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Decades of progress will be undone by climate change, UN warns

15 July 2019 at 5:26 pm
Maggie Coggan
Climate change and increasing inequality are quickly reversing any progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals over the last decade, a new UN report warns.      

Maggie Coggan | 15 July 2019 at 5:26 pm


Decades of progress will be undone by climate change, UN warns
15 July 2019 at 5:26 pm

Climate change and increasing inequality are quickly reversing any progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals over the last decade, a new UN report warns.        

The SDG progress report, launched last week, said despite progress in poverty reduction, widespread immunisation, a decrease in child mortality rates and an increase in people’s access to electricity, the global response from the adoption of the SDGs had not been ambitious enough. 

The SDGs were developed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, setting out 17 global goals with the aim of eradicating world poverty and hunger by 2030.

The latest report found global hunger is on the rise after a prolonged decline, and while the number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 36 per cent in 1990 to 8.6 per cent in 2018, the pace of poverty reduction is decelerating as the world struggles to respond to entrenched deprivation, violent conflicts and vulnerabilities to natural disasters.

The report highlighted climate change as the most urgent area for action and the greatest challenge to sustainable development, labelling it the “defining issue of our time”.  

It said extreme weather conditions, more frequent and severe natural disasters, and the collapse of ecosystems were causing increased food insecurity and forcing many communities to suffer from poverty, displacement and widening inequalities. 

António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, said the natural environment was deteriorating at an alarming rate, and more action had to be taken.   

“It is abundantly clear that a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals,” Guterres said.

Dane Moores, the World Vision Australia policy manager, told Pro Bono News that if climate change wasn’t dealt with, vulnerable people would face the consequences. 

“It’s the poorer countries and populations that contribute the least to climate change, but which tend to live in places most vulnerable to climate change and in low lying areas prone to flooding or areas that rely heavily on agricultural produce,” Moores said.  

The report also pointed to the rising levels of inequality as needing urgent attention with three quarters of stunted children living in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and extreme poverty three times higher in rural areas than urban areas. 

But the report said that despite the threats, valuable opportunities existed to accelerate progress by leveraging the interlinkages across the 17 SDGs. 

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for instance, goes hand-in-hand with creating jobs, building more livable cities, and improving health and prosperity for all,” the report said. 

UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs Liu Zhenmin said the clock for taking decisive action was ticking, and solutions had to be dealt with on a global scale. 

“The challenges highlighted in this report are global problems that require global solutions. Just as problems are interrelated, the solutions to poverty, inequality, climate change and other global challenges are also interlinked,” Zhenmin said. 

Moores added that the report was a valuable wake-up call to all countries around the globe, and said that civil society, government and private groups had to better collaborate to solve the looming crisis. 

“Collective action is needed not only across countries but across sectors, because there’s a role for partnerships between governments, the private sector, and civil society,” he said.  

“Together we can make this critical decade the decade in which we end extreme poverty.” 

The UN will host summits in September where world leaders and the global community will discuss the next steps needed to tackle and deliver on the SDGs.  

“This will provide leaders everywhere with an opportunity to get the world back on track and to kick-start a decade of delivery for people and the planet,” Guterres said.

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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