More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 04 - April 2020

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.

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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