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.

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