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UN Releases Progress Report on Goals for a Sustainable World

With Agenda 2030 well under way, Ban Ki-moon calls on countries to act

H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, addresses the Ministerial Segment of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals (UN Photo Manuel Elias)

As Ban Ki-moon introduces The Sustainable Development Goals Report of 2016, the United Nations considers the first seven months of Agenda 2030, and looks forward to the next steps in implementing its goals. As countries are called upon to share data and present their progress, success hinges upon their cooperation

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As of January 1, 2016, a global strategy was officially put into action, created to address dire climate and developmental obstacles that the world currently faces. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by all 193 member states of the United Nations, and is comprised of 17 major goals. To name a few, these goals tackled issues such as ending hunger, achieving gender equality, ensuring access to energy, and making cities sustainable. As explained in a July 20th press conference detailing the first progress report on the agenda, these goals are understood to be quite broad by all participating countries, so to ensure that actions are taken, and progress is made, 230 separate indicators have been created and agreed upon by the UN Statistical commission, all meant to address different facets of these goals and ensure their completion.

The first report on the topic, released on the 19th of July, 2016, was not as much meant to illustrate progress as to establish a baseline for future achievement in the plan. As seven months of action is an incredibly small window of time for countries to implement changes, instead the report and press conference focused on how the adopted indicators can be utilized in the future, and the most pressing issues which countries across the globe are currently facing. This isn’t to say that in the seven months since its adoption that the Agenda hasn’t experienced any success- several instances of progress were cited, such as improved access to mobile phones and internet in developing countries, which allows people to access an enormous range of services which can increase quality of life. However, it was stressed by presenters of the plan that even successes such as this are only the first step in the right direction- using this specific example, the progression of this goal would see high speed connection and third generation technology also reaching those who live in developing countries, and specifically rural environments. Indeed, there’s a long way to go, as the data given in the report shows that currently, about one in eight people still live in extreme poverty, nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger, 2.4 billion people live without improved sanitation, and 1.1 billion people live without electricity in 2012. Despite this, as steps in the right direction are being made, the international community stands hopeful that this agenda could bring about major changes.

The overarching message of this specific press conference, and the report overall, was not to convey progress but to spread the word on how this progress will be achieved. Ensuring that children are registered at birth was placed as a high priority, for if a child isn’t registered in a government’s system, this puts them at an immediate disadvantage for receiving even the most basic forms of assistance. (Currently, 1 in 2 children have not been registered by their 5th birthday in less developed countries.) Conveying and sharing data was also emphasized over and over, for future progress on these goals will be evaluated using data and statistics from governments and intergovernmental agencies. If the correct information is not given, progress reports could potentially be misinformed, countering the effectiveness of Agenda 2030. The release of this first report was partially in preparation for the 47th Session of the UN Statistical Commission, who will no doubt use the report as a tool to evaluate the comprehensive set of indicators which they proposed to the international community. While this body of evaluation guidelines has not yet been approved by ECOSOC or the General Assembly, it is the expectation that they will be agreed upon, and will be vital tools in ensuring that Agenda 2030 is met with substantial and tangible progress. “We have embarked on a monumental and historic journey,” (see video at minute 00:10) the Secretary General stated to the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, as he introduced the report on July 19th. And indeed, while for now at least reports of progress are minute, the potential which the plan holds- if implemented properly- is vast.

segolene royal

Segolene Royal, French minister of Environment, talks to the journalists (UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe)

It’s vital to note that, for now at least, participation in Agenda 2030 is completely voluntary. At the July 20th press conference, given by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs representatives Mr. Thomas Gass (Assistant Secretary- General for Policy Coordination and Inter- Agency Affairs) and Ms. Francesca Perucci, (Chief of the Statistical Services Branch in the Statistics Division) a question was posed asking if individual countries will be required in the future to report on their progress, and on steps they are making. “We hope it will become such a [part of] culture that everyone will participate,” (video: minute 36:50) Mr. Gass said. This sentiment seemed to be echoing a desire which the Secretary General expressed yesterday, when he said that “We must all learn, in national governments, in local authorities, in business and civil society, and also at the United Nations, to think differently…” This year, 22 countries will share their experiences with the Agenda so far in voluntary national reviews- these are gatherings which governments can voluntarily call to present what they are doing to implement policies to further the 17 SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda is only one of the recent pieces of major policy drafted in the past year to create a more sustainable world- three months later, The Paris Conference of Parties on Climate Change produced great success, ending with the adoption of the first global agreement on climate change. This agreement outlined a rather ambitious goal: to reduce global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. The woman who spearheaded this initiative, COP president Ségolène Royal, Minister of the Environment, Energy and Marine Affairs of France, spoke at a media stakeout following a discussion with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in which the two discussed the next steps in implementing the agreement. Over 177 countries have signed the agreement, but the next step lies in them depositing their instruments of ratification with the United Nations. (So far, only 19 states have done so.) In her address to the press, Ms. Royal, stressed the next steps that needed to happen for the agreement to enter into force, saying that both she and the Secretary General wanted the agreement ratified by the time that COP22 (the next meeting for global climate talks) begins, on November 7th. We understood the climate emergency, we have a moral obligation between the Paris Agreement signed on April twentieth , and now [the nearing] of the month of November, [that will ensure that] at least 55 countries, [who have] 55% of greenhouse gas emissions… ratify the Paris agreement.” (For more information on the ratification process, click here.

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