Report of the Secretary-General: A. Promotion of sustained economic growth and sustainable development

Solar farmer working with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), cleans a row of solar panels b of UNIFIL’s facilities in Naqoura, Lebanon. © UN Photo/Pasqual Gorriz

This reporting period marked the end of one era in the quest for sustainable development and the beginning of a new and even more promising phase in which there is a real chance for us to eliminate poverty, inequality and exclusion in all corners of the world. The global mobilization behind the Millennium Development Goals helped to lift more than 1 billion people out of extreme poverty, to make inroads against hunger, to enable more girls to attend school than ever before and to protect our planet. They generated new and innovative partnerships, galvanized public opinion and showed the immense value of setting ambitious goals. Yet the landmark commitment entered into by world leaders in the year 2000 — to “spare no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty” — was not fully achieved by the 2015 deadline.

Inequalities persist and progress has been uneven across regions, among and within countries, leaving millions of people behind. This is especially true where violence is reversing or impeding advances in development. The dramatic upsurge and relapse of conflicts in the past decade tremendously reduced the gains that were made. At a time of growing polarization and crises, a new era for sustainable development was needed. The experiences and evidence from the efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals demonstrated that we know what to do, but also indicated a need for deeper approaches that can tackle root causes and do more to integrate the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. 

1. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development 

On 25 September 2015, world leaders gathered in New York to adopt the historic 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda is the product of one of the most inclusive and holistic processes in United Nations history. As the global framework for the next 15 years and a promise by Member States to “leave no one behind”, it encapsulates the global vision of the world we want to live in.

The Agenda is anchored on 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These goals commit all countries and stakeholders to (1) ending poverty in all its forms everywhere; (2) ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture; (3) ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages; (4) ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all; (5) achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls; (6) ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; (7) ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy for all; (8) promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all; (9) building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation; (10) reducing inequality within and among countries; (11) making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; (12) ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns; (13) taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; (14) conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development; (15) protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably managing forests, combating desertification, and halting and reversing land degradation and halting biodiversity loss; (16) promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels; and, finally, (17) strengthening the means of implementation and revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development. The Goals are accompanied by 169 targets.

This is an ambitious agenda, integrating the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, and addressing human rights and the interconnected root causes of poverty, hunger, pandemics, inequalities, environmental degradation, climate change, forced migrations, violence and extremism. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was built upon and expanded on the lessons learned from the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed commitments. It is reinforced by and reinforces several other global agreements reached in 2015 and the reporting period, including the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 aims to guide management of disaster risk in development at all levels. It focuses on preventing new and reducing existing disaster risk through proactive measures and investments across all sectors, including education, health, agriculture, water and energy. The focus on increasing the number of countries with national and local disaster risk-reduction strategies by 2020 is a clear opportunity to complement national planning under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

These mutually reinforcing agendas represent a new departure. The challenge now lies in implementation. This cannot be achieved by any actor alone. Ambition at the global level needs to translate to action by all communities and nations, on the basis of locally owned, gender-responsive implementation strategies. The systematic integration of a gender perspective into national sustainable development plans, strategies and budgets needs to be a priority. Governments must drive the process. They must show leadership and ownership and align policies, legislation and resources with the Sustainable Development Goals. Tapping into the synergies among the goals will help to fast-track implementation. In this vein, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda commits countries to set the necessary policies and regulatory frameworks and it incentivizes changes in consumption, production and investment patterns. The Action Agenda also reiterates that the fulfilment of all official development assistance (ODA) commitments remains crucial and stresses the role of ODA in catalysing additional resource mobilization from public and private sources. It also welcomes the increased contribution of South-South cooperation to sustainable development.

Special efforts will be needed in the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries and the small island developing States. These countries, along with conflict-affected States, represent segments of the global community that face the biggest constraints on sustainable economic growth and development. While national leadership and ownership are critical, these countries depend on global partnerships for financial resources, policy advice and technical assistance. The Istanbul Programme of Action, the political declaration adopted at the midterm review of the Programme of Action, the Vienna Programme of Action and the Samoa Pathway are compacts that address the challenges and opportunities of these groups of countries. These dedicated programmes of action complement Agenda 2030. The Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries, to be operational in 2017, has the potential to strengthen national capabilities and provide expertise to least developed countries to achieve internationally agreed development goals.

Financing will also be key to implementation. The Economic and Social Council forum on financing for development was a key first step in this regard. As an input to that important discussion, the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development produced a report that maps the more than 300 commitments and action items contained in the Addis Agenda, including the means of implementation targets for the Sustainable Development Goals. It creates a monitoring framework and presents data sources and tools to monitor their implementation in future years. Another important input was the first Global Infrastructure Forum, held by the multilateral development banks in Washington, D.C.

Implementation — and accountability for implementation — will also falter without quality, accessible and timely data. The Statistical Commission of the Economic and Social Council has agreed on a global indicator framework. The implementation of an indicator framework for monitoring and assessing progress will present a challenge in many countries, and national statistical capacities will have to be strengthened. At its forty-sixth session, the Statistical Commission established the High-level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to provide strategic leadership for statistical monitoring and reporting of the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The data revolution is an important enabler for the global indicator framework. The Statistical Commission is already working towards the organization of a United Nations World Data Forum at the end of 2016 to strengthen the dialogue with a broad range of partners and stakeholders.

In view of the adoption of Agenda 2030, the annual annex to the present report entitled “Millennium Development Goals, targets and indicators: statistical tables” has been discontinued. In its place, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 70/1, paragraph 83, there will be an annual progress report on Agenda 2030 based on a global indicator framework to inform the high-level political forum. An annex entitled “Sustainable Development Goals, targets and indicators: statistical tables” will be included in that progress report. 

2. The need for action on climate change 

This reporting period saw a new sense of urgency as well as new hope for the most existential quest of our time, to combat climate change and reverse its effects where we can. Climate change represents the greatest threat to achieving sustainable development and the eradication of extreme poverty. The year 2015 was the warmest since modern record-keeping began. The five-year period 2011-2015 was the warmest on record. Carbon dioxide levels — the primary driver of climate change — surpassed 400 parts per million globally for the first time in recorded history. The science is crystal clear. So too are the increasingly visible effects in people’s lives. Each year, we see increasing evidence of the effects, particularly on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. From the highly vulnerable island nations in the Pacific to the drought-stricken areas throughout the Horn of Africa, impacts of climate change are undermining the ability of developing countries to achieve sustainable development and in some cases threatening their very survival. Action on climate will reinforce action on sustainable development. Investments made under the climate agenda are investments in development. Global cooperation across all sectors of society is essential for meeting this challenge.

The reporting period witnessed the culmination of a 10-year effort on my part to contribute to the successful conclusion of an ambitious climate agreement. After the successful conclusion of my Climate Summit in 2014 in New York and the twentieth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima, I set two main objectives: to mobilize political will towards finalizing a new agreement in Paris at the end of 2015 and to catalyse ambitious action on the ground to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience. The engagement of Heads of State and Government during 2015 was also essential to finalizing an ambitious agreement. To that end, I convened leaders on two occasions to galvanize engagement at the highest levels in the lead-up to the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties in Paris. These encounters resulted in a broad consensus among key countries and provided strong impetus for an agreement in Paris.

The adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 and the high-level signature ceremony for the Paris Agreement, on 22 April 2016, capped a remarkable year of multilateral achievements for people and the planet. It demonstrated the real commitment and ambition of all countries around the globe to mitigate climate change by reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by and beyond 2020, and provides a solid foundation for the climate-resilient transformation of the global economy in a manner that is sensitive to human rights and gender equality.

Now it is critical to translate commitment into action. This transformation will help to secure a future that is safer, healthier and more prosperous for all. Action at every level, from the local to the global, must accelerate. We have no time to waste, and much to gain, by moving quickly down a lower-carbon pathway. Climate finance is critical for catalysing action on the ground and for building political trust. The definition of a politically credible trajectory for achieving the goal of $100 billion per year by 2020, and the full operationalization of the Green Climate Fund and the approval of its first projects by the Board of the Fund in November 2015, were crucial for the successful outcome in Paris.

Successful climate action is a multifaceted global challenge. Recognizing the importance of resilience and adaptive capacity, I also launched a new global initiative on climate resilience: A2R (Anticipate, Absorb, Reshape). A2R is a multi‑stakeholder partnership that focuses on accelerating action to strengthen climate resilience prior to 2020, particularly for the most vulnerable countries and people.