More from UNDESA Vol 23, No. 11 - November 2019

Water and sanitation for all: letting data lead the way

By Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Chair of UN-Water

The sixth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030.

So, four years into the SDGs, how are we doing?

Not so well. According to UN-Water’s ‘SDG 6 Synthesis Report 2018,’ water pollution is worsening, water resource governance is weak and fragmented, and agriculture places enormous and increasing stress on freshwater supplies.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Children (UNICEF) Joint Monitoring Programme confirms the bad news: 2.2 billion people lack safely managed drinking water services and 4.2 billion – well over half the world’s population – still have no access to safely managed sanitation services, many of them living in rural areas and least developed countries (LDCs).

While the situation should be of deep concern to decision makers, it amounts to a full-blown crisis for those directly affected.

Clearly, we need sound data to find out where we are failing and to help countries make informed decisions that can steer policies and direct finance to where the needs are greatest.

Happily, things are brighter in this respect. UN-Water’s new SDG 6 Data Portal is the result of 18 months of development to integrate existing hydrological, environmental, social and economic information to show where progress is most needed.

But more must be done. Looking at the global picture, we see that country-monitoring systems need strengthening. These systems need more financial resources to hire staff skilled in data collection, analysis and communication.

Today, the average Member State is reporting only on five out of 11 of the SDG 6 indicators. The hope is that the SDG Data Portal will act as an incentive to collect more, standardized data. This information can then be used to measure progress, ensure accountability and generate political, public and private-sector support for further investments.

The Portal:

  • Tracks overall progress towards SDG 6 at global, regional and national levels;
  • Enables assessment and analysis of the state of water resources and linkages to other sectors;
  • Raises awareness of water and sanitation issues to help catalyze action; and
  • Encourages and improves SDG 6 monitoring and reporting at all levels.

I encourage you to start exploring the Portal: for example, you can find out how many people still lack safe drinking water and sanitation in your country. Are ecosystems in your region being protected and restored, or exploited and degraded? What is the level of water stress where you live?

Now and in the future, new information and communication technology gives us more and better data to improve our lives, and the SDG 6 Data Portal is UN-Water’s contribution to a more evidence-based approach to international development.

*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

Finding new support for graduating Least Developed Countries

“Many Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have implemented successful development policies,” said ECOSOC President Mona Juul as the Annual Ministerial Meeting of the Least Developed Countries took place in New York in September. “As a result, an increasing number of LDCs have graduated or are approaching graduation from the LDC category. While this is a cause for celebration, LDC graduation often raises anxiety [on possible implications of graduation], and thus enhancing graduation support should be essential to reduce such concerns,” she said.

Given the large number of LDCs expected to graduate in the next few years, UN DESA’s Economic Analysis and Policy Division (EAPD) has recently launched a project on “New support measures for graduating Belt and Road LDCs” to identify targeted assistance measures and strengthen policy frameworks and institutional arrangements in six pilot LDCs: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Timor-Leste.

“[We need to find] better ways for the UN system and international partners to support graduating countries and to recommend improved graduation procedures […]. Also, we should not forget how capacity development work can be undertaken in support of graduating and graduated countries,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin said earlier this year when addressing the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP).

The new UN DESA project will strengthen analysis and support consultation processes between a range of actors as well as development and trading partners in each country. It will moreover attempt to contribute to the global discussion on support measures for graduating LDCs and to enhance their national capacity. Running until October 2022, the project is supported by the UN Peace and Development Fund, established with a generous contribution from the Government of China.

To further promote a smooth transition for graduating LDCs, the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) earlier this year developed a set of proposals that focused mainly on the process, emphasizing that the international community’s support to graduating LDCs should be more timely and better coordinated. The issue of financial support will also be discussed in detail at an upcoming Expert Group Meeting on financing for graduating countries led by the Office of the Secretary-General on 11-12 November 2019.

More information on the UN DESA project is available through the LDC portal here.

SDG 6 in numbers

Fresh water is a precious resource that is essential to human health, food and energy security, to poverty eradication and many other aspects of sustainable development.

Water-related ecosystems have always provided natural sites for human settlements, along with a wealth of ecosystem services. Yet, like other natural resources, water is under threat.

The demand for water has outpaced population growth, and half the world’s population is already experiencing severe water scarcity at least one month a year.

Most rivers in Africa, Asia and Latin America are more polluted now than they were in the 1990s. An estimated 50 to 70 per cent of the world’s natural wetland area has been lost over the last 100 years.

While substantial progress has been made in increasing access to clean drinking water and sanitation, billions of people—mostly in rural areas—still lack these basic services. In response, donors increased their aid commitments to the water sector by 37 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

Most countries have recognized the importance of better coordinating the use of water resources and have put in place integrated plans for their management. However, much more effort is needed to improve access to water and sanitation services, increase wastewater treatment, enhance water use efficiency, expand operational cooperation across transboundary water basins, and protect and restore freshwater ecosystems.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 6 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

Where are the innovation leaders?

Global economic conditions continue to deteriorate, including where economic growth is needed the most – across most developing regions. Preliminary estimates by UN DESA reveal that the average GDP growth in developing economies could fall below 4 per cent in 2019, amid lingering fragilities in Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, and weaker economic conditions in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

A range of diverse factors are causing the prolonged slump that has been affecting developing regions since 2015. The knock-on effects from the collapse in commodity prices and the impact of policy uncertainties on investor and consumer confidence have recently been exacerbated by the escalation in global trade tensions.

But the growth slowdown in developing countries is also rooted in structural factors. Many countries are being held back by a weak innovation base and limited technological capabilities. Progress on innovation has differed markedly across regions, with East Asia performing better than other developing regions, while Africa and South Asia continue to lag behind.

In many cases, lagging countries suffer from a limited number of scientists and engineers, and a mismatch between skills developed through the education system and those required by local industry. Moreover, public and private investments in research and development tend to be low and the cooperation between the private sector, universities and research institutions remains limited amid weak institutional frameworks.

Sustainable economic growth and development cannot be achieved without innovation, which should become a policy priority. While this poses an immense challenge, transforming innovation from a barrier to an engine for development is essential to drive a sustained rise in living standards.

More in-depth analysis on this and other regional impediments to economic growth and development are available in the November Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects.

How new data challenges perceptions of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’

By Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme

Development is working. There has been a massive drop in global extreme poverty rates ⁠— from 36 per cent in 1990 to 8.6 per cent in 2018⁠ — vastly increasing the economic and social opportunities for so many across the world. Yet, in describing poverty, the standard still refers to income ⁠— a line that sits on US $1.90 per day. Above and below this line, people are categorized as not poor or poor.

That arbitrary international poverty line does not fully describe how people experience poverty in multiple and simultaneous ways in their daily lives. In response to this gap in knowledge, the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) tries to capture how people experience poverty and does not include income at all. For instance, MPI indicators examine whether a household has access to drinking water, sanitation facilities or electricity; whether a household member has completed five years of schooling; or whether there is severe undernourishment of any adult in the household.

And the results are startling. The 2019 MPI data shows that 1.3 billion people around the world are multidimensionally poor. Astonishingly, one in three children worldwide is multidimensionally poor, compared to one in six adults. A further 879 million people are at risk of falling into multidimensional poverty, which could happen rapidly if they suffer setbacks such as conflict, drought, sickness or unemployment.

The MPI also shows that there are poor people outside of poor countries, outside of poor regions and outside of poor households. Surprisingly, two-thirds of the multidimensionally poor — 886 million people — actually live in middle-income countries. National averages can also hide enormous inequality in patterns of poverty within countries. Look for instance at Uganda where Kampala has an MPI rate of six per cent but outside of the capital, the MPI soars to 96 per cent, a similar rate to Sub-Saharan Africa. There is even inequality under the same roof. In South Asia, for example, almost one quarter of children under the age of five live in households where at least one child in the household is malnourished and at least one child is not.

Worryingly, the pace of poverty reduction is starting to slow down and current forecasts project that six per cent of the global population will still live in extreme poverty by 2030, missing the target of ending poverty. If people are still suffering from poverty, how can we expect them to help us reach the other ambitious targets set by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? Indeed, it is no coincidence that eradicating poverty is the first Goal — given its impact upon the other 16 SDGs.

As SDG 1 tasks us with eradicating poverty in all its forms everywhere, by the year 2030, we need more detailed information on where the poor live to ensure that no one is left behind. That is, data that goes beyond income as a measurement of poverty is vital to tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality. Complementing the MPI, the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) upcoming Human Development Report (HDR) will specifically examine the inequalities in human development — inequalities that can also deepen poverty for many. The generation of more comprehensive data by sources like the MPI and the HDR has profound policy implications. They feed further into the recognition that eliminating poverty is not only about ensuring people have enough income to pull people over a one-dimensional income poverty line. Rather, it is about empowering people with access to services such as health, education and energy — much of which depend on a wide range of policies, including the provision of public goods — so that people can fully exercise their human agency.

For UNDP, helping people to get out and stay out of poverty remains a primary focus. Our use of more wide-ranging data on poverty and inequality helps us to provide better and more targeted support to the poor and marginalized. And there are reasons for hope. In India alone, some 271 million people have escaped poverty in the space of just ten years. Poverty is not permanent.

However, poverty is still pervasive. And to fight poverty, we need to know where poor people live. They are not evenly spread across a country, not even within a household. The wider recognition of this fact is crucial as the world works to eradicate poverty in all its forms by 2030.


*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

SDGs 1 and 2 in numbers

The decline of extreme poverty continues, but the pace has slowed, jeopardizing the achievement of goal 1 to eradicate poverty by 2030. Extreme poverty today is concentrated and overwhelmingly affects rural populations. It is increasingly also exacerbated by violent conflicts and climate change.

Tackling the remaining pockets of extreme poverty will be challenging due to their persistence and complexity—often involving the interplay of social, political and economic factors. Effective social protection schemes and policies, along with government spending on key services, can help those left behind get back on their feet and find a way out of poverty.

Despite earlier extended progress, the number of people suffering from hunger has been on the rise since 2014. Stunting affects the growth and cognitive development of millions of children and while it has declined, it is not fast enough to meet the SDG targets.

In addition, the prevalence of overweight—the other face of malnutrition— is increasing in all age groups. In the wake of conflicts, climate-induced shocks and economic slowdowns worldwide, intensified efforts are needed to implement and scale up interventions to improve access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food for all.

Specifically, attention needs to be given to increasing the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, implementing resilient agricultural practices, and ensuring the proper functioning of markets. Finally, in ensuring that no one is left behind on the road towards zero hunger, the intergenerational cycle of malnutrition must be broken.

Access the latest data on SDG 1, SDG 2 and the complete SDG Progress Report 2019.

Commodity price shock – a setback to poverty eradication

Are we on track to end poverty worldwide by the year 2030? That depends. If we look at global poverty rates measured as the proportion of people living on less than $1.90 per day, we will see impressive progress. According to The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019, 8.6 per cent of the world’s population was living in extreme poverty in 2018, down from about 28 per cent in 2000.

But if we dive deeper into these numbers, we will see that most of the progress has come from East and South Asia while more than two in five people in sub‑Saharan Africa continue to live in extreme poverty. The total number of people suffering extreme poverty in that region is higher today than it was two decades ago.

What is even more worrying, the pace of progress has slowed down notably in recent years. In several countries in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people experiencing extreme poverty has, in fact, risen since 2014. What is pushing those countries behind?

For many of them, it is weak macroeconomic performance. To better understand it, we have to go back to the years 2014-2016. As the global economy was slowly recovering from years of financial crises and recession, a sharp downturn in commodity prices spelled trouble for developing countries, many of whom highly depend on commodities for income.

What initially appeared to be a temporary terms of trade shock for the commodity exporters, has in many cases morphed into a fundamental and longer lasting economic slump. Often, countries have not only failed to recover the output losses but have also experienced a marked downward shift in trend growth. In almost one third of commodity-dependent countries, average real per capita incomes are lower today than they were in 2014.

What was it about the commodity price downturn that caused such profound and lasting economic slumps? While the specific dynamics varied between countries, there was a common thread. Rather than simply causing a deterioration of the terms of the trade, the commodity price decline exposed major weaknesses in the economic structures of countries.

Excessive reliance on commodity revenues has forced dramatic fiscal adjustments. Sharp declines in investment is weighing on current growth, while constraining future productivity. In many cases, these economic challenges have been exacerbated by political factors.

These weaknesses can only be remediated with difficult structural reforms, which are even harder to enact in today’s increasingly uncertain global environment. However, without reforms, the growing economic woes of some developing countries might not only cloud their growth outlook, but also hamper progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially poverty eradication.

For more details, read the October Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects

First end hunger to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

By Máximo Torero, Chief Economist and Assistant Director-General, Economic and Social Development Department, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

An astonishing number of people worldwide — about 820 million or 11 per cent of those alive today — don’t have enough food to eat. At the same time, vast swaths of the global population suffer from overweight- and obesity-related problems in what experts are calling the ‘double burden of malnutrition.’ If we keep going the way we have, the reproach of hunger is sure to continue past 2030.

This is especially troubling because eradicating poverty and hunger, the first and second Sustainable Development Goals, are key to and a prerequisite for meeting all the other goals. As a development economist, I cannot overemphasize the interlinkages between these goals. Zero hunger, for example, integrates and links food security, nutrition and sustainable, climate-resilient agriculture. The SDGs are indivisible.

Nowhere is the need for breaking down the silos as urgent as around the SDGs. This means doubling down on the efforts to spur progress towards goal 1 and 2, especially in countries that are struggling.

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. But it’s not being produced where it’s most needed. In the next decade, global agricultural productivity will increase faster than the 15 per cent increase in food demand, according to a modelling exercise between FAO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is in Latin America that most of the agricultural outputs and productivity gains in the next decade will happen, thanks to greater investments, resources, and technological innovation in the region. The demand for food, on the other hand, will be strongest in Africa and South Asia. This is why international trade is crucial to food security. Any disruptions, uncertainties, and trade tensions threaten food security in a growing number of food-importing countries.

Unsurprisingly, hunger has risen in countries where the economy has slowed down. Most of these countries rely heavily on primary commodity exports and imports, involving minerals, ores, metals, fuels and raw agricultural materials. For them, slowing global trade means contracting economic growth and increasing government debt at home, which negatively affect food security and nutrition. In high commodity-export dependent countries, one per cent increase in commodity-import dependence led to an average increase of almost four per cent in undernourishment, according to this year’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World.

The current trade tensions are bringing the global economy ever closer to its next recession and leading us to even more increase in hunger and malnutrition. Higher tariffs increase the price of imported goods and disrupt global value chains. They reduce productivity, increase uncertainty and weaken investment. Moreover, trade tensions increase government and corporate debt, and raise borrowing costs.

It also means more poverty and inequality, which hinders efforts to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. The poorest people could become even more vulnerable. Over the next decade, global demand for commodities could slow down by one third, especially for agriculture and metals. This spells disaster for food security and nutrition in countries that are dependent on commodity exports.

Trade wars are not the only reason people are malnourished. Governments keep subsidizing products with low nutritional value, favoring staple foods — wheat, rice, maize — over fruits and vegetables. This has a negative effect on nutrition and dietary diversity. In poorer countries, nutrient-dense foods like eggs, milk, fruits and vegetables can be very expensive, making it all but impossible for people to move away from staples. In richer countries, unhealthy foods are cheaper and more convenient.

If we want to envision a world free of hunger and malnutrition, we need sustainable trade with clear rules. Incentives for agricultural producers must change, too. Consumers need better information to choose healthy diets. And we need a big push to think of nutrition as part of food safety.

Skeptics might throw their hands up and argue that it would be impossible to make these tremendous, complex changes. But it can be done, if we can find the will to put knowledge into action. It’s reprehensible to let so many people suffer from hunger and malnutrition when there is enough food for everyone. The obesity epidemic alone will cost the world over a trillion dollars by 2025.

We can start fixing the unfair, unjust, and unsustainable food systems that are undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Fixing the global food systems is an approach that understands the interlinkages, interactions and trade‑offs between the Sustainable Development Goals. In our efforts to fight hunger and malnutrition, it is important to minimize the environmental impacts of production but making sure that everyone has access to sufficient, nutritious food. Balancing these trade-offs would bring us that much closer to tapping the potential of these worthy goals.


*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

Are we drowning in plastic?

Plastic pollution has emerged as the second most dire threat to the global environment, after climate change. The annual production of plastic has increased from 1.7 million metric tons in 1950 to 322 million metric tons in 2015. More than eight billion tons of plastic have accumulated on earth, polluting land, water, and air. Some have even characterized the current stage of human history as the “Plastics Age.”

Urgent measures are needed to confront the threat of plastics. Interventions have to be made at all five different stages of the plastics life cycle, namely production; its use in producing goods and services; consumption of these plastics-using goods and services; disposal of plastics-containing goods; and collection of improperly-disposed plastics litter.

New and frontier technologies can be helpful in interventions at all these five stages. The current issue of Frontier Technology Quarterly reviews some of the ways in which these technologies can help in the interventions at the first stage. It shows that new technologies can help in both enhancing the use of natural substitutes of plastics and in making plastics more biodegradable, for use in cases where plastics are unavoidable.

For example, nanotechnology can be used to coat cardboards to make them water resistant and leakproof, thus enhancing their use as substitutes of plastics in packaging. Genetic engineering, on the other hand, can help to widen the use of natural fibers, such as jute, flax, and hemp as substitutes for plastic. Genetic engineering can also be used to overcome the limitations of starch and cellulose in producing biodegradable plastics. Similarly, nanotechnology can be used to create a new range of biomaterials, which can be processed into biodegradable plastics.

Actual utilization of these potentials of new technologies, however, will require appropriate policies, including government support for research and for overcoming the infant-industry barriers.

Access the latest issue of the Frontier Technology Quarterly

Everything has to change for our planet to stay the same

By António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Our planet is changing dramatically. Forests are burning, sea ice is shrinking and the Greenland icecap is pouring unprecedented amounts of water into the ocean. Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher than they have been in human history, climate disruption is the new reality, and scientists are warning that the planet is simply not capable of coping with the growing pressure being placed on it by humanity.

Since I became Secretary-General, I have witnessed what it means to live in a world that is, on average, one degree Celsius hotter than it was before the industrial revolution. I have come to know the dramatic force of natural disasters supercharged by climate change.

I have seen families in the tiny Pacific archipelago of Tuvalu watching the sea creep closer and closer to their doorsteps. I have seen my own country, Portugal, mourn the deaths of over 100 people killed by forest fires during one of Europe’s hottest recorded summers. And I have seen children in Mozambique learning their ABCs in the scorching sun after the roof of their school had been swept away by Cyclone Idai, along with 90 per cent of their city’s infrastructure. While there, I also visited a safe place for women in a displacement camp, which highlights the double jeopardy women face in times of disaster, where their losses are often compounded by vulnerability to violence.

The human suffering caused by the global climate emergency is already massive and growing daily, yet science tells us that it is nowhere near as calamitous as what our children will experience if we add another degree of global heating. Science also tells us that we are currently on track to add a further two or more degrees within the lifespan of our grandchildren – a legacy of almost unfathomable ruin, and one we must do everything to avoid.

Despite the daily diet of grim news, there is still hope. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we can win the race against time that the climate crisis has become. But to do so, we must take transformative action now and implement “rapid, far‑reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” around the globe.

That is why I have been asking for bold announcements from governments and businesses at the Climate Action Summit that I am convening at United Nations Headquarters on 23 September. I am calling on countries to shift taxes from people to pollution, end fossil fuel subsidies and stop building new coal power plants by 2020. These are the first steps we must take to slow down runaway climate change before it breaches the most dangerous thresholds. We need to cut greenhouse emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and we need carbon neutrality by 2050.

To contain global heating, we will have to overhaul the way our societies and economies function, from energy, transport and industry to how we farm and eat. It will require protecting and restoring our forests and oceans, and delivering clean, affordable energy to everyone. It will also demand gender equality, universal health coverage and quality education for all.

It is here that climate change also presents compelling opportunities. The best plan to solving one of the world’s biggest threats is one we already have: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the universally agreed path to the future we want and need. The 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, recognizes that global challenges such as climate change, poverty, hunger and inequality require a holistic transformation, and is our best tool for ensuring that the dramatic transition we need will be just and fair.

This month, world leaders will gather in New York for a week of critical meetings to accelerate action for sustainable development, including the Climate Action Summit and the SDG Summit. I have asked leaders to announce concrete plans of action that can boost global ambition.

The Italian author, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa once wrote that “if we want everything to stay the same, everything must change.” If we want our planet to remain the same – healthy and able to support prosperity and opportunity for all — we will have to completely transform our world. I count on leaders everywhere to heed this call and rise to the challenge of their 2015 promise to deliver a sustainable future for this and future generations.

A world on the move – UN DESA reveals latest data on international migration

We live in a world on the move. Across the globe, there are persons who choose to leave their home countries in search of a brighter future with greater opportunities for themselves and their families. In some countries, people have been leaving their home also to escape dangerous conditions, whether naturally occurring or manmade.

In 2017, the world counted 258 million international migrants, representing 3.4 per cent of the global population. But what is the latest tally and what does it say about people on the move today? Stay tuned for the latest migration data to be launched by UN DESA on 17 September 2019.

Beyond the numbers, it is widely recognized that migration has major impacts on both the people and the places involved. When supported by appropriate policies, migration can contribute to inclusive and sustainable development in both origin and destination countries, while also benefitting migrants and their families. The crucial linkages between migration and development, highlighting the opportunities and challenges that migration brings, have been acknowledged both in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Accurate, consistent and timely data on international migration are essential for Member States to monitor progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Global Compact for Migration. The Global Compact for Migration emphasizes the importance of data by including “Collection and utilization of accurate and disaggregated [migration] data as a basis for evidence-based policies” as the first of its 23 objectives.

Reliable data on migrants and migration are crucial for assessing current and future trends, identifying policy priorities, and making informed decisions. Reliable data on international migration can also help ensure that discussions on migration, at both national and international levels, are based on facts, not myths or misperceptions.

Every two years, the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs issues new global estimates of the number of international migrants for all countries and areas of the world, disaggregated by age, sex, country of origin and country of destination. The latest estimates of the number of international migrants are included in the International Migrant Stock 2019.

The 2019 release of the international migrant stock dataset will be accompanied by several related publications based on the new estimates. These include: (i) a policy brief providing key facts about global and regional levels and trends in international migration; (ii) a wall chart providing country-level data and regional aggregates; and (iii) country profiles providing a snapshot of migration levels and trends for each country or area.

Additional information about the international migrant stock datasets and related publications is available on the website of UN DESA’s Population Division.

17 goals to transform our world

During the month of September, when the UN high-level week will kick off five summits to boost action for people and planet, the organization is putting a spotlight on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed upon by all UN Member States in 2015.

Where do we stand in our efforts to achieve these interconnected and ambitious goals? The latest Sustainable Development Report 2019, released this past July, has the answers. The report warns that the impacts of climate change and increasing inequality across and within countries are undermining progress on the sustainable development agenda, threatening to reverse many of the gains made over the last decades that have improved people’s lives.

The report demonstrates that progress is being made in some critical areas, and that some favorable trends are evident:

  • Extreme poverty rate declined from 16 per cent in 2010 to 8.6 per cent in 2018. Under-five mortality rate fell by 49 per cent from 77 deaths per 1000 live births in 2000 to 39 deaths in 2017. Vaccinations resulted in an 80 per cent drop in measles deaths between 2000 and 2017, and 90 per cent of the world’s population now has access to electricity.
  • Countries are taking concrete actions to protect our planet: marine protected areas have doubled since 2010; countries are working concertedly to address illegal fishing; and 186 parties have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, and almost all have communicated their first nationally determined contributions. About 150 countries have developed national policies to respond to the challenges of rapid urbanization, and 71 countries and the European Union now have more than 300 policies and instruments supporting sustainable consumption and production.

Despite progress, the report identifies many areas that need urgent collective attention and action:

  • The year 2018 was the fourth warmest year on record. Levels of carbon dioxide concentrations continued to increase in 2018. Ocean acidity is 26% higher than in pre-industrial times and is projected to increase by 100% to 150% by 2100 at the current rate of CO2
  • One million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction; and land degradation continues unchecked.
  • The pace of poverty reduction is starting to decelerate as the world struggles to respond to entrenched deprivation, violent conflicts and vulnerabilities to natural disasters.
  • Global hunger has been on the rise after a prolonged decline.
  • Increasing inequality among and within countries requires urgent attention. Three quarters of stunted children live in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa; extreme poverty is three times higher in rural areas than urban areas; young people are more likely to be unemployed than adults; only a quarter of people with severe disabilities collect a disability pension; and women and girls still face barriers to achieving equality.

Access the complete report and data set on the goals here. Check out this story map that highlights where we stand on each and every global goal.

Trade conflict – an increasing threat to global growth

Trade tensions are rising around the world. As they threaten to become even more pervasive, the global growth outlook has darkened. UN DESA’s September Monthly Briefing warns that the protracted high trade tensions are visibly affecting global economic activity.

In tandem with slowing industrial production, world trade growth has decelerated sharply over the past year. In many countries, there are signs that the deterioration in business confidence has started to dent investment growth. In response to slowing economic activity, central banks across the global have eased monetary policy

Given inconclusive trade negotiations, there is a growing risk that trade tensions will further intensify, triggering protectionist measures by other countries. Amid constrained macroeconomic policy space, this could derail global growth and reverse progress on the 2030 Agenda.

The inaugural SDG Summit, which will be held later this month, presents a valuable opportunity for world leaders to engage in productive dialogue and discuss strategies to address the current global economic challenges, including a strengthening of the rules-based multilateral trading system.

For more information: September Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 

Photo: Jonathan Ernst/World Bank

From local to global: Sub-Saharan infrastructure saving Caribbean lives

At first glance, there may seem to be little in common between the lush Caribbean island of Jamaica and the sea-port city of Dar es Salaam, the largest city in Tanzania, with a population three times larger than the entire island nation. However, technical innovations developed for sub-Saharan schools are helping protect children across the globe from danger as they make their most important journeys – the ones to access education.

Road crashes are the leading cause of death for children over the age of five. The majority of deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries despite the lower rates of motorization. In sub-Saharan Africa, home to just 2 per cent of the world’s cars, a child is twice as likely to die on the roads than in the second most dangerous region.

Cities where streets are designed for vehicles, not people, pose the greatest risk. This danger is particularly stark around schools where hundreds of pupils flood the streets on the way to school and back. The School Area Road Safety Assessments and Improvements (SARSAI) program by the African-based NGO, Amend, identifies schools where students are at risk of road injury and death. Engineers and statisticians assess surrounding infrastructure and implement simple changes such as speed bumps, footpaths, and traffic-calming measures, along with education to change driver and pedestrian behaviour.

In Dar es Salaam, SARSAI identified the 28 most dangerous schools and protected more than 38,000 students.

Most significant is the measurable impact of the programme’s interventions: schools with SARSAI experienced 26 per cent fewer traffic injuries, while vehicle speeds in school zones dropped as much as 60 per cent.

It is the first peer-reviewed method of its kind, proven to reduce road traffic injuries and deaths in the region, with applications for schools around the globe. Projects, which provide empirical proof of impact, are vital examples of best practice and have wide-ranging impacts across the interlinked issues of access to education, health, sustainable communities and others, which are too often siloed within one particular Sustainable Development Goal (SDG).

Amend is part of the Child Health Initiative (CHI), a partnership building a coalition of country and donor support for safe and healthy journeys to school for all children by 2030. It focuses on the rights of children to safe, accessible mobility which enables access to education while maintaining a healthy environment. To achieve these goals, it links partners’ regional work to collaborate and share best practice to address similar challenges, and advocates through the ‘This is my street’ campaign.

The campaign is calling for a UN Global Summit on Adolescent Health to combat two of the leading killers of children and young people – traffic crashes and air pollution. Every day, 700 children die in road crashes and thousands more are seriously hurt. Over 2 million children miss out on education each year because of death or injury in road crashes. And around 300 million children are breathing dangerously toxic air, polluted – in large part – by traffic.

The collaborative nature of CHI led its partner, UNICEF, to translate lessons from work across Sub‑Saharan Africa to Jamaican roads where three children die each week. At a workshop, Amend presented how to design, implement and conduct infrastructure impact assessments with local engineers to address risks around schools.

Then, UNICEF and Amend joined forces to make the streets of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, safer by implementing safe infrastructure around a pilot school. At the official project launch, the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness, welcomed the programme.

Jamaica’s adoption of the SARSAI programme demonstrates how international collaboration with evidence-based best practice can translate a single city pilot into tangible national and regional action. The joint efforts of CHI and UNICEF will be repeated in eight more countries, tying in global coordination and advocacy to leverage further resources for road traffic injury prevention.

This ability of the SARSAI project to be successfully scaled up and replicated in a different country context, has prompted UN DESA to include it in a database of over 500 good practices for the SDGs, which gathers inspiring breakthroughs and success stories from around the world that are helping to make the SDGs a reality.


*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

The case for making the polluters pay

Ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit on 23 September, UN DESA’s latest Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects develops the case for internalizing the cost of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions – or put more simply – to make the polluters pay.

Climate change is moving faster than we are, as pivotal records are being shattered before our eyes. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at the highest levels in 3-5 million years. The last time this occurred, the earth’s temperature was as much as 3 degrees warmer and sea levels as much as 10-20 meters higher. The years 2015-2019 will be the five warmest on record. And sea levels are not only rising – but rising at an accelerated pace.

Coupled with intensifying weather-related natural catastrophes, this presses home the point that speaking just of climate change may no longer do justice to the extent of the global challenge at hand; instead of climate change, the more accurate description appears to be climate crisis or climate catastrophe.

In this unfolding climate crisis, and with the window of opportunity to counteract closing rapidly, policymakers must urgently identify the measures that will prove sufficient to put the world on a sustainable development path.

A key requirement is immediately moving away from fossil fuels. This will require a wide range of measures, including phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, increasing and fine-tuning the targeting of renewable-energy subsidies and making greater use of regulatory instruments such as efficiency standards. However, a key element across all these various measures is putting a price on CO2.

Carbon pricing would fix a fundamental flaw in the economic system, which allows the greenhouse gas emitters to bear no cost of the damage their emissions are causing to our societies and economies, and ultimately, to the planet’s entire life-supporting system.

This understatement of costs has dramatic consequences: certain goods and services are produced and consumed at a quantity that is greater than the environmentally sustainable level. In other words, we are unlikely to change our everyday decisions, which are causing a global climate crisis, unless we see them directly hitting us in the pockets.

Carbon pricing makes producers and consumers internalize into their economic decisions what has so far been offloaded as a negative externality onto society. Creating a market for CO2 emissions would essentially establish CO2 as a commodity, whose price has then to be factored into economic decisions.

Carbon pricing can take different forms, but generally falls into one of two categories: emission trading systems and carbon taxes. While both have their pros and cons, policymakers should also ensure that the costs do not fall too heavily on the most vulnerable. This underpins the advice of UN Secretary‑General António Guterres:  “Tax the polluters, not the people.”

More in-depth analysis and a review of recent economic consequences of climate shocks in regions including Central Asia, Australia, Africa, Pacific Islands, South Asia and the Caribbean is available here:

August Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 

SDG 13 in numbers

Climate change is the defining issue of our time and the greatest challenge to sustainable development. As greenhouse gas levels continue to climb, climate change is occurring at a much faster rate than anticipated. We are already seeing that its compounded effects can be catastrophic and irreversible: accelerated ocean acidification, extreme weather conditions, rising sea levels, increased frequency and severity of natural disasters, continuing land degradation, and loss of biodiversity.  Although countries have taken positive steps by preparing nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and increasing financing to combat climate change, far more ambitious plans and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society are needed if we are to prevent runaway climate change.


Geospatial experts look at the bigger picture of the 2030 Agenda

Geospatial information exists in many forms and mediums, integrating all digital data with a location dimension. It can be as simple as a name on a map or as complicated as a multi-layer 3-dimensional model of that place – containing anything from cities, land-use and traffic distribution to monitoring the environment and climate variables.

All countries and all sectors need geospatial information to make informed decisions, to develop national development plans and strategies and to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Collaborative information systems that are comprehensive, coordinated and integrated, underpinned by geospatial information technologies and applications, provide the evidence on ‘where’ people interact with their place, their city and their environment.

At the ninth session of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN‑GGIM), which will take place from 7 to 9 August at the  UN Headquarters in New York, experts from across the globe will discuss ways to better manage and coordinate the use of geospatial information to help countries develop national strategies and sustainable development priorities.

Geospatially enabling the SDGs for all countries is a principal focus of the Committee of Experts. At its upcoming August session, the Committee will consider several geospatial frameworks, principles and guides, including:

  • The Integrated Geospatial Information Framework (IGIF), which translates high-level strategic geospatial information concepts into practical implementation guidance and action by Member States.
  • The Global Statistical Geospatial Framework (GSGF), which enables a range of data from both the statistical and geospatial communities to be integrated to inform and facilitate data-driven decision making.
  • The Framework for Effective Land Administration (FELA), to improve advocacy, promote coherence of concepts, and translate globally agreed methods and approaches for practical implementation by governments to determine, record and disseminate information about the relationship between people and land for sustainable development.

For more information:

9th session of the UN Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management

How accelerating action today can create a ripple effect for the future

By Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations

There is an old riddle about a single water lily growing in a pond. Each day, the number of lily pads doubles, so that by the second day, there are two, by the third day, there are four, and so on until, on the 30th day, the pond is completely overgrown. Can you guess on which day the lilies cover half of the pond?

The correct answer – on the 29th day – is far from intuitive. As late as the day before it becomes entirely coated with lilies, the pond is still half-empty, tricking our common sense into believing that change is moving very slow. But what do flowers in ponds have to do with the Sustainable Development Goals? It is all about change, the kind we can see and measure today and the kind that will only bear fruit in the future.

This month, the world will come together for the annual High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the HLPF, a truly unique event by today’s standards, where policymakers from around the world, activists, local governments, youth, businesses and everyone with a stake in the SDGs take a collective look at how we are doing on achieving the Goals and where we can improve.

For the last four years, UN DESA has been leading these efforts and tracking the world’s progress on the SDGs. Despite encouraging success stories on eradicating poverty, fighting deadly diseases and reducing child mortality, the world is still off track on many critical targets, with hunger on the rise, biodiversity loss and climate change going into a tailspin and gender inequalities stubbornly persisting.

But these sobering statistics only tell one side of the story. Underneath the raw data, is an entire ecosystem of SDG action, gaining momentum each day to, eventually, become unstoppable, just like those lilies in the pond. From country governments to small town officials and from big international organizations to local NGOs and schools, the global movement to bring prosperity to all on a healthy planet is well on its way, even if official statistics do not reveal its entire extent.

For example, at this month’s HLPF, 47 countries will step in front of their peers to present their progress on the SDGs, bringing the total number of countries that have conducted their Voluntary National Reviews to 142. In their reports, countries have shared best practices, challenges and lessons learned from implementing national plans, strategies or roadmaps to achieve the Goals, and creating new institutions with an SDG focus.

And governments are far from being the only ones taking action. UN DESA’s database of good practices for the SDGs has collected over 600 examples of inspiring projects from every corner of the world. From a university in Brazil that improves the surrounding community to a small village in Turkey switching to organic farming, to the European Commission’s circular economy strategy, SDG action is sprouting new shoots at every level.

Even with all this vigorous activity we still have not reached the kind of lily-like exponential growth we need to transform our world and to leave no one behind. But science tells us that both the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris climate targets are still within our reach if we drastically accelerate our actions. This year is a crucial opportunity to do just that.

This September, world leaders gather in New York for a week of five summits, including the SDG Summit and the Climate Action Summit. If countries follow the call of Secretary-General António Guterres to come prepared with ambitious plans, their acceleration actions could trigger further commitments, stronger partnerships and faster action, snowballing into an unstoppable movement towards sustainable development.

Humanity set out on the ambitious 2030 Agenda and the Paris climate accord knowing that they were commiting an entire generation to sustained action. We will not change the world in one day or during one week of summits. But if we sow the right seeds of change and work hard over the next 10 years to help them flourish, then by 2030, everyone will reap the rewards.

UN DESA honours eleven UN Public Service Award winners

Eleven years stand between now and when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are set to expire in 2030. Innovating for the SDGs has become a buzz phrase now with state and non-state actors looking for ways to accelerate the realization of the targets through new frontier technology or simply, improving public policy.

And while this global effort to make a difference in this world, through eradication of poverty to the imminent effects of climate change, achieving the 17 SDGs is not a race. No country is the tortoise or the hare. It is a group effort that calls on different backgrounds and silos to build bridges and communication. UN DESA’s Division of Public Institutions and Digital Government (DPIDG) has a front row view of how governments are addressing the SDGs and issues in their nations through the United Nations Public Service Awards.

The awards – the international recognition of excellence in public service – are granted every year by UN DESA on June 23 or the UN Public Service Day. Institutions from around the world are acknowledged for their creative achievements that lead to more effective and responsive public administrations. Since 2003, UN DESA has received over 3,000 nominations from around the globe in areas from health to education to accountability and to gender equality.

This year, there were eleven winners from eleven institutions around the world in five categories: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Kenya, Indonesia, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Thailand. Get inspired by their winning public service initiatives in five categories:

1. Delivering inclusive and equitable services to leave no one behind

Kenya- Water Sector Trust Fund

In Kenya, Up-Scaling Basic Sanitation for Urban poor ensures safe and sustainable emptying, transport and treatment of toilet sludge through the construction of the decentralized treatment facilities.

Brazil- Prefeitura do Jaboatão dos Guararapes

The Waste Collection Program: Enhancing a Cooperative Network for Productive and Social Inclusion Program in Brazil promotes social inclusion by training and providing waste collectors with decent work and a sustainable source of income.

Australia- Agriculture Victoria

In Australia, the Victorian Rabbit Action Network implements response mechanisms and future interventions to manage an invasive species.

2. Ensuring integrated approaches in public sector institutions

Indonesia- Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana

In Indonesia, is a platform for underfunded communities to participate in reducing flood risk and assisting in relief efforts.

Argentina- Laboratorio de Hemoderivados de la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

In Argentina, The Social, Synergistic and Sustainable Business Model transforms plasma into safe and affordable medicines and enables people to treat their illnesses with donated medicines.

Portugal- High Commission for Migration

CNAIM in Portugal implemented a one-stop shop for public administration services for migrants.

3. Developing effective and responsible public institutions

Thailand- Nong Ta Tam Subdistrict Administrative Organization

In Thailand, the Self-reliant Solar Energy Community initiative increases environmental sustainability by providing low-cost solar energy to the whole village.

4. Promoting digital transformation in public sector institutions

Costa Rica- Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social

In Costa Rica, the Implementation of the Single Digital Health Record in Primary Care provides a digital platform for caregivers to access patients’ medical records, optimize resources and reduce the duplication of diagnostic tests.

5. Promoting gender-sensitive public services to achieve the SDGs

Republic of Korea- Seoul Metropolitan Government

In Korea, the Public Sanitary Pads Support Policy for Menstrual Health Equity increased the accessibility of menstrual care and information.

Austria- Public Employment Service Austria, AMS in partnership with ABZ*Austria

Competence Checks for the Vocational Integration for Refugee Women, ABZ*Kompetenzcheck assists refugee women to expand their network and become financially independent in Austria.

Chile- ChileCompra

In Chile, the Promotion of Women Lead Companies through the Public Market helps small enterprises owned by women to participate in the opportunities offered by the public market place and improves public procurement processes of hiring women nationwide.

The Awards were presented to the winners at the United Nations Public Service Awards Ceremony in Baku, Azerbaijan on 24 June during the United Nations Public Service Forum.

For more information: UN Public Service Forum, Day and Awards

SDG 17 in numbers

Enhanced international cooperation is needed to ensure that countries have the means to achieve the SDGs. Progress is being made on some of the targets of SDG 17. For example, personal remittances and the proportion of the global population with Internet access are at an all-time high. Yet, there are challenges in achieving other targets, with official development assistance (ODA) declining and trade tensions persisting.

The net ODA flows totaled $149 billion in 2018, down 2.7 per cent in real terms from 2017, with a declining share going to the most vulnerable countries and population groups—aid to Africa fell by 4 per cent and humanitarian aid fell by 8 per cent.

Total ODA for capacity building and national planning stood at $33.5 billion in 2017—$13.0 billion combined went to assist the public administration, energy and the financial sectors.

At the end of 2018, more than half of the world’s population (3.9 billion people) used the Internet. However, only 45 per cent of people in developing countries and only 20 per cent of people in LDCs were online, compared to over 80 per cent in developed countries.

Decreasing tariffs applied worldwide provide wider access to goods and contribute to a more open trading system. In 2017, trade weighted tariffs decreased to an average of 2.2 per cent worldwide but large differences at the regional level that still remain, reflecting global economic imbalances. The highest average tariff rates in 2017 were applied across African regions. The year 2018 cast doubt over the future of a sound multilateral trading system under WTO, with significant trade tensions among large economies.

In 2019, annual remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are projected to reach $550 billion, making these flows larger than both foreign direct investment and ODA.

In 2016, countries only received $623 million to support all areas of statistics, amounting to just 0.33 per cent of total ODA. In order for developing countries to meet the statistical capacity related targets by 2030, current donor support to data and statistics will need to double.

From 2008 to 2017, 89 per cent of countries or areas around the world conducted at least one population and housing census.

For more information: Sustainable Development Goal 17

Top economic experts call for a policy reboot to revive the economy and achieve the SDGs

In June, UN DESA invited 70 of the finest economic minds from over 30 countries to the town of Glen Cove where, over three days, they put their heads together, analysing the state of the global economy and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and proposing recommendations for the way forward. The picture of the global situation they painted was not a pretty one.

Unresolved trade tensions are visibly impacting trade in many developing economies and threatening to unravel global and regional production networks. The uncertainty about international policy is showing no signs of abating and financial markets remain vulnerable to sudden shifts in sentiments.

Predictably, these tougher economic conditions are translating into less financial resources for sustainable development. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recently reported that global foreign direct investment (FDI) contracted for the third consecutive year in 2018, as investor confidence was undermined by trade tensions and geopolitical uncertainties. The OECD also revealed that official development assistance (ODA) in 2018 fell by 2.7 per cent compared to 2017. The share of ODA that went to those most in need – least-developed and African countries – also declined.

Climate change is only exacerbating the bleak growth outlook for many of the least developed and small island developing States. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events has not only damaged vital infrastructure in their economies but has also caused large-scale displacements. The efforts to shift the global economy towards a sustainable way of producing and consuming remain woefully inadequate to the scale of the challenge.

Gathered in Glen Cove as part of a UN DESA Expert Group Meeting on the World Economy with the Project LINK network, the experts stressed that many of the challenges for sustainable development are global by nature and require closer policy cooperation between countries – something that has lately been in short supply.

As rising global headwinds threaten to undo decades of development gains, there is an urgent need to strengthen global partnerships and cooperation to make visible progress towards the 2030 Agenda.

In her keynote speech, Cristina Duarte, former Minister in the Government of Cabo Verde and member of UN DESA’s High‑Level Advisory Board, highlighted the daunting barriers to development progress in Africa, particularly in the challenging global environment. In large parts of the continent, poverty rates remain extremely high, low-productivity agriculture continues to dominate employment, and overdependence on commodities prevails.

Ms. Duarte warned that without drastic measures it is unlikely that Africa would achieve the SDGs by 2030. She called for a reboot of policymaking in the continent, particularly to strengthen the quality of institutions, enhance development finance, and enable African countries to exercise ownership over their immense natural resource wealth.

Organized by the Economic Analysis and Policy Division of UN DESA, the meeting gathered experts from several UN agencies, major international organizations, central banks, academia, and research institutions. UN Chief Economist and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at UN DESA, Elliott Harris, chaired the meeting.

Step by step – working towards sustainable development for all

Our world is facing mounting challenges that no one country can face alone. By connecting global policies and national action in the economic, social and environmental areas, UN DESA works with nations across the globe to find solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems. Guided by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the department helps countries in their efforts to achieve sustainable development for all.

This year alone, the department is bringing the global community together for several high-level events aimed at accelerating action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and boosting positive change. It kicks off with the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development on 9-18 July and continues in September during UN high-level week with the SDG Summit (24-25 September), the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development (26 September) and the Samoa Pathway High-level Mid-term Review (27 September).

Counting everyone, because everyone counts
UN DESA does much more than bringing countries together. The department is a key provider of essential data, information and analysis for the international community to make informed decisions on development issues.

UN DESA keeps track of the world population to help countries plan and to make sure everyone is counted. Where is the population growing the fastest? How are population trends affecting the achievement of the SDGs? The global community will find out on 17 June 2019, when the department will launch its biennial report on the latest demographic trends, the World Population Prospects 2019.

Similarly, UN DESA collects and analyzes data, working closely with national statistical offices around the globe to strengthen statistical capacities, ensuring that no one is left uncounted. Based on this thorough work, the department leads the preparation of the annual Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report, tracking advancements and identifying gaps in our global efforts to achieve the SDGs. Stay tuned for the next SDG Progress Report to be launched on 9 July 2019.

Ahead of the curve
In a similar fashion, and looking through a sustainable development lens, the department monitors and analyzes global economic trends as well as new frontier technologies, often staying ahead of the curve. This was the case in the 1980s when UN DESA warned about the debt crisis and in the late 2000s when the department cautioned about the factors that led to the financial crisis.

The latest global economic trends were revealed in the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) as of mid-2019 launched on 21 May. The report finds that high trade tensions and policy uncertainty continue to damage the prospects of economic growth. The department also shares regular updates on the global economy in the WESP monthly briefings.

Home of sustainable development

Within the UN system, UN DESA is the is the place where every SDG finds a home and where all actors can do their part to make sure we leave no one behind. The department leads the preparations for the annual review of the goals at the HLPF every July, supports Member States as they prepare to present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) at this event, and we also provide the platforms where international actors can forge new partnerships and initiatives to spur further action on the goals. UN DESA also made a call asking the international community to share their SDG good practices and success stories. And the results are in, showcasing more than 400 projects in the department’s searchable database.

UN DESA also helps build capacities on the ground. Together with partners, the department supports more than 75 countries in building integrated, evidence-based, inclusive and well-funded national strategies and plans to implement the SDGs. Moreover, the department also works to secure financing for the goals.

Reaching those who are furthest behind first

To realize the promise of the 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind, we need to reach the furthest behind first. UN DESA leads the way to make this happen. The department is a leading voice to promote inclusion, reduce inequalities and eradicating poverty.

This June for example, the department is organizing the 12th session of the Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Tune in on 11-13 June via UN Web TV to follow our work protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.

Whether by organizing major events, tracking SDG data, taking the pulse of socioeconomic trends or cutting-edge issues, or helping countries build capacity, UN DESA is there to support the international community. Step by step, the department works towards sustainable development for all.

Learn more about UN DESA’s work in our new pamphlet.

It is time to “circle back” and transform the planet

By Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director, UN Environment Programme

In India, a young entrepreneur is turning hundreds of tons of flower waste from temples into organic incense sticks, made by women. A simple, cost-effective innovation is helping generate employment, protecting our water bodies and encouraging more research into environment-friendly alternatives. In Burkina Faso, an initiative to repurpose plastic waste into clothes and other items has reduced plastic waste in dumpsites in the city of Koudougou by one-third and improved sanitation.

We have just concluded a record-breaking UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi. Close to 5,000 delegates from more than 170 countries demonstrated a global political will to urgently tackle environmental challenges including the need to transform the environmental footprints of the world’s consumers and to promote the kinds of innovations I have outlined in India and Burkina Faso.

These innovations challenge the very basis of how we treat our planet. We can no longer grow now and clean up later. We have reached the planet’s limits and, as the UN Secretary-General recently reminded us, we simply cannot negotiate with nature.

But innovations also represent some good news. When we “circle back” and see value in what we discard, everybody wins: we protect nature, build livelihoods and improve the health of people. In 2017, humanity used an estimated 90 billion tons of resources. More than 50 per cent of that was dispersed or emitted as waste, while less than 10 per cent was cycled back into the economy.

The food we waste every year, due to damp warehouses, delayed shipments, or consumers who forget their leftovers in the back of the fridge – is enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over. That’s no small matter, given that we’ll probably have another two billion mouths to feed by 2050.

Our piles of discarded smartphones, washing machines, televisions and batteries contain valuable caches of copper, silver, gold, palladium, and other precious resources. But in harvesting this valuable resource, we can generate less carbon emissions than compared to mining the earth for fresh minerals.

And thanks to some innovative thinkers, ocean plastic is now a viable raw material that’s being used to make everything from boats, running shoes, sunglasses, skateboards to carpet tiles.

If countries deliver on all that was agreed in Nairobi and implement the resolutions, we could take a big step towards a new world order where we no longer grow at the expense of nature but instead see people and planet thrive together.

Someone very wise once said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

So, what does this mean practically for us? It means altering consumption habits and confronting conundrums like the fact that meat and dairy products use an overwhelming majority of farmland but constitute only a fraction of the calories we consume. It means governments investing heavily in sustainable solutions that restore nature and regenerate the biosphere. It means consumers holding companies accountable to invest in better and sustainable materials, processes and infrastructure. And it means being kinder to the environment in how we extract resources from nature.

Science has sounded a red alert and painted a future that we simply do not want. 2019 is a year of both urgency and opportunity and chance for all of us to transform the planet!


*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

SDG 12 in numbers

How societies use and manage their natural resources fundamentally shapes their quality of life and the health of their environment. The world continues to use more and more natural resources. Decoupling economic growth from resource use is one of the most critical and complex challenges facing humanity today. A shift towards more sustainable consumption and production patterns will require strong national public policies, sustainable consumer behavior, and a transformation of business practices along global value chains.

In 2017, worldwide material consumption reached 92.1 billion metric tons, up from 87 billion in 2015 and a whopping 254 per cent increase from the 27 billion in 1970, with the rate of extraction accelerating every year since 2000.

The material footprint per capita is used to measure the amount of raw material extracted to meet a person’s need. The “material footprint” per capita in developing countries grew from 5 metric tons in 2000 to 9 metric tons in 2017, but it is still less than half of the value for developed countries (close to 23 metric tons in 2017).


For all categories of materials, developed countries have at least twice the per capita footprint of developing countries. In particular, the material footprint for fossil fuels is more than four times higher for developed than developing countries.

About one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year gets lost or wasted, the majority in developed countries.

By 2018, a total of 108 countries had national policies and initiatives relevant to sustainable consumption and production.

According to a recent report from KPMG, 93 per cent of the world’s 250 largest companies (in terms of revenue) are now reporting on sustainability, as are three quarters of the top 100 companies in 49 countries.

Playing with genes: The good, the bad and the ugly

Genetic technologies—the ability to manipulate and transform the properties of cells, seeds, plants, animals and even humans—are pushing the frontiers of science and offering us new hope for increasing food production, curing disease and improving the quality of life. While the upsides of genetic technologies are promising, we also need to consider the consequences—the bad, and even the ugly.

The good

We now have the knowledge and tools to address some of the most protracted challenges facing humanity, including health challenges that affect millions of people around the world. In the fight against malaria, genetic technologies are being used to develop new vaccines and enable “gene drives” that specifically target the parasite-carrying mosquitoes. The possibility of developing an effective vaccine to a disease contracted by 200 million people each year or eradicating it completely presents an enormously exciting prospect.

In food production, genetic technologies are helping farmers increase production and overcome the risk of drought, floods, and pests. There are commercially available genetically modified crops that are resistant to pests, herbicides, and to viral disease. Flood-resistant rice varieties are helping millions of farmers in South Asia, allowing higher crop yields and enhancing food security.

The bad

On the flip side, we are observing a growing “genomics divide” between those that can afford cutting-edge genetic technologies and those who cannot and are consequently left behind. Firms in developed countries own the rights to most of the innovations in genetic technologies. Furthermore, genetic therapies—one application of genetic technology—are mostly developed for rare diseases and come at high costs, ranging from $373,000 to $1 million per patient per year, making them unaffordable for most people. Clearly very few people have the means or the insurance coverage necessary to take advantage of these therapies.

In agriculture, public concern is mostly focused on the rapid spread of genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the food chain, their safety and sustainability, that the gains and risks are shared equitably, and that cultural and religious beliefs are respected.

The ugly

It is not hard to imagine how genetic editing can turn ugly. Despite significant improvements, gene editing is still imprecise, which could lead to inadvertent changes to the genome. There are also concerns over the unknown, long-term safety of gene editing.

There are growing concerns regarding germline editing—modifications that can be inherited by an unborn child. In the case of germline editing of unborn children, an important question arises, that is, what constitutes informed consent? How can a future person have a voice on genetic changes that will affect them throughout their lives, and perhaps passed on to their offspring?

There is also the possibility of unforeseen ecological changes with genetic targeting of plants and animals, which may destroy an entire species or disrupt ecological balance.

The future

Genetic modification clearly demands careful consideration from policymakers, academics, private companies, and civil society. Technological advances in this area are moving faster than the regulatory capacity of most governments. Recently, scientists have joined together to call on the Member States to move swiftly to strengthen the global regulatory framework and minimize the risks of genetic technologies.

Many stakeholders would also like to see the Member States agree on a moratorium on human germline editing until the world can agree on common norms and standards. The Director-General of the World Health Organization has already responded to these concerns, establishing in March this year a new advisory committee to develop global standards for governance and oversight of human genome editing.

The Food and Agriculture Organization is another UN entity likely to play a key role in supporting the Member States in developing and adopting common norms and standards for applying genetic technologies in food production. In addition, there will be need for the Member States in the General Assembly and ECOSOC to further discuss the possible implications of genetic technologies on inequality in income, opportunities and outcomes within and across countries.


For more information:

What makes effective governance?

How does one know when countries have implemented good governance? Although a cornerstone of all developmental efforts and the sine qua non of sustainability, governance is often nebulous. As a concept, it is hard to decipher. As a practice, it is hard to pin down. We can debate endlessly over the different elements that can go into its conceptual foundations. We can apply all kinds of elaborate models of analysis to get to the bottom of it. All efforts will surely and squarely lead to our pure dazzlement by the richness of its multifarious applications around the world.

Principles of effective governance for sustainable development, developed by the Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA) and endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) last July in New York, aim to tackle precisely these features of governance: how to lucidly operationalize it so that everyone can find common ground when talking about its scope and scale; and of course, how to integrate it organically into the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development so that no one is left behind.

These eleven Principles of effective governance are:

Effectiveness: 1) competence; 2) sound policy making; and 3) collaboration;
Accountability: 4) integrity, 5) transparency and 6) independent oversight; and
Inclusiveness: 7) leaving no one behind, 8) non-discrimination, 9) participation, 10) subsidiarity and 11) intergenerational equity.

The principles bring together commonly applied strategies, many of which have been recognized and endorsed over the years in various United Nations forums, resolutions and treaties. To be exact, CEPA has identified sixty-two such strategies; and its next challenge is to weave them together in coherent and cohesive ways so that the global tapestry of governance can be made more visible and legible for everyone.

Our next step in our staunch commitment to supporting ECOSOC in its vision to promote sustainable development with human dignity is to operationalize the principles so that effective governance and public institutions can directly and vigorously feed into SDG16 and the rest of the Goals.

In its eighteenth session last month in New York, CEPA outlined a three-pronged roadmap for progress: First, efforts should be channeled towards collecting further evidence of what works and what does not, under different sets of circumstances. Second, all relevant stakeholders should be engaged in formulating and upgrading the principles. And thirdly, principles backed up with evidence-based governance indicators must form the analytical basis for assessing impact of reforms.

It is heartening to see that Member States, such as Ecuador, have expressed interest in adopting the principles towards strengthening public institutions for partnerships and effective SDG implementation. CEPA will continue its cooperation with prominent organizations in the field such as the Praia Group on Governance Statistics and The International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) Development Initiative.

Governance is humbling in a way. There is no one right answer. Effective governance, on the other hand, is empowering. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is clear in its vision and objectives. Transformative pathways towards sustainability are many, but our steadfast commitment as humanity to march along them towards peace and progress is one.

For more information:

Committee of Experts on Public Administration (CEPA)


*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

Get the latest global economic trends!

The World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid-2019 will be launched on 21 May in New York. The report updates the economic prospects for the world economy reported in January 2019.

In the mid-year update, the global growth outlook has weakened, amid unresolved trade tensions and elevated international policy uncertainty. Across both developed and developing countries, growth projections for 2019 have been downgraded. While part of the economic slowdown reflects temporary factors, downside risks to global growth remain high.

Heightened financial risks are compounded by greater frequency and severity of natural disasters, reflecting the rising effects of climate change.

Tackling the current growth slowdown and placing the world economy on a robust path in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development require more comprehensive and well-targeted policy responses, including a combination of monetary, fiscal and development-oriented measures.

Join Assistant-Secretary-General for Economic Development and UN Chief Economist Elliott Harris and Chief of UN DESA’s Global Economic Monitoring Branch Dawn Holland as they present the global and regional economic update live at 11 am EDT on May 21 via UN Web TV.

For more information: World Economic Situation and Prospects

SDG 16 in numbers

Progress across Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions needs to accelerate. The global homicide rate has recently increased, various forms of violence against children persist and the number of detected victims of human trafficking has grown. A renewed commitment is needed to reduce levels of violence worldwide and to strengthen the participatory institutions needed for inclusive governance.

The global homicide rate ticked up in 2017 to 6.1 intentional homicides per 100,000 people, following a general downward trend in homicide rates since 2000.

Nearly 8 in 10 children from 1 to 14 years of age were subjected to some form of psychological aggression and/or physical punishment at home between 2006 and 2018.

The number of detected victims of trafficking in persons has increased, which could reflect either a

positive (enhanced efforts by authorities to identify victims) or negative (larger trafficking problem) trend. The vast majority, 70 per cent of detected victims of human trafficking are females.

The share of unsentenced detainees in the overall prison population has remained largely constant at 30 per cent in recent years. Particularly high levels of pre-trial detention, over 40 per cent, exist in Central and Southern Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Even if many regions have reached universal or near-universal birth registration, globally the average is

just 73 per cent, and fewer than half, 46 per cent, of all children under five in Sub-Saharan Africa have had their births registered in 2018.

At least 1,456 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists have been killed in 61 countries across the world since 2015. This is equivalent to one person killed each day defending the rights of others.

Today’s youth are the cornerstone of tomorrow’s society

By Elliott Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist

Today’s youth are the cornerstone of tomorrow’s society. How well-equipped they are with education, skills and professional experience will determine their success and our future. The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum, will take place on 8-9 April 2019, providing a platform for young leaders from around the world to engage in a dialogue among themselves and with United Nations Member States and to share ideas for advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for sustainable development, and the Paris Climate Agreement. The Forum serves as a unique space for young people to share their vision and elaborate their substantive contributions to United Nations upcoming meetings.

This month also sees the 2019 ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development follow-up, to be held 15-18 April at UN Headquarters in New York. Among the important issues to be discussed by the Forum is finding the appropriate policy mix to make growth more inclusive and generate decent work opportunities for all.

UN DESA’s latest Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects reviews global labour markets, with a focus on youth. Youth employment remains a global policy challenge. Since the global economic crisis in 2009, the number of young persons (aged 15-24) in employment has contracted by more than 15 per cent.

While this partly reflects extended education, globally, 21.2 per cent of young people were in neither employment, education nor training last year. According to ILO’s “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2019”, this has long-term implications for income prospects of individuals, and over time, a high share of young people who are neither acquiring skills through education or employment acts as an obstacle to innovation and sustained economic growth.

While youth unemployment is a global problem, the challenge in Africa is particularly daunting. Africa has the youngest population in the world. Countries such as Niger, Uganda, Angola and Mozambique have a median age for their population of below 18 years, and the reduction in infant mortality coupled with slowing but still high fertility rates has translated into a significant “youth bulge” across the continent. It is estimated that about 10-12 million people in the continent are joining the labour force each year, a figure projected to rise further in the next decade. This potentially entails enormous economic benefits. Yet, translating this “youth bulge” into a “demographic dividend” critically depends on the capacity to generate productive jobs.

Future labour market situations hinge on initial experiences, including the ability to access the labour market, and on the skills and competencies acquired and continually updated through life-long education and training. A cohort of youth excluded from the labour market can negatively impact many spheres of society, making strategies for youth employment a central piece of sustainable development. Promoting youth capacity building and labour force participation with decent jobs, as well as swift school-to-work transitions remain crucial.

Decent work and economic growth in numbers

Globally, labour productivity has been on the up and unemployment has decreased. However, we need to make more progress to increase employment opportunities, especially for young people. Informal employment and labour market inequality must be reduced, particularly the gender pay gap. To ensure sustained and inclusive economic growth, we also need to promote safe and secure working environments and improve access to financial services.

For least developed countries, the real gross domestics product (GDP) per capita fell sharply from 5.7 per cent in 2005–2009 to 2.3 per cent in 2010–2016. That is only one third of the SDG 8 target of 7 per cent annual growth.

Labour productivity measures how much economic output an average employee produces. At the global level, productivity grew by 2.1 per cent in 2017. This is the fastest growth registered since 2010.

Globally, 61 per cent or nearly two in every three workers were engaged in informal employment in 2016. Excluding the agricultural sector, 51 per cent of all workers fell into this employment category.

Data from 45 countries suggest that women still earn less than men: in 89 per cent of these countries, the hourly wages of men are, on average, 12.5 per cent higher than those of women.

The global unemployment rate in 2017 was 5.6 per cent, down from 6.4 per cent in 2000. Youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults, with the global youth unemployment rate at 13 per cent in 2017.

Worldwide, 152 million children between 5 and 17 years are victims of child labour; almost half of them (73 million) work in hazardous child labour.

For more information:

Sustainable Development Goal 8

Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018

Standardization of geographical names – why does it matter?

In today’s digital world, standardized geographical names are vital. They help us find our way in society and they also help us organize the world we live in. They also play a key role in our efforts to achieve sustainable development, providing fundamental channels of communication, facilitating cooperation among local, national and international organizations. We also need standardized geographical names in emergency situations. Without them, it can be challenging to respond to crises.

This month, the “new” United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN) will convene  for its 2019 Session from 29 April to 3 May 2019 at UN Headquarters in New York. The session, organized by UN DESA’s Statistics Division, brings together over 150 experts from national naming authorities and academia to discuss strategies and methodologies by which the standardization of geographical names throughout the world can be advanced for the benefit of all citizens, Governments and non-governmental organizations.

The Session aims to increase awareness of geographical names standardization, share the benefits that names provide to the daily functions in national economies and highlight its role as an enabler in preserving cultural heritage. It is hoped that delegates will be further empowered to strengthen their efforts to collect, manage and disseminate geographical names and forge partnerships and alliances to advance geographical names standardization.

The Group of Experts has had a robust work programme spanning over 50 years, 30 sessions and 11 conferences and many significant milestones. In November 2017, the group was dismantled and recreated with the same name and new working methods. The 2019 session therefore heralds the first session of the new body, with a new agenda and over 90 papers for information and discussion, covering topics such as toponymic training, place names supporting sustainable development, toponymic data files and gazetteers, romanization systems, exonyms, geographical names as cultural heritage, and toponymic guidelines for map and other editors for international use.  In keeping with its new standing the group will be formally launching its new website and a prototype of the world geographical names database web GIS application.

The week’s activities include, special presentations, side events featuring working group and divisional meetings, an orientation session for new attendees and special workshops on “Linked Data Developments” and “The Unanswered Questions Relation to Indigenous Toponymy”.

The meetings will be streamed live via UN Web TV.

For more information:
United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names (UNGEGN)


Empowering women to achieve the global goals

by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women

If you wonder why gender equality is so important, just try to think of any part of the world, or even any business, where it’s possible to say that we’ve already achieved it. Whether you consider equal pay for women when they do the same job as a man; a balanced group of decision makers bringing their experience to bear on an issue in boardrooms or parliaments; or women’s full engagement in peace processes; in every case there are gaps that are holding us back from achieving the 2030 Agenda vision of an end to poverty and a peaceful, sustainable world. Those gaps are the spaces where women – and girls – are missing.

These days we’re also seeing mass gatherings of women and girls mobilizing to make their voices heard, in the global marches and online movements such as #MeToo, TimesUp, NiUnaMenos and #TotalShutdown that continue to grow around the world. Most recently, striking schoolchildren in several countries across Europe and elsewhere have been calling out for climate justice and action by policy makers. Their vibrant impatience is the hallmark of new generations of young activists whose engagement is a critical part of the road to 2030.

They are right to be impatient: progress has been made but it’s still too slow. Despite advances in girls’ enrolment in primary education, 15 million girls of primary-school age are not getting the chance to learn to read or write compared to about 10 million boys. Every year, 12 million girls marry before the age of 18.  Violence against women and girls remains a global pandemic, with one in three women and girls experiencing physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetimes. Today, women hold 24 per cent of parliamentary seats globally – still only half way to parity – and the global gender pay gap stands at 23 per cent.

A good education can boost quality of life and open doors to decent work opportunities. It can give women and girls the life skills they need in order to know and claim their rights, to stand up against discrimination and violence, to become fully engaged citizens and to make decisions about their health care, including their sexual and reproductive health. It also benefits children, families and societies more broadly through poverty reduction and enhanced economic growth.

We need men and women working side by side to dismantle the barriers to gender equality. One of the biggest problems is the unequal division of household work to care for the home and family members. Women spend on average 18 per cent of their day on this unpaid work, versus 7 per cent for men. In some countries that gap is much wider. Whether it is a young girl who is pulled out of school to fetch water or a woman who works full-time and then comes home to a “second shift”, when men step up and do their fair share, women are enabled to pursue paid employment, leadership and leisure activities.

Governments and private sector leaders can play a critical role in making these choices easier, by implementing policies that support paid parental leave, affordable child care and flexible work arrangements. We can also do a great deal to change mindsets through working with partners on changing the stereotypes of men and women that appear in advertising, marketing and many forms of media and entertainment. Something as simple as changing the numbers of women who are depicted in advertising as professionals, rather than only as carers, can make an important contribution to changing what we regard as normal – and to shape a more ambitious future.

Sport can also be one of the great drivers of gender equality by teaching women and girls the values of teamwork, self-reliance and resilience. It can provide girls with social connections and a refuge from violence in their homes and communities, and help them to understand their bodies and build confidence and the ability to speak up. This is particularly important during adolescence, when many girls abandon sport, whether under pressure to conform to traditionally “feminine” stereotypes, or because of early motherhood faced by young women like Dayane Santos in Brazil, whose life was turned around by the ‘One Win Leads to Another’ programme. Similar pressures to conform to pre-set educational stereotypes can stifle girls’ engagement in the learning they need to equip them for the future.

We need to ensure that women and girls are learning the right skills for the changing world of work. Rapid technological and digital advances, including automation, robotics and artificial intelligence are leading to a loss of jobs, and raising the potential for heightened inequality, especially gender inequality. Collaborative initiatives like the African Girls Can CODE programme are combatting this challenges and building equality, through equipping participants like 15-year-old Eno Ekanem, from Abuja, Nigeria with the digital literacy and personal development skills they need to pursue education and careers in ICT and coding.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development envisages for us a world where no one is left behind, where every woman, man, girl and boy is able to live up to their full potential. Eno and Dayane show us just how important equality is to bringing lasting change, and how those changes go hand in hand with improvements for us all.


*The views expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of UN DESA.

Leaving no one behind on World Water Day

Despite the progress of recent decades, billions of people are still living without safe water – their households, schools, workplaces, farms and factories struggling to survive and thrive.

Just four years into the 2030 Agenda, the world is already off-track to meet SDG 6: to ensure water and sanitation for all by 2030. Demand is rising, pollution is worsening, funding is lacking and governance is often weak.

Already-marginalized groups are being disproportionately affected by this water crisis. Women, children, refugees, indigenous peoples, disabled people and many others are often overlooked, and sometimes face discrimination, as they try to access and manage the safe water they need.

‘Leaving no one behind’ is the theme of World Water Day on 22 March 2019 and the United Nations World Water Development Report launched on 19 March.

The campaign and report shine a light on the grounds for discrimination that deny so many people access to safe water and sanitation, such as gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, and economic and social status.

To ‘leave no one behind’, water services must meet the needs of marginalized groups and their voices must be heard in decision-making processes. Regulatory and legal frameworks must recognise the right to water for all people, and sufficient funding must be fairly and effectively targeted at those who need it most. These are all critical action points in the UN’s Water Action Decade, which continues until March 2028.

‘Water for all’ is not only the right thing to do, it is essential to achieving the 2030 Agenda. We have to act urgently, leaving no one behind.

Key events:

World Water Day pivot event – launch of UN World Water Development Report
Venue: Palais des Nations, Geneva
Date: 19 March 2019
Time: 16:00-17:30

‘Water in Armed Conflict’ – panel discussion
Venue: International Peace Institute, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York City
Date: 22 March 2019
Time: 10:00-12:30

Gender equality and women’s empowerment in numbers

Gender equality and women’s empowerment is the key to achieving all the Sustainable Development Goals. Despite progress, gender inequality continues to hold women and girls back and deprive them of basic rights and opportunities.

The practice of child marriage has been declining in the last decade, with the proportion of women who were married in childhood decreasing from one in four to approximately one in five. Child marriage is a violation of human rights that often leads to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation, especially for girls.

One in five girls and women (aged 15 to 49) who have ever been married or in union experience physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months, based on data from 87 countries.

On average, women spend approximately three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men, and significantly more if they have children.

Around 2017, one in three girls aged 15 to 19 had been subjected to female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 30 countries where the practice is concentrated, down from one in two around the year 2000. Some countries are making rapid progress. FGM is a human right violation affecting girls and women worldwide. It may lead to severe pain, excessive breathing, infections (including HIV), infertility, complications during childbirth and even death.

Globally, the percentage of women in single or lower houses of national parliament increased from 19 per cent in 2010 to around 23 per cent in 2018. Slow progress indicates the need for stronger political will and more ambitious measures.

Women occupy less than one third of senior- and middle-management positions in majority of the 67 countries with data.

International Day highlights forests’ role in education for sustainable development

Throughout human history, forests and trees have been connected to learning, wisdom and enlightenment.  Forests and trees have served as outdoor classrooms, providing healthy learning-locations for outdoor-education and fostering environmental stewardship in children from an early age.

Forests are among the world’s most productive renewable natural resources, providing sustainable paths to development as a key driver of economic growth while providing livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people, particularly in rural areas. Education is a key enabler for sustainable development, and for the sustainable management of forests. Learning about forests, and their sustainable management is not just good for the environment, it is the foundation for sustainable livelihood and communities.

In recognition of these important interlinkages between forests and education, the central theme of the 2019 International Day of Forests is “Forests and education.”  The International Day of Forests is observed annually on 21 March, provides a global platform to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and trees.

This year, UN DESA’s United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat will organize a special event in celebration of the International Day of Forests on 21 March at UNHQ in New York, which will highlight how forests and education are essential for creating a sustainable future for all. The event will be held in the ECOSOC Chamber, from 10 am to 1 pm, and will feature remarks by senior UN and government officials, a panel discussion and a general discussion by Member States and UN entities.

The International Day of Forests was established by the UN General Assembly in 2012.  Activities held around the world range from scientific conferences and workshops, to art exhibits, tree-planting and community-level events. The theme of the International Day reflects the multi-faceted values of forests, highlighting how forests enrich our daily lives and support global sustainability.

For more information: International Day of Forests

Recognizing the role of migration in achieving the global goals

Today, 258 million people are international migrants, living outside their country of birth. They make important contributions to both their host and home countries. For example, in 2017 alone, they sent an estimated $466 billion in remittances to low- and middle-income countries. International migration makes a critical contribution to sustainable development by raising the productivity of migrant workers and thus increasing the global economic output. In many situations, it also helps to narrow inequalities, reduce vulnerabilities and alleviate the demographic impact of population ageing.

On the heels of the recent intergovernmental conference in Marrakech last December, the Population Division of UN DESA will convene researchers and other experts for a one-day symposium on 26 February 2019, to review evidence on interrelations between international migration and development.

Taking place at UN Headquarters in New York, the symposium is being organized in lieu of the annual coordination meeting on international migration, in close coordination with the Office of the President of the General Assembly, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Network on Migration.

The symposium will highlight opportunities for addressing issues related to migration and development during the high-level political forum on sustainable development taking place in July and September 2019, as well as ways and means of improving the collection and use of migration data in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. It will also promote the sharing of information on recent initiatives on international migration and development.

By bringing together experts on international migration from the United Nations system, other intergovernmental organizations, national governments, civil society, academia and the private sector, the expert symposium will offer an opportunity to advance the global discussion and to share practical information about ongoing and anticipated activities on migration and related topics. The event also aims at exploring ways to strengthen the evidence base on international migration, which is crucial for developing and implementing sound policies, dispelling myths and countering xenophobia.

The expert symposium will contribute to the High-Level Debate on International Migration and Development to be convened by the President of the General Assembly on Wednesday, 27 February 2019, which will focus on the role of migration in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will be reviewed by the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2019. On 28 February 2019, IOM will hold this year’s first session of the International Dialogue on Migration under the theme “Youth and migration: Engaging youth as key partners in migration governance”, bringing the voices of young migrants and agents of change into the global debate on migration.

Photo courtesy of IOM

For more information: Expert Symposium on International Migration and Development

Hooked on carbon – how can we break the habit?

UN DESA’s latest World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) report could not be any clearer: the global transition to cleaner energy is not happening fast enough.

After three years of remaining flat, energy-related carbon emissions picked up again in 2017, reaching a new historic high, and preliminary evidence suggests that this worrisome record will be crushed again for 2018. This increase in emissions coincides with robust growth in global GDP – a sure sign that, despite progress on renewable energy sources, the world economy is still very much carbon-dependent.

This spells trouble not only for the climate and the environment, but for every aspect of our lives, including the global economy. The 2019 WESP report warns that climate change, which used to be a long-term economic risk, has now become a very real and direct threat to economic activity and to the livelihoods of millions of people.

According to Munich Re’s NatCatSERVICE, the number of weather-related loss events has more than tripled since the 1980s, and 2017 ranked among the top five years with most natural catastrophes. That same year, natural events caused losses estimated at a whopping $335 billion and, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, displaced 18 million people in 135 countries. Extreme weather continued in 2018, leaving more than 10,000 deaths in its wake.

Things are likely to get worse, warns the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, unless we reduce our carbon pollution by 45 per cent by 2030 and bring it down to ‘net zero’ by 2050. We can only achieve such dramatic reductions if we decouple our economic growth from carbon emissions or, in other words, if we end our economy’s addiction to fossil fuels.

One way to facilitate the required technological and economic transformation is to put a price on carbon pollution. This can be achieved through measures such as emissions taxes or emissions rights trading mechanisms. Fair and equitable carbon pricing would create an incentive for developing innovative low-carbon technologies and generate an additional source of revenue. Governments could redistribute that revenue as social transfers to ease the transition to the low-carbon economy.

Carbon pricing could also help to pay for low-emissions technology and infrastructure and incentivize natural climate solutions, such as reforestation, land-use change and other ecosystem-based approaches. These measures could accelerate efforts towards economic diversification in countries that remain highly reliant on fossil-fuel production.

To learn more about the effects of climate change and its policy challenges, read the February issue of UN DESA’s World Economic Situation and Prospects Monthly Briefing. Every month, the WESP Monthly Briefing brings you the latest and most relevant information on global economy. Stay tuned!

Follow our efforts for the SDGs in 2019!

As 2018 came full circle, we look back at yet another busy year, where pursuing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been front and center of our efforts.

We’ve gathered young people, civil society, businesses as well as innovators from around the world to share ideas and solutions to help make the global goals a reality on the ground. At the 2018 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the world honed in on goals 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17 and 46 nations presented their efforts to realize the goals.

To tackle the global water crisis and make a difference for the 4.5 billion people who currently lack safely managed sanitation services, a decade for action was launched in connection with World Water Day.

Seeking innovative solutions to secure funding for the goals was also high on the agenda, and in addition to the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Development, the Secretary-General convened the High-level Meeting on Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development during the UN High-level week.

The latest data on SDGs progress was also released during the year, showcasing where we’re making progress and where we need to step up efforts. The Second UN World Data Forum was also held, bringing together data experts 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.

Throughout the year, UN DESA has also kept a close eye on global economy trends, issuing its flagship report the World Economic Situation and Prospects, as well as monthly briefings with continuous updates. The department also took a stand for climate action at COP24.

The year concluded with the launch of the first-ever report on persons with disabilities and the SDGs, followed by the adoption of a milestone compact – the Marrakesh Compact – to ensure the safety and dignity for the 258 million international migrants in the world.

Continue following our efforts in 2019 via our website, via Twitter and Facebook. To get a snapshot of our upcoming efforts for the global goals in 2019, check out this highlight article.

Giving NGOs a voice at the UN

The Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) will hold its 2019 regular session from 21 to 30 January 2019. One of the Committee’s main tasks is to review applications for consultative status by NGOs and to recommend granting status to them. The final decision on the granting of status is taken by the Economic and Social Council, to which the Committee on NGOs reports.

Recognizing the crucial role of civil society in elaborating and implementing development policies, the consultative status allows non-governmental organizations to take part in a high number of UN meetings: those of the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies, such as the Commission on Social Policy and Development, the Commission on the Status of Women or the Population Commission, the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the Human Rights Council and other UN processes and events opened to civil society.

At its coming session, the Committee will consider 288 new applications for consultative status and 233 applications deferred from previous sessions. It will also review the quadrennial reports submitted by NGOs, an obligation for those in status to inform on their activities and contribution to the UN’s work. The Committee meets for eight working days in January and seven additional days in May. Its increased workload over the recent years testifies to the strong interest by civil society actors to engage with the UN in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other major endeavors of the organization.

For more information: The Committee on NGOs

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