Taking stock of current achievements aimed at fulfilling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Economic and Social Council today opened its third annual High‑level Political Forum to review gains made through a lens of the central theme: transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.
The two‑week‑long session will feature thematic reviews and panel discussions from 9 to 13 July aimed at sharing best practices, providing proposals for innovative tools to trigger further progress and exchanging concerns and challenges related to key aspects of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. From 16 to 19 July, the Council will host a ministerial segment to hear voluntary national reviews as well as a thematic discussion and a general debate. The Council is also expected to adopt a ministerial declaration and draft report of the Forum.
Opening the session today, Marie Chatardova (Czechia), President of the Council, said the Forum is an opportunity to look back on the “tremendous achievements” and to build on the Secretary‑General’s latest report on progress towards the Goals, which clearly indicates the need to step up efforts and to better target the objectives at the areas and people still lagging behind.
“We have only 12 more years to fully realize this transformative agenda, but these Goals are absolutely within our reach,” Liu Zhenmin, Under‑Secretary‑General of Economic and Social Affairs, said. “It will require policymakers’ unwavering attention, a laser‑sharp focus on implementation of these Goals and a true sense of urgency.”
Introducing the Secretary‑General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2018/64), he cited gains in lowering maternal and child mortality and challenges such as climate change consequences and conflict that are obstructing progress. Highlighting that very few developing countries have fully funded statistical plans and the share of official development assistance (ODA) for statistics has hovered around 0.3 per cent since 2010, he said “to understand accomplishments and setbacks and chart our way forward, we need reliable, timely, open and disaggregated data to inform all our actions”. Fulfilling the ambition of leaving no one behind without timely and disaggregated data is impossible, he stressed.
Keynote addresses touched on a range of salient issues focused on the central theme. Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, said the Goals are this generation’s only hope for creating peaceful, safe, fair and sustainable societies.
“We have to make them work,” he said, but the biggest obstacle is greed. There is enough in the world for everyone to live free of poverty, but vested interests, including oil companies and the food industries, have been resisting. The rich world has many sources of revenue and the United Nations should go after that revenue, he said, proposing a levy on high net worth individuals and taxing the $20 trillion held in offshore accounts in a “tax haven archipelago” designed by the United States, United Kingdom and others. He went on to call for wider implementation of carbon taxes and a crackdown on rampant tax evasions. The aim is to ensure that every child has a future. Otherwise, he said, “we don’t have a future”.
María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General on Disability and Accessibility, said promoting private sector leadership is critical, as is boosting cooperation with traditionally sidelined groups with a view to fostering sustainable consumption. These and other related efforts must be focused on reaching the world’s persons with disabilities, many of them being older people. In addition, guidelines for companies sharing benefits and risks of sustainable development must be made available.
“No one believes that we are going too fast” in achieving the Goals, said Alex Steffen, Co‑founder of online magazine Worldchanging.com. For too long, the problem of sustainable development was seen as a question of resolving the tension between the planet and the economy or between employment and nature, but now the world is at the cusp of a massive change in how sustainability happens. “We are about to have a ‘snap forward’,” he said, with breakthroughs in such areas as climate change, clean energy and clean water and a growing recognition that there are today two economies — one sustainable, one not — in fierce competition with each other. Non‑sustainable industries are resisting change by causing significant predatory delays, slowing the deployment of sustainable solutions and stalling needed regulation. At the same time, sustainable solutions are becoming better and less expensive, with an additional potential of being profitable.
Today’s discussions centred on examining elements of the theme, with sub‑sessions on “Reviewing progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” and “Better data for sustainable development”. An afternoon panel focused on “Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”. Panellists included ministers and high‑level officials, including from Ireland and Ghana, presenting national examples of ways their countries are making strides towards various goals and targets as well as experts from civil society, international organizations and non‑governmental organizations sharing their perspectives on challenges on the ground and how to bolster further progress with a view to meeting the 2030 Agenda deadline while leaving no one behind.
The High‑level Political Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 July, to continue its work.
MARIE CHATARDOVA (Czechia), President of the Economic and Social Council, opened the High‑level Political Forum, calling it an opportunity to look back on the “tremendous achievements” of the Sustainable Development Goals. More than 80 ministers and vice‑ministers will be attending the Forum, as well as 2,500 no‑State actors. Emphasizing that Goals must inspire everyone to aim high, she said that during her term as Chair, the Council explored how to give people a say in decisions that impacted their lives. “The worst thing is not that the world is unfree, but that people have unlearned their liberty,” she quoted the Czech author Milan Kundera as saying, adding that too many people have unlearned their right to engage in policy and decision‑making.
Reviewing the Forum’s many preparatory meetings, she said the Secretary‑General’s report on progress towards the Goals clearly indicates the need to step up efforts and to better target the Goals at the areas and people still lagging behind. On the Forum’s programme of work, she said, a full session will be dedicated to each of the six Goals up for review this year [Goal 6: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; Goal 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all; Goal 11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns; Goal 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; Goal 17: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development]. The Forum will also discuss its theme for this year — “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies” — and, next week, consider a record 47 voluntary national reviews submitted by Member States.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, emphasizing that “this is no time to be complacent”, introduced the report of the Secretary‑General on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2018/64). In the three years since world leaders committed to end poverty and hunger, countries have been working hard to translate this transformative vision into concrete results, with many reporting on progress this week. While people are living better lives than a decade ago, with those below the extreme poverty line decreasing to 9 per cent in 2017 from 27 per cent in 2000, drought and disaster linked to climate change and surging conflicts are hindering faster progress.
Outlining other achievements and challenges, he said pockets of poverty persist in rural areas, social protection had yet to reach 4 billion people in 2016 and hunger is on the rise, from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016. However, since 2000, in sub‑Saharan Africa, the maternal mortality ratio declined by 35 per cent and the under‑five mortality rate dropped by 50 per cent, and in Southern Asia, a girl’s risk of marrying in childhood declined by over 40 per cent. In addition, 4.5 billion people are unable to access safely managed sanitation services and 2.1 billion lack access to safe drinking water. Competing pressures on land to urbanize, expand agriculture and provide for increasing populations are threatening natural sites, with land degradation threatening security and development. Global warming and climate‑related events are also on the rise.
Transitioning towards sustainable and resilient societies hinges on responsible management of finite resources, he said, noting that currently 108 countries have national policies on sustainable consumption and production. Prosperous individuals and societies keep the world engine humming; however, it is the Goals’ aim to leave no one behind. Citing further gains, he said people living without electricity dropped in 2016 to under 1 billion. Yet, the number of conflicts over the past decade has increased, leading to millions being displaced and driving food insecurity in 18 countries, where 74 million urgently need assistance.
“To understand accomplishments and setbacks and chart our way forward, we need reliable, timely, open and disaggregated data to inform all our actions,” he said. However, very few developing countries have fully funded statistical plans and the share of official development assistance (ODA) to statistics has hovered around 0.3 per cent since 2010, he said, adding that fulfilling the ambition of leaving no one behind without timely and disaggregated data is impossible. “We have only 12 more years to fully realize this transformative agenda, but these Goals are absolutely within our reach,” he said. “It will require policymakers’ unwavering attention, a laser‑sharp focus on implementation of these Goals and a true sense of urgency.”
JEFFREY D. SACHS, Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, said the Goals are this generation’s only hope for creating peaceful, safe, fair and sustainable societies. “We have to make them work,” he said, but the biggest obstacle is greed. There is enough in the world for everyone to live free of poverty and it won’t require a big effort on the part of big countries to help poor ones. But vested interests, including oil companies and the food industries, have been resisting. Presenting league tables produced by his team and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, he said Sweden, at the top of the list, is closest to achieving the Goals, and that Europe is “by far” the region closest to doing so. Moreover, the list of the top 10 countries closest to achieving the Goals mirrors a complementary ranking of the world’s happiest countries. It is literally the truth that sustainable development is the path to happiness, he said. In contrast, the United States is thirty‑fifth on the list of countries closest to achieving the Goals and only 18 in the happiness rankings. “Just trying to be rich does not make you happy,” he said. Sustainable development that is balanced, fair, inclusive and environmentally sustainable is what produces happiness, he added.
The happiest countries are the ones that tax themselves the most, he added, noting that Swedes think it is a good thing to pay half their national income to quality education and health care. The United States, on the other hand, is all about tax cuts for rich people. “To achieve sustainable development, you have to pay for it,” he said, adding that tax cuts for the rich don’t pay for sustainable development. Appealing to everyone to mobilize resources to achieve sustainable development, he said there must be major transformation in how countries work. Most important is quality education, followed by universal access to health care, clean energy (“without which the planet will be wrecked”), sustainable land and food, smarter cities with decent infrastructure, and proper use of digital technologies. “We have to take care of ourselves. Otherwise we will destroy ourselves,” he said. Emphasizing that rich countries could easily finance global sustainable development from their own resources, he said the world’s 2,208 billionaires — “you can look them up on Forbes magazine online” — could, by paying 1 per cent of their net worth each year, put every child in the world in school or guarantee access to health care for everyone.
The rich world has many sources of revenue and the United Nations should go after that revenue, he said, proposing a levy on high net worth individuals and taxing the $20 trillion held in offshore accounts in a “tax haven archipelago” designed by the United States, United Kingdom and others. Taxes should also be levied on the world’s five biggest technology companies, worth a combined $3.5 trillion and enjoying a natural monopoly, as well as on global financial transactions. He went on to call for wider implementation of carbon taxes and a crackdown on rampant tax evasions. The aim is to ensure that every child has a future. Otherwise, he said, “we don’t have a future”.
MARÍA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Special Envoy of the Secretary‑General on Disability and Accessibility, noting that the Forum is a unique opportunity to bring together stakeholders, referred to several challenges. Funding must be increased to achieve certain Sustainable Development Goals and to address issues related to disability. Under the umbrella of international cooperation, tax funds must be responsibly managed to avoid corruption and ensure responsible spending on relevant programmes. Education for sustainable development is among many areas that need attention. Meanwhile, promoting leadership of private companies is also critical, and cooperation with traditionally sidelined groups should aim at efforts towards sustainable consumption. Such efforts must be focused on reaching the world’s persons with disabilities, many of them being older people. In addition, guidelines for companies sharing benefits and risks of sustainable development must be made available.
Statistical data is equally important, she said. A substantive approach is needed, including efforts to improve social, cultural and economic life, that also must target political life. This could be accomplished by broadening participation and access to information with a view to reaching all parts of societies. At the same time, “intelligent” cities must ensure technology reaches all. All barriers to technology must be removed. Efforts must support States and Governments in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with a view to leaving no one behind.
ALEX STEFFEN, Co‑founder of online magazine Worldchanging.com, said that despite some real progress, “no one believes that we are going too fast” in achieving the Goals. Speed is the solution, he said. For too long, the problem of sustainable development was seen as a question of resolving the tension between the planet and the economy or between employment and nature. But now the world is at the cusp of a massive change in how sustainability happens. “We are about to have a ‘snap forward’,” he said, with breakthroughs in such areas as climate change, clean energy and clean water. There is also a growing recognition that there are today two economies — one sustainable, one not — in fierce competition with each other. Non‑sustainable industries are resisting disruption by causing significant predatory delays, slowing the deployment of sustainable solutions and stalling needed regulation. But at the same time, sustainable solutions are becoming better and cheaper, with the potential to be profitable, too.
He called for generating enough momentum to propel sustainable solutions to the point where they disrupt the unsustainable systems that they’re competing with. Winning slowly, however, is the same thing as losing outright. The only way for sustainable development to win is to move fast. Around the world, people are moving to deliver progress, breakthroughs and miracles. Failure is possible, and some people say it is likely, but he did not believe that. People should not let what is happening in the United States shift their perspective, he said, adding: “Donald Trump is not the future; Donald Trump is a roadblock.” It is also not enough to hope that somehow a way forward would be found through non‑controversial solutions. What will work is fast deployment of every available solution, the increased spread of innovation and talking about the need to displace the old economy in order to implement a new economy that will deliver on the Goals. With the tension between unsustainable industry and sustainable development playing itself out in every country, “there is only one way forward – and that is fast,” he said. “Sustainability is speed.”
The Council held a panel discussion titled “Reviewing progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”, chaired by Council President Ms. Chatardova and moderated by Emily Pryor, Executive Director of Data2X. The panel featured: Asa Regner, Assistant Secretary‑General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women); Pádraig Dalton, Director General of the Central Statistics Office of Ireland; and Grace Bediako, Acting Director General of the National Development Planning Commission, Ghana. The lead discussant was Sofia Monsalve Suárez, Secretary‑General of FIAN International, representing the NGO Major Group.
Ms. PRYOR said measuring progress and implementation depended on solid data. Providing examples of how data has shaped policies on domestic violence, parental leave and other key areas, she said studies are now examining and demonstrating whether data‑driven policymaking is actually improving lives. While the world is not on track to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, she hoped discussions like this one could help to boost efforts towards this objective. Data is a tool that could lead from diagnoses to the treatment of problems in the world, she said, emphasizing that many achievements already recorded had been data‑informed.
Ms. REGNER said development would only be sustainable if women and girls’ situations are considered, with the 2030 Agenda holding the potential to transform their lives. Turning Promises into Action, a UN‑Women report, spotlighted progress in this regard at a time when the global community and Member States recognize that gender equality is important to reach all the Goals. Referring to achievements, she cited programmes targeting girls’ enrolment, raising awareness about and reducing gender‑based violence and the slow but increasing political participation of women. Gender equality is about both women and men, who are increasingly being included in related efforts in many countries. New data on extreme poverty demonstrate that more women than men are poor, while maternal mortality rates are dropping too slowly. Violence against women and girls remains a big problem, with 1 in 5 women having experienced violence by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. Women are also still being “punished” for being mothers or potential mothers in many countries; their rights to plan and decide about their bodily rights are being weakened in many countries. To address these obstacles, funding must ensure women’s access to health, water, childcare and shelter.
Mr. DALTON, emphasizing that poor data leads to poor decisions, wasted resources and lost opportunities, said sustainable, robust data is needed in addition to ensuring the organizations compiling it are trusted, independent, objective and transparent. In the 2030 Agenda context, efforts must support comparability across countries. Sometimes when collecting data, it is not made digestible and helpful to policymakers. Infographics and charts could help, as would linking and integrating data. Using an example in Ireland, he said taking data from four different sources provided the Government with a comprehensive housing price indicator to effectively inform policymaking. Such an approach can be used in the Sustainable Development Goals’ context. In Ireland, a platform was created for user‑friendly access to data, making it easier to target policy intervention. Showing slides from the Central Statistics Office of Ireland, he said mapping and other accessible data are organized and presented in an easily understandable way. Statistical systems must be set up to succeed, including ensuring that data is organized properly and supports innovation and modernization. “Collaboration is key,” he said. “Help us help you.”
Ms. BEDIAKO, providing a blueprint of how Ghana prepared for implementing the 2030 Agenda, said a national institutional arrangement was created with efforts streaming through a decentralized planning system. Three committees work as focal points for tasks ranging from strengthening cross‑sectoral cooperation to providing technical support and advocacy, with President Nana Akufo‑Addo guiding national initiatives and financing plans. Highlighting notable outcomes, she said a well‑coordinated and managed implementation and reporting system produced a series of forums at all levels and cross‑sector gains include free senior high school education, inner‑city development and a national identification programme. Efforts are also being made to strengthen statistics in national development planning. To ensure the tracking of development commitments, Ghana’s data collection capacity was assessed and today 62 of the indicators are already computed by the current statistics system, while 63 others are not. Making administrative sources more effective in data generation is a major thrust of Ghana’s statistical development, advanced by collaborative initiatives with the United Kingdom National Statistics, the private sector and other partners.
Yet, challenges persist, she continued, pointing at tackling inequalities and going beyond understanding them. Involving all segments of civil society to ensure inclusive development is critical. Citizens must be involved, she said, listing numerous ways the Government is reaching out to the public, including a current process of developing a national monitoring and evaluation tool with features to enhance the citizen’s contribution, reporting on the status of projects in their communities and better accountability. Ghana also keeps track of how various stakeholders are performing on the Goals. Moving forward, the Government is considering subgroups around the Goals and maintaining an implementation database. The next major hurdle is how to meaningfully engage metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies to implement respective plans and monitor achievements. While training had been initiated at the beginning of the 2030 Agenda commitments, substantially more is required to have the Sustainable Development Goals fully ingrained at all levels of programming.
Ms. MONSALVE SUÁREZ, making a presentation as the lead discussant, said the quality of data must be improved in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals, pointing out the dearth of information on measuring inequalities between and within countries in areas such as land ownership or commercial markets for seeds. While discussions have centred on quantitative data, she underlined the importance of qualitative information to better track progress. Indeed, diversifying the type of information collected would better inform the decision‑making process. She questioned the need for “big data” to ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Noting some serious problems in compiling big data, some cases had seen it being manipulated in a manner that did not dovetail with human rights data, such as instances involving an influential corporation with a great deal of money and power.
Mr. DALTON said big data is veritably an ocean of information, ranging from structured and unstructured elements. Unstructured data offers some usefulness. Perfection is the enemy of the good, but big data on its own is not the answer. It should be used only when it adds value, he said, adding that the problem is that a lot of resources are needed to obtain it.
Ms. BEDIAKO said the issue of qualitative and quantitative data is a tension point. One could not compile data and talk about people’s experiences, she said, emphasizing that to truly leave no one behind in the 2030 Agenda, efforts must ensure that truly useful data is collected. At the community level, data collection centred on building the information into the national system. For instance, with roads built and schools operating far from the capital, data must inform and update the national planning system. Much attention is needed on methodologies, she said. There is always a conflict regarding confidentiality, but ways must be identified to include the people’s valuable perspectives.
Ms. REGNER said efforts must be improved to better collect data to enable the targeting of measures and policies. Structural data on inequalities is needed to better inform policymakers.
When the discussion began, delegates proposed ways to support effective strategies to overcome the data gap and offered examples of achievements and challenges.
A representative of the Major Group for children and youth said the current approach lacks ways to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by the 2030 deadline. Obstacles must be removed, with leaders taking responsibility to assess root causes, such as lack of trust in Government. “We all have the responsibility to build back better,” he said, emphasizing that leaving no one behind must be a main policy objective and as policy‑shaping guide.
A representative of the stakeholder group for persons with disabilities said that while data disaggregation is being widely discussed, there is a dearth of it at the global level. “If we are not counted, we will remain invisible,” he said, suggesting that States invest in reliable data and support global partnerships to guarantee the creation of related policies.
A representative of the major group of indigenous peoples said they have been and are being left behind, as evidenced by a lack of clear related 2030 Agenda targets. Sixty‑five per cent of the world’s environmental diversity is located in indigenous territories, yet a huge gap remains in related data and regarding respect for human rights. Making a number of recommendations, he said institutional mechanisms should ensure the inclusion of indigenous peoples at local, national and global levels. In addition, data providers and collection agencies must ensure efforts were reaching indigenous communities to reflect their concerns.
The representative of Switzerland suggested boosting investments in national systems and strengthening the United Nations statistical system.
A representative of United Republic of Tanzania said poverty in rural Africa is a dire challenge, hampered by a lack of education and an absence of technology and infrastructure. He wondered how far Ghana has been able to disaggregate data in rural areas and effectively use the information.
Ms. BEDIAKO said access to rural communities is indeed challenging. Ghana is now examining ways to better measure poverty on the ground and use mobile phone data. Data disaggregation is also challenging in most districts, with efforts now targeting the improvement of collection and coordination. Working one‑on‑one with some institutions, such as prisons, Ghana is trying to improve data sharing to better inform policymakers, she said.
Representatives of Italy, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Chile, as well as the European Union also participated in the discussion, as did a representative of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
A sub-session titled “Better data for sustainable development” featured the following panellists: Zachary Mwangi Chege, Chair of the United Nations Statistical Commission and Director General of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics; Nancy Potok, Chief Statistician of the United States; and Shaida Badiee, Managing Director and Co‑founder of Open Data Watch. The lead discussant was Leesha Delatie‑Budair, Deputy Director General of the Statistical Institute of Jamaica.
Mr. MWANGI CHEGE underscored the need to improve coordination between national statistical commissions, especially since statistical capacity is not equally distributed. National statistical offices should play a central role in the implementation of the Goals, given their ability to ensure impartial and reliable data. Discussing the work of a high‑level group within the Statistical Commission dealing with statistical capacity‑building, he listed several key challenges, including vast gaps in the way progress towards achieving the Goals is being measured. In some countries, limited use of statistics by policymakers has led to poor decisions and poor outcomes. Other challenges include sustained underfunding for statistics and a lack of coordination among donors. He went on to request proposals for capacity‑building to be included in an outcome document at the World Data Forum in Dubai later this year with a view to agreeing on a concrete mechanism that would address the capacity issue.
Ms. POTOK said that tracking progress towards the Goals requires an unprecedented amount of data from national statistical offices. Their key role is to curate objective and unbiased data, following well‑established principles and practices, regardless of whether the original source was a census or a survey. Worldwide, she said, statistical capacity needed strengthening, and that will require partnership between Governments, civil society and the private sector. “We really want to have high‑quality data to understand what is going on with sustainable development,” she said, as national statistical offices were central to that goal. Many people did not realize that such offices had evolved over decades, establishing a very mature framework of principles, practices, transparency and privacy protection. Citing a recent survey by the Partnership in Statistics for Development in the 21st Century, she said that, out of the countries that participated, only 17 — mostly in Europe and North America — have fully funded national statistical plans. Thirty‑seven out of 83 countries have national statistical legislation in place, while 25 did not conduct a population census in the 2007‑2016 period. Emphasizing that simple changes could make a big difference, she noted how Lesotho conducted its most recent population census using handheld tablet devices, enabling it to get the data out in only one year.
Ms. BADIEE said increased demand for data and excitement surrounding the data revolution has not been matched by a commitment for better data funding. Providing a snapshot of the scale of the challenge, she said 44 per cent of countries have no civil registration or vital statistics system. Moreover, there is no data available to measure two thirds of the Goals. Many building blocks of the statistical system need to be modernized, she said, adding that insufficient funding for data has led to inferior data which, in turn, has led to even less funding for data. However, the gap is not so big, she said. Closing that gap would require $200 million a year, which is not much compared to the salaries of a couple of football players. When countries and international organizations come together, resources could be mobilized, she said, emphasizing also the need to build political support for increased funding for data and to demonstrate the value of data.
Ms. DELATIE-BUDAIR said special efforts are needed for small island developing States, least developed countries, heavily indebted poor countries and vulnerable economies. She added that digitizing data systems in developing countries would contribute to greater use of data.
When the floor opened for discussion, participants reviewed the ways in which funding for data could be improved.
The representative of Denmark said it is well known that his country and its Scandinavian neighbours are consistently at the top of the sustainable development rankings, but he wondered how many Forum participants could name the countries at the bottom. Emphasizing the need for focus on the issues faced by less developed countries, he said national statistical officers are quite inexpensive relative to the results that could be achieved from the data they produce.
The representative of the Major Group for non‑governmental organizations said it would be a huge mistake not to use the wealth of data available from civil society. She added that the Secretary‑General’s report contains major flaws, including the near‑total absence of contextual analysis of global trends.
The representative of El Salvador, concurring with Denmark’s delegate, said climbing the sustainable development rankings requires data which shows that a country is actually moving forward. It could be that many countries at the bottom are making progress, but that progress is not being measured.
Mr. MWANGI CHEGE said the funding and modernization of national statistical systems in least developed countries and small island developing States is key. That required the engagement of policymakers as well as technical cooperation, especially with other countries.
Ms. POTOK said many parts of the world require investment just in basic data, including census data. Some countries are struggling to modernize, but there are opportunities to leapfrog. Why go through a learning process and start at the middle of the twentieth century when the world is already in the digital age, she wondered. Addressing this gap requires stable funding and bringing civic organizations and foundations on board to establish long‑term funding mechanisms that would get the basics in place.
Ms. BADIEE said good planning at the national level would attract international support. She also stressed the many opportunities for knowledge transfer. High income is not a prerequisite for producing good data, she added.
Representatives of Kenya, Italy, South Africa and Bahrain also participated in the discussion.
Review of Sustainable Development Goal Implementation
In the afternoon, the Forum held a discussion on “Goal 6 — Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, chaired by Council Vice‑President Mahmadamin Mahmadaminov (Tajikistan) and moderated by Joakim Harlin, Vice‑Chair of United Nations Water (UN-Water). It also featured a keynote address by Mina Guli, a water advocate and ultrarunner, and presentations by: Danilo Türk, Chair of the Global High‑level Panel on Water and Peace, and former President of Slovenia; Lucía Ruiz, Vice‑Minister of Environment of Peru; Callist Tindimugaya, Commissioner for Water Resources Planning and Regulation of the Ministry of Water and Environment of Uganda; and Claudia Sadoff, Director of the International Water Management Institute. Lead discussants were: Ney Maranhão, Director of the National Water Resources Agency of Brazil; Thomas Stratenwerth, Head of Division and Acting Deputy Director General of the Minister for the Environment of Germany; Neil Jeffery, Chief Executive Officer of Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor; and Florencio Marerua, Country Director of WaterAid Mozambique.
Also making presentations were Yongyi Min, Chief of the Sustainable Development Goal Monitoring Section in the Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Stefan Uhlenbrook, Coordinator of the United Nations World Water Assessment Programme of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Ms. MIN said the majority of the world, 892 million people, still lack safe sanitation. Conflict, violence and instability can hamper progress in broadening access to safe water and sanitation. Population growth and intensified climate change consequences are likely to worsen the situation. Investments in infrastructure are essential, especially since ODA targeting water and sanitation declined recently. Between 2012 and 2013, commitments to the water sector decreased as well. Moreover, countries report budget shortages for water‑related projects.
Mr. UHLENBROOK said the main message of the UN‑Water Synthesis Report on Water and Sanitation is clear: the world is not on track. Despite positive advancements, must work remains to be done. More than 1,000 children are dying every day because of preventable diseases due to poor hygiene. Meanwhile, the world’s wetlands decreased by 70 per cent in the last century, more than 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress and the situation is poised to worsen with climate change factors. The most comprehensive step to take is achieving sustainable water management. Additional steps include strengthening multi‑stakeholder partnerships to optimize resources, capitalize on innovative efforts, foster good water governance and bolster investments to achieve drinking water supply, sanitation and hygiene targets. “The usual manner of doing business is not enough and we clearly need a new financing paradigm,” he said.
Ms. GULI, delivering the keynote address, presented a video that was prepared for the launch of the Running Dry campaign for World Water Day 2018. She said she was preparing to run 100 marathons in 100 days later this year to raise awareness of the global water crisis. Around the world, her generation was seeing falling water levels, from the Aral Sea — “dramatically disappearing before our eyes” — to the Orange River in Southern Africa which local guides say has dropped to stunningly low levels. Water supplies are under stress for many reasons, including pollution, insufficient rainfall and leaky infrastructure. With no geographic boundaries, water — when scarce — could be a factor for conflict.
Water scarcity is a growing problem that must be addressed in order to achieve all of the Goals, she said. “We need to act and we need to do so now,” she added. Working in harmony with nature and mimicking natural processes would make it possible to enhance water security and increase resource productivity, but people‑based solutions are needed, too. That called for people who can develop and deploy integrated water resources management; ensure appropriate monitoring and measuring systems; partner across borders to develop transparent, inclusive and coordinated solutions; and create environments that encourage the deployment and commercialization of water‑saving technology. Most important is public awareness and support for the necessary steps. “We need to make saving water popular and famous,” she said. “We need to make it the trend that everyone gets rewarded for.”
Mr. HARLIN invited participants to share experiences from the first three years of implementing Goal 6, with a focus on challenges and solutions.
Mr. TÜRK said the world is facing a growing water crisis and problems must be solved now. Water stress occurs in countries marked by violence and conflict and nearly half the world’s population lives in high‑stress areas. The world must now find a way to significantly increase food and energy production, both of which require a steady and voluminous water supply. However, there is a lack of leadership, funding shortages and a host of other challenges. Turning to successful experiences, he pointed to the Senegal River initiative, involving four States that have developed effective models the rest of the world can learn from. Other advances exist, he said, noting that the Security Council has turned its attention to strengthening international collaboration with a view to ensuring peace and security. To foster future progress, he called for strong political will to drive advancements.
Mr. TINDIMUGAYA, presenting a slide show of national achievements and challenges, said water is at the heart of development and key to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Through an integrated water resources management approach to catchment, Uganda is working to end inequalities in access to water and sanitation services while identifying viable innovative funding models. This approach is also used to create partnerships for collaboration and capacity‑building. Turning to measuring water and sanitation achievements, he said indicator monitoring improves collaboration and coordination among various related agencies and stakeholders. Also, Goal 6 indicator monitoring assists in decision‑making and resource mobilization while improving transparency and accountability. However, success in the integrated baseline process requires high‑level support and recognition by key decision‑makers and the process must be fully institutionalized within relevant institutions, including national statistics offices. High‑level political support, institutional capacity‑building and adequate financial resources are key to successfully implementing Goal 6.
Ms. SADOFF said the world is not on track to meet Goal 6. Turning to more aspirational targets, she said the way forward requires an ambitious set of solutions and actions, with access to water and sanitation not being enough. Efforts should include promoting technologies that benefit farmers, including drone use and gender‑targeted capacity‑building, as well as enhancing initiatives to ensure access to clean water, including wastewater recycling processes. Strong water governance must also be fostered to address pollution and agricultural use. Solutions can stem from water efficiency, which can increase agricultural productivity, and from promoting sustainable diets, which can reduce the impact on water resources. Above all, partnerships are key to progress. Incentives must be aligned to ensure that sustainability is promoted and practices and principles of a circular economy must be adopted.
Ms. RUIZ said overcoming some water‑related challenges is not easy, but it is possible. To achieve genuine water security, several steps must be taken, beginning with integrated water management. To achieve results, efforts must focus on efficiency and the protection of the source. In Peru, efforts centred on sustainability and efficiency of water use, with respect for indigenous practices over the centuries. As such, indigenous communities must be included in such initiatives, as they occasionally experience water stress and need assistance in overcoming this and related challenges. Financing is also critical and gaps must be bridged, with the State having a fundamental role in ensuring accountability alongside the private sector, which could raise capital. Results are urgently needed and all stakeholders must work together towards progress in the next review cycle.
Mr. STRATENWERTH, as a lead discussant, made several suggestions, including bolstering partnerships and collaboration to share benefits. In addition, data collection could define future pathways and examine how various sectors are interlinked. Such innovative initiatives could also serve well to inform policymakers. Turning to other issues, he underscored the importance of investigating innovative solutions and examining the role of water in trade.
Mr. JEFFERY said his organization’s work with urban centres in Africa and Asia could help to shed light on needs. Creating designated management areas could supply new services to hundreds of thousands of people in need. He also warned that if water and sanitation are not considered together, the use of wastewater could have negative consequences. To address this and other challenges, integrated responses from cities working with national water authorities and other stakeholders in Maputo and Lusaka have led to progress. Rapidly urbanizing areas, which include many smaller cities and towns, are least prepared and need targeted assistance to overcome water‑related challenges.
During the discussion, delegates shared their experiences, taking stock of gains and shortcomings in efforts to achieve Goal 6.
The representative of Algeria said his country’s revised Constitution recognizes water as a fundamental human right. He cited efforts to improve the country’s water supply, including 76 dams, 8,857 wells and 13 desalination plants. In record time, Algeria tripled its potable water production. Today, 98 per cent of its people have access to clean water, compared with 78 per cent in 1999.
A representative of the major group for women said that in approaching water as a technical issue, Member States are building water systems that fail to meet the needs of women, girls and marginalized communities. Women’s participation in decision‑making is essential for a new vision of water management, and standards in this regard must be put into place immediately.
LÉO HELLER, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, suggested a stronger focus on such factors as affordability, inequalities and the water needs of forcibly displaced populations. He added that human rights could be a cross‑cutting way to address water access questions.
The Council paused to view a film on water management then heard from two lead discussants.
Mr. MARERUA shared experiences from Mozambique, where women are afraid of pregnancy because of a very real prospect that the mother or baby will die in childbirth. Indeed, 1 in 5 women die in childbirth. The lack of water and sanitation must be addressed. The scale of challenges ahead need a transformational approach buttressed by enormous reforms. Imagine a province three times the size of Massachusetts with only eight water, sanitation and hygiene specialists, which is the case in one province in Mozambique, where the rate of child mortality is 10 times more than in the United States. The leading cause of maternal death is from sepsis. Outlining what could be done, he said political leadership in the country and beyond must drive reform efforts. Development partners can invest in institutions to deliver faster access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.
Mr. MARANHÃO said the world is facing twenty‑first century problems with twentieth century technology and nineteenth century laws. Achieving Goal 6 depends on a range of elements, including using innovative technologies and responding to climate change factors. Synergies between other Sustainable Development Goals would help with water and sanitation issues. Citing an example from Brazil, he pointed to a programme which develops financial opportunities for poor communities, including to pay for water tank reservoirs at a time of drought. Sharing decision‑making is crucial in times of crises and water insecurity. Challenges persist, and responses could include improved coordination and the engagement of stakeholders.
The representative of the State of Palestine said the Secretary‑General’s report refers to the Gaza Strip, notably that more than 90 per cent of extracted water is unfit for human consumption and citizens have less than 15 litres per person daily. Due to the Israeli occupation, many citizens lack access to water, with 95 per cent receiving less than half of the daily requirement recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). As such, the State of Palestine is far behind in reaching Goal 6.
The representative of Rwanda said high population growth in African countries is putting stress on water supplies. To address that, Rwanda is taking numerous steps, including regulating services and constructing water treatment plants. While progress is occurring, he wondered how States can work together to mobilize resources and adopt policies to address these and other concerns.
The representative of Israel said water is the single most important component of human development. As such, Israel has taken many steps in that regard, including recycling water and using innovative environmentally friendly desalination technology, and stands ready to share its knowledge with other nations.
The representative of Romania shared his country’s experience, saying that to ensure universal access to safe drinking water it is necessary to increase infrastructure investments and to educate the population regarding the importance of protecting water resources.
Participating in the discussion were representatives of Sweden, Mexico, Kenya, Finland, Indonesia, France, Russian Federation, Senegal, Austria, El Salvador, Switzerland, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, Estonia and South Africa, as well as the European Union.
Representatives of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources also spoke, as did a representative of the major group for workers and trade unions.