New UN Report Underscores Climate Change Threat

Climate change continues to threaten the planet. Greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are at record levels and continue to increase. Emissions are heading in the direction of pre-pandemic levels following a temporary decline caused by the lockdown and economic slowdown. The world is set to see its warmest five years on record – in a trend which is likely to continue – and is not on track to meet agreed targets to keep global temperature increase well below 2 °C or at 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.

A newly release report from leading science organizations, United in Science 2020, highlights the increasing and irreversible impacts of climate change, which affects glaciers, oceans, nature, economies and human living conditions and is often felt through water-related hazards like drought or flooding. It also documents how COVID-19 has impeded our ability to monitor these changes through the global observing system.

“This has been an unprecedented year for people and planet. The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted lives worldwide. At the same time, the heating of our planet and climate disruption has continued apace,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a foreword to the report.

“Never before has it been so clear that we need long-term, inclusive, clean transitions to tackle the climate crisis and achieve sustainable development. We must turn the recovery from the pandemic into a real opportunity to build a better future,” adds Guterres. “We need science, solidarity and solutions.”

The United in Science 2020 report, the second in a series, is coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), with input from the Global Carbon Project, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, the UN Environment Programme and the UK Met Office. It presents the very latest scientific data and findings related to climate change to inform global policy and action.

“Greenhouse gas concentrations – which are already at their highest levels in 3 million years – have continued to rise. Meanwhile, large swathes of Siberia have seen a prolonged and remarkable heatwave during the first half of 2020, which would have been very unlikely without anthropogenic climate change,” says Prof. Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the WMO. “And now 2016–2020 is set to be the warmest five-year period on record. This report shows that whilst many aspects of our lives have been disrupted in 2020, climate change has continued unabated.”

Key findings from the report are available online.

Global Business Community Meets for Annual SDG Business Forum

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the UN Global Compact and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs convened more than 12,000 sustainability leaders recently for the 5th annual SDG Business Forum. More than 40 chief executive officers at the forum highlighted the imperative to address three critical fragilities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic – climate change and nature loss; economic exclusion; and social inequality.

Held under the theme of “Redefining Business Leadership in a COVID-19 World,” the Forum’s program focused on actions needed to tackle the pandemic and align a future economic recovery with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

In opening the flagship event, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, emphasized the imperative for global solidarity in the face of the coronavirus crisis – with the UN’s Deputy-Secretary General, Amina Mohammed, later making an impassioned call to action for the business community to leave no one behind in the face of the pandemic.

The forum highlighted a growing recognition of the need for multi-stakeholder partnerships both in the response to and recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. Several government ministers – including from the United Arab Emirates, France, Egypt and Estonia – expressed their support for scaling existing private sector partnerships and collaboration. While the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, H.E. Gaston Browne, appealed for the global private sector to increase its engagement in Small Island Developing States to assist their recovery from an unprecedented economic shock. 

Reflecting this sentiment, attendees called for the development of public-private partnerships policies – far outranking financial incentives and awareness raising – as the primary way for governments to accelerate corporate SDG alignment. In this context, the forum saw the launch of a major new initiative bringing together public and private sector partners to help local communities recover better from the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 Private Sector Global Facility – developed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UN Global Compact and ICC – will work to mobilize a minimum of US$5 billion in support for local business communities to enable a resilient rebuild from the pandemic. The Facility will leverage public financing and significant in-kind contributions from multinational businesses to deliver projects – from skills training to infrastructure development – that directly meet the needs of SMEs and the communities in which they operate. 

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that our collective health and prosperity depend upon working together to protect people and the planet,” said Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director of the UN Global Compact. “And leaving no one behind.”

DHL, Microsoft and PwC have been confirmed as initial strategic partners of the facility – with UNDP Administrator using his speech at the Forum to call on other international institutions and companies to join this effort with the objective to “recover better together.” 

The social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are sobering, added. Liu Zhenmin, the UN’s undersecretary general of economic and social affairs. “Not only has the pandemic demonstrated how the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development are intrinsically linked, but it has also revealed the dire consequences that profound inequalities and injustices have on our societies,” he said. “It is at times like these that we need extraordinary leadership, from governments, from civil society, and from the purpose-driven business leaders who are not afraid to step up to drive the much-needed transitions.”  

The forum also highlighted the recently launched SME Climate Hub, an ICC-led initiative which aims to provide micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises with the practical tools and incentives needed to allow them to reap the benefits of taking action aligned with the Paris Agreement and the latest climate science. The Hub is already supported by several supply chain leaders and SME CEOs – including Jesper Brodin, CEO of IKEA, and Maria Fernanda Garza, vice chair of ICC – both of whom spoke on panel sessions throughout the day.

On ambitions for public sector support of the initiative. “It is imperative that governments create regulatory environments which reward and enable long-term investments in resilience and sustainability,” said John Denton, ICC secretary General. In particular, by ensuring the financial system rewards and preferences companies taking action to enhance their environmental and social performance. ”

In a closing keynote address, Ajay Banga – CEO of Mastercard and Chair of ICC – acknowledged the transformational commitments made by businesses to align their operations with the SDGs, but called for action from all stakeholders to enable them, noting, “Delivering on these commitments is up to all of us… not just to hold businesses to account, but to do our part to build lasting pathways for achieving those aims. The UN’s Decade of Action will be shaped by the quality of the partnerships we develop and by the systems we create to enable a recovery that places resilience at its core.”

UNDP Launches New Initiative To Address Issues Related to Global Pandemic

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Global Compact (UN Global Compact) and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) have announced the establishment of the COVID-19 Private Sector Global Facility, a global initiative and collaboration bringing together public and private sector partners to help local communitiesrecover better from the pandemic. Deutsche Post DHL Group, Microsoft Corp. and the PwC network (“PwC”) have already joined the COVID-19 Private Sector Global Facility, and the initiative is open for other like-minded private sector organizations that want to contribute. 

The Global Facility is a response to corporate calls to action for private sector leaders and governments to work together to address the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative has been established to better coordinate their responses, helping to ensure that immediate stimulus efforts flow into the real economy.

The Global Facility will operate at both the global and national levels. It aims to co-create solutions that are tailored to the phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in a given area and the specificities of the local private sector and government context. Guided by the UN Global Compact’s 10 Principles and the Sustainable Development Goals, facility will support a multisectoral, whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to face the multidimensional nature of the crisis. Recovery efforts will focus on how to rebuild more inclusive economies and societies, to set a new course for a socially just, low-carbon and climate-resilient world where no one is left behind. Initial projects will focus on the countries of Colombia, Ghana, the Philippines and Turkey. Both the geographical scope and participating partners will expand as the Global Facility develops.

“Solidarity to ‘Recover Better Together’ can boost our collective efforts not only to cope with the crisis but overcome it. UNDP’s footprint across some 170 countries and territories, combined with the UN Global Compact’s network of more than 10,000 companies and 68 Local Networks around the world, and the International Chamber of Commerce’s network of over 45 million companies, multiplies our collective capacity and potential. The Facility is the first of its kind – designed to join forces across public and private sectors to serve humanity in an imperative moment,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator. 

The COVID-19 Private Sector Global Facility was announced at the SDG Business Forum during the UN General Assembly, the largest and most inclusive UN convening of private sector leaders. Launched under the motto “Recover Better Together”, the timing of this initiative has special importance, marking the commemoration of some important UN-related milestones: the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations; the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Global Compact; and the Centenary of ICC’s founding after WWI at a time when multilateralism is facing the greatest challenge of its generation.

Organizations that want to play a leading role in the global pandemic recovery and join this call to action are encouraged to contact the UNDP project coordinator at global.facility@undp.org for a discussion on how they can get involved.

UN Secretary Reiterates Importance of Sustainable Development Goals

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress in addressing the 17 sustainable development goals defined by the United Nations.

According to the 2020 Sustainable Development Goals Report, before the COVID-19 pandemic, progress remained uneven. But now, the world is far off track from meeting the goals by 2030. meet the Goals by 2030. In particular, the number of people suffering from food insecurity has increase, the natural environment is continuing to deteriorate, and economic inequality persisted worldwide.

“Everything we do during and after this crisis [COVID-19] must be with a strong focus on building more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change, and the many other global challenges we face,” said António Guterres, secretary general of the United Nations.

Gutteres noted that the root causes and uneven impacts of COVID-19 demonstrate precisely why the world needs the UN’s 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and underscore the urgency of their implementation. “I have therefore consistently called for a coordinated and comprehensive international response and recovery effort, based on sound data and science and guided by the Sustainable Development Goals,” he said.

The secretary general called for the world to put continue to prioritize the SDGs. “I call for renewed ambition, mobilization, leadership and collective action, not just to beat COVID-19 but to recover better, together,” said Gutteres.

All Global Sustainability Is Local

By Sue Nichols

Nations across the world are following a United Nations blueprint to build a more sustainable future – but a new study shows that blueprint leads less to a castle in the sky, and more to a house that needs constant remodeling.

Sustainability scientists have developed systematic and comprehensive assessment methods and performed a first assessment of a country’s progress in achieving all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) not just as a nation, but also at the regional levels, and not just as a snapshot – but over time.

In “Assessing progress towards sustainable development over space and time” in this week’s Nature, scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) and in China show that indeed all sustainability, like politics, is local. Even as a country can overall claim movement toward a sustainable future, areas within the country reflect the gains and losses in the struggle with poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation and for prosperity, and peace and justice. Most striking, the study found, is the disparities between developed regions and ones that are developing.

“We have learned that sustainability’s progress is dynamic, and that sometimes gains in one important area can come at costs to another area, tradeoffs that can be difficult to understand but can ultimately hobble progress,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, MSU Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability and senior author. “Whether it’s protecting precious natural resources, making positive economic change or reducing inequality – it isn’t a static score. We must carefully take a holistic view to be sure progress in one area isn’t compromised by setbacks in other areas.”

The group assessed China with methods that can be applied to other countries. China’s vast size and sweeping socioeconomic changes at national and provincial levels showed how progress in sustainability can shift.  Between 2000 and 2015, China has improved its aggregated SDG score.

At the provincial level, however, there is disparity between the country’s developed and developing regions. East China – which is home to the country’s economic boom — had a higher SDG Index score than the more rural west China in the 2000s. In 2015, south China had a higher SDG Index score than the industrialized and agricultural-intensive north China.

Spatial pattern of SDG Index scores in 2000, 2005, 2010 and 2015 for 31 Chinese provinces. Between 2000 and 2015, China has improved its aggregated SDG score. At the provincial level, however, there is disparity between the country’s developed and developing regions.

Zhenci Xu, a recent PhD graduate from MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (MSU-CSIS) who led the study, notes that countries are tasked with urgent goal of achieving sustainability even as populations grow, economies develop unevenly, natural resources like water and energy become scarce, land degrades, and income and gender inequities intensify.

Developed provinces had higher (and thus better) SDG Index scores than developing provinces throughout the study period of 2000-2015. But the average SDG Index scores in developing provinces were increasing faster compared to developed provinces.

“China’s eastern region began developing during the reform and opening-up policy in the late 70s to spur economic development along the coasts, which was accompanied by better social services,” Xu said. “In 1999, China started to address the rural western parts which had lagged in progress. That saw improvements both in infrastructure and ecological conservation, which seems to have boosted their sustainable development. The eastern parts have begun to struggle with the consequences of rapid economic growth – such as pollution and inequities.”

The authors note that overall sustainability is advancing thanks to better education, healthcare and environmental conservation policies. The study points out that even amidst progress, it is important to scrutinize what is happening at regional levels to know where to direct resources and attention. 

In addition to Liu and Xu, the article was authored by Sophia Chau, Yingjie Li, Thomas Dietz, Julie Winkler, Shuxin Li, Anna Herzberger and Ying Tang from MSU and Jian Zhang, Jinyan Wang, Xiuzhi ChenFan Fan, Baorong Huang, Shaohua Wu, Dequ Hong and Yunkai Li from Chinese universities and academies. Xu currently is a research intern at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.

The work was funded by the National Science Foundation, MSU, Michigan AgBioResearch, and China Scholarship Council.

Read the Nature Editorial “A better way for countries to track their progress on sustainability.”

Sue Nichols is Assistant Director, Strategic Communication at the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. This guest post, which originally appeared on the Michigan State University website, was re-published here with permission.

Expo 2020 Now Hoping To Open in October 2021

EXPO 2021 in Dubai

Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, was originally scheduled to open on October 20, 2020. But due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the world expo has been postponed to 2021, and the rescheduled new dates calls for an opening on October 1, 2021. 

Sustainability Update – July 2020

Membership Growing in Sustainable Development Group

More than 2,000 organizations have joined the Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations (FOSDO), which is focused on sustainable development. Membership in the Federation is open to any group with a focus on projects related to one or more of the 17 SDGs that are part of the United Nations sustainable development goals. The Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations is part of The ThinkGlobal Institute, a non-profit organization based in the USA.

Sign-up for free membership in FOSDO, or review your existing listing.

Search for New Partners in Free Online Directory

The Federation of Sustainable Development Organizations Member Directory can be searched and sorted by type of organization, sustainable development goals and/or country. Most organizations can be contacted directly via a website link or by using the “Email Entry” link, which will enable you to send a secure email. The directory is a free tool for identifying resources and potential partners around the world.

Search the Member Directory for partners.

Read Latest Sustainable Development News & Blog

Recent posts on The ThinkGlobal Institute blog will keep you up-to-date on the latest sustainable development news. The blog features daily updates from the United Nations, as well as analysis and guest posts related to sustainable development.

Read the latest sustainable development news.

Visit the Sustainability Resource Center

The Sustainability Resource Center includes links to everything from sustainable development goals and partnership opportunities to guides for business action and RSS feeds dedicated to sustainability. The online resource center was created by the ThinkGlobal Institute, a nonprofit think tank dedicated to sustainable development and corporate social responsibility. The Institute’s mission includes outreach, research, education, information, and analysis

Visit the Sustainability Resource Center.

UN Report Calls for More Business Action on Sustainability

The United Nations has released a new report on private sector efforts to support the Global Compact and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The report, “Uniting Business in the Decade of Action,” coincides with the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Global Compact, and the fifth anniversary of the UN SDGs. Participation in the Global Compact has grown from 44 business participants to more than 10,000 companies. The initiative also includes 3,000 non-business signatories and 68 Local Networks.

Today, with a global pandemic sweeping the world, the challenges are greater than ever before. “The COVID-19 pandemic, with its twin health and socio-economic crises, has swiftly and dramatically upended lives and livelihoods in nearly every corner of the globe,” says UN Secretary General  António Guterres. “It has exposed global fragilities and laid bare the rampant inequalities that were already making life difficult for the most vulnerable.”

Gutteres says that the pandemic has made it more urgent that businesses and world leaders work toward meeting the goals in  the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “The UN system is fully mobilized to save lives and ease suffering,” the secretary general says. “Moreover, we know that recovery must not aim to simply go back to old ways and business-as-usual.”

One of the key takeaways from the new report is that the business community needs to move from policy commitments to action that can lead to actual performance improvements. While 84% of businesses participating in the Global Compact take some form of action on the SDGs, only 39% are setting goals that are sufficiently ambitious, science based and aligned with societal needs, and only 46%  have aligned sustainable development goals with their core business strategy.

“To truly succeed in driving sustainability outcomes, organizations need to focus on making sustainability sustainable,” the report notes. “To lead a transformation of this scale and nature requires a high degree of legitimacy, personal impact and authenticity that all stems from the personal commitment to making the world a better place.”

EU Releases 2020 Report on Sustainable Development Goals

Paolo Gentiloni

Progress toward meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals continues even as the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are living in difficult times,” said EU Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni during an update on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “Perhaps this crisis has showed us more than ever the importance of interdependence and the need to link our economic, social and environmental efforts.”

Gentiloni  said that progress is being made on plans to integrate the SDGs into the EU economic policy coordination framework, the European Semester. “We are fully aware of the necessity to implement these goals in their entirety,” he said.

In addition to discussing the larger policy picture, Gentiloni said the EU’s 2020 status report on the SDGs includes a chapter on environmental sustainability and an annex tracking each member state’s progress toward meeting the goals.

While it is based on pre-pandemic data, the 2020 report shows that the EU made progress on the SDGs between 2015 to 2019. For example, said Gentiloni:“Since 2013, the EU has managed to reduce the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion by 12.5 million. In particular, fewer people faced problems related to their living conditions, such as overcrowding or lack of sanitary facilities.”

Moreover, the report notes, real GDP per capita in the EU has increased considerably over the past five years. While the employment rate increased from 68% to 73%, the long-term unemployment rate decreased from 5.5% to 2.8%.

And agricultural production in the EU has become more sustainable, with organic farming gaining its share of total agricultural area — from 5.9% in 2013 to 8% in 2018.

“These positive developments over the past five years are of course strongly challenged now,” said Gentiloni. “We will collectively need more sustainable and resilient societies. This is a lesson of the past months. The progress achieved so far is important, but only a starting point.”

 More details on the EU’s progress toward meeting the UN SDGs is available in the 2020 report.

António Guterres Says World Effort Needed in Response to Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fragile balance between life and death.

In remarks to the World Health Assembly, UN Secretary General António Guterres noted that “despite the enormous scientific and technological advances of recent decades, a microscopic virus has brought us to our knees.”
 
Guterres  noted that COVID-19 has impacted all areas of life around the world. “The fragility of coordinated global efforts is highlighted by our failed response to the climate crisis,” he said. “The fragility of our nuclear disarmament regime is shown by the ever-increasing risk of proliferation. The fragility of our web protocols is laid bare by constant breaches in cybersecurity, as cyber warfare is also already happening – in a lawless international environment.”
 
COVID-19 must be a wake-up call, said the secretary-general. “Deadly global threats require a new unity and solidarity,” he said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the United Nations has advocated for a three-point response. First, Guterres said, a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive health response, guided by the World Health Organization,  is needed.  Second, more proactive public policies are needed to address the devastating social and economic dimensions of the crisis. Third, recovery from the COVID-19 crisis must lead to more equal, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are stronger and more resilient.

“Both our response and our recovery must put human rights considerations at the center, “Guterres said. “Instead of going back to systems that were unsustainable, we need to make a leap into a future of clean energy, inclusivity and equality, and stronger social safety nets, including universal health coverage.”