Highlights Vol 24, No. 02 - February 2020

Ocean action starts here

From pollution to overfishing, to raising temperatures and acidity, the life-support system provided by our ocean is under relentless pressure and its capacity to absorb it is running low. This June in Lisbon, Portugal, the 2020 United Nations Ocean Conference will seek innovative solutions to put an end to the abuse of our ocean and to restore our planet to its healthy, blue self.

Co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya, the Conference will bring together Member States, civil society organizations, industries and youth from all over the world to jointly discuss ways of protecting the ocean, seas and marine resources, on which billions depend for food and livelihoods.

Ahead of the Conference, a two-day preparatory meeting on 4 and 5 February will decide the themes of the eight interactive dialogues of the UN Ocean Conference and the elements of a brief, concise, action-oriented declaration. Held at the UN Headquarters in New York, the preparatory meeting will be co-chaired by Denmark and Palau.

The ocean plays a critical life-sustaining role in safeguarding the health of our planet. It provides oxygen and food, controls the weather, absorbs excess carbon emissions and helps to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

During a speech in January about his 2020 priorities, UN Secretary-General António Guterres cited the Ocean Conference as a key moment to “act decisively” for the environment this year.

“The world’s oceans are under assault from pollution, overfishing and much else. Plastic waste is tainting not only the fish we eat but also the water we drink and the air we breathe,” the Secretary‑General said. “We must use the Lisbon conference to protect the oceans from further abuse and recognize their fundamental role in the health of people and planet.”

Science and innovation—keystones of this year’s Ocean Conference—are indispensable to improving our understanding of marine ecosystems and devising scalable ways to sustainably manage its resources. Ensuring that ocean knowledge and new technologies are made widely available is also critical.

“As a large ocean state, we are all too conscious of our responsibility for the ocean,” said Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Permanent Representative of Palau to the UN. “Caring for the ocean is not just for islands or coastal peoples, but for all of us – because all of humanity depends on the ocean. And we need to work with, and not against, the ocean if we are to prosper. We need to be ambitious, we need to listen to science, we need to be innovative and we need to be action-oriented.”

February’s preparatory meeting for the 2020 UN Ocean Conference will sound the call for more measurable commitments from all stakeholders to safeguard our ocean resources. The commitments will be registered in a database maintained by UN DESA and highlighted at the Conference.

“Our oceans are facing a global emergency. Sea levels are rising, plastic pollution is increasing, the ocean is warmer and more acidic, fish stocks are overexploited and half of all living coral has been lost. We need greater urgency and greater ambition at all levels if we are to achieve SDG 14. We need more truly innovative, entrepreneurial and science-based approaches to ocean and coastal restoration and protection,” said Martin Bille Hermann, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN.

“As co-facilitator for the 2020 UN Ocean Conference preparatory process and its outcome document, it is my sincere hope that all Member States come to the Preparatory Meeting with concrete and ambitious ideas that will bring us closer to our common goal of achieving SDG 14,” he added.

Urbanization: expanding opportunities, but deeper divides

Whether the process of urbanization is harnessed and managed, or allowed to fuel growing divides, will largely determine the future of inequality, says UN DESA’s World Social Report 2020. For the first time in history, more people now live in urban than in rural areas. And over the next three decades, global population growth is expected to take place almost exclusively in the world’s cities and towns. The total number of people living in cities is expected to grow from approximately 4.4 billion today to 6.7 billion in 2050.

Like some other megatrends, urbanization has the potential to become a positive transformative force for every aspect of sustainable development, including the reduction of inequality. When properly planned and managed, urbanization can reduce poverty and inequality by improving employment opportunities and quality of life, including through better education and health. But when poorly planned, urbanization can lead to congestion, higher crime rates, pollution, increased levels of inequality and social exclusion.

Inequality within cities has economic, spatial and social dimensions. Economically, inequality is generally greater in urban than in rural areas: the Gini coefficient of income inequality is higher in urban areas than in rural areas in 36 out of 42 countries with data.

Larger cities are generally richer but more unequal than smaller cities. The opportunities that cities bring are unevenly distributed in space, preventing entire neighbourhoods and groups of population from accessing proper health care, good schools, sanitation, piped water, employment opportunities and adequate housing among others. Slums are the most notable extreme of the spatial concentration of urban poverty and disadvantage.

The uncontrolled growth of many cities has resulted in inadequate provision of public services and a failure to guarantee a minimum quality of life for all urban residents. The current speed of urbanization in developing countries makes urban governance and adequate planning increasingly urgent. As cities grow, inequality is likely to increase unless we implement policies to address it.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing urban inequality, some Governments have been able to address the spatial, economic and social aspects of the urban divide and promote inclusive urbanization, including in rapidly growing cities. Their successful strategies have four elements in common. First, they have established land and property rights, paying particular attention to security of tenure for people living in poverty.

Second, they have improved the availability of affordable housing, infrastructure and basic services and access to these services, since good transport networks, including between residential and commercial areas, are key to spatial connectivity and economic inclusion.

Third, they have facilitated access to education and decent employment for all urban residents.

Fourth, they have introduced mechanisms to allow participation in decision‑making,encouraging input from all stakeholders on the allocation of public funds and on the formulation, monitoring and evaluation of all policies.

For more information on the links between urbanization and inequality, please see Chapter 4 of the World Social Report 2020: Inequality in a rapidly changing world.

Happy 75th Birthday, United Nations!

The United Nations makes a difference in the lives of everyone, everywhere. From providing food and assistance to 91.4 million people in 83 countries, supplying vaccines to 45 per cent of the world’s children, to working with 196 countries to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. The examples are many of how this 193-Member-State strong global organization makes an impact on the ground. This year, we will commemorate and reflect on the organization’s first 75 years of existence by inviting YOU to join the largest-ever global conversation.

The United Nations saw the light of day in 1945, when it was created in the wake of the devastating World War II, with pledges to save future generations from the atrocities of war and reiterate faith in fundamental human rights. Since then, the organization has played a vital role on the world stage, bringing countries together in addressing problems that transcend national boundaries and which no country can solve on their own.

But where do we stand today in our joint efforts for a sustainable and better future for everyone? As the United Nations kicks off its 75th anniversary, UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for a global reality check, turning to the people of the world through a global listening tour, launched on 1 January.

Through this UN75 initiative, the United Nations is embarking on the largest, most inclusive conversation on the role of global cooperation in building the future we want. The organization is calling on people from all walks of life to join dialogues hosted both online and offline, throughout the year. By bringing together people’s voices and views in this way, the organization seeks to find out how enhanced international cooperation can help realize a better world by 2045, when the UN will celebrate its 100th birthday.

UN75 will ask three big questions: 1. What kind of future do we want to create? 2. Are we on track? 3. What action is needed to bridge the gap? The answers will be presented via four innovative data streams, building the first-ever repository of crowd-sourced solutions to major global challenges.

The UN75 dialogues, together with a ‘‘1-minute-survey’ that anyone can take, opinion polling in 50 countries and artificial intelligence sentiment analysis of traditional and social media in 70 countries, will generate compelling data to inform national and international policies and debate.

Through this worldwide listening exercise, the UN75 initiative aims to foster a greater sense of global citizenship and to empower a critical mass of international actors to address global issues. The views and ideas generated, will be presented by the Secretary-General to world leaders and senior UN officials on 21 September 2020 at a high-level event to mark the anniversary.

Find out how to join the UN75 conversation here and take the 1-minute survey right away. Have your say. Shape your future!

The biggest global conversation on the world’s future starts right now.

For more information: UN75 – Shaping our future together 

UN DESA leads preparations for major 2020 conferences on sustainable transport and the ocean

The need for collective, accelerated action to realize the Sustainable Development Goals is more apparent than ever, with one scientific report after the other, showing that more urgent action is needed at all levels to achieve the 17 goals by 2030. This year, UN DESA will take the lead on two major issues crucial for the well-being of our planet and the life it hosts – sustainable transport and healthy oceans.

Coinciding with its 75th anniversary, the United Nations has kicked off a “Decade of Action and Delivery” to inspire new policies and investments for SDG implementation, and UN DESA is boosting these efforts by organizing two major conferences: the Global Sustainable Transport Conference (5-7 May, Beijing, China), which will work towards securing inclusive, resilient and low-carbon transport solutions; and the 2020 UN Ocean Conference (2-6 June, Lisbon, Portugal), that will look to scale up ocean action based on science and innovation.

Liu Zhenmin, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, will serve as Secretary-General of both conferences, and UN DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development Goals is already busy with preparations as the conferences’ Secretariat. The events will build on the outcomes of the previous UN conferences on sustainable transport (2016) and the ocean (2017), and draw from recent discussions and reports including the Global Sustainable Development Report 2019, the 2019 SDG Progress Report and reports on global warming and the ocean and cryosphere from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

First, in May, all modes of transport—road, rail, aviation and waterborne—will be addressed in Beijing at the Global Sustainable Transport Conference. Recent scientific and technological advances will be deliberated, and the concerns of vulnerable groups and developing countries will receive particular attention. Key transport objectives, such as access for all, green mobility, low carbon solutions, efficiency and safety, will be discussed.

The Global Sustainable Transport Conference, which is being convened by the UN Secretary-General, will comprise plenaries, parallel thematic sessions and special forums. These forums—the Ministers’ Forum, the Business Forum and the Science, Engineering and Technology Forum—will highlight game-changing contributions from a wide array of government offices, businesses and civil society organizations. The official programme will be complemented by side events, field visits and an exhibition.

The outcome of this Sustainable Transport Conference will be a forward-looking visionary statement calling for global action to further advance sustainable transport worldwide. There will also be a Conference summary, and a compilation of voluntary commitments, partnerships and initiatives to support sustainable transport.

In June, the UN’s attention shifts to the state of the world’s ocean as the UN Ocean Conference is co-hosted by Portugal and Kenya. The Ocean Conference will consist of plenary sessions and eight interactive dialogues addressing challenges and opportunities to implementing SDG 14 and its ten targets with a special emphasis on scaling up ocean action through science and innovation.

The Ocean Conference is expected to result in an intergovernmentally agreed declaration, summaries of the interactive dialogues and a list of new voluntary commitments in support of SDG 14.

The progress and commitments made at both conferences will build on the UN’s recent work in these subject areas and provide valuable context and inputs to July’s High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, the Convention on Biological Diversity Conference  (CBD COP 15) in Kunming, China, and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to take place in Glasgow in November. Together, they will help show the world that there is political will, interest from businesses and collective desire for SDG action.

“The window for action is small—just a decade—and the need is urgent,” said Mr. Liu. “The way forward is also clear. All we need now is to get it done!”

Follow Us