Volume 17, No.08 - August 2013

Feature articles

Food, Energy and Cities discussed online with DESA experts

Photo: UN DESA

As a way to bring United Nations reports closer to the general public, eight experts from DESA held a Facebook chat on 25 July to promote the recently launched World Economic and Social Survey 2013. Here are some of the questions and issues raised from all around the globe and an overview of the report.

During two hours, on 25 July, eight experts from the Development Strategy and Policy Analysis unit (DSP) of DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division (DPAD) sat in a Conference room at UN Headquarters in New York with an unusual goal: discussing with the public online about the recently launched World Economic and Social Survey 2013. The event enabled the team to reach a wider audience, and to get a sense about the thinking and understanding of sustainable development issues across a wide and varied non-specialist audience.

Survey seeks to promote innovative strategies

The World Economic and Social Survey 2013 (WESS 2013) is the annual United Nations survey of global development issues. This year it focuses on three major challenges that will have to be addressed to achieve sustainable development, in particular food and nutrition security, energy transformation and the sustainability of cities. For each of these challenges, particular solutions were identified to achieve sustainable development.

According to the Survey, the vision of promoting economic and social wellbeing while protecting the environment has not been achieved. This is due to gaps and shortfalls in development partnerships, rapid growth of population and urbanization, rising inequality, climate change and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption leading to environmental degradation.

The WESS 2013 establishes that letting things go as they are now in those three areas is not an option. Formulating and adopting a comprehensive but focused set of sustainable development goals (SDGs), as currently debated in the General Assembly’s Open Working Group on SDGs, will be a critical first step towards addressing the challenges.

For example, to address rapid urbanization will require multilevel planning and cooperation at local and national levels and partnerships to mobilize public and private resources. Without innovative strategies to integrate economic, social, and environmental aspects, there is a serious risk that the number of people living in slums and lacking access to basic infrastructure and services such as sanitation, electricity, and health care may dramatically rise from one billion now to three billion by 2050.

Innovative strategies will be needed to attract the major investments to promote sustainable development. “We have to take actions now that will enhance the benefits of cities, while reducing the threats to sustainable development”, said Wu Hongbo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the time of the launch of  the WESS 2013.

Facebook brings participants from diverse backgrounds together

The panel of experts comprised the members of the WESS 2013 core team: Willem van der Geest, Chief DSP and Nazrul Islam, Nicole Hunt, Alex Julca, Marco Sanchez-Cantillo, Oliver Schwank, Sergio Vieira and  Eduardo Zepeda. The WESS 2013 team engaged with a total of 315 people from across the globe.

Participants were from very diverse geographical and professional backgrounds: young professional from developing countries, seasoned professionals, university students and researchers, and civil society organizers and activists. The team engaged with young professionals, typically in their mid-twenties, from Kenya, DRC Congo, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India, Thailand and elsewhere. Seasoned professionals, sometimes presenting their own publications and research results, were online from India as well as across Europe and North America. University students and researchers were online from Europe, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Canada and elsewhere. Civil society organizers and activists were the most varied group, ranging from those advocating training for young women in Africa, to a school teacher from Zambia, to a women’s network in New York.

Issues raised remained largely within the confines of the pre-identified topics (environmental sustainability, food and nutrition security, energy transformation, sustainable cities, sustainable development in general) and included pertinent questions about the relation between MDGs and SDGs, plans and programmes for Africa, the proposed approach to the global commons and desertification, the scope for sustainable development in conflict-zones, and energy transformation. Some participants provided comments and opinions, and even answers, rather than questions.

How does the UN address sustainable development?

Regarding sustainable development, Nahid Khan from Dhaka asked “Bangladesh is a developing country and it has many sustainable problems like transportation, food security, and energy transformation. How does the UN address these problems?”

The experts recognized the challenges that this country is facing in terms of sustainability, and showcased ways in which the UN can help: “One way is by providing ideas and suggested policies that can be helpful. The second way is by providing fund and project implementation expertise through UN funds and agencies such as UNDP. For example, UNDP financed the “Sustainable Environment Management Project (SEMP)” in Bangladesh. It is a big project in support of Bangladesh’s pro-environment efforts”.

Reducing waste or increasing productivity?

João Saraiva Gomes from Portugal was