State of our world
Climate-induced fires, rising inequalities, political unrest and a bleak economic forecast; last year was a very turbulent one. How can we make sense of it? UN DESA recently released two major reports on the global economy and the state of global inequality, which offer solutions that could get us out of our predicament and back on the sustainable track.
The climate crisis, as well as persistently high inequalities, and rising levels of food insecurity and undernourishment, is affecting the quality of life in many societies and fuelling discontent, warns the 2020 World Economic Situation Report (WESP).
The UN DESA experts behind the report are unequivocal in their call for “massive adjustments” to the energy sector, which is currently responsible for around three-quarters of global greenhouse gas emissions.
If the world continues to rely on fossil fuels over the next few years, and emissions in developing countries rise to the level of those in richer nations, global carbon emissions would increase by more than 250 per cent, with potentially catastrophic results.
The report’s authors insist that the world’s energy needs must be met by renewable or low-carbon energy sources, which will lead to environmental and health benefits, such as lower air pollution, and new economic opportunities for many countries.
However, the 2020 WESP finds that the urgent need to switch to clean energy continues to be underestimated, noting that countries are continuing to invest in oil and gas exploration, and coal-fired power generation.
This report describes the reliance on fossil fuels as “short-sighted”, leaving investors and governments exposed to sudden losses, as the price of oil and gas fluctuates, as well as contributing to deteriorating climatic conditions, such as global warming.
“Risk associated with the climate crisis are becoming an ever-greater challenge”, concludes the report, and “climate action must be an integral part of any policy mix”.
Strategies and technology for a transition to a clean economy that delivers accessible to reliable and decarbonized energy already exist, continues the report, but will require political will and public support. Failure to act will significantly increase the ultimate costs.
For its part, UN DESA’s World Social Report 2020 shows that inequality is growing for more than 70 per cent of the global population, exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development. But the rise is far from inevitable and can be tackled at a national and international level, the report concludes.
Income inequality has increased in most developed countries, and some middle-income countries – including China, which has the world’s fastest growing economy.
The challenges are underscored by UN chief António Guterres in the foreword, in which he states that the world is confronting “the harsh realities of a deeply unequal global landscape”, in which economic woes, inequalities and job insecurity have led to mass protests in both developed and developing countries.
“Income disparities and a lack of opportunities”, he writes, “are creating a vicious cycle of inequality, frustration and discontent across generations.”
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