2015 is expected to be a historic year for global sustainable development. A number of milestone events are expected to set in motion crucial actions that will benefit both the people and the planet. With UN DESA playing a leading role in these efforts, DESA News met with Mr. Wu Hongbo, UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General, to learn more about upcoming events as well as gains made during the past year.
“Critical, busy and productive” said Mr. Wu, as he summarized the past year in just three words. Meeting in his office right before his departure for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Lima, or COP20, Mr. Wu described an eventful 2014, with UN Member States preparing for the post-2015 development agenda.
“There are two important achievements,” Mr. Wu said. “One is the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals,” he said, describing the success of the group in proposing 17 goals and 169 targets aimed at creating a sustainable, prosperous and people-centred future of our planet. Mr. Wu also explained that many had not believed this to be possible at all. “They made the impossible possible with the support of DESA colleagues,” he said.
“Second is the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing,” Mr. Wu continued, explaining that this is another area of great interest for the international community. “We all know that without financial support, the development programme means nothing,” he said, highlighting how the Committee of Experts has come up with more than 115 policy recommendations and how their efforts have been commended by the UN General Assembly as well as by Member States.
In August 2014, the Committee presented its final report, including options on ways to finance the sustainable development agenda. It established that, with appropriate reallocation, around $22 trillion in annual global savings could meet the financing needs for sustainable development in the future, to improve people’s lives and protect the planet for generations to come.
“This is the first time in human history that development is globally acknowledged to cover three dimensions – economic, social and environmental”
Providing inputs for post-2015 development agenda
Mr. Wu, who served as Conference Secretary-General for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), described how the department, under his leadership, organized the highly successful conference, which took place in Apia, Samoa on 1-4 September 2014.
“This was a resounding success,” said Mr. Wu. “It was welcomed and well received by the international community and Member States and in particular by SIDS,” he explained, also emphasizing how the event produced solid and meaningful input to the post-2015 development process. In addition to the conference outcome, the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway, 297 partnerships were registered to support small island developing states, bringing the total value of these commitments to over $1.9 billion.
Mr. Wu also highlighted other major events including the Special Session of the General Assembly on the follow-up to the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development beyond 2014, as well as the first ever World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. These two events took place back-to-back at UN Headquarters on 22-23 September and were well received by the international community.
Areas of interest for people worldwide
“We also worked hard to help Member States carry out the reform of the ECOSOC system to make ECOSOC more efficient, effective and to be more relevant to the mandates,” said Mr. Wu, also describing the regular tasks performed by the department. “We continue to publish high-quality analysis on the world economic situation and also on the implementation of the MDGs,” said Mr. Wu, pointing to the relevance of this work for policy makers worldwide. “We also promote forest management and forest economy,” Mr. Wu explained. “Next year will be important for the UN Forum on Forest because the Member States will make decisions to renew the mandate,” he added.
“We also have very important mandates to strengthen governance,” said Mr. Wu. “We actually cover quite extensive areas, for instance, public administration and internet governance. These are really the areas of great interest to people worldwide,” he said. Mr. Wu also highlighted the vital role of the Statistics Division as they are not only conducting their regular work, but are also supporting the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution.
Key moments for a sustainable future
“There will be three things mainly on the UN’s agenda,” said Mr. Wu when discussing a busy 2015 ahead. “Number one to celebrate the 70th birthday of this international organization,” he said. “Second, to accelerate implementation of the Millennium Development Goals,” he continued. “Third, which is the most important of all, to officially launch the post-2015 development agenda,” he said. Mr. Wu also explained the vital role of UN DESA in supporting the inter-governmental negotiation process that will lead to the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda.
“We will be successful, and I am confident, because the professionalism, the hard work and team spirit demonstrated by my colleagues in this department give me strength, give me confidence”
In this context, Mr. Wu underscored the importance of financing for development and the upcoming Third International Conference on Financing for Development, which will take place in Ethiopia in July next year, for which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has designated him as its Secretary-General.
“We will be very busy and what we are expecting is a sustainable development agenda post-2015 for the whole world,” emphasized Mr. Wu. “This is the first time in human history that development is globally acknowledged to cover three dimensions – economic, social and environmental,” he added, pointing to some of the challenges along the way and how he can foresee that all colleagues from all divisions will get involved in the substantial support of these efforts.
“We all know the last mile is always the difficult one. So the last dash to the finish line will be very challenging,” Mr. Wu added. “What we want, what will be the end results, this is to be decided by Member States,” he said, while at the same time highlighting how the professional knowledge, advice and support of UN DESA will be indispensable in this process. “We will be successful, and I am confident, because the professionalism, the hard work and team spirit demonstrated by my colleagues in this department give me strength, give me confidence,” Mr. Wu concluded with a smile.
Global economic growth is forecast to increase marginally over the next two years, according to the Global Economic Outlook of the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2015 (WESP) report, launched on 10 December 2014. The global economy is expected to grow 3.1 per cent in 2015 and 3.3 per cent in 2016, compared with an estimated growth of 2.6 per cent for 2014. The complete report featuring regional forecasts will be released in mid-January 2015.
The global economy expanded during 2014 at a moderate and uneven pace. Legacies from the global financial crisis continue to weigh on growth, while new challenges have emerged, including geopolitical conflicts such as in Ukraine and the Ebola epidemic.
Unemployment figures remain historically high in some regions, but appear to have stopped rising. While global inflation remains subdued, the spectrum ranges from deflation risks in the euro area to high inflation in some developing countries. Foreign direct investment inflows have remained the most stable and relevant source of financing for developing countries whereas portfolio capital flows are highly sensitive to changes in risk appetite.
“Upcoming US interest rate increases, remaining euro area fragility, a further slowdown in developing economies and geopolitical conflicts pose major concerns for global economic outlook”
Trade growth is expected to pick up moderately with the volume of world imports of goods and services projected to grow by 4.7 per cent in 2015. In 2015, fiscal tightening in most developed economies will continue, although the pace of tightening is expected to slow. The strong US dollar is expected to remain the dominant trend on foreign exchange markets.
“While some economic indicators are positive and moving in the right direction which points to the potential for a gradual return to consistent economic growth,” said Pingfan Hong, Director of UN DESA’s Development and Policy Analysis Division, “many risks and uncertainties could dash efforts to get the global economy on track and moving forward.”
Among the developed economies, while the US maintained an annual growth rate above 2 per cent in 2014, the economic situation in Europe has been precarious, particularly in the euro area, where a number of euro members teetered on the brink of recession. In Japan, momentum generated by a fiscal stimulus package and monetary easing from 2013 tapered off in 2014.
The US economy is expected to improve in 2015-2016, with GDP projected to expand by 2.8 and 3.1 per cent, respectively. Only a slight improvement in growth is expected in Western Europe. The region is held back by the travails of the euro area, where the level of GDP has yet to regain its pre-recession peak. A projected slowdown in Japan is mainly attributed to the drop of private consumption due to a higher consumption tax.
Developing countries and economies in transition
Growth rates in developing countries and economies in transition diverged more during 2014, as a sharp deceleration occurred in many large emerging economies, particularly in Latin America and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). In contrast, East Asia, including China, experienced only a mild slowdown, while India led South Asia to a moderate uptick.
Among the developing countries, Africa’s overall growth momentum will continue, with GDP growth expected to accelerate to 4.6 per cent in 2015 and 4.9 per cent in 2016. East Asia will remain the fastest-growing region, and is projected to see stable growth of 6.1 per cent in 2015 and 6.0 per cent in 2016. Economic growth in South Asia is set to gradually pick up, while economic growth in Latin America and the Caribbean is projected to moderately improve. In the CIS, prospects are weak with near-zero growth expected in the Russian Federation. More detailed regional forecasts from WESP will be released in January 2015.
Looming risks and uncertainties could set back global economy
The euro area’s recovery remains precarious. While the sense of crisis has dissipated, great risks remain. The underlying growth momentum in the euro area has decelerated to the point where an exogenous event could lead to a return to recession. The forthcoming further normalization of the US Federal Reserve’s monetary policy holds significant risks and uncertainties for the global economic outlook, depending on the timing and strategy of the monetary tightening, as well as the response by financial markets.
“Many risks and uncertainties could dash efforts to get the global economy on track and moving forward”
Director of UN DESA’s Development and Policy Analysis Division
Many developing countries and economies in transition appear vulnerable to a tightening of global financial conditions, as well as a further aggravation of geopolitical tensions and an escalation of the Ebola epidemic. The ongoing high current-account deficits in some large emerging economies, such as Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey, remain a concern, along with rapid credit growth in several emerging economies. A sudden change in market sentiment, similar to mid-2013 and early 2014, could trigger a painful adjustment process, especially in countries with large external deficits. A broad-based downturn in emerging economies, particularly a sharp slowdown in China, would weigh on economic performance worldwide.
A further risk lies in extreme volatility in oil prices which can have significant impacts on both oil exporting and oil importing countries. The crisis in Ukraine continues to have major regional macroeconomic repercussions. The situations in Iraq, Libya and the Syrian Arab Republic continue to hamper economic and human development regionally and remain major sources of uncertainty.
International policy coordination must be strengthened
To reduce risks and meet challenges, the report says, it is imperative to strengthen international policy coordination. In particular, macroeconomic policies worldwide should be aligned toward supporting robust and balanced growth, creating productive jobs, and maintaining long-term economic and financial stability.
WESP is produced at the beginning of each year by UN DESA, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the five UN regional commissions and the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). The report’s full version will be available by mid-January 2015.
Calling for inclusive, agile and coordinated action to usher in an era of sustainable development for all, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 4 December presented the United Nations General Assembly with an advance unedited version of his synthesis report, which will guide negotiations for a new global agenda centred on people and the planet, and underpinned by human rights. The report was formally issued in the six official UN languages on 31 December.
“2015 will herald an unprecedented opportunity to take far-reaching, long-overdue global action to secure our future well-being,” Mr. Ban said as he called on Member States to be “innovative, inclusive, agile, determined and coordinated” in negotiating the agenda that will succeed the landmark Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the UN-backed effort to reduce extreme poverty and hunger, promote education, especially for girls, fight disease and protect the environment, all by 2015.
“[We] have an historic opportunity and duty to act, boldly, vigorously and expeditiously, to turn reality into a life of dignity for all, leaving no one behind”
In an informal briefing to the 193-Member Assembly on 4 December 2014, the UN chief presented his synthesis report, The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet, alongside the President of the General Assembly, Sam Kutesa who also addressed delegates, describing the process of intergovernmental negotiations that fed into the report’s compilation to set the stage for agreement on the new framework at a September 2015 summit and stressing the “historical responsibility” States faced to deliver a transformative agenda.
Taking stock of post-2015 negotiations
The synthesis report aims to support States’ discussions going forward, taking stock of the negotiations on the post-2015 agenda and reviewing lessons from pursuit of the MDGs. It stresses the need to “finish the job” – both to help people now and as a launch pad for the new agenda.
In the report’s conclusion, the Secretary-General issues a powerful charge to Member States, saying: “We are on the threshold of the most important year of development since the founding of the United Nations itself. We must give meaning to this Organization’s promise to ‘reaffirm faith in the dignity and worth of the human person’ and to take the world forward to a sustainable future…[We] have an historic opportunity and duty to act, boldly, vigorously and expeditiously, to turn reality into a life of dignity for all, leaving no one behind.”
Never before has so broad and inclusive a consultation been undertaken on development, Mr. Ban told the Assembly, referring to the consultations that followed Rio+20 [the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development], adding that his synthesis report “looks ahead, and discusses the contours of a universal and transformative agenda that places people and planet at the centre, is underpinned by human rights, and is supported by a global partnership.”
With rights and dignity at the core
The coming months would see agreement on the final parameters of the post-2015 agenda and he stressed the need for inclusion of a compelling and principled narrative, based on human rights and dignity. Financing and other means of implementation would also be essential and he called for strong, inclusive public mechanisms for reporting, monitoring progress, learning lessons, and ensuring shared responsibility.
“Implementation will be the litmus test of this agenda. It must be placed on a sound financial footing”
He also welcomed the outcome produced by the Open Working Group, saying its 17 proposed sustainable development goals and 169 associated targets clearly expressed an agenda aiming at ending poverty, achieving shared prosperity, protecting the planet and leaving no one behind.
Discussions of the Working Group had been inclusive and productive and he said the Group’s proposal should form the basis of the new goals, as agreed by the General Assembly. The goals should be “focused and concise” to boost global awareness and country-level implementation, communicating clearly Member States’ ambition and vision.
The synthesis report presented dignity, people, prosperity, the planet, justice and partnerships as an integrated set of “essential elements” aimed at providing conceptual guidance during discussions of the goals and Mr. Ban stressed that none could be considered in isolation from the others and that each was an integral part of the whole.
Financing for Development Conference key for implementation
“Implementation will be the litmus test of this agenda. It must be placed on a sound financial footing,” he said welcoming the work of the Intergovernmental Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing and encouraging countries to scale up their efforts.
The Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa on 13-16 July would play a major role in outlining the means for implementation, and he stressed the “key role” national Governments would play in raising domestic revenue to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.
Official development assistance (ODA) and international public funds, particularly for vulnerable countries, would also be vital to unlocking “the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources”, while private investment would be particularly important on projects related to the transition to low-carbon economies, improving access to water, renewable energy, agriculture, industry, infrastructure and transport.
Implementation would also rely on bridging the technology gap, creating a new framework for shared accountability, and providing reliable data, which he called the “lifeblood of sound decision-making.”
Stressing his commitment to ensuring the best outcome from the post-2015 process, he underlined the need for States to be guided by universal human rights and international norms, while remaining responsive to different needs and contexts in different countries.
“We must embrace the possibilities and opportunities of the task at hand,” he said.
In an earlier interview with the UN News Centre, Amina J. Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, stressed that one of the report’s main “takeaways” is that “by 2030 we can end poverty, we can transform lives and we can find ways to protect the planet while doing that.”
“I think that’s important because we’re talking about a universal agenda where we’re going to leave no one behind. It’s not doing things by halves or by three-quarters, it’s about everyone mattering…To say you don’t want to leave anyone behind is to look to see who is the most vulnerable and smallest member of the family and what is it that we’re going to have to do to ensure that they’re not left behind, because that will be the litmus test and success of what we do.”
Proposed sustainable development goals
End poverty in all its forms everywhere
End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
* Acknowledging that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.