the 2018 HLPF drew to a close, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that while much progress has been made, the world has also backtracked in areas that are fundamental to the shared pledge to leave no one behind.

For the first time in a decade, Guterres said, the number of people who are undernourished has increased, gender inequality continues to deprive women of basic rights, and investment in sustainable infrastructure remains “entirely inadequate” – all amid runaway climate change, eroding human rights and persistent pockets of poverty. Greenhouse gas emissions must be brought under control, countries must do everything to mobilize internal resources, and drivers of conflict must be addressed.

Guterres pointed to the pressing challenges of expanding conflicts and inequality; the erosion of human rights; an “unprecedented” global humanitarian crisis; and “persistent pockets” of poverty and hunger – while laying out pathways to move forward.

The UN Chief called on everyone to support the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for “prosperity and peace on a healthy planet.” In a clarion call, he said: “We need to embed the essence of the 2030 Agenda into everything that we do . . .Let us leave this Forum with a fresh commitment to work together, to share innovative solutions and live up to the Agenda we set for ourselves.”

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed also highlighted progress in some areas, including maternal and child mortality; tackling childhood marriage; addressing global unemployment; and cutting the rate of forest-loss around the globe.

But she stressed that we are either moving too slowly, or losing momentum, mentioning that for the first time in a decade, the overall number of people who are undernourished has increased – from 777 million people in 2015, to 815 million in 2016 – fundamentally undermining the international community’s commitment to leaving no one behind.

“There is progress, but generally not at a sufficient speed to realize the SDGs by 2030,” says Marie Chatardová, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

Speaking at the opening of the major ministerial meeting of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) on July 16, 2018 as well as the high-level segment of the ECOSOC, Chatardová cited progress that, at first glimpse, looked positive.

She pointed to extreme poverty, saying that even at one-third of the 1990 value, it was still imprisoning 10.9 per cent of world’s population. Moreover, while 71 per cent have access to electricity – a 10 per cent jump – one billion people still remain in the dark.

Chatardová stressed that a high level of engagement must be maintained in the years ahead, urging the world’s leaders to reaffirm their political commitment to the Agenda in 2019, when the high-level forum will also meet in September during the UN General Assembly.

“We do not have any time to waste,” outgoing General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák told the meeting, focussing on four main points where progress had been made: “We have taken a sledgehammer to extreme poverty,” he began. “Innovations in healthcare are allowing people to live longer and healthier lives. Fewer children are forced to work – and more are where they belong: in school.”

Speaking of “huge challenges ahead,” he accentuated that gains made to reduce extreme poverty, have not benefitted everyone, with many are still dying from curable diseases. One-in-six people still lack safe drinking water; women and girls globally remain excluded or oppressed; and “the planet is, quite literally, melting,” he said.

“Moreover, we know that our demands for water, food, energy and housing are already unsustainable,” he added.

Going a step further, he painted a grim picture of how “the world would be a very scary place” without the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. Without the 17 Goals “unilateralism, protectionism and extremism would have even larger draws.”

He concluded by saying that better financing was as urgent priority as we “do not have enough money to meet our goals . . .But it is out there,” adding: “We just need to go beyond our traditional models to get it.”

Speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, Egypt’s Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Dr. Sahar Nasr, pointed out that three years after the adoption of the 2030 Agenda “we are not yet fully on track to implement it.”

He expressed the G77’s concerns that 783 million people still live below the international poverty line and the number of undernourished people has been on the rise since 2014 reaching an estimated 815 million in 2016.

The scale and level of ambition of the 2030 Agenda requires strengthening the means of implementation, particularly for the developing countries, as well as creating the enabling global environment for development, he added.

There was the need to address the diverse needs and the challenges faced by countries in special situations, in particular, African countries, Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Land-locked Developing Countries (LLDCs), and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), conflict and post-conflict countries and countries and peoples living under foreign occupation, as well as the specific challenges faced by Middle Income Countries (MICs).

The G77 emphasized that water is critical for sustainable development, and expressed concern that 844 million people around the world still lack basic managed drinking water services, and 2.3 billion people still lack a basic level of sanitation services.

Besides, actual number of people living in slums had increased from 689 million to 881 million, Egypt’s Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Dr. Nasr said.

He said the G77 and China were of the view that it was necessary to reaffirm the principles of international law and of the UN Charter. “We stress the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, respect for the territorial integrity and political independence of states, and urge states to refrain from promulgating and applying any unilateral economic, financial or trade measures not in accordance with international law and the UN Charter.”

Marking the end of the high-level ministerial segment July 18, a detailed draft Ministerial Declaration was adopted, with 164 countries in favour, two against, (Israel, United States), with no abstentions,

The declaration reaffirmed the support of countries which are working towards making the SDGs a reality. Last-minute debate on the declaration forced revisions and representatives from several national blocs and member states, voiced concerns over changes to the draft text, and specific paragraphs which proved controversial.

Ministers and high representatives also reaffirmed their commitment to eradicating poverty, expressing concern that poverty remains a principle cause of hunger, and stressed the importance of taking collective measures to make an impact, among other goals. They further reaffirmed their commitment to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, stressing that much work remains to achieve the ambitious 2030 Agenda three years into its implementation. They also commended the 46 countries that delivered voluntary national reviews.

The Forum recognized that sustainable development cannot be realized without peace and security and that peace and security will be at risk without sustainable development. “We call for further effective measures and actions to be taken, in conformity with international law, to remove the obstacles to the full realization of the right to self-determination of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation,” the Declaration reads.

It also reaffirms the Forum’s commitment to gender equality, the empowerment of all women and girls and full realization of the human rights of all women and girls. “To achieve inclusive, sustainable and resilient societies, we call for the leadership and full, effective and equal participation of women in decision-making in the design, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes that affect their livelihoods, well-being and resilience,” the document reads. “We reiterate the urgency to ensure women’s equal access to, and control over, land and nature resources,” it adds. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 July 2018]

Photo: The 2018 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development concluded on 16 July, following a full day of Voluntary National Reviews, and the continuation of the High-Level General Debate in the afternoon. A Ministerial Declaration was adopted during the closing session on the theme ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.’ Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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