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Sustainable Development Goals

UN’s Development Goals: Rich Nations Lead While World’s Poor Lag Far Behind

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 17 2024 (IPS) - When the 193-member UN General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution, back in September 2015, the goals were highly ambitious: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, eliminate inequalities, protect human rights, promote gender empowerment and ensure economic, social and environmental development—and much more.

The deadline for achieving these targets was set for 2030.

But nine years after the resolution—and six years ahead of 2030—the SDGs are mostly far behind, particularly among the world’s developing nations.

And the targeted goals are like a mirage in a parched desert: the more you get closer, the further it moves away from you.

According to the UN, the implementation of the SDGs has been mostly undermined by the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, the devastating impact of the ongoing climate crises, rising debt burdens, the growing military conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, and the rash of civil wars in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, triggering unprecedented humanitarian crises and resulting in a setback to economic progress worldwide.

As a result, there is a demand that the unattainable 2030 deadline be extended by world political leaders meeting in New York on September 22–23 for a much-ballyhooed Summit of the Future.

Meanwhile a new report on SDGs released June 17, is considered especially timely amidst deep climate crises, declining multilateralism, and ahead of the “Summit of the Future,” as it provides a new Index of countries’ support for UN-based multilateralism, identifies priorities to upgrade the United Nations (endorsed by 100+ leading scientists and practitioners worldwide), and illustrates new pathways demonstrating how to achieve sustainable food and land systems by mid-century.

According to the 9th edition of the Sustainable Development Report (SDR) released by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), none of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are on track to be achieved by 2030, and only an estimated 16% of the SDG targets are progressing.

The report was prepared by the SDSN’s SDG Transformation Center and coordinated by Guillaume Lafortune in cooperation with Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs. Since 2016, the global edition of the SDR has provided the most up-to-date data to track and rank the performance of all UN member states on the SDGs.

Globally, the five SDG targets on which the highest proportion of countries show a reversal of progress since 2015 include: obesity rate (under SDG 2), press freedom (under SDG 16), the red list index (under SDG 15), sustainable nitrogen management (under SDG 2), and – due in a large part to the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors that may vary across countries, life expectancy at birth (under SDG 3).

Goals and targets related to basic access to infrastructure and services, including SDG9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), show slightly more positive trends, although progress remains too slow and uneven across countries.

Additional key insights include:

  • Barbados ranks the highest in its commitment to UN-based multilateralism on a new Index; the United States ranks last.
  • SDG targets related to food and land systems are particularly off-track. Globally, 600 million people will still suffer from hunger by 2030, while obesity is on the rise.

Danielle Nierenberg, President and Founder, Food Tank, told IPS: “I think this report finds that there is a lack of political will to achieve the SDGs—most nations are not investing enough in food and agriculture or farmers.”

She said policymakers have their heads in the sand and need to realize the urgency of investing in solutions that help farmers, eaters, and food businesses.

“We need more investment in food system transformation that actually meets the needs of food producers and achieves a planet-friendly diet—foods that are nutrient dense, resilient to climate change, delicious, and accessible and affordable,” said Nierenberg.

Frederic Mousseau, Oakland Institute’s Policy Director, told IPS: “This new report is yet another alert that we urgently need to take decisive action on food and agriculture.”

“The world already produces over twice as much food as we need to feed the population. However, over half of the food harvested goes into agrofuels and animal feed, with massive detrimental impacts on the environment, biodiversity, and our health.”

Agrochemical corporations and governments, he said, continue to tell us that “we need to increase food production to feed the world, using more land and fossil-fuel based industrial agriculture.”

“The truth is that we actually need to produce less food. We must drastically curb the amount of commodities used for animal feed and agrofuels and phase out the use of polluting chemicals for agricultural  production,” he declared.

According to the SDSN report, the pace of SDG progress varies significantly across country groups. Nordic countries continue to lead on SDG achievement, with BRICS demonstrating strong progress and poor and vulnerable nations lagging far behind.

Similar to past years, European countries, notably Nordic countries, top the 2024 SDG Index. Finland ranks number 1 on the SDG Index, followed by Sweden (#2), and Denmark (#3), plus Germany (#4) and France (#5).

Yet, even these countries face significant challenges in achieving several SDGs.

Average SDG progress in BRICS (Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa) and BRICS+ (Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates) since 2015 has been faster than the world average.

In addition, East and South Asia has emerged as the region that has made the most SDG progress since 2015. By contrast, the gap between the world average SDG Index and the performance of the poorest and most vulnerable countries, including Small Island Developing States (SIDS), has widened since 2015.

In addition to the SDG Index, this year’s edition includes a new Index of countries’ support for UN-based multilateralism covering all 193 UN Member States and new FABLE pathways demonstrating how to achieve sustainable food and land systems by mid-century.

Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, President of the SDSN and a lead author of the report, says: “Midway between the founding of the UN in 1945 and the year 2100, we cannot rely on business as usual. The world faces great global challenges, including dire ecological crises, widening inequalities, disruptive and potentially hazardous technologies, and deadly conflicts, we are at a crossroads.”

“Ahead of the UN’s Summit of the Future, the international community must take stock of the vital accomplishments and the limitations of the United Nations system and work toward upgrading multilateralism for the decades ahead.”

IPS UN Bureau Report


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