High-Level Political Action, Strengthened National Plans Crucial to Reach Global Goals, Senior Officials Tell Economic and Social Council Political Forum Segment
With a third of the Sustainable Development Goals stalled or in reverse, high-level political action and strengthened national plans must be implemented to achieve the 2030 Agenda, senior United Nations officials warned today at the opening of the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council and the ministerial segment of the high-level political forum on sustainable development.
Convened under the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”, the forum — which runs until 19 July — will explore policies and transformations needed to overcome the multiple crises that continue to threaten decades of progress made in development around the world. Particular emphasis will be placed on trends and policies related to Sustainable Development Goal 6 on clean water and sanitation; Goal 7 on affordable and clean energy; Goal 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure; Goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities; and Goal 17 on partnerships for the Goals and their linkages to other Goals.
“The world is crying out for high-level political action — action to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality — for everyone, everywhere,” said Secretary-General António Guterres, urging every Government to come to the upcoming SDG Summit with clear plans and pledges to strengthen action in their countries.
Noting that almost 600 million people will remain mired in extreme poverty by 2030, greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise, hunger is back to 2005 levels and gender equality is 300 years away, he underscored the need for accelerated action, including through increased investments in sustainable development and climate action.
Csaba Kőrösi (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, pointed out that the timely implementation of the Goals is being hindered because the international community inherited accumulated risks as well as old-fashioned policies, market regulations and institutions.
Spotlighting a funding shortfall that has increased to $4.2 trillion a year now from $2.5 trillion before the COVID-19 pandemic, he stressed that transition from these legacies requires “a huge amount of money”. However, the benefits of such changes would exceed investments. “Let me invite our financing experts to calculate and quantify the benefits of sustainability transformation,” he said.
Also addressing the opening segment, Economic and Social Council President Lachezera Stoeva (Bulgaria) highlighted the importance of local action. Aligning national priorities with the Goals is paramount to ensuring a coherent approach to sustainable development. “We still have seven years and victories are within our reach,” she said, encouraging local governments and communities to take ownership.
Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that the global warming of 1.1°C has already brought about hazards to human life and the environment. Further warming will increase the likelihood of irreversible changes in the climate system, he warned, stressing that the deep, rapid and sustained cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions are “the best option” for sustainable development.
At the outset, two youth representatives also addressed the forum, with Asma Rouabhia, global focal point of SDG 7 Youth Constituency, underscoring that youth want to contribute and lead, but need to be given the space to make an impact. Echoing her, Jevanic Henry, member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, said youth should not be “merely a sprinkled topping” in the development agenda, but rather part of the core group of Governments, the private sector and development partners.
In the ensuing “fireside chat” featuring scientists who author the Global Sustainable Development Report 2023, Imme Scholz said that renewable energies cannot exist in parallel to fossil fuel-based energy systems; they have to remove them. The task now is to accelerate implementation in the right direction. Jaime Miranda pointed out that the seven years left until 2030 is “not seven years to despair” but can strategically shape the needed transformations. “Science unites us and can help us find the path that brings us together, so we can work together for the common good,” he said, calling on all to work and take informed decisions together.
The Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum will continue its work at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 18 July.
Ministerial Segment — High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development
Opening the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council and the ministerial segment of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, two speakers delivered a message on behalf of youth.
ASMA ROUABHIA, global focal point of SDG 7 Youth Constituency, said children do not choose where they are born. She, as a girl from a small town on the Tunisian-Algerian border, dreamed of becoming a doctor to save people’s lives. During the cold, snowy winters, she persisted in studying hard, believing in a better future. Instead, she became a young advocate, committed to initiating solution-oriented approaches to solving many problems like poverty and hunger facing her community and the world. Youth want to contribute and lead. But, they need to be recognized, heard, valued, equipped, empowered, consulted, involved in the policies and given the space needed to make an impact. “My inner child wants to live in a green, safe, tolerant and just world!” she said.
JEVANIC HENRY, member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, said the COVID-19 pandemic clearly highlighted the need for urgent course correction in the development agenda. “2015 was the time for talking; in 2023, we are slowly walking, but towards failure; post-2023, we need to start running towards delivery of the SDG [Sustainable Development Goal] agenda,” he pointed out. Young people, like him, from a small island developing State and other developing countries, are bearing the continuous burden or threat of a loss of development gains due to multiple crises. “No more should youth be seen in isolation or merely a sprinkled topping in the development agenda, but rather part of the core group” including Government, the private sector and development partners. Youth will remain relentless in calling for meaningful participation, remain steadfast in calling for accountability on their commitments and stand ready to work in partnerships with all, he emphasized.
Delivering opening remarks, LACHEZERA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic, coupled with the ongoing war in Ukraine, have taken a toll on people across the planet. Just two weeks ago, the hottest days on Earth ever were recorded globally, a dooming record that probably will be broken again and again. “We are past the point of urgency for action, we are at the point of alarm,” she declared, adding: “Yet, this is not the time to panic; it is the time to act.” To accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, it is essential to emphasize innovation, technology and forge high-impact partnerships. Collaboration among Governments, civil society, the private sector and academia will play an increasingly crucial role in driving meaningful change.
Further, countries must integrate the Goals into their national development plans and policies, she continued. Aligning national priorities with the Goals is paramount to ensuring a coherent approach to sustainable development. Halfway to 2030, and yet nowhere near to achieving the Goals, she said: “We still have seven years and victories are within our reach.” Tailoring the Goals’ implementation to local contexts is vital for success, she emphasized, encouraging local governments and communities to take ownership. She stressed the need to explore innovative financing mechanisms, foster public-private partnerships and engage a diverse range of stakeholders, including young people. “Young minds are often at the forefront of innovation, unencumbered by conventional thinking and ready to explore new frontiers,” she pointed out.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, reported that, halfway to 2030, a third of the Goals have stalled or gone into reverse, emissions continue to rise, hunger is back to 2005 levels and gender equality is 300 years away. Almost 600 million people will still be mired in extreme poverty by 2030. The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, widespread conflict and the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine have hobbled fragile and limited progress. “But, let’s be clear: our world was off track well before these upheavals,” he pointed out. The annual Sustainable Development Goals funding gap has risen from $2.5 trillion before the pandemic to an estimated $4.2 trillion. Promises made on overseas development assistance and climate finance have not been kept. Developing countries are facing sky-high borrowing costs and 52 nations are in default or close to it — with no effective system of debt relief in sight.
“The world is crying out for high-level political action — action to make the Sustainable Development Goals a reality — for everyone, everywhere,” he stated, urging every Government to come to the SDG Summit with clear plans and pledges to strengthen action in their countries. He also urged young people and civil society at the forum this week to continue to fight for the Goals. “Above all, we need the SDG Summit to send a clear message from world leaders through a strong political declaration,” one that lays a path for faster progress and paves the way for much-needed reforms of the international financial architecture, he underscored. Also urging the Group of 20 countries to set a timeframe this year to establish a new debt-resolution mechanism, he emphasized that developed countries must deliver the promised $100 billion this year, replenish the Green Climate Fund and double funding for adaptation. “Together, we can deliver. Let’s make this year count. Let’s keep the promise,” he said.
CSABA KŐRÖSI (Hungary), President of the General Assembly, said that the timely implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is being hindered because the international community inherited accumulated risks, as well as old-fashioned policies, market regulations and institutions. Accelerating the sustainability transformation requires measures, among others, to create national transformation strategies, align regulations with announced goals, learn how to calculate all important externalities of actions or inactions, and identify and prioritize game-changers in the implementation of the Goals. Financing the transition needed for achieving the Goals remains a critical challenge, with the financing gap now exceeding $4 trillion per year, up from $2.5 trillion. It is a huge amount of money, “but let me invite our financing experts to calculate and quantify the benefits of sustainability transformation”, he said, stressing that the knowledge exists to steer humanity out of the crises.
Turning to the upcoming SDG Summit, he expressed hope that it will result in the supercharging and accelerating of the implementation of the Goals. “The Summit will be the moment to make new commitments to set in motion the game-changers we will need to agree on in only a matter of weeks,” he said. Drawing attention to some game-changers, such as the integration of water and climate policies and the establishment of a Global Water Information System, endorsed at the United Nations Water Conference in March, he said the SDG Summit itself and its political declaration should breathe a new life into the sustainability transformation. But, this process will not end in September, he said, adding that it will likely not end in 2030 either. “The 2030 Agenda is — and should remain — our map, our nautical chart,” he emphasized.
HOESUNG LEE, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, highlighting the Panel’s latest reports, noted that climate hazards and non-climate threats are occurring now with the warming of 1.1°C and will get worse with additional warming. Climate change has exposed about half the world population to acute food insecurity and reduced water security, with the largest adverse impacts in Africa, Asia, Central and South America, least developed countries, small island States and the Arctic. Climate change has slowed the growth in agricultural productivity globally over the past 50 years. Heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones have increased their frequency and intensity in all regions. Many recent extreme weather events would not have occurred in the absence of global warming, he observed, adding that loss of human life from floods, droughts and storms in highly vulnerable regions was 15 times higher compared to regions with very low vulnerability.
Further damage to ecosystems will lead to losses in their intrinsic value and disruption in the provision of services to benefit life on earth, he continued. Additional warming will increase the risks of species extinction and irreversible loss of biodiversity in ecosystems. Further warming will increase the likelihood of irreversible changes in the climate system: at warming levels between 2°C and 3°C, the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets will be lost almost completely over multiple millennia, causing several meters of sea-level rise. Accordingly, he said that deep, rapid and sustained cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions are the best option for sustainable development. Developed countries, which have financial capital and technology to tackle climate change, promised to provide financial and technological support for developing countries’ climate action. “Now is the time to deliver that promise,” he declared.
Moderating the fireside chat featuring Global Sustainable Development Report scientists was Salvatore Aricò, Chief Executive Officer of the International Science Council. The featured speakers were: Imme Scholz, Co-Chair of the Independent Group of Scientists writing the Global Sustainable Development Report and Co-President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation; and Jaime Miranda, Co-Chair of the Independent Group of Scientists writing the Global Sustainable Development Report and Head of the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney, Australia, and Professor at the Department of Medicine of the Peruvian University Cayetano Heredia in Lima. The discussant was Marilynn Holguin Clover, youth delegate of the Millennials Movement.
Ms. SCHOLZ, noting that innovation is crucial for change, said that renewable energies cannot exist in parallel to fossil fuel-based energy systems; they have to remove them. The task now is to accelerate implementation in the right direction. To this end, policymakers need to look for the support of science, and science needs to engage in research that helps to design transformative public policies to facilitate collective action and avoid lock-ins. Noting that broad coalitions of societal support are needed to push and sustain change, she said cooperation within transformation alliances by the private sector, labour organiaztions, civil society and local governments are crucial. Additionally, science must generate socially robust knowledge by using cooperative methods together with economic actors and citizens. This includes working across disciplines and including local and Indigenous knowledge as solutions need to be context specific.
Mr. MIRANDA said that, as a Peruvian, he has seen the world shaken and brought to its knees by the pandemic. Collective suffering fuels the resilience that drives humanity forward, he pointed out, underscoring that the pandemic taught the lesson of solidarity and hope and showed “that we also know how to do things together”. Facing these global challenges, science unites the world, he said, noting that the seven years left until 2030 is “not seven years to despair”, but can strategically shape the transformations the international community wants to see. The interrelation between science and political decisions is key to identifying the obstacles that require attention. Many of these decisions must be taken by different actors, not just by Governments, he stressed, underlining the need for data and an environment conducive to change for the implementation of national plans that will accelerate transformative action.
Responding to the moderator’s question about priorities to consider in capacity-building of State and non-State stakeholders, Ms. SCHOLZ pointed out that typically, Governments are organized in departments, providing specialization but facing obstacles for coordination and linkages. As such, specific capacities are needed, first in public administration and policy makers at all levels for strategizing and cooperation across policy fields and all groups of society and devising policy action that is fit for each transformation phase and specific country context. Another capacity needed by all actors is the ability to create trust and achieve transparency, she added.
Responding to the question about how countries can minimize impediments and maximize enabling conditions, Mr. MIRANDA referred to the report and said the S-curve helps shed light on how transformations move from emergency through stabilization, passing through a phase of acceleration. This knowledge should be an incentive to information and support strategic decisions with a view to conceptualizing desirable transformations, which would then be prioritized, protected and promoted, he said, stressing: “This is not just a job for Governments. It is a job for everyone.”
Ms. CLOVER said the Millennials Movement was part of the Latin American and Caribbean regional consultations held in Lima in November 2022 where young people had the opportunity to share the challenges they face as well as their perspectives on how implementation of the 2030 Agenda translates to their context. The report is an action plan on how to change for the better and has the potential to guide youth advocacy and action in the region to drive change the present that impacts their future, she underscored, calling on Member States and diverse stakeholders to amplify the power of youth action. The Millennials Movement is committed to mobilize youth in the region not to advance but to accelerate transformation, she added
Responding to a final question about how the report and its interdisciplinary process assists Member States’ deliberations, Ms. SCHOLZ said she has made efforts to send the report’s message in the German and European debate and has echoed the Secretary-General’s call for a clear and strong political declaration that enables words to be translated into action, based on socially robust and local knowledge to support the design of context-specific and localized solutions, which together shape a more sustainable world.
Mr. MIRANDA said the interrelation between science, academia and policy decisions is essential. “Science unites us and can help us find the path that brings us together, so we can work together for the common good,” he said, calling on all to work and take informed decisions together.
* The 10th & 11th meetings were not covered.