Feature Vol 22, No. 12 - December 2018

Their own goals – migration driving sustainable development

Close to 190 countries are set to adopt the groundbreaking UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. Among its many features, the Compact recognizes the contributions of migrants to the development of their host and origin countries. Migrant workers fill gaps in the labour market in host countries. The money that they send back home helps their families to achieve their own sustainable development goals.

Greg Balmes Jr. was punching the steering wheel and wiping off his tears on the way to the airport. He had just returned to the Philippines a month ago after seven years spent in Italy, working as an undocumented migrant. But with no economic prospects at home, it was time for him to go abroad again, and leave his wife and two children behind.

Sitting on the passenger seat next to Greg, his wife, Grace, decided she would not watch idly as her family breaks up anew. She would help her husband by starting her own business, using the money he had sent her from Italy. Through daily sacrifices and extraordinary self-discipline, supported by a financial literacy course, Grace had been able to set aside a small sum – just enough to open a small store and invest in a school van. The business thrived and, three years later, Grace was making enough money to allow Greg to leave his job in Italy and return home.

After ten years abroad, Greg is finally reunited with his family in the Philippines, working as a school van driver and helping Grace with her business. “I don’t want a big house like my neighbours, who had big houses, also from working in Italy, but no one was living there because they were all outside the country,” Grace says. “Now, our house, even if smaller than my neighbours’, is bigger, because we have a big, happy family living inside it.”

Across the world, over 800 million people like Grace depend on money sent by their loved ones abroad, according to data of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). These remittances are a vital lifeline that allows them to live in dignity and invest in such essentials as education for their children, healthcare and decent housing – all focus areas of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The money they receive also contributes to financial inclusion by providing seed capital and access to loans, helping migrants’ families to start their own businesses, as was the case with Grace. Every year, international migrants send close to half a trillion dollars in remittances to developing countries – this is more than the gross domestic product of Norway and around three times the amount that developing countries receive in official aid.

Yet, for all their positive impact, transferring remittances back home has been a costly affair. According to the latest World Bank data, fees eat up, on average, seven per cent of the migrant remittance transfers. Considering that Grace was able to open her business by saving just five per cent of the remittances from her husband, this number is staggering. Considering the sacrifices that she, her husband and her children had to make, it is heartbreakingly high.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to limit the cost of remittances globally to an average of three per cent by 2030, but progress to hit that target has been slow so far. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, set to be adopted by close to 190 countries on 10 December, seeks to speed up the reduction of remittance transfer fees and to promote the productive use of these transfers.

A result of years of preparations and negotiations, with the support of UN DESA and numerous other partners, the Global Compact proposes numerous concrete actions to make sending money back home, faster, safer and cheaper. The Global Compact also aims to promote investments by diaspora groups in their countries of origin and to foster the financial inclusion of migrants and their families through improving their access to banking and including women in financial literacy training.

Delivering on the commitments of the Global Compact for Migration would radically improve the lives of millions of migrants and of hundreds of millions of their family members, lifting even more of them out of poverty. This global agreement could help unleash the full potential of migration to drive sustainable development, making success stories like that of Grace and Greg much more common.

For more information:

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

Get latest data on international migration from UN DESA’s Population Division

International Day of Family Remittances (16 June)

Internet forum aims to build trust, while leaving no one offline

The Internet has become an integrated part of our lives, from accessing an education, to receiving healthcare services and to conducting business. The digital transformation we are experiencing is spreading across the most remote areas in the world. The frontier technologies are opening new boundaries and possibilities for development. As we move forward, our dependence on the Internet and technologies will grow even further.

Meanwhile, the Internet also brings risks and serious dangers to our lives: cyberthreats, fake news, information misuse by terrorists, sexual exploitation and data abuse. As our dependence to the Internet grows, it is high time to think and re-think: how much can we trust the Internet?

To address this concern, more than 3,000 representatives from governments, the private sector, technical community and the civil society will gather in Paris on 12-14 November 2018 at the annual global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to look at a range of issues and actions that can be taken to ensure an “Internet of Trust.”

The IGF, convened by the United Nations Secretary-General, serves to bring people together from various stakeholder groups as equals in discussions on public policy issues relating to the Internet. The Forum promotes dialogue and encourages an exchange of ideas to better govern the internet so that it is a safe and trustworthy environment for all.

“With technology outracing institutions, cooperation between countries and among stakeholders will be crucial, including Member States, the private sector, research centres, civil society and academia,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, addressing the opening of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly . “There are many mutually beneficial solutions for digital challenges. We need urgently to find the way to apply them”.

The thirteenth session of the IGF will discuss some of the most pressing Internet Governance issues today: Cybersecurity, Trust and Privacy, Digital Inclusion and Accessibility, Emerging Technologies, Evolution of Internet Governance, Human Rights, Gender and Youth Development, Innovation and Economic Issues, Media & Content, and Technical and Operational Topics; and Trends such as Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, Virtual Reality, Fake News and Net Neutrality; and many others.

These discussions will act as inputs toward the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which relies on robust and strategic use of ICTs and sound Internet policies.

With its mandate renewed for 10 years by the UN General Assembly in December 2015, the IGF has consolidated its position as a platform for bringing together members of various stakeholder groups as equals.

While there is no negotiated outcome, the IGF informs and inspires those with policy-making powers in both the public and private sectors. Delegates will hold discussions, exchange information and share good practices with each other at the annual meeting for collectively shaping the digital future.

The IGF is also a truly global event, as the forum invites the online community to participate via remote hubs. Wherever you are in the world, find out how to join and register here.

Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

UN World Data Forum ready for take-off in Dubai

The stage is set for the United Nations World Data Forum, coming up in Dubai on 22-24 October, and all signs indicate that it will be an exciting, innovative and productive event for the global data community. Data leaders from national statistical offices, NGOs, the private sector, academia and international organizations are fully mobilized to collaborate on tackling data gaps and challenges, launching new initiatives and identifying mechanisms to increase financing and support for better data for sustainable development.

The Forum will kick off with an opening ceremony featuring statements by Amina J. Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates; and Jack Dangermond, the CEO of Esri, the industry leader in GIS technology used to create digital maps.

At a joint press briefing in mid-September linking Dubai and New York, Abdullah Nasser Lootah, the Director-General of the UAE Federal Competitiveness and Statistics Authority, host of the upcoming Forum, stated that there are nearly 2,000 registrations from over 100 countries, showing an even greater interest than the first Forum in Cape Town, South Africa in January 2017, which already brought together a large number of data experts.

The 2018 Forum will also feature a high-level session on improving migration statistics, which will serve as a contribution towards an international conference that will adopt a global compact for migration, coming up on 10-11 December in Marrakech, Morocco, also supported by UN DESA.

“There is an unprecedented demand for migration data,” said Mr. Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, who will be speaking in Dubai. “The UN World Data Forum will play an important role in helping us set new strategies for how to better track the over 258 million migrants around the world, so that governments and international organizations can ensure safe and orderly movements of people and the services they need.” SDG Advocate Alaa Murabit of The Voice of Libyan Women is also expected to speak at this gathering.

A session on financing for data and statistics, being organized by the High-Level Group for Partnership Coordination and Capacity Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda, will focus on how to fill the funding gap for data and statistics. Based on an OECD report, this gap currently is $200 million annually. The session will explore innovative financing solutions that could provide national statistical systems with the necessary resources to monitor progress on the breadth of the 2030 Agenda.

The Cape Town Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data launched at the first Forum set the framework for what needs to be done,” said Stefan Schweinfest, the Director of the Statistics Division in UN DESA, at the recent briefing in September. “But we need implementation and financing, which will be a major focus in Dubai.” He also noted that many new projects will be put forward to produce better data by tapping into non-traditional sources, such as mobile phone data, and that hot topics such as data privacy and governance will also feature at the Forum.

“This is a really important meeting,” summed up Clint Brown of ESRI. To passionately advocate for open data; to promote data as a tool to diagnose and right injustices, especially those against women and children; to examine the human rights implications and prevent the misuse of data innovation for the SDGs; to be able to talk frankly but respectfully with data leaders from so many countries and areas of expertise – these are some of the reasons stated as to why the Forum matters.  As they say, “See you in Dubai.”

For more information:

United Nations World Data Forum

The Cape Town Action Plan for Sustainable Development Data

Marking three years since historic moment: Efforts continue to keep the promise of the global goals

Three years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world has seen both important progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and setbacks that require urgent action. “We have only 12 more years until 2030 to fully realize this transformative agenda, but these Goals are absolutely within our reach. It will require policy makers’ unwavering attention, a laser-sharp focus on implementation of these Goals, and a true sense of urgency,” said UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin at the recent 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

The SDGs have galvanized actors across the board and helped forge promising partnerships. Many governments have adapted their national institutions and policies in line with the SDGs, often in coordination with parliaments and local and regional governments. NGOs, the private sector, academia and many other stakeholders are continuously stepping up their engagement for the 2030 Agenda and its vision of leaving no one behind.

This broad commitment has led to significant achievements, as the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 shows. Since the turn of the century, the maternal mortality ratio in sub-Saharan Africa has declined by 35 per cent and the under-five mortality rate has dropped by 50 per cent. Basic education has been expanded. In the least developed countries, the proportion of the people with access to electricity has more than doubled. And, globally, labor productivity has increased, and unemployment rate decreased.

However, despite these successes, the world is lagging, and even backtracking, in some areas. For the first time in a decade, the number of people who are undernourished has increased, mainly due to conflict, drought and disasters linked to climate change. Gender inequality continues to hold women back and deprive them of basic rights and opportunities. 9 in 10 people living in cities breathe polluted air. And investment in critical sustainable infrastructure remains entirely inadequate.

It will take strong resolve to address the major global challenges that are making the SDGs harder to achieve, such as runaway climate change, a growing number of conflicts, inequality and persistent pockets of poverty. Solutions are available. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is the blueprint for a more sustainable and peaceful planet. By engaging young people, tackling climate change, increasing financing for sustainable development, and harnessing the power of technology, the challenges can be overcome.

Effective multilateralism is a further crucial element for SDGs success. For its part, the United Nations is engaged in a comprehensive reform of its development system which aims to make it more effective, cohesive and accountable in delivering on the 2030 Agenda.

The central global UN review forum for the SDGs, the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), is another key tool and has seen a year-on-year increase in participants. 108 countries have conducted Voluntary National Reviews at the HLPF, in which they presented how they are implementing the 2030 Agenda and SDGs.

“The HLPF allowed us to pause, take a step back, and gauge how we stand on the road towards the SDGs. We are proud of the many advances we have been making. But we also emerge with a better awareness of where the gaps are. This knowledge will help us to focus efforts in the year to come,” said Mr. Liu, as the HLPF closed its 2018 session.

As the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly kicks off its high-level week on 24 September, three years will have passed since the historic adoption of the SDGs on 25 September 2015. Events to mark this occasion are currently being planned and as in previous years, the SDG Media Zone will feature many interesting panel events and interviews, showcasing actions to deliver the goals on the ground.

For more information:

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018

High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

SDG Media Zone at the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly

E-government – using technology to reach those furthest behind

While artificial intelligence, robotics and other new technologies are sparking what some call the Fourth Industrial Revolution, large parts of the world are yet to enjoy the benefits of the first three. Such basic necessities as clean water and electricity are still elusive for billions of people. But a new survey by UN DESA analyses how the latest technologies can benefit even the furthest left behind – through e-government.

Released on 18 July, the 2018 E-Government Survey concluded that countries in all regions of the world have improved their e-government services delivery to vulnerable populations thanks to the greater ease of gathering, processing and disseminating data and information, and to the decreasing cost of mobile subscriptions and fast-evolving technologies.

The Survey found a steady increase, since 2012, in the number of country websites with information and online services about specific programmes benefiting women and children, persons with disabilities, older persons, indigenous people, and people living in poverty.

In the 2018 e-government development ranking, Denmark, Australia, and the Republic of Korea came out on top, scoring very high on the E-Government Development Index (EGDI), which measures countries’ use of information and communications technologies to deliver public services. The Index captures the scope and quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity.

This year, 40 countries made the top tier of the index, compared to 29 states in 2016. These countries also lead in their respective regional rankings in Europe, Oceania and Asia. Mauritius is leading in Africa and the United States in the Americas.

Globally, almost two thirds of 193 United Nations Members States now demonstrate a high-level of e-government development with EGDI values in the range of 0.5 and 1. The share of countries with low e-government levels, in the range of 0 to 0.25, has dropped by a significant 50 percent,  has dropped by a significant 50 percent, from 32 countries in 2016 to 16 countries in 2018.

For the first time, the role of cities has been underlined.  Local governments are indeed the policymakers and catalysts of change. They are also best-placed to bind the SDGs with local communities.

In addition to the rapid e-government growth at the global level, a persistent positive trend towards higher levels of e-government development is also seen at the regional and local levels.

Yet, despite some gains and major investments in e-government development made by many countries, the digital divide persists. Fourteen countries out of sixteen with low scores are African and belong to the least developed countries group.  The regional average index scores for countries in Africa and Oceania are significantly lower than the world average EGDI of 0.55, comprising 0.34 for Africa and 0.46 for Oceania.

This indicates that the digital divide could deepen between people who have access to Internet and online services and those who do not, jeopardizing the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals for leaving no one behind.

“The majority of the world’s population remains offline, which increases the risk that vulnerable groups without Internet access will fall further behind in the rapidly progressing digital society,” warns the report. However, it also notes the many opportunities to enhance social and digital inclusion through e-government.

The convergence of innovative technologies such as Big Data, Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, is promoting a dramatic shift towards more data and machine-driven societies. Furthermore e-government and ICTs are recognized as an enabler in supporting all phases of natural disaster risk management from prevention, reduction, preparedness to response and recovery.

Today, fast-evolving technologies represent a new challenge for e-government. The solution will come from an unprecedented cooperation between the public sectors, populations and private stakeholders.

Cybersecurity is a key factor in the transformation to resilient e-government. The digital transformation must be thoughtfully strategized and continuously updated to ensure security and relevance along the path to sustainable development.

For more information:

2018 E-Government Survey

High-level Political Forum gathers thousands to assess global efforts to realize Sustainable Development Goals

Are we on track to realize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030? Where are we making progress, and where do we need to step up efforts? On 9-18 July 2018, the world will come together at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to evaluate where we stand in this joint quest for a prosperous, equal and healthy future for people and planet. 47 countries stand ready to share their efforts, lessons learned and experiences to meet the globally agreed goals.

For the third consecutive year, UN Member States, business leaders, mayors, the scientific community, foundations, UN agencies and civil society organizations will assess efforts to make the global goals a reality for people and communities on the ground. More than 2000 representatives are expected to attend the meeting this year, taking place under the theme “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”.

To help guide the debate, new data showing our performance on the 17 SDGs, have just been released and presented in the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 (SDGs Report 2018). While the report shows that more people are living better; it paints a picture of mounting challenges for countries to overcome to realize the goals. Climate change, conflicts, inequality, poverty, rapid urbanization, rising trade tensions, elevated debt levels and a rise in hunger are among those hurdles.

At this year’s HLPF, the spotlight will shine especially bright on six goals and world leaders will agree on further actions to achieve them: Water and sanitation (Goal 6); affordable and clean energy (Goal 7); sustainable cities and communities (Goal 11); responsible consumption and production (Goal 12); life on land (Goal 15); and strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the global partnership for sustainable development (Goal 17).

Making every drop count
Water is life; and it is a basic human right. Yet today, 3 in 10 people lack safely managed drinking water and a majority live without safely managed sanitation services. According to the latest SDGs Report 2018, conflict, violence and instability are factors hampering progress on water and sanitation.

“You may ask, what is the big deal about investing in provision of safe water, adequate sanitation and hygiene?” wrote WaterAid’s Savio Carvalho in a recent HLPF 2018 blog post. “But these basic needs – these human rights – have huge impacts on every facet of people’s lives, and we will end neither inequalities nor poverty without ensuring they are met. Living without these essentials is holding billions of people back in poverty.”

Aiming to tackle the global water crises and moving closer to achieve Goal 6, the HLPF will kick off its annual session and programme on 9 July with this goal first on the agenda.

Ensuring access to clean energy
The international community will then debate how to achieve affordable and clean energy as outlined in Goal 7. The latest figures reveal that at the current pace, progress towards achieving this goal is too slow for a successful outcome. If we do not step up efforts, we will not be able to reach the energy targets set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

This means that 674 million people might still live without electricity by 2030 and that a large proportion of the global population might still live without access to clean cooking fuels and technologies (the current number stands at 41 per cent).

We also need a faster uptake of modern forms of renewable energy. The share of renewables in our energy consumption increased modestly, from 17.3 per cent in 2014 to 17.5 per cent in 2015.

Resilient cities and sustainable lives
Sustainable cities and sustainable living will be other topics for discussion, with Goal 11 and 12 on the agenda on 11 and 12 July respectively.

Currently, 9 out of 10 city dwellers breathe polluted air and many countries face insufficient basic urban services and infrastructure. To ensure that all urban inhabitants have access to safe and adequate housing, clean air, sustainable transport, basic services and live in resilient and sustainable communities, efforts must be redoubled according to the latest SDGs data.

But there are positive trends as well. The data also show that 152 countries have developed national urban policies to meet these challenges and to support sustainable urbanization.

Forests crucial for healthy people and planet
The 2030 Agenda recognizes the crucial role that forests play for sustainable development. Covering 30.7 per cent of the Earth’s land, they are essential to human well-being and to the health of our planet.

However, the latest SDGs data show that forest areas continue to shrink, down from 4.1 billion hectares in 2000 to about 4 billion hectares in 2015. To halt deforestation, the full implementation of sustainable forest management plans is needed. The data also show that land degradation is increasing due to competing pressures for food, energy and shelter and that biodiversity loss is occurring at an alarming rate.

As Goal 15 will be under review, the international forest community will showcase how sustainably managed forests provide a broad range of products, services and offer unique opportunities to promote sustainable natural resource use. UN DESA’s Forum on Forests Secretariat (UNFFS) is organizing a pre-HLPF event on 8 July on “Forest-based Transformation towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies: Lessons Learned and Success Stories,” to highlight forest-based solutions and demonstrate how implementing the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 can leverage co-benefits and address trade-offs with other goals and commitments.

The Forum Secretariat is also teaming up with partners to present the “Forests for Fashion: for Sustainable Development Goals” exhibit during the HLPF, showcasing the role of forest products in fashion and featuring 15 mannequins each wearing unique outfits made from forest-derived materials.

Businesses and mayors join events in large numbers
In addition to the SDGs in review and 47 national presentations, UN Headquarters will be buzzing with a large number of special events during the eight days of the Forum. In keeping with tradition, the Partnership Exchange event will take place on 13 July, gathering some 300 participants to showcase, explore and scale up partnerships to realize the SDGs. On 16 July, more than 100 mayors from all regions of the world will join the Local and Regional Governments’ Forum, to discuss the role that subnational governments play to realize the goals. Business leaders and corporations will then set the stage for the SDG Business Forum on 17 July, bringing together some 580 participants to foster public-private dialogues, catalyze new partnerships and alliances, and explore innovative business solutions to accelerate the realization of the SDGs.

Voluntary National Review Labs, eight of them in total, will focus on taking stock of the experience thus far with the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) from 16 to18 July. Several sessions of the VNR Lab will focus on a specific cross cutting theme related to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. They will allow a few countries having conducted a VNR between 2016 and 2018 to share their progress, policies, lessons learned, and experiences at the national level. Other countries and actors will have the opportunity to share their own experience and provide advice and support in response to challenges identified by the selected VNR countries.

Film buffs will be happy to know that this year’s Forum will also feature a film festival taking place on 11 and 17 July, featuring the screening of the top six entries to the “Heroes on the Ground” SDG Film Competition, as well as of the documentary “Wasted! The Story Of Food Waste.” In addition, many interesting discussions on the goals and action on the ground to achieve them, will be streamed live from the SDG Media Zone on 16 and 17 July. Most events happening during the HLPF will also be broadcast live via UN Web TV.

The world is three years into this plan that has the potential to completely reshape our future for the better. But to achieve it by 2030, we need to do more, faster. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres wrote in the foreword to the SDGs Report 2018: “With just 12 years left to the 2030 deadline, we must inject a sense of urgency. Achieving the 2030 Agenda requires immediate and accelerated actions by countries along with collaborative partnerships among governments and stakeholders at all levels.”

For more information:

High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Voluntary National Reviews Database

HLPF 2018 blog series

Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018

Inputs to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

No trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection

Responding to the challenges facing the global economy; ensuring enough financial means to fund the Sustainable Development Goals; exploring the digital economy and other frontier issues of sustainable development; and a moment of epiphany. The topics were many as cameras were rolling for the first UN DESA Voice interview with the UN’s Chief Economist Elliott Harris in a sun-drenched Rose Garden at UN Headquarters.

UN DESA’s new Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Elliott Harris, is a veteran when it comes to the international economy and sustainable development. His extensive portfolio spanning 25 years, also reveals a focus on macroeconomic policies, which align well with the three pillars that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Since Mr. Harris took office on 2 April 2018, his schedule has been quite busy with many back-to-back events organized by UN DESA. One of these events featured the launch of the midyear update of one of the department’s flagship reports, the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP).

Economy is growing, but so are the risks

Given Mr. Harris’ position as the very first UN Chief Economist, our team took the opportunity to discuss some of the latest economic trends, the risks presented in the WESP and how to avoid them. “I think it’s less a question of avoiding these risks, than it is a question of recognizing them and dealing with them,” Mr. Harris said.

“If we take the question of rising carbon dioxide emissions, we know that in part, that is due to the fact that the overall economy is doing better,” he explained. “It [the economy] is performing even more robustly than we had anticipated six months ago. It draws our attention to the fact that we need to spend more time decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions.”

When asked the rather provoking question, if it is possible to grow the economy without harming the environment, Mr. Harris responded swiftly and reassuringly: “Absolutely. We do have a lot of solutions that are potentially there that could be deployed through the right kind of investments,” he explained.

But it is not only the environment that we have to consider when the economy is growing, underlined Mr. Harris. We also have to ensure that the gains we make are distributed equally.

“The economic prosperity that we have managed to generate has not been evenly shared,” he said. “We have seen the widening of inequalities at the national level, within countries, and between countries. And clearly that is just as unsustainable as environmental degradation is.”

“Private financing will make or break the sustainable development agenda”

Recently, the ECOSOC Financing for Development Forum in New York examined international efforts to fund the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“I think there has been good progress, but its not enough. We see for example that the official development assistance has strengthened, but official development assistance is really small, by comparison to the requirements or the investments that we need,” said Mr. Harris.

He explained that there is progress when it comes to strengthening domestic resource mobilization, as well as an acceptance among UN Member States that we need to collaborate on tax matters to avoid tax evasion and elicit financial flows, and instead direct these resources where they are needed.

“On the private side, and here I have to emphasize, it is private financing that will make or break the sustainable development agenda, we see very positive signs,” Mr. Harris said. “We see that on the one hand, the private financial industry is paying attention to the fact that unsustainable practices are also not good for their business.”

“We also see a lot of understanding that the sustainable development agenda presents a lot of very large, very profitable opportunities,” Mr. Harris said, noting that sustainable development is starting to become a part of business models. “It is exactly what we need to see happening!”

However, we’re not quite there yet, cautioned Mr. Harris. “It is still unfortunately possible to make profits doing things that are not sustainable. That has to change,” he said.

The next frontiers of sustainable development

UN DESA is leading the preparations for the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July, where our global efforts to achieve the SDGs will be evaluated.

“There is progress being made, but we need to step up the pace of that progress, and we need to try to make it as uniform as we can across the entire sustainable development agenda, because we can’t succeed if we only succeed in certain areas,” Mr. Harris said, commenting on these joint endeavors.

We also discussed the department’s research on the frontiers of sustainable development and on issues which has the potential to reshape our future.

Digitalization of the economy and solving the transportation challenge for an urbanized future, were some of the issues that Mr. Harris anticipated for UN DESA to examine closer.

“Environmental protection must be part of any economic planning”

As our interview was about to wrap up, Mr. Harris shared his personal story of how his awareness and interest in the environment began back in the 1980s, as he was studying in Germany. At that time, there was a growing public concern about the prevalence of acid rain, decimating forest areas in the country.

Many years later, during the financial crisis in 2008-2009, when Mr. Harris was working for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), he joined an event hosted by the UN Environment Programme, which focused on the macroeconomic chapter of the green economy report. This led to a moment of epiphany.

“For the first time, it became clear to me how one could have economic prosperity without damaging the environment in the process,” Mr. Harris said, describing this moment as the one that sparked his professional interest in environmental work.

“It was that recognition that it’s not a trade-off between good economic performance and environmental protection,” he said. “Environmental protection can and must be part of any economic planning.”

For more information:

Biography of Elliott Harris on UN DESA’s website

World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid-2018

High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development

UN Forum to highlight forests’ fundamental role in supporting healthy, resilient societies

Throughout history, people have depended on forests and trees for the vital resources they provide, to sustain economies, societies and human well-being. It is estimated that the economic value of ecosystem services provided by forests globally could be worth as much as US$16.2 trillion. Billions of people rely on forests to generate energy, for materials to build their homes, as well as for livelihood, health, and food. Forests are also home to an estimated 80 per cent of all terrestrial species. On 7-11 May 2018, the UN Forum on Forests will hold its 13th session (UNFF13) at UN Headquarters in New York, to ensure that our forests are protected and sustainably managed.

This is the first policy session of the Forum since the adoption of the UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 by the UN General Assembly in 2017. Discussions at UNFF13 will provide a timely opportunity for the Forum to promote implementation of the Strategic Plan and provide input to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July 2018.

The Strategic plan and its Global Forest Goals and targets provide a global framework for sustainably managing all types of forests and trees, halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation, and increasing forest area by 2030. The Plan also serves a blueprint to promote the contributions of forests to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Forests and trees sustain life

Forests and trees provide vital resources for life on Earth. They sustain our economies, societies and promote our overall well-being. Forested watersheds and wetlands supply 75 per cent of the world’s freshwater – for households as well as agriculture or industrial use. Forests are nature’s water towers, they filter, store and supply freshwater, and through transpiration they seed clouds and affect rainfall patterns.

About one third of the world’s population relies on biomass-based energy from forests and trees for their daily needs, particularly cooking and heating. Sustainable forest management and sustainable use of forest products offer some of the most effective and cost-competitive natural carbon capture and storage options available.

Forests sustain human health, from clean air and water to providing components for 75 per cent of top-ranking global prescription medications. These vital ecosystems build resilience, prevent land degradation and desertification, reduce the risk of floods, landslides and avalanches, droughts, dust storms and sandstorms and other natural disasters. When properly managed, forests are healthy, productive, resilient and renewable ecosystems.

The UNFF13 agenda includes discussions on the contributions of forests in accelerating achievement of the SDGs and in supporting global efforts in the transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies, as well as monitoring, assessment and reporting frameworks, mobilizing forest financing, and strategies for communication and outreach. To this end, a Ministerial Roundtable and a series of interactive panel discussions will be held during this session.

The UN Forum on Forests is a functional commission of the UN Economic and Social Council and is composed of 197 Member States of the UN and State Members of the Specialized Agencies. Since its inception in 2001, the Forum has reached major policy milestones including the adoption of the first UN Forest Instrument in 2007, the creation of the Global Forest Financing Facilitation Network in 2015 and most recently, the adoption of the first-ever UN Strategic Plan for Forests 2030 in 2017.

For more information: UN Forum on Forests

Protecting the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples

Indigenous communities play a vital role as custodians of our planet, possessing vital knowledge that will support global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But despite progress to protect their rights, many of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples face discrimination and threats to their livelihoods and ancestral lands. To tackle these challenges, more than 1,000 representatives of indigenous people’s organizations, Members States and UN agencies will gather for the 17th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues taking place at UN Headquarters on 16-27 April 2018.

A sustainable way of life

Indigenous peoples have deep spiritual, cultural, social and economic ties with their lands, territories and resources; this is vital to their identity and existence. “Nature is part of us, you cannot separate indigenous peoples from nature,” said Jane Meriwas, Executive Director and Secretary to the Board of the Samburu Women Trust, an organization that works to uphold the human rights of women and girls in pastoral communities in Kenya.

Ahead of the Forum, which this year will focus on indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources, UN DESA Voice spoke with Ms. Meriwas and Chandra Roy-Henriksen, Chief of the Secretariat of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development. Both described this special bond to the environment, and how it contributes to our joint efforts to make this world more sustainable.

“When you look around the world today and you look at the areas which are green, those are the areas where indigenous peoples live,” said. Ms. Roy-Henriksen. She also described the sustainable lifestyle of indigenous communities, which follows the principle that you only take what you need from nature. “It’s not something that you really take as yours forever. You borrow it and you pass it on to the next generation.”

Indigenous peoples’ tradition of collective rights to lands and resources is often in sharp contrast with dominant models of individual ownership, privatization and development. There is growing recognition that advancing indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources does not only contribute to their well-being but also to the greater good of the world by tackling problems such as climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Challenges remain to realize rights to lands, territories and resources

Significant progress has been made in international human rights standard-setting for indigenous peoples’ collective rights to lands, territories and resources, following the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. A number of countries have recognized those rights through constitutional or legal protections or adjudication, constructive agreements and administrative programmes. Many States, however, have yet to recognize and ensure these rights and a wide gap remains in realizing them, even in countries where they are recognized.

Even where indigenous peoples have obtained legal protection or title deeds to their lands and resources, those are often violated by development projects; mining or logging concessions, bio fuel plantations or other business operations; or designation of conservation areas. In addition, indigenous peoples are often caught in the middle of conflicts taking place on their ancestral lands and territories.

Despite increasing jurisprudence of national and regional courts and other human rights mechanisms for protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources, a major challenge is the effective enforcement of these judgments. The implementation gap between law and practice is wide and indigenous peoples continue to face serious abuses against their rights to lands, territories and resources daily.

Reports of grave human rights violations have been heard from every corner of the world, most often perpetrated against indigenous human rights defenders protecting their rights and their lands, territories and communities. Forced evictions and dispossession of lands have particularly severe impacts on indigenous women, who often face additional violence and discrimination based on gender and identity.

International platform to find solutions

At the 2018 session, the Permanent Forum will build on its continuing work to provide the space and platform to identify opportunities for concrete action to recognize and strengthen the indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories and resources. The Forum will facilitate discussions among indigenous peoples, Member States, UN agencies and other stakeholders around good practices and challenges and recommend effective strategies to realize those rights.

“We hope that the end result will have a positive impact on those communities who have been agitating when you talk about issues on land,” said Jane Meriwas. “We hope even that the recommendation can reach the relevant government and […] be effectively implemented […] and disseminated to the communities that are affected.”

The Forum will also follow up on the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, prepare for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages, and hone in on the realization of the 17 global goals, leaving no one behind.

“The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has given indigenous peoples a certain level of expectation,” said Ms. Roy-Henriksen, explaining that as the world moves forward towards 2030, there is hope among indigenous communities that their priorities, concerns and rights will be recognized.

For more information: 17th session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The power of data to improve our lives

Statistics, numbers, figures – they tell the story of our lives. How well we live, and how well we take care of ourselves, each other and the environment. Through data, for example, we know how healthy people are, how many people live in poverty worldwide, how many children are not able to go to school, and where we stand on gender equality and our efforts to combat climate change.

Having all the needed data is critical for the international community to properly evaluate the current state of the world and to determine how best to move forward, improving peoples’ lives. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres recently put it, “accurate data is the lifeblood of good policy and decision-making.”

As nations across the globe strive to fulfill their commitment to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the availability, timeliness and accuracy of data is more important than ever. Only with high-quality data can we formulate the policies to bring the necessary change, and know if we are on the right track and if we are progressing fast enough to meet our goals by 2030.

232 global indicators help us track SDGs progress

On 6-9 March 2018, statisticians from around the globe will come together at UN Headquarters for the 49th Session of the UN Statistical Commission. As in previous sessions, this year’s event is expected to draw a large number of data experts with one goal in common – to ensure that reliable data is collected to help serve nations and people across the world.

One of the top items on a busy Commission agenda is on the data and indicators to measure SDGs progress. These 232 global indicators developed to help follow up and review the 17 goals and 169 targets of the 2030 Agenda, are the result of tireless efforts by the global statistical community through the Inter-Agency and Expert Group on Sustainable Development Goal Indicators.

“I commend the UN Statistical Commission, the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators, and the Statistics Division of UN DESA, for their mammoth efforts preparing this framework,” said Peter Thomson, President of the 71st Session of the General Assembly, when the framework was adopted by the UN General Assembly in July 2017.

“It will help all of us to measure what we truly value; to keep our promise to leave no one behind and, most importantly, to ensure accountability for the lofty commitments made in September 2015,” Mr. Thomson said.

Data hubs and platforms for innovation

In addition to data for the SDGs, a variety of topics are up for discussion and decision by this year’s Commission including open data, big data and statistics on climate change, refugees, disability, work and employment, and agricultural and rural statistics.

In keeping with tradition, the official session will be preceded by the Friday Seminar on Emerging Issues on 2 March, taking place under the theme “The Data Revolution in Action: Building a Federated System of SDG Data Hubs and Collaborative Platforms for Innovation.”

To meet the challenges that measuring the SDGs brings, the seminar will explore the need to build a modern statistical infrastructure, as well as ways to integrate SDG data and information platforms with each other to support policy and decision-making at all levels.

Bringing trusted data to the public

In addition to the Friday Seminar and a number of other side events, UN DESA’s Statistics Division will also organize the High-level Forum on Official Statistics on Monday 5 March.

Taking place under the theme “Communicating data and statistics: Bringing trusted and actionable data to the public, the media and policy-makers,” the Forum will shine a light on the need to communicate data more effectively to help policy makers, the media and the general public identify, understand, and make full use of trusted sources of data and statistics to support development efforts.

When we increase statistical literacy and improve our communication surrounding data, we allow citizens to better understand the world around them. We then also enhance the understanding of data and its role to realize the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, making our world a better place. Because with better data, we have a chance to live better lives.

For more information:

49th Session of the UN Statistical Commission

Side events at the UN Statistical Commission

Sustainable Development Goals Report 2017

Sustainable Development Goals indicators

Leaving the LDCs category: Booming Bangladesh prepares to graduate

Propelled by better health and education, lower vulnerability and an economic boom, Bangladesh, the largest least developed country (LDC) in terms of population and economic size, looks likely to leave the LDC category by 2024. For the first time, the country is expected to meet the three criteria for graduation when the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) convenes at UN Headquarters in New York for its review in March 2018.

“Bangladesh has seen broad-based gains in health, education, infant mortality and life expectancy,” said Daniel Gay, LDC expert in UN DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division. “These have in turn driven economic growth, and latterly reduced economic vulnerability, so it’s really a success story.”

Every three years, the CDP, which comprises 24 independent development experts from around the world review the list of LDCs, based on a rigorous methodology using a wide range of sustainable development indicators.

The CDP measures the LDC category on the basis of per capita income, a human assets index and an economic vulnerability index. A country must exceed thresholds on two of the three criteria at two consecutive triennial reviews to be considered for graduation. Up to now, no country has managed to meet all three criteria.

“We have been achieving robust economic growth for the last number of years — over 6 per cent — and also pursuing a policy of inclusive growth”, said Masud Bin Momen, the Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN, as he commented on the country’s success. He also stressed that growth has involved all sectors of society “…especially women’s economic empowerment and gender mainstreaming.”

Since 1996, the per capita gross national income in Bangladesh has outstripped the LDC average and has recently risen above the threshold used by the CDP. The economy has developed largely through textile and garment exports. Remittances, natural gas, shipbuilding and seafood, as well as information communications and pharmaceuticals are all emerging sources of foreign exchange and economic growth.

This economic boom has helped people living in poverty. Since 1990 about 50 million people left extreme poverty, as defined by the World Bank, a reduction in the poverty rate from 40 per cent to 14 per cent. Bangladesh’s thriving non-government organizations have also helped provide vital health and education services to the poor, translating into rapid improvements in the human assets index used by the CDP.

Increases across the five components of the human assets index – infant mortality, maternal mortality, undernourishment, adult schooling and adult literacy – meant that Bangladesh exceeded the threshold on this index for the first time in 2016.

Bangladesh is also unusual in that it has enjoyed a reduction in economic vulnerability. The economic vulnerability index has consistently decreased since 2003, the first year it fell below the CDP’s official threshold, partly due to greater export stability and diversification.

Ambassador Momen described the role of the United Nations as an important partner in the country’s development efforts. “They have been providing consistent support in capacity-building and by undertaking various projects, and also helped in the build-up of our technical capacity in various social sectors,” Mr. Momen said.

Bangladesh’s graduation will have implications for the economy, although many of the main stakeholders – including the government and private sector – believe that graduation would be a major step forward in the country’s history and therefore an event to be welcomed.

“All of this is very much part of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals”, said Heidi Schroderus-Fox, Director of the Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), adding that the graduation from the LDC category is an important part of the efforts to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

At the triennial review, the CDP not only reviews the data for all developing countries to identify countries that meet the LDC criteria for inclusion or graduation. A main focus will be to decide whether or not countries that meet the graduation criteria for the second consecutive time should be recommended for graduation, paving the way for them to leave the category in the near future.

This time, the CDP will make decisions on more countries than ever before, including on Bhutan, Kiribati, Nepal, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Booming Bangladesh, a country preparing to leave the LDC category, is a success story likely to inspire others.

For more information: Committee for Development Policy

Generation 2030 makes a stand at UN Youth Forum

They have been described both as self-absorbed and altruistic; consumeristic and environmentally conscious; apathetic and socially engaged. The current youth generation, often referred to as Generation Y or Millennials, seems to evade a single definition or label, but one thing is certain – they are building a future that will be radically different than anything we have seen before.

At the end of January, young activists and leaders from every corner of the world will descend on New York for the annual Youth Forum of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Here, they will meet ministers and high-level officials of governments, UN agencies and other international organizations. The key difference is, at this Forum, it is the youth who does the talking.

The Forum started in the year 2012 as a primary platform to give young people a say on global problems discussed by the United Nations. This year, ministers and other officials will hear the concerns, hopes and ideas of hundreds of young participants from around the world.

For the current generation of youth – the largest ever, at around 1.8 billion people – stepping into adulthood is proving anything but easy. Already, there are an estimated 71 million unemployed young people in the world. A further 161 million find themselves in situations of moderate or extreme poverty despite having a job.

Add to that mounting global problems, such as climate change, growing inequalities or the challenges of new technologies, and the prospect of growing up can seem daunting for many a young person. Yet, the youth activists, inventors, leaders and visionaries that so often grab the public attention these days are anything but intimidated.

Elon Musk who started two multi-million dollar businesses before the age of 30, Malala Yousafzai who became the youngest Nobel Prize laureate at just 17, or the 19-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini who saved the lives of 20 people during a dangerous sea crossing to Greece and went on to compete in the Rio Olympics are just a few examples of the energy, passion and relentless optimism of today’s young generation.

Today’s youth are not waiting for the old, business-as-usual models to gradually change. Instead they are using disruptive new technologies, global social networks and innovative solutions to build a new reality. From sharing economy, to cryptocurrencies, to clean energy networks paid for by cashless transfers, youth are already setting the tone of our future – and they are just getting started.

Young people will need all the innovation and energy they can muster because the challenge they face is an enormous one. The Sustainable Development Goals – a 15-year plan to create a prosperous world for everyone on a clean planet – is the most ambitious development agenda humanity has ever considered, let alone implemented.

The youth have already proven that they have the skills, knowledge and willpower to become the generation that ends poverty, halts climate change and creates a more just world for everyone. But to achieve all that by 2030 they need to have a meaningful part in the decision-making process. The UN Youth Forum is their chance to do just that.

The UN ECOSOC Youth Forum 2018 will take place in New York, 30-31 January. For more information go to: https://www.un.org/ecosoc/en/ecosoc-youth-forum

Join the conversation on social media using: #Youth2030

For a first-hand experience of the Forum, follow the Youth Forum SDG Media Zone: http://sdgmediazone.org/

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