UN: global response to environment, poverty goals ‘not ambitious enough’

17 Sept 2019, 00:00
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UN: global response to environment, poverty goals ‘not ambitious enough’

According to the United Nations Secretary-General the global response to realising poverty and environmental goals agreed by world leaders in 2015 has not been “ambitious enough”.

In his latest report on the progress towards meeting the targets of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN chief António Guterres said that while a “wealth of action” had been taken by governments across the world “the most vulnerable people and countries continue to suffer the most.”

The 17 SDGs commit countries to mobilise efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change.

The report tracks progress across 17 goals in the UN’s 193 Member States and largely takes a global view, however while many trends regarding the SDGs are common to all regions, there are significant regional differences.

Launching the report at UN Headquarters in New York, at the start of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the UN Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) chief, Liu Zhenmin, said that the clock for taking decisive action on climate change is ticking.

He stressed the importance of strengthening international cooperation and multilateral action.

“The challenges highlighted in this report are global problems that require global solutions,” said Mr. Liu.

“Just as problems are interrelated, the solutions to poverty, inequality, climate change and other global challenges are also interlinked.”

Described by Mr Guterres last year as an “existential threat” to humanity, the outlook for meeting targets to reduce climate change is grim.

With rising greenhouse gas emissions, climate change is occurring at rates much faster than anticipated and “its effects are clearly felt world-wide.”

The target, and remember this was agreed by world leaders, is to keep the rate of global warming to below two degrees Celsius and, if possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

The average global temperature is already 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels but if not enough is done then warming will continue at an unsustainable pace and could well exceed 3.0°C by the end of the century.

While there are positive steps in terms of individual countries developing climate plans and the increase in the amount of money being found to finance those activities, Mr Guterres said that “far more ambitious plans and accelerated action is needed” on climate mitigation and adaptation.

Extreme poverty, which the UN defines as a condition characterised by severe deprivation of basic human needs, continues to decline but the decline has slowed to the extent that the world is not on track to achieve the target of less than three per cent of the world living in extreme poverty, by 2030.

It’s more likely on current estimates to be around six per cent.

That’s around 420 million people, a situation of “grave concern” according to the UN chief.

Historically speaking, there are reasons for optimism.

The share of the world population living in extreme poverty was 10 per cent in 2015, down from 16 per cent in 2010 and 36 per cent in 1990.

Hunger is on the rise again globally, with an estimated 821 million people undernourished in 2017, up from 784 million in 2015.

So, one in nine people across the world are not getting enough to eat.

Public investment in agriculture is declining globally, a situation that needs to be reversed according to the Secretary-General.

“Small-scale food producers and family farmers require much greater support and increased investment in infrastructure and technology for sustainable agriculture, is urgently needed.”

The developing world is most acutely affected by this lack of investment.

The share of small-scale food producers in countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America ranges from 40 per cent to 85 per cent, compared to less than 10 per cent in Europe.

Major progress has been made in improving the health of millions of people, increasing life expectancy, reducing maternal and child mortality, and the fight against the most dangerous communicable diseases.

Mr Guterres said that “concerted efforts are required to achieve universal health coverage, sustainable financing for health and to address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases including mental health.”

The UN Secretary-General has said “there is simply no way that we can achieve the 17 SDGs without achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.”

Experts agree that economic growth which includes all sections of society and which is sustainable, can drive progress and generate the means to implement the SDGs.

Globally, labour productivity has increased and unemployment is back to levels seen before the financial crash of 2008, however, the global economy is growing at a slower rate.

Mr Guterres said that “more progress is needed to increase employment opportunities, particularly for young people, reduce informal employment and the gender pay gap, and promote safe and secure working environments to create decent work for all.”

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