Refocused commitment needed to ensure sustainable future for all

Over the past 17 weeks, this series has drawn attention to the current status of the United Nations’ pursuit of a better and more sustainable future for the world and its people.

The series provided valuable and thought-provoking insights into the specific aims and targets of each of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). Furthermore, it examined and shed light on the intricate ways in which current global crises, whether environmental, social, or economic, impact the progress towards achieving each noble goal.

In addition, it succinctly highlighted the various ongoing challenges being encountered and the need for immediate collaborative efforts and out-of-the-box thinking to ensure that the desired goals are not just achieved but achieved in a meaningful and sustainable manner.

Focusing on the sustainable development goals and their interwoven calls to action, it is clear that while much has been achieved since 2015, more needs to be done to address ongoing global challenges.

The series drew largely on the 2022 Sustainable Development Goals Report, which drew attention to ongoing achievements and challenges. Some notable facts included:

No Poverty: End poverty in all its forms everywhere: Over four years of progress against poverty has been erased by COVID-19. The working poverty rate rose for the first time in two decades. The number of people living in extreme poverty in 2022: 657-676 million vs. 581 million pre-pandemic.

End Hunger: Achieve food security, improve nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture. One in 10 people worldwide are suffering from hunger. Nearly one in three people lack regular access to food (2020).

Good Health and Well-Being: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. COVID-19 has threatened decades of progress in global health. Tuberculosis deaths have risen for the first time since 2005.

Quality Education: Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. The COVID-19 pandemic has deepened a global learning crisis. 147 million children missed over half of in-person instruction in 2020-2021. 24 million learners may never return to school. However, many countries are improving school infrastructure as classrooms reopen.

Gender Equality: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. It would take another 40 years for women and men to be represented equally in national political leadership at the current pace. Women accounted for 45percent of global employment losses in 2020. 1 in 4 women have been subjected to intimate partner violence at least once in their lifetime.

Clean Water and Sanitation: Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The world’s water-related ecosystems are being degraded at an alarming rate. Over the past 300 years, over 85percent of the planet’s wetlands have been lost. Meeting water, sanitation and hygiene targets by 2030 require a 4x increase in the pace of progress.

Affordable and Clean Energy: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all. Impressive progress in electrification has slowed. 2.4 billion people still use inefficient and polluting cooking systems. International financial flows to developing countries for renewables have declined for the second year in a row. Progress in energy efficiency needs to speed up to achieve global climate goals.

Decent Work and Economic Growth: Promote sustained, inclusive, sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all. Global economic recovery is hampered by new waves of COVID-19, rising inflation, supply chain disruptions, policy uncertainties, and labour market challenges. One in ten children are engaged in child labour worldwide.

Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation. Global manufacturing has rebounded from the pandemic, but LCDs are left behind.

Reduced Inequalities: Reduce inequality within and among countries. The pandemic has caused a generation’s first rise in between-country income inequality. The global refugee figure hit a record high with the war in the Ukraine pushing the total even higher.

Sustainable Cities and Communities: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. Leaving no one behind will require an intensified focus on one billion slum dwellers. 99percent of the world’s urban population breathe polluted air.

Responsible Consumption and Production: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. Unsustainable consumption and production patterns cause triple planetary crises: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

Climate Action: Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. Climate change is humanity’s ‘code red’ warning. Our window to avoid climate catastrophe is closing rapidlyEnergy-related CO2 emissions increased 6percent in 2021, reaching the highest levels ever.

Life Below Water: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, sea and marine resources for sustainable development. Our ocean, the planet’s largest ecosystem, is endangered. Plastic/marine pollution, over-fishing, ocean warming, acidification and eutrophication all play a role.

Life on Land: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and biodiversity loss. Ten million hectares of forest are destroyed every year. Almost 90percent of global deforestation is due to agricultural expansion. Over 40000 species are documented to be at risk of extinction over the coming decades.

Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The world is witnessing the largest number of violent conflicts since 1946 and a quarter of the global population lives in conflict-affected countries. A record 100 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide (May 2022).

Partnerships for the Goals: Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development. Rising debt burdens threaten developing countries’ pandemic recovery.  As Secretary-General Antonio Guterres remarked on September 18  2023, at the UN General Assembly, the SDGs need a global rescue which includes stimulus support of at least “$500 billion a year as well as an effective debt-relief mechanism that supports payment suspensions, long lending terms and lower rates.”

Having a clearer understanding of the current status of each of these goals will encourage global leaders to reassess current policies and practices and explore ways that further enhance commitments to the realisation of the UNSDGs and create a better, more sustainable future for all.

To sum up, political and business leaders and policymakers must:

  1. Refocus their commitment to ensure a sustainable future for everyone.
  2. Work together to address the challenges ahead and prioritise the well-being of both people and the planet.
  3. Honour their pledges

With effective collaboration and partnerships coupled with compassion and determination, a better world can be created for future generations by adopting sustainable practices and making conscious choices.

To conclude, the passionate and determined voices of the youth and civil society are resounding across the globe, demanding immediate action to address pressing issues. As rightly pointed out by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “The youth have grown weary of empty rhetoric and endless discussions. The time has come for their pleas to be taken seriously, for disregarding their concerns would be at our own peril,” he concluded.

>>>The writer is an international chartered director and Africa’s first-ever appointed Professor Extraordinaire for Industrialisation and Supply Chain Governance. He is the CEO of PanAvest International and the founding non-executive chairman of MY-future YOUR-Future and OUR-Future (“MYO”) and the “thought-provoking” daily Nyansa Kasa(words of wisdom) series. Professor Boateng is currently the non-executive chairman of the Minerals Income and Investment Fund (MIIF). He was previously the non-executive chairman of the Public Procurement Authority (PPA). For more information on Nyansakasa, visit www.myoglobal.org and www.panavest.com

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