More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 09 - September 2020

A healthy and green recovery: the future we want

By Poorvaprabha Patil, President of the Medical Students Association of India, and Sophie Gepp, Health for Future

The COVID-19 pandemic has been the worst health crisis since the Spanish Flu of 1918. With over 844,000 deaths, as of 30th August 2020, and slowing economies due to strict quarantine measures, human lives have been disrupted in more ways than one. On the flip side, the pandemic has brought out in bright light the failures of our existing systems and misplaced priorities of many governments across the world. While we head to a “new normal” after the pandemic, we have the opportunity to ask ourselves which direction our pre-pandemic “normal” was driving us in. And find a “new normal” that not only internalizes the ideals of the SDGs and leaving no one behind, but also responds to the next imminent threat that the world faces- climate change.

There are lessons from COVID-19 for the climate crisis that we cannot overlook. We learned how we need to act in solidarity, between generations, across borders and differences. We learned that we are capable of acting and adapting in the face of a crisis. We learned the importance of science and timely action and the need for prevention. And we learned that human health and the state of the ecosystems we live in are inextricably linked. These are the lessons we should not, must not forget for the other, imminent crisis we are facing: the climate crisis.

In his press conference on 21st August 2020, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the recovery from COVID-19 a “once-in-a-century opportunity to shape the world our children will inherit”. But make no mistake: with regards to the climate crisis, it is not only a once-in-a-century opportunity, it is likely our last shot. With that urgency in mind, it is now our time to collectively reimagine what we want the post-COVID world to look like. Many voices have called for “building back better”. WHO has released a manifesto, with “prescriptions for a healthy and green recovery from COVID-19”. After clapping for health workers all over the world, now it is time to listen to what health professionals worldwide are demanding for a healthier future.

Many solutions already exist, with benefits to both – human health and the climate. Phasing out fossil fuels protects the climate and reduces the negative health effects of air pollution. Reducing car traffic in cities and increasing cycling or walking reduces air pollution, noise and road-traffic accidents, and provides health benefits through physical activity. If we put together our efforts and all our investments towards building a healthy, green future, imagine what the “new normal” could look like!

As young people who will live through the consequences of the climate crisis if it’s not averted, we imagine a post-COVID world that’s equipped to face these challenges. A future with the SDGs, sustainability and climate action at the centre, with priorities that serve all of humankind and not just a subset, is the only possible future we have.

To actualize a future like that, we need to:

  1. 1. Listen to science and act. Now.

It’s not the dearth of scientific data that keeps us from moving in the right direction, but the lack of action. Even before COVID-19, scientists warned about the pandemic potential of zoonotic diseases and the increased risk due to destruction of habitat and biodiversity loss – we just weren’t listening. Furthermore, we witnessed blatant disregard for scientific facts and evidence in some parts of the world, and the aftermath of those actions. The climate crisis isn’t unannounced. We do not have the time to debate over climate change being “real” or not, or the space for empty promises. We and our governments need to act now, in the direction of science. And we, as citizens, need to hold them accountable.

  1. 2. Identify vulnerabilities and reduce inequalities

Climate change is the 21st century’s biggest threat to global health, and human life at large. Like COVID-19, it will – and has started to – impact the most vulnerable. The fabric of a healthy and safe society can only be weaved by equitable solutions, and policies that address these vulnerabilities, especially in times of crisis. As leaders of today and the future, the world we strive to create is one where we realize the true essence of leaving no one behind, using the blueprint that the SDGs provide us.

  1. 3. Understand that the SDGs aren’t optional

While some countries have made progress on “some SDGs” that are most convenient to their agendas, we are far from realizing them. With the opportunity of a green, healthy recovery out of a world gripped by COVID 19, comes the opportunity – and obligation – to truly start realizing the importance and interlinkages between all 17 SDGs for a safe and healthy world capable of averting the climate crisis. There is no space to treat the SDGs like a list of 17 “options” to choose from.

  1. 4. Act together

Global crises need global responses. Not only do we need to act beyond borders, we also need to act beyond age, race, colour, caste, nationality, political affiliations, sexuality, gender orientation and other differences. Climate change will impact us all.

Intergenerational leadership is the key to a sustainable future. Just like flattening the curve included all generations, and many young people stayed home and away from beloved ones to protect them, we now need all generations to come together to protect our future.

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

17 goals in numbers

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress towards the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had been uneven. Indeed, accelerated actions were needed in most areas. Nonetheless, gains were being made in a number of areas:

  • The global maternal mortality ratio had declined by 38 percent and the under-5 mortality rate had fallen by almost 50 percent since 2000.
  • Over 1 billion people had gained access to electricity between 2010 and 2018.
  • In 2019, almost the entire world population (97 per acent) lived within reach of a mobile cellular signal, and 93 per cent lived within reach of a mobile-broadband signal.
  • Countries were developing national policies to support sustainable development and signing international environmental protection agreements.

However, progress had either stalled or been reversed in other areas:

  • The number of persons suffering from hunger and food insecurity was on the rise.  Almost 690 million people were undernourished and 2 billion people were affected by moderate or severe food insecurity in 2019.
  • Climate change was occurring much more quickly than anticipated. The year 2019 was the second warmest on record and the end of the warmest decade of 2010 to 2019.
  • And inequality continued to increase within and among countries. Young workers were twice as likely to live in extreme poverty than adult workers and 85 per cent people without access to electricity lived in rural areas.

COVID-19 is derailing the efforts on the implementations of the SDGs and threatening the achievements already made in many areas.

  • COVID-19 is expected to push 71 million people back into extreme poverty and cause 132 million more people to suffer from undernourishment in 2020.
  • Illness and deaths from communicable diseases will spike. For example, service cancellations would lead to a 100 per cent increase in malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • School closures have kept up to 90 per cent of all students out of school, reversing years of progress on education and remote learning remains out of reach for at least 500 million students.
  • The world is also facing the worst economic recession since the Great Depression with GDP per capita expected to decline by 4.2 per cent in 2020.
  • COVID-19 could cause the equivalent of 400 million job losses globally in the second quarter of 2020.
  • While vulnerable groups are being hit hardest by the pandemic including older persons, persons with disabilities, children, women and migrants and refugees. For example, in some countries, violence against women and girls has increased by 30 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.

Access more data and information on the indicators for all the SDGs in the SDG Progress Report 2020.

Amid a global collapse, regional trade may be the best way forward

It no longer surprises us to find products from the farthest corners of the world in our local grocery stores or to visit these same corners as tourists. International trade gives consumers and countries the opportunity to access goods and services either entirely unavailable domestically or only at a higher cost. It is an essential part of countries’ economic activity. For many developing countries, it is also a path to economic development.

But this path has now become more challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic slashes global trade by magnitudes surpassing even those seen during the 2008 global financial crisis. Tourism, considered part of trade in services, is experiencing an unprecedented collapse. Trade in developing countries has dropped sharply. Exports have decreased due to lower demand in destination markets, while currency depreciation, shortage of foreign currency and concerns over rising debt have contributed to lower imports.

While projections point to a limited recovery in 2021, the global trade environment will remain highly uncertain for the next few years. Trade growth had already been slowing down for about a decade before the pandemic. Last year, trade volumes contracted for the first time since the global financial crisis, both globally and in developing countries. Systemic issues, such as subdued demand and protectionist policies, have weakened trade activity.

The persistent headwinds to global trade have important economic implications. Investment and innovation may be affected as firms consider these jointly with trade participation. This, in turn, may constrain productivity growth.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also led many firms to rethink production processes and the configuration of global value chains. At the same time, initiatives such as the African Continental Free Trade Agreement illustrate how developing countries have already embarked on strengthening regional trade ties. Regional integration can help shield economies from global economic volatility, decrease supply disruptions, for example of medical equipment, and diversify exports. Amidst slowing global trade, a recalibration towards more regional trade may be the best way forward for many developing economies.

Get more details in the September Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects published on 1 September.

From local to global – youth take action

“Young people are usually the first responders, and have always been on the frontlines,” said Lynrose Jane Genon, member of Young Women Leaders for Peace in the Philippines, in the podcast “From local to global – youth taking action”, released on International Youth Day on 12 August. “When young people are involved, the response to solving local and global challenges is more holistic, it is more effective, and it is more resisting,” she added.

In the year the United Nations turns 75, and with only 10 years remaining to make the 2030 Agenda a reality, the international day was celebrated under the theme “Youth Engagement for Global Action”.

In partnership with the UN Inter-Agency Network on Youth Development (IANYD) Youth Caucus and Create2030, UN DESA produced a 3-part podcast discussion to commemorate the day. This lively chat drew on the experiences of young people, providing valuable lessons on how youth representation and participation in politics can be enhanced when responding to challenges at the local, national and global levels.

The challenges humanity faces, including the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, call for concerted global action and the meaningful engagement of young people to find effective solutions. Yet, youth are still conspicuously missing from parliamentary representation. A third of countries do not allow persons under 25 to run for parliament, leaving youth disenchanted with politics and distanced from the decision-making processes that directly effect their lives and communities.

Participants in the 2020 International Youth Day celebrated the contribution young people can make in multilateral and national processes. To harness this, the event also called for the inclusion and participation of young people in policymaking to foster more inclusive and sustainable policies and restore trust in public institutions.

In addition, a large number of UN entities, Member States and youth organizations celebrated the day with independently organized events recognizing the importance of youth participation in all parts of society.

For more information: International Youth Day

We need to kick our resource habit before it ruins us

by Izabella Teixeira, Co-Chair of the International Resource Panel and Member of the UN High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs

It’s the year 2060. In classrooms around the world, children learn about the apocalyptic climate catastrophe that had been threatening their planet just decades earlier and whose worst effects had been averted. They learn of historic, 90 per cent cuts of emissions and of the millions of hectares of forests saved from the axe. All of this achieved in four short decades, with a booming global economy and reduced inequalities. Impossible? Not according to the latest science.

The “miracle” that could make this vision a reality is still within our reach. It is called decoupling. In the very simplest of terms it means improving humanity’s well-being and growing the world economy without a corresponding increase in the resources we use and the damage that we do to our planet. The latest body of research by the International Resource Panel, which I co-chair, confirms that it is possible to grow our economies much faster than our environmental impact.

Over the centuries, humans have become accustomed to the notion of a free-of-charge, nearly infinite clean air, pure water, abundant fish stocks and fertile soil. Building on that assumption, we developed technologies that allowed us to extract and consume extravagant quantities of resources, sparing little thought to what happens when we drain them dry. Today, our planet is handing us the bill for our insatiable habits.

In 2017 alone, humanity extracted and consumed 92.1 billion tons of materials, compared to 27 billion in 1970. This is a staggering tripling of consumption rates in less than half a century in a world dominated by the linear pattern of “buy, use, and throw”. If we continue at this pace, by 2060, we will be using 190 billion tons of materials, way beyond the planet’s capacity to renew.

We are slowly waking up to our excessive resource use problem, but we have yet to implement the solutions of decoupling strategies. These readily applicable, holistic and science-based strategies aim to change our consumption and production patterns in a way that allows for simultaneously economic growth and a reduction of the resources we use.

In order to avoid dangerous trade-offs, a well-designed decoupling strategy should include three policy packages—resource-efficiency policies, climate mitigation policies and land and life-on-earth policies—accompanied by a shift in the way we behave as a society.

First of all, the resource efficiency policies should incentivize innovation and sustainable technologies, including through changing regulations, technical standards and public procurement policies, coupled with investments in research and development.

Secondly, climate packages should introduce measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This could be achieved through a levy on carbon covering all countries and emission sources. The revenue created could be shared equally among households and Governments. These efforts should be coupled with further decarbonization, carbon neutrality and reduction of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

The third policy package would ensure that climate and energy policies are consistent with the global goals on land use and food systems. For example, the carbon levy should be administered over emissions produced by land clearing to prevent deforestation and forest degradation. And payments for biosequestration of carbon, for example through tree‑planting, should be restricted only to those activities that enrich biodiversity, and refused to big, monocultural plantations.

Finally, for decoupling to happen, we will need to shift to healthier diets and reduce food waste along the entire supply chain. Both interventions would have the added benefit of improving health and well-being and increasing food security.

Decoupling policies will also need to consider the very different situations of countries. For example, with the outsourcing of manufacturing, high-income countries show lower rates of resource use overall. But the per capita footprint of consumption paints quite a different picture. In 2017 alone, a statistical inhabitant of richer countries used approximately 27 tons of resources, 13 times more than a person in one of the low-income economies.

The growing resource use among developing economies, which is inevitable if they are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, could be offset by reduced use in high-income countries. There are also huge opportunities for developing economies to “get it right” from the start by adopting sustainable practices to avoid becoming locked in outdated technologies that many high-income countries are today seeking to replace.

With well-designed policies and practices in place, by the year 2060, we could reduce the annual extraction of materials to around 143 billion tons instead of the 190 billion tons under a business-as-usual scenario, while the global GDP could be 8 per cent higher than indicated by historical trends.

We can clearly see the impacts of past practices and most current ones. Now, we need to tell new stories and create new visions based on the future, not on the past.

For more information, read “Recover Better: Economic and Social Challenges and Opportunities,” a new volume by the UN High-level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs.

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

SDG 12 in numbers

Consumption and production drive the global economy, but also wreak havoc on planetary health through the unsustainable use of natural resources. The global material footprint is increasing faster than population growth and economic output.

Improvements in resource efficiency in some countries are offset by increases in material intensity in others. Fossil fuel subsidies remain a serious concern. An unacceptably high proportion of food is lost along the supply chain. And waste, including additional medical waste generated during the pandemic, is mounting.

In response to the pandemic, it is important to develop recovery plans that will reverse current trends and shift our consumption and production patterns to a more sustainable course. A successful transition will mean improvements in resource efficiency, consideration of the entire life cycle of economic activities, and active engagement in multilateral environmental agreements.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 12 in the SDG Progress Report 2020.

Pandemic poses long-term threat to labour markets in developed economies

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting severe economic restrictions has had a profoundly destructive impact on labour markets in virtually every part of the world.

Developed economies, including the United States, the European Union and Japan, were no exception. In just two months, the aggregate unemployment rate for the OECD countries jumped from 5.2 per cent in February 2020 to 8.5 per cent in April. However, while the unemployment rate has soared into double digits in the US and in Canada in April, it remained virtually unchanged in Germany and Japan and even declined in a number of OECD countries, including Italy.

Several factors explain these OECD labour markets’ divergent responses to the pandemic-induced recession. First, there are significant differences with respect to labour market regulations and the degree of employment protection. The US labour market is more flexible, and this is why unemployment in the US is more volatile compared with other countries.

Second, there are differences in relief policies adopted by the governments. The European countries had more explicit job retention strategies. Whilst the US has allocated significant resources to provide low-cost loans to businesses, the European countries directly subsidizes wages.

Looking forward as economies re-open, employment may recover in the near-term, but more serious challenges are emerging in the long run. The pandemic will drastically change the nature of labour demand. Many businesses and economic sectors may face downsizing or even collapse, when the stimulus support ends.

Leaving labour markets to adjust by themselves without pro-active government policies may lead to protracted high unemployment and a persistent skills mismatch, putting an additional burden on social welfare systems and dampening economic growth prospects. Therefore, active labour market policies addressing those challenges are needed.

Get more details in the August Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects published on 3 August.

Geospatial information helps us connect vital data with a geographic location

To achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, bold and urgent action is needed. As the world is facing the grim impacts from the COVID-19 crisis, it has further unscored the challenges that prevent countries from taking the extraordinary steps needed to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Geospatial information exists in many forms and mediums and provides the ‘glue’ that enables the integration of all digital data with a location dimension. It can be as simple as a name on a map or as complicated as a dashboard that allows the modelling of COVID-19 hotspots which enables decision-making and allocation of resources by countries and sectors.

At the heart of decision making on geospatial information is the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM). In light of the continued and ongoing impact of COVID-19, the Tenth session of UN-GGIM will be held in a scaled-down virtual format, consisting of three two-hour meetings, on 26-27 August and on 4 September 2020.

Although with a revised format, the tenth session will address several emerging and critical issues and future trends related to the role and contribution of integrated geospatial information management within national, regional and global settings, considering several geospatial frameworks, principles and guides including:

  • Implementation Guide of the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework, which translates high-level strategic geospatial information concepts into practical implementation guidance for action by countries;
  • Future Trends in Geospatial Information Management, which illustrates how geospatial information and technology underpin national governments, documenting the increasing role that geospatial information will play as part of the 2030 Agenda; and
  • Framework for Effective Land Administration, which translates 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.

Responding to the crisis and building a better future: inclusive and sustainable industrial development

By Li Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

Just as we entered the Decade of Action, determined to accelerate progress towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread loss of life and human suffering in all parts of the world. As with every disruptive event, this tragic crisis may provide us with important lessons and an unexpected opportunity to build a better future.

The pandemic and related containment measures have hit the industrial sector, a major employer and source of income, in various ways. Shop closures, unemployment, lower incomes for both workers and business owners, and other uncertainties on the consumer side resulted in a reduced demand for goods and products. Countries that are traditional producers, for example of leather, textiles and wearing apparel, machinery and motor vehicles, were hit particularly hard. With factories either closed or operating well below capacity, also manufacturing output dropped, resulting in declining trade and disruptions in cross-border production networks.

The revenue losses due to lost earnings are subsequently felt through declining household incomes, unemployment and diminished employment opportunities, and reduced remittances. Development progress made over the past decades is now at clear risk to be undone.

Despite this dismal backdrop, several lessons can be drawn from the COVID-19 crisis.

First, the reliance of humanity on manufactured products became evident. Apart from creating jobs and incomes, industry is critical for providing essential goods, food products, medical and pharmaceutical products.

Industry played an important role in the response to health crisis and took swift action following calls by governments to speed up and scale up production of critical supplies. Some firms temporarily repurposed their production to meet the increased demand for personal protective equipment for the health care sector and the wider population.

Second, since the financial and economic crises in 2008, a gradual rebalancing of the relationship between the free market and the state can be observed. The current crisis highlights the importance of the state to protect its people. Even in the most market-oriented countries, governments stepped in to limit harm and contain the economic downturn. Governments have a clear mandate to balance the risks, steer recovery efforts, and respond to unemployment, inequalities and economic insecurities.

Third, in the face of a virus that knows no borders, the COVID-19 crisis also reemphasized the need for international cooperation and a multilateral approach. While globalization has helped lift millions out of poverty, and while the interconnectedness of national economies is a source of resilience, the crisis showed gaps and vulnerabilities, once travel bans, closed borders and other restrictions are put in place.

The crisis clearly showed that not less, but more international coordination and cooperation is necessary. Sharing of information, knowledge and best practices, joint measures, policy coherence and a multilateral response are essential to address global crises. For example, uncoordinated and inward-looking decisions and the call for the nationalization of supply chains will reduce opportunities for developing and emerging economies to access international markets, technologies, innovation and knowledge. It will also expose countries to additional risks and frictions and exacerbate existing uncertainties about international trade.

A fourth and important realization is that we cannot be complacent in face of other major crises ahead of us. The COVID-19 pandemic is a strong wake-up call for the international community to prepare better for what lies ahead and to build a more resilient, inclusive and sustainable future.

The years 2015 to 2019 were the hottest ever on record. Rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, rising sea levels are warning signs of what expects humanity if we don’t manage to flatten the climate change curve.

We stand at a turning point, where governments need to prioritize reforms based on lessons learned. A business-as-usual recovery would be an enormous missed opportunity and needs to be avoided. Building back better does not have to be a choice between economic recovery and environmental sustainability. The stimulus packages, primarily designed to revive economies, can be allocated to sustainable energy investments, circular economy models, resource-efficient and cleaner production, while creating new skilled jobs and income at the same time.

As the world emerges from one crisis, it will be critical to be prepared before the next one strikes. With developing countries and emerging economies facing serious challenges and with substantial increases in poverty and inequality, we need to step up efforts towards achieving the goals of the 2030 Agenda. The United Nations and its specialized agencies, such as UNIDO, play a critical role in building international partnerships and mechanisms for an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future.

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

SDG 9 in numbers

Global growth in manufacturing had already steadily declined even before the COVID-19 outbreak. The pandemic is hitting manufacturing industries hard and causing disruptions in global value chains and the supply of products.

  • The air transport sector has been hit the hardest by the pandemic. It is forecasted that airlines will have 1.5 billion fewer international air travellers in 2020 and that international seat capacity could fall by almost three quarters.
  • In 2019, manufacturing value added grew only 1.5 per cent since 2018, the slowest year-on-year growth rate since 2012, influenced primarily by tariff and trade tensions affecting all regions. Manufacturing activities are at high risk of disruption during the current crisis, which will have an impact on the sector’s employment levels.
  • The share of manufacturing in GDP in least developed countries increased, from 10 per cent in 2010 to 12.4 per cent in 2019, but the growth rate was too slow for the target, doubling the industry’s share in GDP by 2030, to be reached.
  • In 2019, 14 per cent of the world’s workers were employed in manufacturing activities, a figure that has not changed much since 2000.
  • According to surveys covering the period from 2010 to the present, in developing countries, 34 per cent of small-scale industries benefit from loans or lines of credit, which enable them to integrate into local and global value chains.
  • After three years of stability, global carbon dioxide emissions from fuel combustion started to rise again in 2017, reaching 32.8 billion tons, underpinned by economic growth and a slowdown in efficiency improvements. However, the intensity of global carbon dioxide emissions has declined by nearly one quarter since 2000, showing a general decoupling of carbon dioxide emissions from GDP growth. The same trend was visible in manufacturing industries after 2010, with global manufacturing intensity falling at an average annual rate of 3 per cent until 2017.
  • Globally, investment in research and development as a proportion of GDP increased, from 1.5 per cent in 2000 to 1.7 per cent in 2015, and remained almost unchanged in 2017, but was only less than 1% in developing regions.
  • The number of researchers per 1 million inhabitants increased, from 1,018 in 2010 to 1,198 in 2017, ranging widely, from 3,707 in Europe and Northern America to only 99 in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, women represented only 30 per cent of global researchers.
  • The share of medium-high and high-technology goods in world manufacturing production reached nearly 45 per cent in 2017. Medium-high and high-technology products continued to dominate manufacturing production in developed regions, reaching 49 per cent in 2017, compared with 9 per cent in least developed countries.
  • Nearly the entire world population lives in an area covered by a mobile network. It is estimated that, in 2019, 96.5 per cent thereof was covered by at least a 2G network, with 81.8 per cent covered by at least a long-term evolution network.

Get more SDGs data from UN DESA’s Statistics Division.

2020 UN E-Government Survey set to launch on 10 July

Has there ever been a more important time to take stock of digital government across the world? In this moment, with an increasingly digital society, and in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic — which has shone the brightest of spotlights on the extraordinary importance of being online, reflecting digital government development is critical in understanding the state of play with regard to digital connectivity, government capacity and sustainable development.

“Taking stock” is what the United Nations E-Government Survey does – and the 2020 edition, to be launched globally on 10 July, will provide this up-to-date assessment.

For the past 20 years, the Survey has been benchmarking digital government development of all 193 United Nations Member States. This process of regularly monitoring, measuring and evaluating the levels of digital government services across the world has established a unique dataset, providing research insights and trend analysis that serve as a tool to guide digital government policies and strategies.

The 2020 Survey continues building on this body of work. While it is no surprise that many more countries and municipalities are pursuing digital government strategies, some approaches are radically different from those guiding earlier initiatives.

Some of these new approaches governments are taking in pursuit of digital transformation include the delivery of government as a platform, the integration of online and offline multichannel delivery, the agile development of digital services through a whole-of-government integration or a whole-of-society engagement, the expansion of innovative e-participation and partnerships, the adoption of data-centric approaches and the strengthening of digital capacities to deliver people-centric services. The assessment of local municipal e-governments, first piloted in 2018, has extended its scope from 40 to 100 municipalities across the world.

An Addendum to the 2020 Survey addresses digital government responses to COVID-19, based on primary data research between March and May 2020, reveals interesting findings on the roles of digital government in managing the pandemic. While some governments have exhibited high levels of transparency when reporting and sharing crisis-related information, others have demonstrated great agility in developing dedicated COVID-19 portals and government-supported apps to provide continually updated information and resources.

In the post COVID-19 world, the way forward is a new “digital normal” in responding to global challenges and pursuing sustainable development. More information will be made available at the global launch of the 2020 edition of the United Nations E-Government Survey. It will be broadcast live on United Nations WebTV and on Facebook Live on 10 July 2020 from 11 am to 12 noon EDT.

Join UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin, and other experts to learn more about the intriguing findings of the Survey, its thematic chapters and the COVID-19 addendum.

For more information: UN DESA’s Division for Public Institutions and Digital Government (DPIDG)

Photo: Tom Perry/World Bank

Differences in inflation among countries spell trouble ahead

Perhaps the most pervasive image of a global crisis in our collective consciousness is that of inflation spinning out of control, complete with central banks running out of space to print further zeroes on banknotes and children building toy forts with stacks of now worthless currency. Yet, as COVID-19 plunges us into an economic crisis unseen since the Great Depression, average world inflation is falling.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the recent global trend of disinflation. The GDP-weighted world average annual inflation rate plunged from 3 per cent in February to 1.6 per cent in April. The supply constraints caused by the disruption of supply chains have not, so far, given rise to significant inflationary pressures globally.

Meanwhile, the abrupt decline in the aggregate demand worldwide brought on by containment measures, such as border closures, lockdowns and social distancing, drove the collapse of the prices of oil and fossil fuel-based energy to historic lows, contributing to lower prices worldwide.

However, inflation rates are diverging among countries. The unweighted world average inflation rate has only moderately weakened from 3.6 per cent in February to 3.2 per cent in April. The majority of countries, mostly of middle- and low-income, have been experiencing rising consumer prices since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among 123 countries where data are available for April 2020, consumer prices have increased in 72 countries between February and April—by more than 2 per cent overall in 15 of these states.

Different consumption patterns, balance-of-payments constraints and monetization of fiscal deficits could be the driver behind the diverging inflation rates among countries during the period since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The likelihood of deflation in high-income and some middle-income countries and also of further tightening of the balance-of-payments constraints in middle- and low-income countries will determine the trajectory and extent of divergence in inflation rates in the future. If inflation trends continue to go their opposite ways for developed and developing countries, they may put the world economy on a lower‑growth path, greater divergence in income growth and higher levels of inequality between countries.

Get more details in the July Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects published on 1 July.


Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the SDGs will help us build back better

By Prime Minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, and President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, Co-chairs of the SDG Advocates

Our world today is grappling with a crisis of monumental proportions. The novel coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe, upending lives and livelihoods. The human life cost of the pandemic is painful, but the effects on the global economy and on sustainable development prospects are also worrying. While the full economic impact of the crisis is difficult to predict, UN DESA estimates the global economy could lose US$8.5 trillion, wiping out the gains of the previous four years.

The pandemic has exposed fundamental weaknesses in our global system. It has shown how the prevalence of poverty, weak health systems, lack of education, and a lack of global cooperation exacerbate the crisis.

If there was any doubt that our world faces common challenges, this pandemic should categorically put that to rest. The crisis has re-enforced the interdependence of our world. It has brought to the fore the urgent need for global action to meet people’s basic needs, to save our planet and to build a fairer and resilient world. We face common, global challenges that we must solve through common, global solutions. After all, in a crisis like this we are only as strong as the weakest link. This is what the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the global blueprint to end poverty, protect our planet and ensure prosperity, are all about.

Sadly, this pandemic hit at a time when the SDGs were gaining traction and a significant number of countries were making good progress. As the world is seized with containing the spread of the virus and addressing its negative impacts, the reality is that countries are resetting their priorities, and reallocating resources to deal with the pandemic. This certainly is the right thing to do because the priority now is to save lives, and we must do so at all costs.

That is why we must all support the call by the United Nations to scale up the immediate health response to suppress the transmission of the virus, end the pandemic and focus on people particularly, women, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups already at risk. Working together we can save lives, restore livelihoods and bring the global economy back on track.

But what we cannot afford to do, even in these crucial times, is shift resources away from crucial SDG actions. The response to the pandemic cannot be de-linked from the SDGs. Indeed, achieving the SDGs will put us on a firm path to dealing with global health risks and emerging infectious diseases. Achieving SDG 3 (Good Health) will mean strengthening the capacity of countries for early warning, risk reduction and management of national and global health risks.

This pandemic has exposed the crisis in global health systems. And while it is severely undermining prospects for achieving SDG 3 by 2030, it is also having far-reaching effects on all other SDGs.

Emerging evidence of the broader impact of the crisis on our quest to achieve the SDGs is troubling. UNESCO estimates that nine in 10 students worldwide are affected, posing a serious challenge to the attainment of SDGs Goal 4 (Quality Education). The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates some 25 million people could lose their jobs, with those in informal employment suffering most from lack of social protection. Unfortunately, these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Crucially, in many parts of the world, the pandemic and its effects are exacerbated by the crisis in achieving clean water and sanitation targets (SDG 6), weak economic growth and the absence of decent work (SDG 8), pervasive inequalities (SDG 10), and above all, entrenched poverty (SDG 1) and food insecurity (SDG 2). UN DESA estimates the crisis will push over 34 million people to fall into extreme poverty before the year is over.

Even at this stage in the pandemic, we cannot deny the fact that the crisis is teaching us, as global citizens, the utmost value in being each other’s keeper, in leaving no one behind, and in prioritizing the needs of the most vulnerable.

What is acutely needed is enhanced political will and commitment. Our world has the knowledge, capacity and innovation, and if we are ambitious enough, we can muster the resources needed to achieve the Goals. Buoyed by the spirit of solidarity, Governments, businesses, multilateral organizations and civil society have in the shortest possible time been able to raise billions, and in some cases, trillions to support efforts to combat this pandemic. If we attach the same level of importance and urgency to the fight against poverty, hunger, and climate change, we will find success in this Decade of Action on the SDGs.

As the world responds to this pandemic and seeks to restore global prosperity, we must focus on addressing underlying factors through the Sustainable Development Goals. We must not relent our efforts, even amid this crisis. While some SDG gains have been eroded, this should not deflate our energy. They should rather spur us to accelerate and deepen our efforts during this Decade of Action to ‘recover better’, and build a healthier, safer, fairer and a more prosperous world.

Originally published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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

SDG 17 in numbers

Strengthening global partnerships and enhancing the means of implementation for the SDGs has remained challenging due to scarce financial resources, trade tensions, technological obstacles, and lack of data. The pandemic is adding more hardships in the implementation of the SDGs.

As COVID-19 continues to spread, over $100 billion in capital has flowed out of emerging markets since the outbreak; the largest outflow ever recorded. World trade is expected to plunge between 13% and 32% in 2020. Strengthening multilateralism and global partnerships are more important than ever before.


  • Net ODA flows totaled $147 billion in 2019, almost the same level as in 2018, but with an increased share going to the neediest countries. Bilateral ODA to LDCs rose by 3% in real terms from 2018, aid to Africa rose by 1%, but humanitarian aid fell by 3%.
  • Global foreign direct investment (FDI) flows continued their slide in 2018, falling by 13% to $1.3 trillion from a revised $1.5 trillion in 2017. It is projected that the pandemic may cause global FDI to shrink by 30% to 40% during 2020-2022.
  • Remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are estimated to have reached $554 billion in 2019, exceeding official aid by a factor of three since the mid-1990s. Remittances to low- and middle-income countries are projected to fall by 20% in 2020 to $445 billion, due to the pandemic.

Information and communications technology

  • More than half of the world’s population is now online. At the end of 2019, 53.6% of individuals, or 4.1 billion people, were using the Internet.


  • The share of LDC exports in global merchandise trade remained marginal at just above 1% in 2018. Growth in global exports of LDCs stagnated over the last decade, missing the target of doubling the share of global LDC exports by 2020 from 2011.

Data, monitoring and accountability

  • In 2017, countries received $689 million in support from multilateral and bilateral donors for all areas of statistics, which accounts for only 0.34% of total ODA. International funding for data and statistics is only around half the level that it needs to be.

Get more SDGs data from UN DESA’s Statistics Division.

Emerging economies in full-blown unemployment crisis

As economic activities ground to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people are losing jobs or experiencing significant reductions of income or working hours in Brazil, India, Mexico, Nigeria, South Africa and other emerging economies.

Unemployment rates are skyrocketing while underemployment and informality also rise sharply. Inequalities that, even before the pandemic, separated societies along educational, gender, age and immigration divides, are defining the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on the labour market. The so-called low‑skilled workers – especially among women, youth and migrants – are more exposed to lay‑offs and wage cuts. With weak or no social protection, workers in the informal sector are particularly hard hit.

The emerging economies will face enormous challenges to recreate the millions of jobs being lost, which will likely lead to permanently higher levels of unemployment and further polarization of skills and income.

More alarmingly, job losses will lead to substantial increases in poverty and inequality. This is especially problematic, as some emerging economies, including South Africa, Brazil, India and Mexico, are already among the countries with the highest levels of income inequality in the world.

Beyond emergency stimulus measures that are underway, governments will need to implement large employment programs to create enough decent jobs to absorb the newly unemployed workers.

These large emerging economies will also need to consider universal, redistributive and solidarity policies for social protection, which is essential to inclusive growth. Without it, emerging economies will be even more susceptible to recurrent development setbacks, which can lead to social unrest, political upheaval or worse.

Learn more from the June Monthly Briefing on the World Economic Situation and Prospects published on 1 June.

We must act together to beat COVID-19 in Africa

By Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, UNAIDS

The COVID-19 outbreak has been placing unprecedented strains on sophisticated health systems in Europe and Asia, with overstretched medical staff struggling to treat their patients and intensive care facilities overwhelmed in rich countries. With cases rising in Africa, concerns are increasing on the impact on fragile health systems there. This crisis is already exposing glaring inequalities between the rich and the poor in the developed world, and it is about to reflect even greater inequalities between the North and the South.

This health crisis, like others, is hitting the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest, especially in Africa. What does social distancing mean in Africa’s congested townships, its packed markets and buses. How will people wash their hands several times a day to protect themselves from the virus without having access to water and basic sanitation? And what does that mean for women and girls who bear the daily burden of hauling water from rivers and wells for their households? How will a mother choose between going to work to put food on the table or staying at home with a cough or a fever? How do we tell informal workers, taxi drivers and all those who operate in the platform economy and live hand-to-mouth not to go to work?

We need to act now! There are four things we must do urgently: scale up testing and isolate infected people and communities, invest in health and protect our healthcare workers, focus on the community to ensure that the community response is strong, and have a constant supply chain.

The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 million testing kits will be necessary to respond to COVID-19 effectively over the next three months. Hundreds of millions of personal protective items such as face masks, protective gowns and gloves will also be needed. At a time when there is a global demand for these medical supplies, Africa must not be left behind. As we have seen in other countries, the best way to reduce infections and deaths is to test, treat and isolate infected people and communities to contain the virus. So, the supply of testing equipment and access to testing must be the priority.

A lack of investment in Africa’s social infrastructure, including in its health systems, mounting debt and massive corporate tax dodging has left the continent ill-prepared to face this coming emergency. Without publicly provided health care, people are left exposed to disease. User fees for accessing health services deny ordinary people their right to health. This is the time to abolish them. Rich countries are rightly pumping billions of dollars into their own economies and social security systems to keep people and businesses afloat, but will there be massive coordinated international financial support for the developing countries to fight Covid-19? We are in this together. Nothing but a global response will defeat this aggressive virus.

In responding to the HIV epidemic, community-led services have been core to our most important advances in preventing new infections and getting people on treatment. In the response to COVID-19, communities will no doubt step into the breach and public health authorities must engage with them now and build trust for the upcoming battle. We will not win without communities. It is communities who will design and implement their own context specific prevention measures, in markets, in buses, at funerals. As we have seen in the AIDS response, it will most often be women who will lead the charge in terms of caring for the sick and making sure that their children and communities are as safe as possible. We must ensure that resources flow to them so that they can carry on their important work, that they are fairly compensated and that their families are financially secure.

And the response must respect the human rights of the most vulnerable. There have already been incidents all over the world where individuals or communities are being blamed for the virus. This must stop. It’s wrong and counter-productive for the wider public good. Let us learn the lessons of the AIDS response and know that stigma and discrimination will hold us back in getting to grips with this pandemic.

In addition, to make sure that medicines continue to reach people in need, we must ensure the security of the global supply chain in this period. UNAIDS is working closely with all its partners to make sure that essential medicines and medical supplies continue to get to where they are most needed. We will continue to do so.

I wish we were in a different place. That everyone had the right to health and that we were in a stronger position to face this new challenge. That debate will continue and my voice will stay strong. For now, we must do the best we can for our communities.

Let us help and support each other during this time – we are all in this together and we will beat this virus through solidarity, compassion, and kindness.

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

SDG 10 in numbers

Inequality within and among countries is a persistent cause for concern, despite progress in some areas.

Income inequality continues to rise in many parts of the world, even as the poorest 40 per cent of the population in most countries experience income growth.

Greater focus is needed to reduce income and other inequalities, including those related to labour market access and trade. Specifically, additional efforts are needed to further increase zero-tariff access for exports from poorer countries, and to provide technical assistance to LDCs and small island developing States seeking to benefit from preferential trade status.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 10 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

Latest economic prospects for the post-COVID-19 world

With nearly half of the world’s population in lockdowns and 100 countries closing national borders, the pandemic has unleashed a health and economic crisis unprecedented in scope and magnitude. The world economy is projected to experience its deepest downturn since the Great Depression.

Millions of people have already joined the ranks of the unemployed and Governments are rolling out large stimulus packages to fight the pandemic and minimize the impact of a catastrophic economic downturn.

The pace and sequence of recovery from the crisis will largely depend on the efficacy of public health and fiscal measures and their success in containing the spread of the virus, minimizing risks of reinfection, restoring consumer confidence and reopening of the economies.

Join us on Wednesday, 13 May, as we launch the World Economic Situation and Prospects as of mid‑2020. UN Chief Economist and Assistant-Secretary-General at UN DESA, Elliott Harris, and Hamid Rashid, Chief of the Global Economic Monitoring Unit of UN DESA, will present the economic forecasts for major countries and regions, highlighting the macroeconomic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy responses and the post-crisis recovery scenario.

The report will be available on 13 May at

Watch the launch live at


Guiding the UN Development System to ensure results for people

More than 40 organizations that make up the UN development system (UNDS) carry out the operational activities for development of the UN throughout the world. The overarching objective of these activities is to support efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and they include both activities with development and humanitarian focus.

Every four years, Member States provide guidance on how this work should be delivered in a key policy document, the Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review (QCPR). This year marks the end of the 2016 QCPR cycle and this month, Member States will come together at ECOSOC’s Operational Activities Segment (OAS) to review the UNDS achievements over the past four years and consider how best to guide the UNDS for the next four years.

During the first module of the QCPR UNITAR training series, the Deputy Secretary-General highlighted the key role of the OAS in guiding and overseeing the UNDS.

This year, the segment will also assess the transformation of the UN development system through the bold reforms introduced in the past two years to make the UN better fit for purpose, in the context of the 2030 Agenda.  In addition, the segment will discuss the unprecedented upheavals brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, which are testing both the flexibility and fitness of the system. Finally, in view of the necessity for social distancing, consideration is being given to hold the segment in a virtual format.

The preparations for these deliberations have started with the release of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the QCPR on 24 April, and the start of a training series on the QCPR, co-organized by UNITAR and DESA, with the support of the Government of Switzerland. The first virtual training module took place on 24 April with over 200 participants, and four additional modules are planned to take place over the next months.

The discussions held at the Segment will lay the foundation for the General Assembly deliberations on the 2020 QCPR in the fall, when Member States will set out the strategy and policy direction for the next four years. The new QCPR cycle will be born in the most extraordinary circumstances the UN has seen in its 75 years, as Member States set the direction for the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and the acceleration of progress to achieve the 2030 Agenda during the Decade of Action.

For more information: The 2020 Operational Activities for Development Segment

SDG 3 in numbers

Major progress has been made in improving the health of millions of people. Maternal and child mortality rates have been reduced, life expectancy continues to increase globally, and the fight against some infectious diseases has made steady progress.

In the case of other diseases, however, progress has slowed or stalled, including global efforts to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. Far too many deaths occurred because trained health workers or routine interventions, such as immunizations, were not available. In fact, at least half the world’s population, many of whom suffer financial hardship, are still without access to essential health services. In rich and poor countries alike, a health emergency can push people into bankruptcy or poverty.

Concerted efforts are required on these and other fronts to achieve universal health coverage and sustainable financing for health; address the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, including mental health; and tackle antimicrobial resistance and environmental factors contributing to ill health, such as air pollution and the lack of safely managed water and sanitation.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 3 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

COVID-19: We won’t improve global health one disease at a time

By Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General, World Health Organization

We are now confronting the defining health crisis of our time. We are at war with a virus that threatens to tear the world apart—if we let it.

Nearly half a million people have already been infected with coronavirus disease, COVID-19, and more than 20,000 have lost their lives. The first 100,000 cases took 67 days. The second 100,000 took 11 days, the third 100,000 took just 4 days and the fourth 100,000 just 2 days. Clearly, the pandemic is accelerating at an exponential rate.

Without aggressive action in all countries, millions could die. As to the full social, economic and political fallout, only time will tell. But we know that the price we end up paying depends on the choices we make now. This global crisis can be addressed only through a global response.

We affirm, in outbreaks as in “peacetime”, that health is a fundamental human right. And the best way to guarantee people’s right to health and well-being is to ensure universal health coverage. UHC is also the best line of defense in outbreaks and emergencies.

Every country has its own path towards universal health coverage, and each is at a unique point on that journey. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. But they all have the same destination, and they all have the same starting point—political will.

At the last United Nations General Assembly, all 193 UN Member States approved a political declaration on universal health coverage, the most comprehensive international health agreement in history.

The General Assembly also saw the launch of the Global Action Plan for Healthy Lives and Well-Being for All. This is a unique commitment by 12 multilateral agencies to work together in new ways to support countries to accelerate progress towards the SDG health targets.

Together, we will engage with countries to identify their priorities, to accelerate progress through joint action, to align our operational and financial strategies, and most importantly, to be accountable. Different organizations and agencies have already initiated joint projects for COVID-19. We need to replicate these new ways of working in many different situations.

There has never been a better opportunity to work together to transform the health of billions of people. But we still have a long way to go on the road to UHC.

On current trends, up to 5 billion people will lack access to essential health services by 2030. That means children not getting vaccinated, expectant mothers and people with chronic illness unable to see a health worker, or people without life-saving treatment for HIV.

Although we have made enormous progress, we have also learned valuable lessons.

We cannot improve global health one disease at a time.

Changing patterns in demographics, economics and politics put new stresses on already overstretched health systems.

Our failure to invest in health systems doesn’t only leave individuals, families and communities at risk, it also leaves the world vulnerable to outbreaks and other health emergencies.

The recent report of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board was eerily prescient, as it showed that the world remains dangerously unprepared for the next global pandemic. I am sorry to say, we are now witnessing in real time the consequences of that lack of preparation.

It is frankly difficult to understand why countries would invest so heavily in protecting their people from terrorist attacks, but not against the attack of a virus, which could be far more deadly, and far more damaging economically and socially.

There are always people at risk of being left behind. There are always new challenges to confront, like COVID-19, antimicrobial resistance and the health effects of air pollution and climate change. New treatments offer many benefits, but also pose new challenges for the financial sustainability of health systems.

That’s why WHO is calling on all countries to increase spending on primary health care by 1% of GDP by 2030, either through new investments, reallocation or both. Globally, we need a radical reorientation of our health systems towards promoting health and preventing diseases, not simply managing them in hospitals.

In our divided world, health is one of the few areas in which international cooperation offers the opportunity for countries to work together for a common cause. Working together for a healthier world not only improves the lives of billions of people, it also builds a platform for sustainable development, and can become a bridge to peace.

COVID-19 is severely testing health systems and political and scientific leadership around the world. But we will confront more and more such crises and we must be ready to do so. Universal health coverage provides us the best opportunity to prevent and manage outbreaks, to provide primary health care, and to demonstrate our solidarity with all people everywhere.

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

Just keep fighting, you are not alone

By Marta Vieira da Silva, footballer, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador for women and girls in sports and UN Secretary-General’s SDG Advocate

In 1995, I was a 9-year-old girl living in the village of Dois Riachos, in the Northeast of Brazil. At that early age, I was already fighting to have the same opportunities as boys. I wanted to be out there on the playing field and scoring goals, even if the footballs were made of all sorts of improvised materials. It was hard to fight for myself. I was the only girl in that scenario, and, unfortunately, I was hurt, both physically and emotionally by those boys, and later by coaches and even by my community while I was claiming my rights. That loneliness gave me courage to immediately react and have the necessary drive to move on.

What I didn’t know then was that on the other side of the world, in Beijing, China, hundreds of women were also fighting for me. On September 15 of that year – the last day of the Fourth World Conference on Women – those women managed to finalize The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the most visionary agenda for the human rights of women and girls, everywhere. It was adopted by the United Nations and endorsed by 189 countries, committed to work on 12 critical areas: poverty; education and training; health; violence; armed conflict; economy; power and decision-making; institutional mechanisms; human rights; media; environment; and the girl child.

Looking at myself and the status of women and girls in the world twenty-five years later, brings me mixed feelings. Take sports as an example. On the one hand, in recent years, we have seen an upsurge in audiences supporting women’s sports. The latest Women’s World Cup was the most popular ever, with crowds celebrating women’s talent, strength, resilience and professionalism. Women’s movements in different countries are fighting for and winning access to practise sports and attend matches. There are, definitely, more women and girls playing sports nowadays in comparison to 1995.

On the other hand, no country in the world can say it has achieved gender equality yet. Women and girls still have much fewer opportunities to play or to have a career in sports in comparison to men and boys. Even when we do get the opportunity, the facilities, equipment and even the uniforms tend to be of a much inferior quality. We are still fighting not to be harassed or sexually abused. We are still fighting for visibility in the media, free from gender stereotypes. We are still fighting to have the same opportunities for leadership and decision‑making positions in sports organizations. We are still fighting for equal pay, because we play as hard as men’s teams.

But things can change. They did for the girls in Rio de Janeiro and in Buenos Aires who took part in the “One Win Leads to Another” joint programme to empower girls through sports by UN Women and the International Olympic Committee. They told me that many of them used to struggle to guarantee their space in the community sports fields just like I did, twenty-five years ago. Advances for women and girls in sports and in every area of society have been far too slow and uncertain, and we can no longer tolerate that.

Something that’s never changed in my life is my determination to keep fighting for what I believe in. I won’t give up advocating for the rights of women and girls to be who they want to be. And I am not the only one. I am accompanied by women, men, girls and boys with a common vision: achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls by 2030, as Goal 5 of the SDGs says. We’re aiming for a new “Generation Equality” no matter what our age, gender or background. Together, we’re building an equal future.

What does that future look like? It’s a world where we have equal rights to play, where we receive equal pay for equal jobs, regardless of our gender, where we share unpaid care and domestic work, where there is not one single case of sexual harassment or violence against women and girls, where health care services respond to our needs, and where women participate equally in politics and in decision-making in all areas of life.

If the sports ecosystem – governments, federations, leagues, clubs, teams, media, NGOs, international organizations, athletes, the private sector and others – take action to level the playing field for women and girls, sports can lead the way in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment across all of society. It can 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.

It demands more than political will, though. It demands coordinated action, right now. I know that, together, we can make it. So, in 2030, which is the deadline the world set to have accomplished all the 17 SDGs, I want to be able to look back and see the transformations for all women and girls in the world. And I will look back at the eyes of that 9-year-old girl that I was and say confidently to her: “just keep fighting, you are not alone”.

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

Photo: UN Women/Camille Miranda

What do we share in a sharing economy?

One of the most notable technology-driven developments in the past decade is the meteoric rise of the sharing economy. Sophisticated algorithms that allow efficient matching of supply and demand at unprecedented scale and speed enable the sharing economy platforms to alter consumption and production patterns of millions of people, with economic, social and environmental consequences.

Since providing its first trip in San Francisco in 2010, Uber’s operation has expanded to over 700 cities around the world today, accumulating a total of 10 billion trips between 2010 and 2018. Airbnb went from serving only 20,000 guests in 2009 to, as of the first quarter of 2019, listing more rooms globally than some of the world’s largest hotels – Marriott, Hilton, Wyndham and InterContinental Hotels Group – combined.

This head-spinning expansion of the sharing economy has given rise to both hope and anxiety. On one hand, the sharing economy creates tremendous economic opportunities. Its platforms are offering solutions to large-scale coordination problems that have marred the provision of transportation, housing, ambulances, agricultural machinery, and many other resources. By making better use of underutilized assets, these platforms have improved economic efficiency and consumer welfare – in the form of lower costs, expanded choices, and quicker, more flexible access to goods and services.

At the same time, there are increasing concerns that this new phenomenon will not live up to its “sharing” name and that the welfare gains it produces will not be distributed fairly. Several forces are at play in the sharing economy that – if left unchecked – could further worsen inequality in an already highly unequal world. These forces – including network effects, information asymmetry, structural inequality and deep‑seated discrimination – could distribute gains disproportionately to large firms and high-income and highly educated individuals.

The net impact of the sharing economy will depend on each country’s development conditions and policies. The effect on developing countries could very well be different from that in developed countries. The sharing economy has the potential to provide the disadvantaged with better access to productive assets. In places with poor labour conditions, it can  provide some gradual improvements. It can also expand employment opportunities for women where strict cultural norms prevent them from taking on gainful employment.

All these changes could make the sharing economy a force for good and for improving equality in developing countries. But its ultimate impact on equality will depend on regulations that enhance market competition, access to data, pricing and algorithm transparency, and tax cooperation, among others.

For a deep dive into the effects of the sharing economy on inequality, read the latest UN DESA Frontier Technology Quarterly.

SDG 5 in numbers

The world is a better place for women today than it was in the past. Fewer girls are forced into early marriage; more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership; and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality.

Despite these gains, discriminatory laws and social norms remain pervasive, along with harmful practices and other forms of violence against women and girls. Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership. Across the globe, women and girls perform a disproportionate share of unpaid domestic work.

Moreover, they continue to face barriers with respect to their sexual and reproductive health and rights, including legal restrictions and lack of autonomy in decision-making. Among the most disadvantaged are women and girls who face the compounded effects of gender and other forms of discrimination.

Achieving gender equality will require bold and sustainable actions that address the structural impediments and root causes of discrimination against women. Equally important, it will require laws and policies that advance gender equality, backed by adequate resources, as well as stronger accountability for commitments made to women’s rights.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 5 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.

For the latest on persisting gender gaps in labour markets, working conditions, wages and many other business areas, read our World Economic Situation and Prospects Monthly Briefing.

The future of our planet depends on getting our cities right

By Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director, UN-Habitat 

Every week, three million people move to our cities and towns across the planet. Over half the global population currently live in cities and towns – and this will rise to two thirds by 2050.

There is no escaping the fact that the future of our planet now lies in our cities and towns. We have just ten years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And without our cities and towns on board we will not achieve them. Our ever-growing urban areas are responsible for a large proportion of the world’s problems – not least climate change – but they are also powerhouses of change and innovation and can also provide the solutions.

The world leaders who agreed on the SDGs in 2015 clearly recognized this, and for the first time we had an ‘urban’ goal, the Sustainable Development Goal 11, which has been termed the docking station for all the other SDGs.  It calls for making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

This basically comes down to creating a better quality of life for everyone. It includes having affordable housing, parks and public spaces, efficient public transport, clean air and water, renewable energy.

Cities are also on the frontline when it comes to impacts of climate change and must be at the heart of action to combat it. Cities generate 70 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions and consume 78 per cent of the world’s energy. And these figures will grow.

We are entering the Decade of Action – 10 years left to implement all the SDGs. And cities play a role across the board to make sure we turn our goals into reality, to overcome major global challenges such as poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, climate change, fragility and conflict.

This month, the world will come together for the world’s premier conference on urbanization, the World Urban Forum (WUF). This tenth edition of the WUF is also the first major UN meeting in this Decade of Action, bringing together global policy makers, influencers, thought leaders, investors, community leaders, urban planners, academics and artists to exchange ideas and mobilize for action.

The achievement of the urban dimensions of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, depends on how we are able to manage rapid urbanization and its challenges through policy, planning and programming, responding to the needs of national, local and regional governments, while connecting the private sector and other key stakeholders in the process of providing innovative solutions.

UN-Habitat, the United Nations focal point for sustainable urbanization, aims to promote transformative change in cities and communities and human settlements development. Through the New Urban Agenda, we are confident that sustainable urbanization and the SDGs can be achieved.

Going forward, UN-Habitat will continue to play its role, facilitating knowledge and data exchange and sharing global best practices. UN-Habitat has the mandate and capacity to provide innovative normative and operational solutions to urban challenges around the world. We aspire to be a centre of excellence and the go-to agency for sustainable urban development to ensure that no one and no place is left behind in our rapidly urbanizing world.

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

More countries could leave the ‘least developed’ category, but better support needed

Five Asian countries – Bangladesh, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Timor-Leste – could be leaving the least developed countries (LDC) category as soon as 2024, joining Angola, Bhutan, Sao Tome and Principe, Solomon Islands and Sao Tome and Principe, which are already set to graduate in the coming years.

At its annual plenary meeting, from 24 to 27 February 2020, the UN Committee for Development Policy (CDP) will lay the groundwork for next year’s Triennial Review, when it will make recommendations on these five countries and identify additional states that meet the criteria for starting the multi-year graduation process.

Graduation from the LDC category is a milestone in the development process, but the progressing countries still require dedicated support to confront their sustainable development challenges. What support is needed and how it can be delivered will be a central focus of the Committee’s deliberations this year.

Established by the United Nations in 1971 and currently comprising 47 countries, the LDC category aims to assist low-income countries that are  highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets.

In addition to the LDC issues, the Committee will also make recommendations for the decade of action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and discuss its analysis of countries’ Voluntary National Reviews of SDG progress.

The UN Committee for Development Policy comprises 24 internationally renowned experts in development policy from all over the world. While the Committee’s Plenary meetings are closed, it will hold one open session on Tuesday, 25 February at 3 pm, to discuss “Development Policy and New Inequalities.” Additionally, on 27 February the Committee will brief Member States on its deliberations on LDC issues.

For more information:

Committee for Development Policy


SDG 11 in numbers

The world is becoming increasingly urbanized. Since 2007, more than half the world’s population has been living in cities, and that share is projected to rise to 60 per cent by 2030. Cities and metropolitan areas are powerhouses of economic growth—contributing about 60 per cent of global GDP. However, they also account for about 70 per cent of global carbon emissions and over 60 per cent of resource use. Rapid urbanization is resulting in a growing number of slum dwellers, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure and services (such as waste collection and water and sanitation systems, roads and transport), worsening air pollution and unplanned urban sprawl. To respond to those challenges, 150 countries have developed national urban plans, with almost half of them in the implementation phase. Ensuring that those plans are well executed will help cities grow in a more sustainable and inclusive manner.

Access more data and information on the indicators for SDG 11 in the SDG Progress Report 2019.


What gives me hope for the next decade

By Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary‑General, UN DESA

Reading the news these days can be a nerve-racking experience. The headlines tell stories of an unprecedented wave of protests and of wildfires, stoked up by climate change, that are engulfing the green lungs of our planet from the Amazonian rainforest to Australia. And yet, I remain hopeful for our common future. Here is why.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which all global leaders come together and pledge to accelerate their common efforts to achieve a more just, peaceful and sustainable future in 10 short years.

What if I were to tell you, this is exactly what our world leaders pledged to do? What if I told you that this pledge did not happen at some unique moment of unprecedented good will and trust in international relations, but just this September, when multilateralism is otherwise under attack from many sides?

And what if I added that this shared vision, which they committed to achieve, is not some pie-in-the-sky wish list, but a set of 17 ambitious goals, with 169 targets and over 230 measurable indicators?

This is the world we live in. At a recent UN summit, leaders of over 190 countries called for a Decade of Action to achieve these 17 ambitious objectives – called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – by their 2030 deadline. And this year, the countries will meet again at the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) to find concrete ways of accelerating action.

This means that despite a barrage of negative news and international tensions, we can still agree on the kind of world we want to see in 2030 and on the way to get there. What we need now is to bridge the gap that still yawns wide between promises and concrete actions.

For all the expressions of commitment to the 2030 Agenda, a recent UN DESA report found that only a handful of countries have so far embedded the SDGs in their budget processes. The shifts in policy required to eradicate poverty have not materialized either, and by the latest estimates, six per cent of us will still be living in extreme poverty 10 years from now. Progress is even slower on ending hunger, which is rising again after years of decline. All while the 1.5°C climate goal is treading on the edge of becoming impossible to reach.

With so little time and so much left to do, why am I still hopeful that we will be able to achieve the ambitious vision we’ve committed ourselves to?

The answer lies in the interconnected nature of the modern world. The 2030 Agenda is the first-of-its-kind global plan to recognize that the world’s ills can only be solved if tackled together – all at the same time. While this integration makes for an unwieldy policy proposal and an extremely challenging institutional adjustment, it can also work to our advantage. In a highly interconnected world, such as ours, taking action on one issue, can greatly accelerate progress on multiple others.

The recent Global Sustainable Development Report, supported by UN DESA, identified 20 such “levers of change.” Take cities for example. With the majority of humanity already living in urban areas and with their share rapidly growing, making our cities sustainable, accessible and inclusive will have profound consequences for poverty reduction, gender equality, climate action, sustainable production and consumption, clean energy and many more goals.

Many countries, international organizations, civil society organizations and businesses are already heeding the call of the Decade of Action. So far, they have officially announced over 140 SDG Acceleration Actions, ranging from Sweden’s ambitious plan to become the first fossil-fuel free state, to the Maldives’ vision of becoming a model of sustainability and ocean protection for other small island states. And at this year’s HLPF, close to 50 countries have already volunteered to present their review of progress for the Goals.

But governments and large organizations are just some of the actors driving change. UN DESA has found inspiring action for the SDGs on every level and in every corner of the world. We compiled our findings into a database of over 500 Good SDG Practices, including projects as immense as the European Union’s circular economy plan, and as local as a group of Brazilian students transforming their neighbourhood as part of the curriculum.

The Political commitment, the determined action at every level and the guidance of science show that there is hope for humanity to make enormous progress in the next 10 years. Poverty, hunger, climate change and inequalities are all human-made crises, which means that we have the power to “unmake” them.

We know the world we want and we have a road map to get there. Now, it is up to everyone – from students in Brazil to governments at the UN – to push the levers of change as hard as we can to accelerate action for sustainable change to benefit people everywhere.

Giving NGOs a platform to engage with the UN

Ever since its inception in 1945, the United Nations has been actively engaged with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and has recognized the importance of partnering with them to advance its ideals and support its work. In 1946, only 41 NGOs were granted consultative status by the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). But this number has grown and today, 5,500 NGOs enjoy this status with the Council. These organizations are represented all over the world and work in many different areas including education, health, poverty eradication, human rights, gender equality and indigenous issues.

On 20-29 January 2020, the 2020 Regular Session of the Committee on NGOs will convene in New York to consider new applications by NGOs for consultative status with ECOSOC as well as applications deferred from earlier sessions. It will also review quadrennial reports of NGOs that are already in consultative status.

The Committee on NGOs is a standing Committee of ECOSOC, tasked with considering applications from NGOs for consultative status with ECOSOC. Consultative status enables NGOs to contribute to the work of the ECOSOC and the United Nations agenda, in many ways, including by participating in meetings and events and having their voice heard through the submission of oral and written statements.

The meetings of the Committee will take place in Conference Room 1 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. each day during the session (except on 29 January when it will only meet in the morning). The Committee will reconvene on 7 February 2020 to adopt its report of the session. The session’s recommendations will be sent to the Economic and Social Council for its approval in June 2020.

For more information: The Committee on NGOs

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