Highlights Vol 24, No. 06 - June 2020

Intensified debt relief could save economies, prevent defaults

Even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many developing countries were at high risk of debt distress. These risks have now materialized. Help has been extended with partial suspensions of debt service to 76 low-income countries, and the IMF has offered debt service relief to 25 of the poorest countries. But these actions do not cover commercial and multilateral debt. Nor do they protect middle-income countries. More action is urgently needed to avoid defaults.

A new policy brief by UN DESA proposes courses of action for governments and the international community to ensure that people’s lives and well-being are not sacrificed to unmanageable debt repayments.

The brief puts forward options for a full standstill on servicing of all bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt for all developing countries that request it, including middle‑income countries. This could be done through a central credit facility for countries requesting assistance, managed by an international financial institution. The brief does not call for universal forbearance for all middle-income countries, however, as this would risk disrupting their access to financial markets.

Debt payback standstills would grant countries time to devise sustainable debt solutions – to build back better. The brief also lays out alternative proposals for debt relief, noting that debt relief should be part of broader financing and recovery strategies. Such strategies should consider SDG investment needs, which could be channeled through country-led integrated national financing frameworks.

The COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity for the international community to come together to rethink and  strengthen the international architecture for sovereign debt restructuring. The United Nations, which is not a creditor, provides a neutral forum for inclusive dialogue among sovereign debtors and creditors and other stakeholders, to discuss a way forward.

To read the full policy brief, please visit: http://bit.ly/UNDESACovid

Governing in times of crisis

COVID-19 is changing life as we know it. It is also heavily impacting national institutions across the globe, disrupting the regular functioning of state bodies, such as parliaments and justice systems, while at the same time demanding their rapid response. The pandemic has affected whole institutional systems and the way public institutions interact with people. But national and international actors have stepped up to the plate, responding fast to these unprecedented challenges.

While there have been rapid and effective responses by governments, the pandemic has exposed shortfalls in countries’ resiliency to crisis, and in particular in the way the state relates to its people in realizing the values and principles of effective governance. Resiliency and effective governance go hand in hand, and are also key elements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Against this backdrop, the 19th Session of the Committee of Experts on Public Administrations took place for the first time in a virtual format in May due to the COVID-19 crisis. It focused on how to promote effective governance and institutional reform to accelerate delivery of the SDGs with particular reference to the Covid-19 pandemic response and recovery.

Among the topics discussed were the Principles of Effective Governance, accelerating delivery of the SDGs, government of the future, training and awareness raising for the SDGs, building institutions to promote peace and justice and budgeting for the SDGs.

The Committee noted that the 11 Principles of Effective Governance for sustainable development have been put to test in the pandemic and have proven useful to the future of government. The Committee recognized that many government institutions were not able to advance the SDGs at the desired scale and speed because of a general undervaluing of the public sector, which had impeded effective public administration, resulting in disregard of its public value and its critical role in service delivery. Moreover, silo-thinking continued to hamper the holistic implementation of the SDGs, hindering action to ensure that no one is left behind.

While the COVID-19 pandemic revealed weaknesses in institutional responses, the Committee also pointed to the ability of governments to take extraordinary steps in response, underlining their commitment to achieve the SDGs by 2030. In this regard, the Committee recommended action to recognize essential service workers in the public sector, strengthen public sector capabilities for the SDGs, invest in the future public-sector workforce, expand use of digital technologies and address digital divides, including through public-private partnership, and strengthen local government finance and financial management.

Learn about the work of CEPA here and about COVID-19 and resilient institutions in UN DESA’s new policy briefs here.

Photo by Frederic Koberl on Unsplash

Severe downturns in labour-intensive sectors spell trouble for global inequality

The global economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is shaping up to be the worst since the tragically consequential Great Depression. Countless comparisons have been made between the current economic situation and the global financial crisis of 2008. Although similar in terms of their impact, especially on employment and income, key differences make the current crisis particularly dangerous.

The global financial crisis began in 2008 with the bursting of the housing bubble in the United States accompanied by the subprime mortgage meltdown. The collapse of major banking institutions followed, along with a precipitous fall on stock markets across the world and a credit freeze. Bankruptcies increased, credit dried up and unemployment skyrocketed. This was the beginning of the Great Recession.

This time, soaring unemployment came first as many businesses were forced to shutter because of nationwide lockdowns in most developed economies. Rising unemployment and shrinking revenues are choking the demand for products and services, which will inevitably lead to sharp increases in bankruptcies and even more lay-offs.

Millions of low-skilled workers employed in retail trade, restaurants, sports and recreation became the first casualties, as the pandemic containment measures largely shut down economic activities in these sectors.

The pandemic is disproportionately hurting those who are least able to withstand an economic shock—low-skilled, low-wage workers both in formal and informal sectors. While benefits of an economic boom trickle up, the losses from a crisis trickle down, with the poor and the most vulnerable in societies absorbing most of the setbacks.

The negative distributional consequences of the pandemic are likely to be more pronounced than the global financial crisis in terms of scope and magnitude, as low-income households will be hit simultaneously both on the economic and health fronts.

Travel and Tourism

Tourism and travel were the first, direct casualties of COVID-19. The UN World Tourism Organization projects a 20–30 per cent decline in international tourist arrivals in 2020, worlds apart from the four per cent decline in 2009, in the direct aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Likewise, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates a 38 per cent drop in passenger traffic in 2020, compared to the 2019 levels, which translates into $252 billion revenue loss from passengers.

If global tourism—a sector that employs more than 300 million people—were to collapse, the consequences would be catastrophic for the poorest. The loss of income—combined with limited opportunities to find jobs in other sectors of the economy—would lead to higher levels of poverty and inequality in most tourism-dependent economies across the developing world.

Manufacturing

The COVID-19 pandemic is also taking a major toll on the manufacturing sector, which employs over 460 million people worldwide. As the pandemic continues to spread, manufacturing activities have stalled or are slowing down around the world, with many economies seeing their manufacturing sectors contracting in March.

Global manufacturing was already under pressure from the rising trade tensions. A prolonged economic crisis, with reduced global demand, especially for durable goods, would suppress real wage growth and inevitably lead to higher income inequality in many developing countries.

The fall of manufacturing activities could spill over across national borders through the global trade networks. Such a spillover effect would be potentially disastrous for global manufacturing, as nearly half of the world’s exported goods and services either involve inputs from more than one country or are later to be—upon further processing—part of future exports from the importing countries.

With shrinking exports revenues from tourism, commodities and manufactured goods, developing countries are facing significant fiscal space constraints that prevent them from effectively mitigating the pandemic’s adverse impacts, including on rising inequality.

It is therefore imperative that when development partners consider debt restructuring, moratorium and other reliefs, tourism- and commodity-dependent economies receive additional financial support. The support must come as soon as possible, not three months later. Any delay will mean an amplification of the catastrophic impact of rising economic inequality, severely limiting the prospects of sustainable development.

Access the May Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects to learn more.

Trust in science saves lives

To protect the lives of people, on a healthy planet – we must trust science. With more than 3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 around the world, our global response to the pandemic requires a far more collaborative relationship between scientists and policymakers – and more public trust in science — according to a new policy brief issued by UN DESA.

According to the brief, scientific assessments on COVID-19 are similar around the world but the time and manner of response vary considerably across countries. There is a need to reassess the functioning of science-policy interface systems, where they exist; and to build them up where they are weak or non-existent, in order to preserve trust in science and government.

Public trust in science is essential for science-based policies to succeed. Where public trust is high, clear and direct—and where incorrect and damaging information is effectively countered—communications from scientists are likely to be most effective.

In the case of COVID-19, all individuals must trust the scientific guidance if they are to alter their behavior and lower the rates of transmission. For instance, the phrase “flatten the curve” has proven effective in encouraging people to remain indoors to limit the spread.

Additionally, scientific assessment must be used properly, and governments must act with greater urgency on global scientific assessments. International collaboration between scientists and experts is a powerful way of bringing evidence and scientific consensus to the attention of policy makers and to inform their actions. In September 2019, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board—an independent expert body co-convened by the WHO and the World Bank—called for a global response to “a rapidly spreading pandemic due to a lethal respiratory pathogen.”

Earlier assessments too had warned of such an eventuality: Taking action on these recommendations then would have built preparedness within and across countries, and hastened an effective response to the current pandemic. Other recent scientific assessments, including the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report and the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Report, have called for urgent change in the relationship between people and nature.

Much of the needed actions will need to come from countries themselves, but international cooperation, supported by the UN system, can facilitate progress in all these areas. Many such initiatives are in place but need to be scaled up.

To access this and other policy briefs on the impacts of COVID-19 and the policy recommendations for a sustainable recovery, visit UN DESA’s dedicated web portal for COVID-19.

Photo: World Bank

Everyone included: protecting vulnerable groups in times of a global pandemic

The world is at war with an invisible and deadly enemy: COVID-19. As the virus ravages across the globe, it causes serious illness, death and it disrupts life as we know it. “The virus does not care about ethnicity or nationality, faction or faith.  It attacks all, relentlessly. The most vulnerable – women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced – pay the highest price,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a recent video briefing on the global pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak affects all segments of the population and is particularly detrimental to members of those social groups in the most vulnerable situations, including older persons, persons with disabilities, youth and indigenous peoples. The social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, could further spur inequality, discrimination and unemployment around the globe.

How can we prevent this from happening? How can we protect vulnerable groups during this global pandemic? Here, our team in UN DESA’s Division for Inclusive Social Development gives updates and share actions to protect vulnerable people.

Older persons and COVID-19

Although social distancing is necessary to reduce the spread of the disease, if not implemented correctly, such measures can also lead to increased social isolation of older persons at a time when they may be at most need of support.

The discourse around COVID-19, perceived as a disease of older people, aggravates negative stereotypes about older persons. Such age-based discrimination may manifest itself in the provision of services, particularly where doctors and nurses must make difficult decisions regarding how to allocate too scarce resources, such as respirators. In such instances the treatment of older persons may be perceived to have less value than the treatment of younger generations.

Persons with disabilities and COVID-19

In countries around the world, persons with disabilities are disproportionately likely to experience poverty and to face challenges in accessing health-care services, education, employment, and other essential services, due to lack of availability, accessibility, affordability, as well as stigma and discrimination.

To ensure that persons with disabilities are able to access to information on COVID-19, it must be made available in accessible formats, including Braille, large print, and text captioning of videos for the hearing impaired.

Healthcare buildings must also be physically accessible to persons with mobility, sensory and cognitive impairments. Moreover, persons with disabilities must not be prevented from accessing the health services they need in times of emergency due to any financial barriers.

Youth and COVID-19

In terms of employment, youth are normally disproportionately unemployed, and those who are employed often work in the informal economy or gig economy, on precarious contracts or in service sectors that are likely to be severely affected by COVID-19.

Currently, more than one billion youth are no longer physically in school after the closure of schools and universities across many countries. The disruption in education and learning could have medium and long-term consequences on the quality of education. At the same time, efforts by teachers, school administrations, local and national governments to cope with these unprecedented circumstances should be recognized.

Many vulnerable young persons, such as migrants or homeless youth are in precarious situations. They are the ones who can easily be overlooked if governments do not pay specific attention, as they tend to be already in a situation without even their minimum requirement for support being met on health, education, employment and well-being.

Indigenous peoples and COVID-19

Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable due to their almost universally lower life expectancy and health status compared to that of the general population and owing to the lack of access to healthcare. In some parts of the world, indigenous peoples are not registered at birth, and therefore do not have legal access to free healthcare.

The first point of prevention is dissemination of information in indigenous languages that will ensure that all people are reached and informed of the current situation and how to stay protected.

Five key actions to protect vulnerable people against COVID-19

  • Provide social protection and economic relief to people who are severely affected by COVID-19;
  • Make public health communication, particularly information on COVID-19 accessible to all;
  • Ensure that public health communication messages are respectful and non-discriminatory;
  • Promote new technologies and digital tools to support people in isolation;
  • Ensure that COVID-19 emergency and mitigation measures are inclusive.

“A society’s overall health depends on the health of its poorest people,” stressed UN DESA Head, Liu Zhenmin, in a message on the COVID-19 pandemic.

We need solidarity, political will and innovative policy action to protect vulnerable people and their well-being, and uphold the right to health, including access to information, care and medical services.

When everyone is included, everyone benefits.

For more information:

UN DESA’s Division for Inclusive Social Development

New UN DESA web portal on COVID-19

Photo: Unsplash/Macao Photo Agency

 

Financing for Sustainable Development Report: COVID-19 poses risk to achieving the SDGs

With the global economy reeling from the fall out of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Financing for Sustainable Development Report (FSDR), which will be launched on 8 April 2020, aims to give governments the necessary tools for achieving the Global Goals, even in times of a global health crisis.

The report finds that already tepid economic growth is expected to slow markedly in 2020, with high risk of a global recession. The economic and financial shocks associated with COVID-19 – including disruptions to industrial production, rising insecurity, job losses, and financial market volatility – are compounding existing risks and derailing implementation of the SDGs.

Amid these destabilizing trends, the FSDR finds that there was a backsliding in key action areas even prior to the pandemic outbreak: decline in Official Development Assistance (ODA) (4.3 per cent overall and 2.1 per cent towards LDCs in 2018); rise in debt risks with 44 per cent of LDCs; increasing trade restrictions; and growing financial risks over an extended period of low interest rates.

The report recommends immediate and longer-term actions, including:

  • The global community must take concerted, forceful, and swift action to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, maintain economic and financial stability, promote trade and stimulate growth. This includes helping countries with weak health and fiscal systems, including through technical support.
  • Donors should immediately reverse the decline in ODA, particularly to LDCs;
  • The international community should immediately suspend debt payments from least developed countries that request forbearance. Official bilateral creditors must lead, and others should consider similar steps or equivalent ways to provide new finance.
  • Regulators should discourage over-leverage in the private sector if debts contracted are not intended for productive investments but only for increasing shareholder returns.

The FSDR identifies two medium-term accelerators to help reverse the backward trend:  leveraging digital finance, the topic of this year’s thematic chapter, and developing tools to foster greater private sector resources for sustainable financing.

In the light of the restrictions due to COVID-19, the 2020 SDG Investment Fair has been cancelled and the fate of the 2020 Financing for Development Forum is still to be decided. However, the FSDR will serve as the basis of the Forum’s negotiated outcome, moving the work to finance the SDGs forward.

Unique in the constellation of UN publications, the FSDR is a joint product of the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development, which is comprised of more than 60 UN agencies and international organizations, chaired by Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin of UN DESA.

The full copy of the report and the annex will be available here.

Have we got enough food to feed the world?

Out of the roughly 7.7 billion people living on Earth today, more than one in ten does not have enough food to eat. And according to UN DESA’s World Population Prospects, our planet may be home to five billion people more by the time this century is over. Can we produce enough food for everyone?

That is one of the questions that the UN Commission on Population and Development will try to answer at its 53rd session, from 30 March to 3 April in New York. Delegates from the world over will debate how to feed the growing population healthfully, equitably and sustainably to ensure a healthy future for both people and planet.

Intuitively, we could argue that by simply increasing food production to match population growth we are able to end hunger. A look at the data will quickly dispel this misconception. The fact is that we are already producing more than enough food for everyone. Between 1960 and 2015, agricultural production tripled in size, growing much faster than the global population.

And yet, 820 million people still go hungry, not being able to afford a sufficient quantity and variety of foods. What is more, rising incomes and urbanization are contributing towards foods that are calorie-rich, but nutrient-poor. Unhealthy diets are now responsible for more adult deaths and disability worldwide than tobacco use.

Significantly increasing food production also carries the risk of wrecking our planet. Food production already occupies 50 per cent of the Earth’s habitable land, accounts for 70 per cent of freshwater consumption and produces around a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. The pressures that agriculture exerts on the Earth’s ecosystems – from fueling climate change, to driving biodiversity loss, water scarcity and pollution – is already limiting our ability to produce more food.

What about the other side of the equation? Slowing down population growth, combined with more responsible patterns of consumption and production, would certainly ease pressure on ecosystems, reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and allow the world more time to identify new technologies for fighting climate change and improving food production. But for all the progress we have made in reducing the global pace of population growth, it is still projected to continue growing until the year 2100.

Does this mean we are destined to a hungry future? Not if we manage to sustainably transform our food and agricultural systems at all levels and in all countries. The good news is that many of the efforts to reduce malnutrition and promote healthy diets would also greatly benefit the environment, on which agriculture depends.

For example, reducing red meat consumption in high-income countries would cut greenhouse gas emissions and make room for a modest increase in meat consumption in low-income countries, while also promoting healthier diets in both settings.

The fight against climate change and the droughts, floods and crop failures that it causes will be crucial to keeping humanity fed for years to come. Achieving sustainable food systems will also require reducing food loss, particularly through better storage facilities in disadvantaged areas, and by reducing food waste in high-income countries. Today, around one third of all the food we produce is wasted or lost, including nearly half of all fruit and vegetables.

These are just some of the issues that the delegates to the Commission on Population and Development will discuss this month. For more information about the Commission and its 53rd session, go to: UN Commission on Population and Development

Photo: ©IFAD/GMB Akash

Turning the tide to safeguard ocean life

Humans depend on nature—including the ocean—for all of our needs: from the air we breathe to the food we eat and the energy we use. However, unsustainable human activities and overexploitation of the species and natural resources that make up the habitats and ecosystems of all wildlife are imperiling the world’s biodiversity.

Ensuring healthy marine life is a major goal of the 2020 United Nations Ocean Conference, to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, from 2  to 6 June. One of the eight interactive dialogues to be addressed by countries and other ocean stakeholders in Lisbon is dedicated to managing, protecting, conserving and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems.

And, since the vast majority of the ocean remains unmapped, unobserved and unexplored, with many species out there still to be discovered, the Conference will seek to generate more investment and better infrastructure for supporting ocean science.

Protecting marine life will be front and centre in what has been dubbed the “super year” for biodiversity. Kicking off with the World Wildlife Day on 3 March, the year will be an opportunity to mobilize concrete action to protect the Earth’s nature at key events such as the UN Ocean Conference, the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China, and the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, UK.

“Let us remind ourselves of our duty to preserve and sustainably use the vast variety of life on the planet,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his message for World Wildlife Day. “Let us push for a more caring, thoughtful and sustainable relationship with nature. A world of thriving biodiversity provides the foundation we need to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals of a world of dignity and opportunity for all people on a healthy planet.”

There’s no better time to act, as the two biodiversity-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 on Life Below Water hit their deadline this year. SDG Target 14.2 states that by 2020, we must sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience and restoring them in order to achieve healthy and productive ocean. SDG Target 14.5 says that the world must conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, consistent with national and international law.

Good progress has already been made on Target 14.5 on marine protected areas (MPAs), according to the latest Secretary-General’s latest report on Goal 14 progress. As of December 2019, MPAs cover almost 8 per cent of the world’s ocean. If concerted efforts to implement national commitments continue, target 14.5 is likely to be achieved by 2020, although their current, uneven geographical distribution limits their effectiveness, connectivity and representativeness.

Furthermore, the UN DESA SDG Report states more than 24 million square kilometers, or over 17 per cent of waters under national jurisdiction were covered by protected areas, a significant increase from 12 per cent in 2015 and more than double the extent covered in 2010.

Much more needs to be done, however, to achieve Target 14.2. The state of marine and coastal ecosystems has continued to deteriorate, due to overexploitation of plants and animals, ocean warming, climate change and poor management. Climate action focusing on ocean ecosystems presents an opportunity for mitigation and adaptation action to build resilience and generate benefits for people and nature.

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary-General of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES) recently called for transformative changes, as we find ourselves at a critical turning point both for our species and for the entire biosphere. “Now more than ever we must come together in a joint effort to sustain all life on Earth”, she said.

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!”

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