United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday told those present in New York for the Sustainable Development Goals summit on the eve of the UN General Assembly that the world needs a “global rescue plan.”
A text of commitment to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – which relate to almost all aspects of politics and livelihood and are primarily aimed at ending extreme poverty and hunger – was passed unanimously on Monday.
UN member states adopted the SDGs in 2015, committing at the time to achieving them by 2030.
Prior to the 2023 summit, a group of nations led by Russia had vowed to block passages but ultimately dropped the threat.
Secretary-general Guterres said only about 15% of the goals – from eliminating extreme poverty and malnutrition, improving education and health provision, providing clean water and sanitation to all, and ensuring access to decent work and economic growth – are on track and warned that in some cases there had even been backsliding.
The UN chief said: “The SDGs aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people everywhere. In our world of plenty, hunger is a shocking stain on humanity and an epic human rights violation. It is an indictment of every one of us that millions of people are starving in this day and age.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz bemoaned the lack of progress and told those gathered Monday that developing countries expected support from wealthier nations.
Progress on many SDGs ‘stagnant or rolling backwards’
Speaking to DW about the difficulty of meeting such lofty goals, Laurel Patterson, spokesperson for the United Nations Development Programme, echoed Guterres’ concerns.
“Progress, as you’re seeing across the board, is certainly not where we expected it to be,” Patterson said. “In many cases [it is] stagnant and rolling backwards.” However, she claimed the SDGs remained “the best opportunity for us as a global community to move forward.”
Patterson pointed to poor nations spending more than twice as much of their budgets on servicing debt than on social welfare as an argument for debt cancellation.
She also said that when “fiscal space is incredibly constrained”, issues like climate change get pitted against poverty relief, for instance.
In addition, she struck a strong note of caution when it comes to what development looks like and how progress is measured. For example, when electrification spreads, she said, so does energy consumption.
“And what comes across all of our reports – 72 out of the 95 countries – is that carbon emissions are moving in the wrong direction. They’ve actually increased since 2019 and these are indeed troubling patterns.”
Despite the numbers and current trajectories, Patterson remains optimistic about the prospects of progress in New York, saying: “It’s a combination of choices, leadership, political will and investment and that’s within our hands. Those are choices that are possible for us.”
Addressing representatives from many of the 193 countries in New York to attend the General Assembly – which formally begins Tuesday and lasts one week – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “It is an indictment of every one of us that millions of people are starving in this day and age. Ultimately, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals depends on the fundamental reform of global social, economic and political relations.”