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Inclusion, empowerment and equality, must be ‘at the heart of our efforts’ to ensure sustainable development: UN chief

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, July 16: The world’s people are demanding “transformative change that is fair and sustainable,” Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday, calling on government leaders to use the upcoming slate of key United Nations meetings in September to “kickstart a decade of delivery and action for people and planet.”

His call for concrete action was the cornerstone of his address to ministers attending the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) – the main UN platform monitoring follow-up on States’ actions towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Guterres observed that the HLPF was “zeroing-in” on the power of SDG action “to support empowerment, equality and inclusion”, and urged the participants to “ratchet up the ambition and highlight the imperative of inclusion”.

“The evidence is clear: Development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive – and rising inequality hinders long-term growth,” he said.

Alongside the impacts of globalization and rapid technological change, “inequality raises economic anxiety, erodes public trust, and undermines social cohesion, human rights, peace and prosperity”, according to the UN chief.

Meanwhile, “mounting evidence” illustrates the “transformative results of equality and inclusion”, particularly of women, in higher gross domestic product, greater stability, and enhanced private sector performance and institutional effectiveness, he pointed out.

“For all these reasons, the 2030 Agenda places the goals of inclusion, empowerment and equality, leaving no one behind at the heart of our efforts”, Guterres stated.

Yet, four years after its adoption, “we are not yet on track and must step it up”, he said, citing extreme poverty, inequality, global unemployment, gender inequality and climate change, among others.

And in all these areas, he acknowledged, “the poorest and most vulnerable people and countries will suffer the most”.

The UN chief drew attention to “four key conclusions” to advance the “Inclusion Imperative”, beginning with "dramatically" scaling up SDG investments as "our best tool of prevention".

Secondly, he emphasized that “global climate action must be advanced in a manner that reduces inequality”, including by shifting to a greener economy that could create 24 million jobs globally by 2030 while safeguarding the 1.2 billion jobs that depend on a stable and healthy environment.

Next, he said that “We must step up implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration”, as people whose contribution to sustainable development, in countries of origin and destination, “is absolutely critical”.

And fourth, leaving no one behind and achieving the SDGs “is inherently linked to human rights, diplomacy and prevention”, according to the UN chief, who reinforced the need for “a strengthened global commitment to end conflicts and displacement and tackle root causes”.

He stressed that the conclusions emerging from the Forum “are rooted in the pressing need to address the Inclusion Imperative and provide us with important insights as we look ahead to September”.

In her opening remarks, Inga Rhonda King, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) summarized the first five days of the Forum, saying that countries had been mobilized around the 17 SDGs, voluntary national reviews had been shared by 142 countries, SDG progress had been tracked and children had spoken about the future they want.

While acknowledging the hard work of many countries, she contended that “we need to do more, to do it faster and to be more transformative”.

She urged the participants to “understand how we can do better, advise each other and forge new partnerships”, noting that “our conclusions will reverberate in the September SDG Summit.”

Ms. King assured the group that their ideas would be included “on how to make this Forum even more vibrant and action-oriented” during the upcoming General Assembly.

“I hope that our discussions will encourage our Heads of State and Government to come back in September ready to announce ambitious acceleration actions”, she said in closing.

“We have eleven years to deliver” on the 2030 Agenda, General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa, opening the Ministerial Segment.

“Let’s use the coming days to lay the groundwork not only for the SDG Summit, but indeed for the whole of high-level week”, she said, referring to the Assembly’s annual general debate, and adding that we have “five days to make it count”.

Ms. Espinosa underscored the import of addressing urgent challenges “as they pave the way for longer-term risks and opportunities”, including the need to be “fully inclusive” and to empower girls and women.

She detailed that she has been working with Member States to ensure their contributions to the 2030 Agenda, including the preparations for this HLPF and September’s SDG Summit.

“That has been the overarching vision and the driving force” behind the “priorities set out for this session”, she explained.

Ms. Espinosa also encouraged participants to use the September high-level week, at which time five summit-level meetings will be convened, “to be more ambitious and to announce accelerated measures and specific steps that respond to the urgency of the challenges we face”.

Those meetings “represent a key opportunity to demonstrate that multilateralism works – that it can deliver tangible benefits to people’s lives”, Ms. Espinosa spelled out.

The goals under review at the Forum focus on education, economic growth, inequality, climate change and peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

Together with the Paris Agreement on climate change, the 2030 Agenda is one of the “most important diplomatic achievements of this century”, Ireland’s former president Mary Robinson told the Forum.

Pointing out that both concluded in 2015, she called them “tangible proof of the benefits of multilateralism and a rebuke to the narrow agendas of nationalism, isolationism and self-interest”.

If implemented in full, the Chair of the Elders – a group of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela who work for human rights and a sustainable future – maintained they are “a pathway to a world where poverty, inequality and conflict will not blight the life chances for millions of people currently denied the opportunity to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms”.

Noting the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, she reminded the meeting that staying at or below 1.5°C warming above pre-industrial standards was “the only safe level for the whole world” because warming to 2°C would “cause considerable risk to the planet”.

“We can no longer afford to regard the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Climate Agreement as voluntary”, flagged Ms. Robinson, citing a UN report in May detailing the loss of biodiversity and potential extinction of one million species.

She stressed that the full implementation of both reports has become imperative “to secure a liveable world for our children and grandchildren”.

“We have a global crisis and we must treat it as such”, she stated, saying that the HLPF “provides an opportunity to take an honest look at what all States have achieved and what more we need to do on the SDGs, so that when world leaders convene in New York in September for the SDG Summit, they can come with more than just words”.

A former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Ms. Robinson underscored the importance of working together, saying: “We will not overcome the key existential challenges facing our world today, from nuclear weapons to climate change, if we spurn cooperation”.

“This High-Level Political Forum is a moment to be bold and to demand real ambition from leaders”, she asserted, adding that “playing safe or doing business as usual will not deliver the results the world needs”.

Delivering the final keynote speech, IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee stated that “climate action and sustainable development are inseparable” and presented three points of linkages between the two.

First, he flagged that “the current warming is already producing negative impacts on natural and human systems, seriously impeding progress toward some SDGs”.

Second, he noted the “ambitious” climate goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius “creates a trade-off for some SDGs and balancing the goals will be a challenge”.

And finally, he detailed that while climate actions produce “new opportunities for the economy, environment and society”, they are contingent upon “international cooperation, with social justice and equity being core aspects of climate-resilient development pathways”.

Lee informed the HLPF that currently, the global average temperature is one degree Celsius higher than the preindustrial level, noting, however, that “the warming is not uniform”.

“Most land regions are experiencing warming greater than this one-degree average”, he said, spotlighting that “the Arctic temperature is two to three times higher”.

Moreover, he conveyed that “up to 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas where the warming already exceeds 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level for at least one season”, which has caused notable disruptions in human livelihoods.

In summary, Lee advocated for collective efforts “at all levels”, to limit global warming to 1.5C, which should take into account equity and effectiveness, “to strengthen the global response to climate change and achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication”.

“The result will be a cleaner, sustainable, more productive, and stronger global economy”, he concluded.

According to IPCC, by limiting warming to 1.5 degrees rather than 2 degrees C, we will have:
50 per cent fewer people exposed to water shortage.
50 per cent less impact on insects, plants and vertebrates in their climatically determined geographic range.
10 million fewer people exposed to the risk of sea level rise.
Ten-fold decrease in the risk of the sea ice free Arctic in the summer.
One-third reduction in the risk of decline in crop yields

The number of possible partners on the Global Goals journey are “legion”, according to the SDG Advocate, including bankers and investments bankers, insurance companies and pension providers “who are starting to see that sustainable investment can be profitable and will be the key to financing the future of the Goals”.

Singling out rising global hunger, greenhouse gas emissions and lack of essential health services, his next key word “urgency” pressed for a harder focus on all SDG targets, “to exploit their deadlines”.

“They make urgency real and tactile and measurable”, Mr. Curtis stressed. “That’s what they’re for”.

His third word was “opportunity”.

“This is what the Goals give us”, he said, “a unique opportunity”.

The SDG roadmap can guide us, “negotiated with the passion and determination and imagination” to end inequality and injustice, he argued.

In closing he said “now” was the moment “to go for broke with deep urgency, with radical partnerships and with a sense of this unique human opportunity.”

“And you are the generation of people with power in the United Nations and power in every country in the world, who could and must make it happen”, concluded the SDG envoy.

Screenwriter for Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Bridget Jones's Diary, among others, SDG Advocate and renowned filmmaker Richard Curtis delivered a keynote speech underscoring that the UN “carries their hopes and dreams for a better world”.

He selected “three key words” surrounding the SDGs, beginning with partnership.

“There are so many possible partners for the Goals”, Mr. Curtis said. “No-one denies we’re all in a boat on a wild sea” with everyone’s skills available: “Some to build the boat, some to guide it, some to row the boat, some when the boat sinks, like [Syrian swimmer] Yusra Mardini, to grab the ropes and swim the boat to safety”.

820 million people suffering from hunger: UN report

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, July 15: After nearly a decade of progress, the number of people who suffer from hunger has slowly increased over the past three years, with about one in every nine people globally suffering from hunger today, the United Nations said in a new report released on Monday.

This fact underscores “the immense challenge” to achieving the Zero Hunger target of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, according to the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019.

The report, launched on the margins of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) – the main UN platform monitoring follow-up on States’ actions on the SDGs – currently under way in New York, breaks down statistics by region, and shows that hunger has risen almost 20 per cent in Africa’s subregions, areas which also have the greatest prevalence of undernourishment.

Although the pervasiveness of hunger in Latin America and the Caribbean is still below seven per cent, it is slowly increasing. And in Asia, undernourishment affects 11 per cent of the population. Although southern Asia saw great progress over the last five years, at almost 15 per cent, it is still the subregion with the highest prevalence of undernourishment.

“Our actions to tackle these troubling trends will have to be bolder, not only in scale but also in terms of multisectoral collaboration,” the heads of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) urged in their joint foreword to the report.

Hunger is increasing in many countries where economic growth is lagging, particularly in middle-income countries and those that rely heavily on international primary commodity trade.

The annual UN report also found that income inequality is rising in many of the countries where hunger is on the rise, making it even more difficult for the poor, vulnerable or marginalized to cope with economic slowdowns and downturns.

“We must foster pro-poor and inclusive structural transformation focusing on people and placing communities at the centre to reduce economic vulnerabilities and set ourselves on track to ending hunger, food insecurity and all forms of malnutrition,” the UN leaders said.

This year’s edition of the report takes a broader look at the impact of food insecurity – beyond hunger.

It introduces, for the first time, a second indicator for monitoring Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Target 2.1 on the Prevalence of Moderate or Severe Food Insecurity that shows that 17.2 per cent of the world’s population, or 1.3 billion people, lacked regular access to “nutritious and sufficient food”.

“Even if they were not necessarily suffering from hunger, they are at greater risk of various forms of malnutrition and poor health”, according to the report.

The combination of moderate and severe levels of food insecurity brings the estimate to about two billion people, where in every continent, women are slightly more food insecure than men.

Turning to children, the report disclosed that since 2012, no progress has been made in reducing low birthweight.

Additionally, while the number of under-age-five children affected by stunting has decreased over the past six years by 10 per cent globally, the pace of progress is too slow to meet the 2030 target of halving the number of stunted children.

Furthermore, overweight and obesity continue to increase throughout all regions, particularly among school-age children and adults.

To safeguard food security and nutrition, the 2019 report stresses the importance to economic and social policies to counteract the effects of adverse economic cycles when they arrive, while avoiding cuts in essential services.

It maintains that the uneven pace of economic recovery “is undermining efforts to end hunger and malnutrition, with hunger increasing in many countries where the economy has slowed down or contracted”, mostly in middle-income nations.

Moreover, economic slowdowns or downturns disproportionally undermine food security and nutrition where inequalities are greater.

“Income inequality increases the likelihood of severe food insecurity, and this effect is 20 per cent higher for low-income countries compared with middle-income countries”, the report spells out.

The report concludes with guidance on what short- and long-term policies must be undertaken to safeguard food security and nutrition during episodes of economic turmoil or in preparation for them, such as integrating food security and nutrition concerns into poverty reduction efforts using pro-poor and inclusive structural transformations.

UN chief welcomes power-sharing deal between Sudanese military, Opposition

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, July 5: UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Friday he was “encouraged” by reports of a newly-inked power-sharing deal between the Forces for Freedom and Change – a coalition of opposition and protest groups – and Sudan’s ruling military council.

The two sides have reportedly agreed to share power for three years, and then hold elections for a return to full civilian government. Guterres welcomed the decision to establish transitional governing bodies, and congratulated the African Union, Ethiopia and the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), for their role in mediating the talks.

News of the deal reportedly brought thousands of people onto the streets to celebrate and raised hopes that a peaceful transition of power can take place, following months of turmoil since December’s civilian revolt began.

The Secretary-General, said a statement from his Spokesperson, is now encouraging all stakeholders to “ensure the timely, inclusive, and transparent implementation of the agreement and resolve any outstanding issues through dialogue.”

The statement also noted that Guterres welcomes the parties' commitment to conducting an independent investigation into the violence perpetrated against peaceful protesters, including the events on 3 June, when security forces and militia fired on pro-democracy protesters in the capital Khartoum, leaving dozens dead and many more injured.

The UN chief expressed his solidarity with the people of Sudan, and reiterated the commitment of the United Nations to assist in the transition process.

Following a series of strikes and protests early in the year, long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir was overthrown by his top generals in April. Hopes were high that the military and opposition could reach a deal, but since the military-led violence of 3 April, talks were at an impasse until the latest round of negotiations began in the capital Khartoum earlier this week.

Just last Sunday, there were nationwide demonstrations demanding the transfer of power to civilian hands, in which at least seven were reportedly killed, with more than 180 injured.

On Wednesday, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on Sudanese authorities to lift restrictions on the internet and launch independent investigations into all acts of violence against demonstrators, and allegations of excessive force, including attacks on hospitals. Bachelet said her office had received numerous allegations that excessive force had been used by security forces against protestors.

Six children among 53 confirmed fatalities after Libya detention centre airstrikes: Security Council condemns attack

GENEVA, July 5: The toll from Tuesday’s reported airstrikes on a detention centre in the suburbs of Tripoli has risen to 53 dead and more than 130 injured among the “severely traumatized” surviving migrants and refugees, UN aid agencies said on Friday, reiterating their appeal to close all such facilities in the embattled country.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, Joel Millman from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that six children were among the fatalities at the Tajoura site, where the more than 600 detainees came from at least 17 mainly African States.

Some 350 migrants - among them 20 women and four children – are still being held at Tajoura, the IOM spokesperson added, noting that he was unable to confirm reports that guards had fired on migrants trying to flee.

In the aftermath of Tuesday’s devastation, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé, led calls for an international inquiry, insisting it could “clearly…constitute a war crime”.

Echoing that appeal, UNHCR’s Charlie Yaxley noted that both parties involved in the fight for Tripoli - the UN-recognised Government and forces loyal to self-styled Libyan National Army commander, Khalifa Haftar – knew where civilians were sheltering.

“We reiterate once again that the coordinates of these detention centres in Tripoli are well-known to both sides of the conflict and this was a preventable tragedy that never should have happened”, he said, while also noting that refugees had been “severely traumatized” after seeing fellow detainees dying.

“They spoke in a state of shock, they spoke to us about seeing their fellow detainees’ body parts dismembered around the centre,” he said.

According to IOM and UNHCR, 3,300 migrants and refugees remain arbitrarily detained inside and around Tripoli.

IOM’s Mr. Millman further noted that approximately 180 of the 600 people held in Tajoura had agreed to be evacuated under IOM’s voluntary repatriation programme, and that two of them had died in the airstrikes.

“We are not able to verify who is responsible for the attack, that’s why there needs to be this independent investigation”, UNCHR’s Mr. Yaxley said. “What we can say is that, is at this point there does need to be greater efforts, far greater efforts from the international community, particularly amongst those States who have leverage over the warring parties to bring an end to the violence.”

Addressing the dangers faced by those being held in Libya, Mr. Yaxley cited concerns that “some of these detention centres may be being used to store weapons and military equipment. We remind all parties that conflict is using civilian infrastructure in that way, would be a violation of international humanitarian law and must be avoided at all costs”.

In addition to the Tajoura tragedy, IOM also reported that more than 80 migrants are feared drowned after their vessel capsized while trying to reach Europe from the Libyan port of Zwara.

“The survivors told IOM staff that the inflatable boat carrying 86 people including four women and two children, left Zwara around 6am on 1 July”, Mr. Millman said. “A few hours later, the boat began to leak and capsized during the confusion and frantic movements of the dozens of people on board.”

Noting that “this is not the first such tragedy this year”, IOM said in a statement that two rescues were carried out in May on two overloaded crafts.

On one vessel, 59 people went missing and 16 were rescued; on the second, 69 were saved. Both boats reportedly left Zwara.

So far this year, the UN migration agency has reported 426 deaths from drowning linked to attempts to cross the central Mediterranean route to Europe.

Some 3,750 people have been returned to systematic and arbitrary detention—where they remain at risk as clashes continue in Libya’s capital, IOM noted.

The Members of the Security Council issued a Press Statement on Friday afternoon in New York, condemning the attack on the detention centre. They "stressed the need for all parties to urgently de-escalate the situation and to commit to a ceasefire."

They "called on all parties rapidly to return to UN political mediation and reaffirmed their full support for the leadership of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ghassan Salamé. Lasting peace and stability in Libya will come only through a political solution" the statement continued, noting "ongoing efforts in support by the African Union, the Arab League and others."

Council members also expressed "deep concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Libya" calling for full access to be given to humanitarians.

They also expressed their ongoing concern over the conditions in the detention centres which are "the responsibility of the Libyan Government", and called on "all Member States not to intervene in the conflict or take measures that exacerbate the conflict" within Libya.

UN chief welcomes possibility of resumed talks between US and North Korea

By Deepak Arora

UNITED NATIONS, July 1: As the clicking of cameras and flash of lightbulbs captured on Sunday the first sitting United States President to set foot inside the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Secretary-General António Guterres offered his full support to a potentially reset relationship that may render a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

The UN chief “welcomes the meetings in Panmunjom involving the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea and the United States”, his spokesperson said in a statement, adding “particularly the announcement that the DPRK and the United States will resume working-level dialogue”.

For the first time since their last summit in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, broke down in February, both countries agreed to resume stalled nuclear talks.

Before crossing over, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, posed for photographers in the heavily-fortified demilitarized zone.

“The Secretary-General fully supports the continued efforts of the parties to establish new relations towards sustainable peace, security and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, according to the statement.

Nuclear negotiations between the US and North Korea have proceeded in fits and starts for decades, with no sustaining success in halting the North’s atomic weapons programme.

In 2017, Pyongyang launched its sixth and largest nuclear test since it began its programme in 2006, straining further US-North Korean relations during President Trump’s first year in office.

The following year, Trump and Kim met in Singapore, signing a joint statement vowing to pursue peace and complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, albeit with few details.

The two met again in February 2018, but disagreements over sanction and denuclearization collapse the summit early, yielding no agreement.

 

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