Feature Vol 23, No. 06 - June 2019

For persons with disabilities, the sky is not the limit

At the age of two Edward (Eddie) Ndopu’s life seemed over before it had even begun. That year, he had been diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), a genetic disease that affects the nerve cells that help us walk, eat or breathe. According to doctors, Eddie would not live beyond his fifth birthday. Driven by a relentless pursuit of a full life, Eddie not only survived, he was able to get an education and go on to become the first African with a disability to graduate from Oxford University and become the UN Secretary-General’s SDG Advocate. Today, he is making plans to become the first wheelchair user to go into space.

“My voyage to space is really a full circle moment for me,” Eddie says. “I defied my prognosis. I was told I would never live beyond the age of five, and I’m here and it seems to me that the logical next step is to defy gravity; to show the world that people with disabilities have enormous capacity for brilliance and to achieve the extraordinary.”

As he reaches for the stars, Eddie continues to amplify the voices of persons with disabilities around the world, many of whom continue to be marginalized, isolated and neglected, facing barriers to access education, jobs and to be fully included in society.

Today, 44 per cent of countries prevent students with disabilities from being taught in the same classroom as others. In some countries, over 1 in 10 persons with disabilities have been refused school enrolment. And despite having greater health-care needs, one in three people with disabilities today cannot afford health-care facilities.

The United Nations is working to change that through the  Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Adopted in 2006 and ratified by 177 countries so far, this landmark document is the largest human rights treaty in the world and it is paving the way towards full inclusion and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities.

From 11 to 13 June, UN Member States, UN entities, NGOs and civil society organizations will meet in New York for the 12th session of the Conference of States Parties (COSP) to the Convention, held under the theme “Ensuring inclusion of persons with disabilities in a changing world through the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres will open the Conference and announce the launch of the new UN Disability Inclusion Strategy, opening a new chapter in the history of the UN’s work to promote the rights of persons with disabilities. The strategy will establish the UN’s vision on disability inclusion and provide an accountability framework with objectives for the UN at the individual and country team levels.

The Conference will also discuss such issues as technology, digitalization and ICTs for the empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities, social inclusion and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and inclusion of persons with disabilities in society through participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sports.

In addition, over 80 side events will cover a wide variety of issues related to the inclusion of persons with disabilities, such as education, the use of assistive technology, inclusion through sports and women and girls with disabilities. These events will also showcase global, regional and national initiatives for the inclusion of persons with disabilities.

In the lead up to the conference, the NGO Committee on Social Development will host a Civil Society Forum on 10 June to strengthen partnerships among stakeholders.

For more information: 12th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD

See also the recently published UN Disability and Development Report 2018

Follow the event live: UN Web TV 

The world-changing innovators of tomorrow may not be who you think

Our world is moving fast. We need smart, workable solutions to the world’s biggest problems and we need them, urgently, to keep up with our rapidly changing societies. More investment in science, technology and innovation (STI) is needed, but so is more investment in a wider range of voices from outside the traditional STI powerhouses of academia and the private sector. Solutions can come from—and already are coming from—young people, community-based organizations, civil society organizations, indigenous groups and more.

From 14 to 15 May, the United Nations will welcome experts from all these diverse groups to its Headquarters in New York for two days of stimulating discussions on how STI can generate new solutions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The annual STI Forum, organized by UN DESA, will also look at the impacts that new technologies are having on communities around the world.

This year’s Forum will look in detail at the innovative solutions that can push the needle on the critical issues of education, decent jobs and economic growth, inequality, climate change, peaceful and just societies, and partnerships for the goals.

These are also the topics and Goals that will be reviewed by this year’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The STI Forum will look at the links between these goals through the lens of creative, real-world examples of STI in action. Additionally, a session on youth, innovation ecosystems and development will show how young people help drive SDG implementation through their unique networks. For the first time, the Forum will also include a special ministerial segment entitled “Strengthening capacity and policy for the development of STI roadmaps.”

For the third year in a row, the STI Forum will highlight 10 inspiring projects from across the world that are already helping to implement the SDGs. The innovative entrepreneurs in charge of these projects will be featured in an Innovators’ Showcase in the UN General Assembly lobby. They will also have the opportunity to pitch their innovations to the Forum audience in hope of building new support networks.

This year’s winning innovators, selected from more than 350 entries in a global competition organized by UN DESA with the support of the Global Innovation Exchange, are working on the ground to reduce food waste, improve access to legal services, build sustainable housing and achieve other big goals.

Other highlights of the Forum will feature the contributions of indigenous and traditional knowledge towards improving scientific knowledge and providing practical solutions for the SDGs, as well as a special exhibit on the contributions of women scientists to the SDGs, to be held in the Visitors’ Lobby. A dedicated session will examine how to attract, retain and enhance the contribution of women and girls to STI for the SDGs.

The STI Forum is a part of the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) envisioned by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Forum is supported by the Inter‑Agency Task Team on STI for the SDGs (IATT) currently comprising 42 UN entities, as well as the Secretary-General’s 10-member group of experts to support the TFM.

For more information:

4th Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals

Innovation and technology for more effective government spending and financing

India is pursuing ambitious, technology-driven reform that is making financial services and social protection payments accessible to underserved people, while also reducing leakage of public funds. This reflects part of one government’s effort to more effectively plan and fund its sustainable development strategy, the main theme of the “Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2019”, the latest assessment of the progress that countries are making in mobilizing financing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

JAM, as the Indian initiative is known, integrates a universal biometric digital identity registry, government-sponsored bank accounts for the unbanked, and mobile phone numbers to create a low-cost financial infrastructure that offers services previously out of reach for most Indians.

The J in JAM stands for ‘Jan Dhan’ bank accounts, which free citizens from minimum-balance requirements and provide them low-cost insurance and access to government loans and subsidies. More than 326 million accounts have been opened since 2014. These are now linked to citizens’ unique identification numbers – ‘Aadhaar’, the A in JAM – to provide fraud protection while easing access to public and private services. Some 1.2 billion unique IDs have been issued since 2009. The M in JAM stands for mobile phone numbers, through which India’s 1.16 billion mobile subscribers can access services. The initiative’s positive impacts include saving the government some US$ 8.1 billion, for example by reducing “leakages” of public expenditures that do not arrive at their intended destination.

Now in its fourth year, the “Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2019” is set for release on Thursday, 4 April 2019, in advance of the IMF-World Bank Spring Meetings and ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development. A collaboration by 60 agencies, led by UN DESA, in close cooperation with the World Bank Group, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the United Nations Development Programme.

The report focuses this year on government techniques and efforts to project public and private expenditures and investments over longer term periods and choose the most appropriate combinations of public and private sources to fund them. While governments are working at national level, systemic risks are rising, and the multilateral system is under strain. The report warns that a failure to reshape both national and international financial systems will result in the failure of the international community to deliver the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including eliminating extreme poverty and combatting climate change. The Task Force was mandated by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and is chaired by Mr. Zhenmin Liu, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs.

This report contributes to the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development which will take place from 15 – 18 April at the UN Headquarters. The SDG Investment Fair, which brings together government officials and investors, will also be held on 15 – 17 April. Later this month, the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters will also take place on 23 – 26 April with a focus on strengthening the role of taxation in mobilizing domestic resources for sustainable development. In addition, this year’s ECOSOC Special Meeting on taxation and the digitized economy, environmental protection and reducing inequality, will be held on 29 April.

For more information:

Financing for Sustainable Development Report 2019, released on 4 April 2019

ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development, 15-18 April 2019

SDG Investment Fair, 15-17 April 2019

18th Session of the UN Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters (Committee),  23 to 26 April 2019

2019 ECOSOC special meeting, “International Cooperation in Tax Matters”, 29 April 2019

How data improves our lives? Let us count the ways

When asked about data, our first thought will usually jump to the Internet, mobile phones, computers and to the endless possibilities these technologies bring about. But we rarely spare a thought for other kinds of data, which accompany us throughout our lives and which we often take for granted. So much so that they have almost become invisible. From life-saving healthcare, to education, poverty and gender equality, data underpins every aspect of a modern human existence.

Over seven decades and 50 sessions, the UN Statistical Commission has been guiding the world’s data and statistical production. As the Commission holds its 50th session this month, we explore how data can improve, and sometimes even save the lives of people.

In public health, accurate data can literally mean the difference between life and death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 303,000 mothers die during childbirth every year and 2.7 million babies die during their first 28 days of life. We know how to prevent the majority of these maternal deaths and up to 75 per cent of newborn deaths. But we can only prevent them, if we know where, when and to whom they are happening. In short, better data has the power to save millions of lives.

When it comes to education, better data helps us understand that improving school enrolment is just half the battle. The other challenge is to ensure that every child attending a classroom actually develops the skills they need to thrive.

A 2017 study by the UNESCO Institute for Statistics found that 617 million children and adolescents – six out of every 10 – are not reaching minimum proficiency levels in reading and mathematics. What is even more worrying, roughly two thirds of the 617 million children who are not learning enough, are attending school.

The global learning crisis has been revealed thanks to better data and it is with better data that we should start fixing it. Today, 80 per cent of countries assess the quality of learning, but the results they produce cannot be compared. Better tools are needed to monitor and improve learning worldwide and ensure that no one is left behind.

Achieving better education and health are just two of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the world has set itself for the year 2030. Measuring humanity’s progress towards achieving these 17 Goals and 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a titanic task that includes compiling and analyzing data on 232 indicators for every country in the world. Such a feat can only be achieved with a substantial increase in funding and capacity-building for national statistical systems.

However, investing in statistical capacity is rarely high on the priority list, especially in least developed countries or countries in situation of conflict. Consequently, people in those countries face a higher risk of falling behind, as they often remain invisible to official statistics and policy analyses.

Tracking SDGs progress also requires innovation, such as the use of geospatial and big data analysis tools and tapping new data sources like satellite imagery and mobile data. These new sources, coupled with strengthened partnerships for better data, can complement the traditional data sources – such as that gathered in population censuses, household surveys and administrative registers – and ensure that quality data and statistics are at the center of development policies.

While certainly a tremendous challenge, the gigantic surge in demand for data started by the SDGs, has also helped us realize the gaps in our understanding of the world. The 2030 Agenda motivates countries around the world to begin or to improve monitoring everything from air and water quality to the prevalence of discrimination, to electricity access.

To deliver on the 2030 Agenda’s central promise of leaving no one behind, we must first ensure everyone is counted and accounted for. That is why more and better data is fundamental for making our world a better place by 2030.

Leading up to the opening of the 50th Session of the UN Statistical Commission, UN DESA will organize a Seminar on the Future of Economic Statistics. It will be a unique opportunity to interact, exchange and learn from leading economists, statisticians and academics, including the Nobel laureate, Professor Joseph Stiglitz. Follow it live on webtv.un.org.

For more information:

50th Session of the UN Statistical Commission

The generation that can change the world – if we let them

In a world where climate change wreaks havoc on our economies, societies and environment, where unemployment and inequalities are rampant and where trust in international cooperation is falling, what can keep us from losing faith that the world 2030 will be a better place for everyone? UN DESA’s World Youth Report offers one good reason for optimism: the next generation is different.

“We have come here to let [world leaders] know that change is coming whether they like it or not,” was probably the most quoted sentence coming from the recent COP 24 climate conference. It was not uttered by the UN Secretary-General nor by any of the Heads of State and Government, but by a 15-year-old from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, who had sparked a powerful global movement of school strikes for climate action.

Her words are representative of the attitudes of today’s young generation. A recent study, conducted in 15 countries worldwide, found that globally, young people are more optimistic about the future than older generations. Despite facing much higher unemployment rates, more instability and lower wages than their predecessors, today’s youth are entering adulthood confident that they can build a better future for themselves and for those that follow.

Case studies from all corners of the world, gathered by the World Youth Report, seem to justify young people’s optimism. From a youth movement driving climate action across the Arab region to an organization expanding digital literacy among young people in rural Philippines, to a global youth network for sexual and reproductive rights, young people everywhere are indeed stepping in where previous generations have failed.

“The latest UN DESA’s World Youth Report is clear: Young people have the potential to save the world. All we have to do is let them do just that,” said Assistant Secretary-General at UN DESA and UN Chief Economist Elliott Harris. “And that means giving them a fair shot at quality education and decent jobs.”

Sadly, today’s young generation continues to be left behind when it comes to education and employment. According to the World Youth Report, one in four people of secondary-school age are not enrolled in a school and less than half of all young people are participating in the labour market. And even among those that do have a job, one in six live in extreme poverty.

These numbers are more than mere statistics – they stand for squandered potential of millions of people whose capabilities and enthusiasm could have greatly accelerated our progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ensuring access to inclusive, quality education is essential for young people’s chances of finding decent work. Quality primary and secondary education are not enough. They should be complemented by affordable technical, vocational and tertiary education that provides youth with relevant skills for employment and entrepreneurship.

If we do want a better future in the year 2030, we have to urgently invest in those who will create it.

For more information: World Youth Report

In this together – why cooperation is the only way forward for global economy

As we usher in the new year, we find ourselves in a world fraught with uncertainty and challenges. On the surface, global macroeconomic indicators remain favourable, but they mask underlying risks and imbalances. The global trade disputes are intensifying, monetary policies are shifting and climate risks threaten to undo decades of development gains. These are just some of the factors that endanger not only our current economic activity but could also negatively impact longer-term development.

What is more, economic growth is uneven, often not reaching the people that need it the most. In many countries, per capita income is continuing to decline and poverty rates remain high. If we want to achieve the ambitious goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we have to look past the headline economic figures and build growth on sustainable foundations. The world is in urgent need of concrete and effective policy action to support growth in the future.

“We must act urgently and – even more importantly – we must act collectively,” says Elliott Harris, UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development.  “Opting out of the global economy is not an option. For better or for worse, we are all in it together and only together can we find the solutions to the problems that blight our world. We need our multilateral system now more than ever.”

His call for more international cooperation comes at a time when the multilateral approach to global policy-making is facing significant headwinds.

Whether in international trade or environmental sustainability, truly global problems require truly global policy approaches. The sooner the global actors commit to that reality, the faster will we be able to grapple with the challenges that face our generation.

On 21 January, UN DESA will launch the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019, providing a detailed analysis of the driving forces behind the global economic growth. The report, a joint effort of UN DESA, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the five UN Regional Commissions, with contributions from other UN agencies, is expected to issue a clarion call to safeguard and build on the multilateral policy framework. Our future – not only in economic terms – will depend on our ability to work together at this critical juncture.

Watch the launch live on 21 January: UN Web TV

For more information: World Economic Situation and Prospects

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