Economic Growth and Sustainable Development

2015 marked the target date for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and the start of the post-2015 development and climate processes, which ultimately aim to eradicate poverty, improve people’s lives, and rapidly transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy, are mutually reinforcing: when acted on together, they can provide prosperity and security for present and future generations.

UN Photo/Kibae Park
Rice fields belonging to local hill tribes in Sapa, Viet Nam.

Sustainable development, which balances current needs with the needs of future generations, is at the core of the UN's development agenda.

The UN has shifted to the idea of sustainable development in part because of climate change.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if climate change is left unchecked, it will increase the likelihood of severe, irreversible changes to our ecosystems. Sustainable development, because it is less harmful to our ecosystems, can help in the fight against climate change.  Sustainable development will also help the development needs of the poor and most vulnerable, who have contributed the least to the climate change problem.

From MDGs to SDGs

The Millennium Development Goals have been a great success in many ways. The global extreme poverty rate has been halved and continues to decline. More children than ever are attending primary school. Child deaths have dropped dramatically. About 2.6 billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source. Targeted investments in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have saved millions. 

Plans are now being made within the UN system to ensure that sustainable development goals can be met, as well.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted at a high-level summit in September 2015, where a set of action-oriented and universal sustainable development goals were presented, leading to a renewed global partnership for development, backed by civil society, the private sector, parliamentarians and the scientific and academic community.

Climate Change

At the Climate Summit in September 2014 at UN Headquarters in New York, global leaders from government, business, finance and civil society came together to announce bold commitments to eight action areas in the fight against climate change.

In December 2015 Member States signed a historic universal climate agreement in Paris.  The agreement provides a pathway forward to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, maybe even 1.5. The new agreement is to enter into force in 2020.

Without urgent action on climate change by the international community, humanity may face a grim future. The fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for significant reductions of greenhouse-gas emissions, which have recently increased to dangerous levels, due in part to an over-reliance on CO2-emitting fossil fuels and an under-reliance on renewable energy sources.

Sustained economic growth and sustainable development are dependent on the development of sustainable energy sources.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's Sustainable Energy for All initiative brings together top-level leadership from all sectors of society (governments, business and civil society).  The goal of this initiative is to transform the world’s energy systems by ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling global energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy sources in the global energy mix.

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