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

A UN-backed programme in Azerbaijan brings better water and sanitation services to rural parts of the country.

A UN-backed programme in Azerbaijan brings better water and sanitation services to rural parts of the country., by World Bank/Allison Kwesell

The Millennium Development Goals

Experience with the Millennium Development Goals has shown the value of a clear, collective vision for galvanizing action, combined with focused targets for measuring progress. We have made enormous progress. Several targets have been met (see annex). The global extreme poverty rate has been halved and continues to decline. More children than ever are attending primary school. Child deaths have dropped dramatically. About 2.6 billion people gained access to an improved drinking water source. Targeted investments in fighting malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis have saved millions. Coherent national policies aligned to global agreements have resulted in progress in combating both non-communicable and acute diseases.

Significant gaps remain, however, including in improving maternal and reproductive health, achieving gender equality, achieving full and productive employment especially for women and youth, stemming the alarming global rate of deforestation, and accelerating progress across the board in least developed countries. In many cases, these lags have been mutually reinforcing. For example, gender equality and empowerment of women are preconditions for overcoming poverty, hunger and disease, but progress towards Goal 3 has been slow on many fronts. Deforestation exacerbates greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and undermines the attainment of other targets, since forest resources contribute to poverty eradication, food security and the distribution of wealth, especially for the rural poor. The measurement of regional and national averages can mask large differences across and within regions and countries. Advances in many areas often bypass the poor and the most vulnerable. Policies and interventions will be needed to eliminate the persistent or even increasing inequalities between the rich and the poor, between rural and urban areas, and to improve the conditions of those disadvantaged by gender, age, disability, ethnicity, or geographic location, and those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, such as women and girls.

Member States are addressing these issues through the negotiations on financing for development and the sustainable development goals. Further, the non legally binding instrument on all types of forests and the global objectives on forests must be implemented, as must the outcome document of the first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, held in September 2014, and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. To accelerate progress towards gender equality, urgent action will be needed in the six priority areas agreed to by Member States during the 20 year review of the Beijing Platform for Action. After 10 years, Member States are reviewing the implementation of the 10 targets for connectivity and 18 Action Lines adopted by the World Summit on the Information Society to monitor implementation of its core vision: a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented information society.

Bolder and more focused action is also needed to accelerate progress in the least developed countries. If recommended by the High-level Panel of Experts on the feasibility study, a technology bank for the least developed countries will be operationalized during the seventieth session of the General Assembly. The comprehensive high-level midterm review of the implementation of the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, to be held in Turkey in June 2016, will provide an important opportunity to strengthen the global partnership for structural transformation and rapid poverty reduction in the least developed countries. Many least developed countries still depend heavily on official development assistance (ODA) as the primary source of external and public financing and, while overall flows may be stable, flows to the poorest countries are still falling, the distribution among those countries has been uneven and the impact has not always been as successful as envisaged. Only 5 of the 29 members of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have met the United Nations ODA target of 0.7 per cent of their gross national income, while 9 meet the lower bound of the target by providing more than 0.15 per cent of their gross national income as ODA to the least developed countries.

The average tariff applied by developed countries to developing country exports has decreased notably, but tariff peaks and tariff escalation continue to impede developing countries’ access to developed country markets. Despite debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative, several HIPC countries are again approaching moderate to high levels of debt distress, some small States face significant debt sustainability challenges, and some developed countries also face severe debt overhangs. While some lower-middle-income countries have begun to access international capital markets for the first time, when interest rates rise globally some of these countries will be unable to refinance their borrowings, running the risk of a new crisis.

Monitoring progress towards the Millennium Development Goals has led to the strengthening of statistical systems to enable the provision of quality data. However, data gaps, data quality issues, compliance with methodological standards, lack of disaggregated data that allow for monitoring of progress by age, sex and other social categories, and lack of geospatial information have been major challenges. Considerable effort and investment will be needed to build a solid data and information and communications technology infrastructure to support the new sustainable development agenda until 2030.

Landlocked developing countries have continued to face important challenges, but have nevertheless made tangible progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in reducing the proportion of people living in extreme poverty. The Vienna Programme of Action for the Decade 2014-2024, adopted at the Second United Nations Conference on Landlocked Developing Countries in November 2014, aims to address the special development needs and challenges arising from landlockedness, remoteness and geographical constraints.

Small island developing States also continue to be among those most exposed to exogenous shocks and disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as sea level rise and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events. In September 2014, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States adopted the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway. As 2014 was the International Year of Small Island Developing States, many awareness-raising and other activities were conducted throughout the year.

Sustainable development

The year 2015 provides an unprecedented opportunity to put the world on a sustainable development path. The post-2015 development and climate processes, which ultimately aim to eradicate poverty, improve people’s lives, and rapidly transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy, are mutually reinforcing: when acted on together, they can provide prosperity and security for present and future generations.

This new agenda aims to address both existing and emerging challenges. Growing global inequality, increasing exposure to natural hazards, rapid urbanization, new patterns of migration, and the overconsumption of energy and natural resources by some threaten to drive disaster risk to dangerous levels with systemic global impacts. Annual economic losses from disasters are estimated at an average of $250-300 billion. As underscored by the ambitious Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, adopted at the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March 2015, investing in risk reduction pays high dividends while saving lives.

By building and expanding on the lessons learned from the experience of the Millennium Development Goalsand other internationally agreed commitments, the post-2015 development agenda will chart development efforts, for the next 15 years and beyond, in pursuit of poverty eradication and sustainable development in its social, economic and environmental dimensions. It will be an agenda to improve people’s lives and realize their human rights, in full harmony with nature. In a new departure, it will be a universal agenda entailing national and global responsibilities for all countries. Each and every country will have a responsibility towards its own citizens and towards the international community for implementing this agenda. The inclusion of all stakeholders in the implementation of the post-2015 agenda, including monitoring and review, is of the utmost importance to ensure ownership at all levels.

The proposed 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets developed by the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable Development Goals will be at the heart of the post-2015 development agenda. They are ambitious. They have the potential to transform societies and mobilize people and countries. They integrate the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals and go beyond them by addressing inequality, new challenges and structural issues such as climate change, sustainable economic growth, productive capacities, peace and security and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. They take a proactive approach to achieving gender equality. They capture the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development in a balanced way. They also spell out means of implementation under each specific goal and in one stand-alone goal on the global partnership, bringing together Governments, civil society and other actors for a truly integrated approach to international development for people and planet.

The elaboration of the agenda has engaged Governments and non-State actors. The Open Working Group produced a focused and ambitious outcome. It crafted a new way of working, with small groups of Member States sharing seats. I welcome this willingness on the part of Member States to try new ideas and approaches. It was also the most inclusive and “bottom-up” of processes, involving unprecedented numbers of stakeholders. These discussions have confirmed the importance of the United Nations as a global convening institution for sustainable development. Through their recent main themes of drawing lessons from the Millennium Development Goals and managing the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the sustainable development goals, the 2014 and 2015 cycles of the Economic and Social Council have supported Member States through substantive policy guidance in the transformative shift to the universal post-2015 development agenda. The high-level political forum, which met this past year again under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, reflected on the implications of the new universal and transformative agenda, and on how best to ensure its implementation and track progress, including through the forum’s role to review and follow-up on the post-2015 development agenda. The integration segment, which focused on the theme “Achieving sustainable development through employment creation and decent work for all”, also helped in generating ideas for policy integration. This is going to be the new key feature of the Economic and Social Council. On the basis of this positive foundation, I am confident that the intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda will produce a solid and universal agenda, to be adopted at the summit at United Nations Headquarters in September 2015.

Implementation of the post-2015 development agenda will require renewed efforts by all Governments to strengthen public institutions by enhancing their responsiveness and accountability in order to meet growing demands on service delivery, as set forth in the proposed goals and targets. Governments must therefore be ready to innovate and develop effective, accountable, participatory and transparent institutions at all levels, to ensure efficient and effective use of public resources for the services and benefits of all citizens, particularly women and girls and marginalized groups.

To be realized, these goals must be matched by an equally ambitious agreement on financing for development, technology facilitation and capacity-building, and by a universal and ambitious climate change agreement. New ways must be found to mobilize and allocate financial resources and other means of implementation such as information and communications technologies more effectively. Only by making progress on these tracks together can we achieve a better future for humanity.

On 13 July, I joined with Heads of State and other high-ranking Government officials, the heads of international organizations, business leaders, non governmental organizations and prominent academics for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, at which Member States adopted the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as the outcome document. The Action Agenda establishes a strong foundation to support implementation of the post-2015 development agenda including the sustainable development goals. It provides a new global framework for financing sustainable development. It includes a policy agenda that incentivizes a shift in investment towards areas of global need, and that aligns all financing flows and policies with economic, social and environmental priorities. It contains agreement on a comprehensive set of policy actions by Member States, with a package of over 100 concrete measures that are related to all sources of public, private, national and international finance, trade, debt, systemic issues, science, technology, innovation and capacity-building. The Action Agenda also serves as a guide for actions by the private sector, civil society, and philanthropic organizations. Deliverables announced at the sidelines of the Conference, along with additional initiatives to be launched in the coming months, will further contribute to reaching our global goals. Together, they should support a revitalized and strengthened global partnership for sustainable development. The Action Agenda also strengthens data, monitoring and follow-up for the financing for development process. It establishes an annual Financing for Development Forum as part of the Economic and Social Council, with intergovernmentally agreed conclusions and recommendations that will feed into the high-level political forum.

During the dialogue in the Economic and Social Council on the longer-term positioning of the United Nations development system, Governments sought to ensure a coherent approach in responding to the new and emerging challenges that the United Nations system will face while implementing the post-2015 development agenda. The dialogue analysed the interlinkages between functions, funding, governance, organizational arrangements, capacity, impact and partnership approaches and explored ideas for further analysis and action to make the United Nations development system fit to deliver the new agenda.

In addition to new sustainable development goals, Member States have a historic opportunity to finalize a meaningful, universal climate agreement in Paris in December 2015. In so doing, we will build a safer, healthier, more equitable world for present and future generations. To that end, the Climate Summit I hosted on 23 September 2014 created strong political momentum and advanced solutions to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience. At the Summit, more than 100 Heads of State or Government and 800 leaders from finance, business and civil society announced significant new actions on forests, energy, transport, cities and other key issues. Public and private sector leaders pledged to mobilize over $200 billion in climate finance by the end of 2015 to finance low-carbon, climate-resilient growth.

Governments made important strides at the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Lima in 2014, launching the Lima-Paris Action Agenda to expand climate partnerships, and pledging $10 billion to initially capitalize the Green Climate Fund. The task now is to ensure that projects are approved and that funds are disbursed as soon as possible to where they are needed most.

The Lima Work Programme on Gender was also adopted, with the aims, inter alia, of increasing awareness and capacity to address the gender dimensions of climate change, improving women’s participation and ensuring that climate policies and measures are gender responsive.

Progress is still needed on several fronts, however. Climate finance is critical for catalysing action and building political trust. Developed countries must define a politically credible trajectory for achieving the goal of $100 billion per year by 2020 announced in 2009 in Copenhagen. Adaptation and resilience efforts must be strengthened and supported, especially in the small island developing States and the least developed countries. All countries should submit ambitious national contributions that detail how they will address climate change in the post-2020 period.

Action must accelerate at every level, from the local to the global. We have no time to waste, and much to gain by moving quickly down a lower-carbon pathway. All countries must be part of the solution if we are to stay within the global temperature rise threshold of 2°C. Working together, we can turn the climate challenge into a powerful opportunity to reduce poverty and inequality, strengthen sustainable growth, improve public health and promote sustainable development.