Immediate Action Needed To Combat Climate Change

Climate change and global warming pose a major threat to the sustainability of the earth. As a recent United Nations report notes, rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change are occurring at rates much faster than anticipated.

“While there are positive steps in terms of the climate finance flows and the development of nationally determined contributions, far more ambitious plans and accelerated action are needed on mitigation and adaptation.” The UN report notes. “Access to finance and strengthened capacities need to be scaled up at a much faster rate, particularly for least developed countries and small island developing states.”

According to the UN, increasing greenhouse gas emissions are driving climate change. In 2017, greenhouse gas concentrations reached new highs, with globally averaged mole fractions of CO2 at 405.5 parts per million (ppm), an increase from 400.1 ppm in 2015. This level represents a 146 percent over pre-industrial levels. Looking ahead toward 2030 emission rapid reductions are needed.

Progress is being made toward a unified global effort on climate change. To date, 185 parties have ratified the Paris Agreement, which brings all nations together to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so.

Parties to the Paris Agreement are expected to prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions, and 183 parties had communicated their first nationally determined contributions to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under the agreement, all parties are required to submit new nationally determined contributions, containing revised and much more ambitious targets, by 2020.

“Climate change doesn’t care if we’re left wing, right wing, or in the center,” says Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change Executive Secretary. “It doesn’t care who is prime minister of what country, whether you were born in this generation or the last, what your race is, or how much money you make. It’s coming all the same. It’s already here. And it’s a global emergency.”

Espinosa says all global stakeholders need to re-double their efforts to combat climate change: “2020 must be the year we collectively show—through concrete action—that we are truly committed to build a healthier, safer, more sustainable and resilient future for all people.”

Ensuring More Sustainable Production and Consumption

Ensuring sustainable consumption and production requires a commitment to resource and energy efficiency, investments in infrastructure, and better access to basic services and jobs.

Goal 12 of the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs) addresses complex problems, ranging from population growth to diminishing natural resources. The UN notes that if the global population reaches 9.6 billion by 2050, the equivalent of almost three Earths would be required to provide the natural resources needed to sustain current lifestyles.

Water, energy, and food three areas that will be pivotal in helping the UN – and the world – make progress toward the targets set for Goal 12 by 2030.

Less than 3 percent of the world’s water is fresh and drinkable, and most of that is frozen in Antarctica and the Arctic and glaciers. While humans must rely on less than 1 percent of all the water on the planet, pollution continues to foul rivers and lakes faster than nature can recycle and purify. What’s more, the UN reports, more than one billion already lack access to fresh water. While water is free from nature, the infrastructure needed to deliver it and purify it is expensive.

Energy presents another challenge. According to the UN, despite technological advances that have promoted energy efficiency, demand continues to grow. In fact, commercial and residential energy use is the second most rapidly growing area of global energy consumption. The fastest growing demand sector is fuel for transportation. According to the UN, A 32 percent increase in vehicle ownership is expected by 2020, and global air travel is projected to triple during the same period.

Food and energy consumption are tied together, too. As the UN report notes, The food sector accounts for around 30 percent of the world’s total energy consumption and about 22 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Waste is big problem, too. Each year, an estimated one-third of all food produced – equivalent to 1.3 billion tons worth around $1 trillion – ends up rotting in the bins of consumers and retailers, or spoiling because of poor transportation and harvesting practices

More attention is also needed to combat land degradation, declining soil fertility, water use, overfishing and pollution of marine environment. The overall goal is to increase the ability of the natural resource base to supply enough food to feed a growing world population.

Working Toward More Sustainable Cities and Communities

Making cities safer and more livable is one of the sustainable development goals that the United Nations is focused on as part of its initiative to improve living conditions worldwide by 2030. According the UN, one billion people worldwide currently live in urban slums.

“Urgent action is needed to reverse the current situation, which sees the vast majority of urban residents breathing poor-quality air and having limited access to transport and open public spaces,” notes a recent UN report. “With the areas occupied by cities growing faster than their populations, there are profound repercussions for sustainability.”

While more action is needed to improve urban living conditions, the total number of people living in urban slums decreased between 1990 and 2016, from 46 percent to 23 percent. The good news is that urban areas are growing in size, which reduces population density. But this also puts more stress on the environment and increases the need to introduce sustainable management practices to control growth in cities worldwide.

Among the most pressing needs in urban areas are improved solid waste management and better air quality. “Urban planning, transport systems, water, sanitation, waste management, disaster risk reduction, access to information, education and capacity-building are all relevant issues to sustainable urban development,” notes another UN report.

Among the benchmarks for 2030 are an increase in affordable housing, improved transportation systems, and the implementation of sustainable development best practices.

“Cities are also the locus of complex and interconnected challenges: they produce more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, use 80 percent of the world’s energy and generate 1.3 billion tons of waste every year,” says UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. “Going forward, we need to step up the pace and scale of our integration as a development system to match the ambition of the 2030 Agenda — and to create cities that drive progress towards the SDGs.”

Sustainable Development Requires Greater Equality

Progress toward reducing inequality – both within and among nations – is being made, but huge disparities remain to be overcome around the world.

According a recent United Nations report, more work needs to be done to narrow gaps in opportunity, income, and power. “Income inequality continues to rise in many parts of the world, even as the bottom 40 percent of the population in many countries has experienced positive growth rates,” the report notes. “Greater emphasis will need to be placed on reducing inequalities in income, as well as those based on other factors.”

Wealth disparity continues to grow as an increasing share of income is increasingly concentrated with just 1 percent of top earners. Overall, the bottom 40 percent of earners account for less than 25 percent of overall income and consumption.

In working toward more income equality, the UN says equal access to financial services needs to be a priority. “Robust and sound financial systems are essential for supporting equal access to financial services,” the report says.

Moreover, the report notes, additional efforts are needed to increase zero-tariff access for exports from least developed countries and developing countries. Some progress is being made in this area. “More than 50 percent of exports from developing countries are now eligible for duty-free treatment,” according to the UN. “The increase of duty-free access in world markets was the largest for least developed countries, namely in the industrial and agricultural sector.”

The UN warns that rising income and wealth inequality risk threaten to undermine the world’s sustainable development efforts. “They threaten to erode social cohesion, entrench

insecurity and dampen productivity growth,” notes a progress report on the UN’s SDGs. “Rising intolerance in many parts of the world threatens fundamental human rights and human progress.”

What’s more, the UN report notes, the nexus of inequality, injustice, insecurity, and lack of sufficient trust in national governments and institutions also hinders progress toward advancing sustainable development.

While challenges abound, reducing inequality requires a sustained commitment from governments and the private sector. “Reducing poverty and inequality is the linchpin if we are to ensure that the results of the 2030 Agenda are seen and felt in the lives of everyone, everywhere — and if we are to keep our commitments to forge a people-centred and planet-sensitive future,” says  UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. “Our collective experience has shown that development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive.”

Leveling the Playing Field for Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Industrialization and economic development in lesser developed countries around the world need to increase in order to meet the United Nations’ sustainable development goal for industries, innovation, and infrastructure.

According to a UN report, global manufacturing accounts for 45 percent of global manufacturing value-added per capita worldwide, but just 15 percent in sub-Saharan Africa.

What is needed is a focus on building resilient infrastructure, fostering innovation, and promoting inclusive and sustainable industrial growth.

“Investments in infrastructure – transport, irrigation, energy and information and communication technology – are crucial to achieving sustainable development and empowering communities in many countries,” notes another UN report. “It has long been recognized that growth in productivity and incomes, and improvements in health and education outcomes require investment in infrastructure.”

Manufacturing is an important driver of economic development and employment. And technological progress is needed achieve economic and environmental objectives, including increased resource and energy-efficiency. Without technology and innovation, the UN report notes, industrialization will not happen, and without industrialization, development will not happen.

The UN says more investments are needed in the high-tech products that dominate the manufacturing process to increase efficiency. In terms of infrastructure, there also needs to be a focus on mobile cellular services that increase connections between people. While 90 percent of the world’s population has accessible cellular service, many people cannot afford it.

But the decade ahead will be challenging when it comes to meeting the goals for SDG 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure. “Economic changes have also made Sustainable Development Goal implementation more challenging, says António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN. “Global economic growth is anticipated to remain slow and uneven across regions amid lingering trade tensions and unsustainable levels of household and corporate debt. Debt vulnerability in low-income countries has increased substantially in recent years. In addition to an expected slowdown in emerging economies, lower growth rates are projected in developed economies in general.”

Expo 2020: Opportunity, Mobility & Sustainability

Artist’s rendering of UAE pavilion planned for Expo 2020

By Greg Sandler

Expo 2020, the next world’s fair, is on track to begin in October 2020, in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Dubai expo coincides with the UAE’s 50th anniversary in 2021, marking an important milestone for the host country.

The exposition, “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” will feature 120 country pavilions, more than 20 performance venues, over 60 events each day, and more than 200 restaurants. It is the first World Expo ever to be held in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region.

Expo 2020 will focus on three main themes: opportunity, mobility, and sustainability.

Opportunity: Unlocking the potential for individuals and communities to shape the future

Mobility: Creating smarter and more productive movement of people, goods and ideas, both physically and virtually

Sustainability: Respecting and living in balance with the world we inhabit to ensure a sustainable future for all

Over six months, the 4.38 km site is expected to host 25 million visitors from around the world. Special events planned during the Dubai expo include RewirEd, a three-day event that will focus on three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals that the United Nations is working to achieve by 2030. More than 3,000 participants are expected to participate — from governments, global education stakeholders, strategic partners and the private sector.

“The UAE believes that investing in people’s welfare, knowledge, and capabilities produces the greatest dividends for individuals, families and communities as a whole,” says Reem Al Hashimy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020. “Education, which is the essence of human capital, drives our national priorities and is central to our international development strategy. We believe that now is the time to reshape the global conversation on education and this summit is the perfect platform to do so.”

In addition to country pavilions, dozens of corporate sponsors are helping to make Expo 2020 a reality. Among the highlights of the six month-long program will be a glimpse into the future of hyperloop, a preview of 3D printing technology, world-class architecture, and a taste of foods from around the world.

Learn more about Expo 2020, Oct. 20, 2020 thru April 10, 2021.

Progress on Decent Work and Economic Growth

Economic growth over the past the past 25 years has reduced the number of workers living in extreme poverty. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, the middle class now makes up more than 34 percent of total employment — having tripled between 1991 and 2015.

Continued economic growth, says the UN report, requires higher levels of productivity and technological innovation. “Encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation are key to this, as are effective measures to eradicate forced labor, slavery and human trafficking,” the report says. “With these targets in mind, the goal is to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030.”

The UN says that more progress is needed to increase employment opportunities, reduce informal employment, close the gender pay gap, and promote safe and secure working environments.

“The global unemployment rate has finally recovered from the global economic crisis,” the UN report says. “In 2018, the global unemployment rate stood at 5.0 percent – matching pre-crisis levels. Youth were three times more likely to be unemployed than adults.”

The UN target for SDG Goal 8 is for sustained per capita economic growth worldwide, including at least 7 percent gross domestic product growth per anum in the least developed countries. The UN initiative also calls for achieving “higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labor-intensive sectors”

840 Million People Worldwide Have No Electricity

Electricity, a lynch-pin for sustainable development, remains an elusive service for hundreds of millions of people in the poorest nations in the world.

In addition to the 840 million people without electricity, the United Nations estimates that about 3 billion people worldwide rely on inefficient cooking systems that contribute to pollution.

Access to affordable and clean electricity is also closely connected with development of renewable energy resources, and better access to transportation and heating.

“Energy is central to nearly every major challenge and opportunity the world faces today,” notes a United Nations report. “Be it for jobs, security, climate change, food production or increasing incomes, access to energy for all is essential. Working towards this goal is especially important as it interlinks with other sustainable development goals.”

Access to energy and the increased use of renewable energy is crucial to creating more sustainable and inclusive communities, and providing resilience to environmental such as climate change, the UN report notes. And progress is being made regarding the use of renewable electricity from water, solar and wind power.

But, the UN report says, the challenge is far from being solved and there needs to be more access to clean fuel and technology and more progress needs to be made regarding integrating renewable energy into end-use applications in buildings, transport and industry. Public and private investments in energy also need to be increased, says the UN, and more focus on regulation is needed.

Billions of People Lack Water and Sanitation Facilities

Clean water and sanitation is lacking for much of the world. In fact, according to the United Nations Development Program, water scarcity affects more than 40 percent of the world’s population. Moreover, 4.5 billion people lack safely managed waste disposal facilities, and half of those people don’t even have basic sanitation options.

“Despite progress, billions of people still lack safe water, sanitation and handwashing facilities,” notes a recent UN update on progress toward meeting its 17 sustainable development goals. “Data suggests that achieving universal access to even basic sanitation service by 2030 would require doubling the current annual rate of progress. More efficient use and management of water are critical to addressing the growing demand for water, threats to water security and the increasing frequency and severity of droughts and floods resulting from climate change.” 

Worldwide, 785 million people lack access to basic drinking water, and 701 million lack basic sanitation facilities. “Safe water and adequate sanitation for all – the object of Sustainable Development Goal 6 — are indispensable to achieve many other goals,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres “Safe water and adequate sanitation underpin poverty reduction, economic growth and healthy ecosystems.They contribute to social well-being, inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods. But, growing demands for water, coupled with poor water management, have increased water stress in many parts of the world.”

Gutteres said solutions for water and sanitation need to be made more readily available to those in need. To that end, he called on the UN to lead efforts to transform a “silo-based approach to water supply, sanitation, water management and disaster risk reduction” in order to better address water issues and to combat climate change. He also said that existing water and sanitation programs and projects need to better align with the 2030 SDG agenda. Finally, he called for an increase cooperation and partnerships to address water and sanitation challenges.

“The growing water crisis should be much higher on the world’s radar,” he said. “Let us work collectively towards a more sustainable world, and an action-packed decade of ‘water for sustainable development.’”

Gender Equality: The Path Toward a More Prosperous World

The world is facing an uphill battle when it comes to making progress toward gender equality, the fifth of the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals.

“While some indicators of gender equality are progressing, such as a significant decline in the prevalence of female genital mutilation and early marriage, the overall numbers continue to be high,” notes a UN status report. “Moreover, insufficient progress on structural issues at the root of gender inequality, such as legal discrimination, unfair social norms and attitudes, decision-making on sexual and reproductive issues and low levels of political participation, are undermining the ability to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.”

Women worldwide also continue to face socio-economical hurdles that are often rooted in time spent handling domestic chores and unpaid work. For example, according to the UN, women have about three hours less available per day than men for work, education, and/or leisure activities.

Recent UN data also shows that women continue to be under-represented in both management positions in business, and in political leadership. “Over the past 25 years, there has been progress in reforming laws towards improving gender equality, yet discriminatory laws and gaps in legal protection remain in many countries,” the UN report observes.

“When we look at the low numbers of women in senior roles in the private sector, academia, politics and in international organizations, including in the United Nations, we all have to say:  ‘we can and must do more,’” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Gender equality, adds Guterres, is both a fundamental human right and a path to a more peaceful and prosperous world. “There is overwhelming evidence that investing in women is the most effective way to lift communities, companies and countries,” he says. “Women’s participation makes peace agreements stronger, societies more resilient and economies more vigorous.  And that is why the empowerment of women and girls is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”