More from UNDESA Vol 23, No. 07 - July 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UN DESA honours eleven UN Public Service Award winners

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

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

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

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

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

Kenya- Water Sector Trust Fund

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

Brazil- Prefeitura do Jaboatão dos Guararapes

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

Australia- Agriculture Victoria

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

2. Ensuring integrated approaches in public sector institutions

Indonesia- Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana

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

Argentina- Laboratorio de Hemoderivados de la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba

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

Portugal- High Commission for Migration

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

3. Developing effective and responsible public institutions

Thailand- Nong Ta Tam Subdistrict Administrative Organization

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

4. Promoting digital transformation in public sector institutions

Costa Rica- Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social

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

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

Republic of Korea- Seoul Metropolitan Government

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

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

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

Chile- ChileCompra

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

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

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

SDG 17 in numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information: Sustainable Development Goal 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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