More from UNDESA Vol 24, No. 02 - February 2020

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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