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Massive investment and financial reform needed to rescue SDGs

Presenting the latest UN report on the issue, Amina Mohammed called for “a surge in investment” and reform of the international financial system to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are woefully offtrack. 

World leaders adopted the 17 SDGs nearly a decade ago and they include ending extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring availability to clean water and sanitation, and reducing inequality within and among countries.

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‘Finance is the crux’ 

“At our current rates, we estimate some 600 million people will still be living in extreme poverty beyond 2030. And as the report shows, finance is the crux of the problem,” Ms. Mohammed said, speaking at UN Headquarters in New York.

The 2024 Financing for Sustainable Development Report says urgent steps are needed to mobilise financing at scale to close the development financing gap, now estimated at $4.2 trillion annually, up from $ 2.5 trillion before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, rising geopolitical tensions, climate disasters and a global cost-of-living crisis have hit billions of people, battering progress on healthcare, education, and other development targets. 

Drowning in debt 

Staggering debt burdens and rising borrowing costs are large contributors to the sustainable development crisis. 

Estimates are that in the least developed countries, debt service will be $40 billion annually between 2023 and 2025, up more than 50 per cent from $26 billion in 2022. Stronger and more frequent climate related disasters account for more than half of the debt upsurge in vulnerable countries.  

Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed said roughly 40 per cent of the global population, some 3.3 billion people, live in countries where governments now spend more on interest payments than on education or health.  

Meanwhile, the global economy is not supporting investment and development as it should, she noted. Average growth rates have steadily declined over the last 25 years, from over six per cent before the global financial crisis more than 15 years ago to around four per cent today. 

Reform outdated financial system 

The report calls for scaling up public and private investment in the SDGs, highlighting the importance of reform of the development bank system.   

In this regard, donors also need to make good on commitments on Official Development Assistance (ODA) and climate finance. 

Secondly, the current international financial architecture – established nearly 80 years ago – must also be remade as it is “no longer fit for purpose”, she said, and developing countries should have a greater voice in global economic governance. 

Close ‘credibility gaps’ 

Finally, world leaders must close “credibility gaps” and trust deficits. This is especially the case for wealthier nations, which have made promises on global governance reform, aid delivery, and domestic reforms to tackle corruption and inequality, including gender inequality. 

Stating that the report’s message could not be clearer, Ms. Mohammed said “we must choose now either to succeed together or we will fail together,” stressing that “failure is not an option.” 

The report also encourages governments to make the most of “significant opportunities ahead”, she added, pointing to major conferences such as the Summit of the Future at UN Headquarters in September and the Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development scheduled for next year. 

The Summit has been described as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to enhance cooperation on critical challenges and address gaps in global governance, and to reaffirm commitments, including to the SDGs. 

General Assembly adopts landmark resolution on artificial intelligence

Adopting a United States-led draft resolution without a vote, the Assembly also highlighted the respect, protection and promotion of human rights in the design, development, deployment and the use of AI.

The text was “co-sponsored” or backed by more than 120 other Member States.

The General Assembly also recognized AI systems’ potential to accelerate and enable progress towards reaching the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

It represents the first time the Assembly has adopted a resolution on regulating the emerging field. The US National Security Advisor reportedly said earlier this month that the adoption would represent an “historic step forward” for the safe use of AI.

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Same rights, online and offline

The Assembly called on all Member States and stakeholders “to refrain from or cease the use of artificial intelligence systems that are impossible to operate in compliance with international human rights law or that pose undue risks to the enjoyment of human rights.”

“The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, including throughout the life cycle of artificial intelligence systems,” it affirmed.

The Assembly also urged all States, the private sector, civil society, research organizations and the media, to develop and support regulatory and governance approaches and frameworks related to safe, secure and trustworthy use of AI.

Closing the digital divide

The Assembly further recognized the “varying levels” of technological development between and within countries, and that developing nations face unique challenges in keeping up with the rapid pace of innovation.

It urged Member States and stakeholders to cooperate with and support developing countries so they can benefit from inclusive and equitable access, close the digital divide, and increase digital literacy.

Hope for other sectors

Speaking before the adoption, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, US Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, introduced the draft resolution.

She expressed hope that the “inclusive and constructive dialogue that led to this resolution would serve as a model for future conversations on AI challenges in other arenas, for example, with respect to peace and security and responsible military use of AI autonomy.”

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Ms. Thomas-Greenfield noted that the resolution was designed to amplify the work already being done by the UN, including the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Human Rights Council.

“We intend for it to complement future UN initiatives, including negotiations toward a global digital compact and the work of the Secretary-General’s high-level advisory body on artificial intelligence,” she said.

We govern AI

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield also highlighted the opportunity and the responsibility of the international community “to govern this technology rather than let it govern us”.

“So let us reaffirm that AI will be created and deployed through the lens of humanity and dignity, safety and security, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” she said.

“Let us commit to closing the digital gap within and between nations and using this technology to advance shared priorities around sustainable development.”

‘The patriarchy may be pushing back, but so are we’, UN chief tells CSW68

After decades of progress, women’s rights are being undermined and reversed,” said Secretary-General António Guterres.

Pointing to several ominous examples, he said women’s rights are severely restricted in Afghanistan, sexual violence is being reported during the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict and the patriarchy is pushing back against hard-won rights women have striven to achieve.

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“The women of my generation did not win the fight for their rights only to see their daughters and granddaughters fight the same battle,” he said at the town hall meeting.

‘Equality requires investment’

From inequalities in political power to the male-dominated artificial intelligence field, Mr. Guterres said governments and civil society must work together to ensure efforts include women at the table – in peacebuilding, bridging the digital divide and ensuring gender equality.

The patriarchy may be pushing back, but so are we,” he said, encouraging governments to “put their money where their mouth is” by funding equal rights and opportunities for women and girls.

“Equality requires investment,” the UN chief said, emphasizing the need to urge governments to take action to reduce poverty and inequalities.

In this regard, the Summit of the Future is a chance to advance progress, he said, adding that women and girls have been a constant priority in the planning process.

I will never stop fighting for a world that works for women and girls,” he said. “The question is of gender equality is a question of power. In my experience, power is never given; power has to be taken.”

Over 50 women dying each day in Gaza

Among a plethora of events held on the sidelines of CSW68, a gathering on Wednesday morning saw UN agencies and partners lead a discussion on the situation of women and children in war-torn Gaza, which faces growing hunger alongside the ongoing besiegement, bombardment and invasion by Israeli armed forces responding to Hamas attacks on Israel in October.

Heli Uusikyla of the UN agency for Palestine, UNRWA, provided a grim snapshot of the current situation on the ground, saying that women and girls remain extremely vulnerable amid continued bombing and attacks.

Since the start of the conflict, more than 31,000 civilians have been killed, among them were 9,000 women and 13,000 children, she said, briefing participants on the humanitarian impact of the conflict. Every day, about 53 women are killed, she said, citing UN Women reports.

Unhygienic living conditions have seen the spread of disease, and overcrowding in shelters currently sees 888 people per toilet and 5,400 people for each available shower room.

“People go days without eating,” Ms. Uuikyla said, with 155,000 pregnant women facing malnutrition.

‘One step away from famine’

Providing a close look at the current situation, Laila Baker of the UN reproductive health agency, UNFPA, said that tens of thousands of pregnant or nursing women are unable to access the food they need and 180 give birth every day.

At the same time, malnutrition rates for children under two has risen from under one per cent in October to an unprecedented 15 per cent today, she reported.

“Hunger is a deadly threat at the moment; every day is a fight for survival,” she said. “More than half a million people are one step away from famine in a society where famine was unheard of.”

A family forced to evacuate their home in Gaza now live in a refugee camp in Rafah.
© UNICEF/Abed Zaqout

A family forced to evacuate their home in Gaza now live in a refugee camp in Rafah.

Ceasefire needed now

All efforts to address concerns of women and girls before October “have turned to dust”, she said, calling for the immediate, safe delivery of humanitarian aid, in line with the provisions of the order issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in January.

As UNFPA works tirelessly with partners, but some are under attack and medical staff lack the safe conditions, medicine and supplies to treat their patients.

“The only way to address that is to call for an immediate ceasefire,” she said, also calling for equal protection for all.

Soundcloud

An estimated 7,000 delegates are participating in CSW68, which runs from 11 to 22 March. Read our explainer here and find out about the dozens of side events being held here.

SDG 5: EMPOWER ALL WOMEN AND GIRLS

  • End all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls
  • Eliminate such harmful practices as early and forced marriages and female genital mutilation
  • Adapt and strengthen legislation to promote gender equality and empower women and girls
  • Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership in political, economic and public life
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health care

Globally, almost half of all married women currently lack decision-making power over their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

SDG 5
United Nations

SDG 5

UN telecomms agency chief: One third of humanity still offline

Doreen Bogdan-Martin underscored ITU’s wide-ranging brief, emphasizing its pivotal role in fostering connectivity across the globe. 

Founded in 1865 as an international telegraph association, today ITU champions two paramount goals: universal connectivity and sustainable digital transformation.

The first woman in the post, Secretary-General Bogdan-Martin highlighted the stark digital divide impacting women and marginalized communities. Women still account for a disproportionate share of those offline, outnumbering men by some 20 per cent.

Women losing out

In Least Developed Countries, only 30 per cent of women have access to the internet, she added.

“I’ve seen women who can’t afford a smartphone, women in countries where entry-level handsets can exceed 70 per cent of the average household’s monthly income,” she said reflecting on the time spent in office, on the eve of the International Women’s Day.

Women still account for a disproportionate share of those offline, outnumbering men by some 20 per cent.
© UNICEF/Srikanth Kolari

Women still account for a disproportionate share of those offline, outnumbering men by some 20 per cent.

Speaking about generative artificial intelligence (AI) – an area where ITU holds a leading role among the UN-family agencies – the Secretary-General stressed there are clear pros and cons.

Citing AI’s potential to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent and advance progress across the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, she cautioned against the threat AI poses, including cyberattacks and erosion of trust caused by dis and misinformation.

Multiple threats

“Emerging technologies, like AI, can be used to erode trust in our elections, in our institutions, and it can threaten our jobs, our privacy, and I think also our very future,” she said adding that more than 2200 cyberattacks happen each day. An ITU study indicates, that attacks are increasing by some 80 per cent year on year.

Amidst the challenges, Ms. Bogdan-Martin exuded optimism, citing recent commitments by the private sector and multilateral institutions totalling $46 billion towards accessible network connectivity, bound to reach the goal of $100 billion in overall investments by 2026. 

Moreover, in certain regions some positive trends are observed. A recent ITU report shows that Internet use in the world’s 57 small island developing states and territories – or SIDS – has outpaced the world average of 6.7 per cent over the past decade, increasing by 8.4 per cent annually between 2014 and 2023. 

Proper investments, coupled with initiatives and decisions made at ITU’s venues such as the AI for Good Global Summit and the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly can help bridge the digital divide, the agency chief said. 

World News in Brief: Climate change in the countryside, Yemen polio drive success, development and peace

The Unjust Climate report highlights the reality that every year in low and middle-income countries, female heads of households in rural areas suffer significantly greater financial losses than men.

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On average, female-headed households lose eight per cent more of their income due to heat stress and three per cent more due to floods compared with male-headed households.

This translates to a significant per capita income reduction of $83 due to heat stress and $35 due to floods, totalling $37 billion and $16 billion, respectively, across the most impoverished countries.

If average temperatures were to increase by just 1°C, these women would face a staggering 34 per cent greater loss in their total incomes compared to men. The study suggests that if it is not addressed, climate change will greatly widen these gaps in the years ahead.

Powerful impact

“Social differences based on locations, wealth, gender and age have a powerful, yet poorly understood, impact on rural peoples’ vulnerability to the impacts of the climate crisis”, said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu.

“These findings highlight the urgent need to dedicate substantially more financial resources and policy attention to issues of inclusivity and resilience in global and national climate actions”.

For a deeper dive into this story, go here to read an interview with Lauren Phillips, Deputy-Director of FAO’s Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division.

Nearly 1.3 million children in Yemen protected from polio

A mass polio immunization campaign in Yemen has reached more than 1.29 million children under five in the course of just four days, the UN announced on Tuesday.

An astonishing 89 to 100 per cent of the children targeted were reached by the joint campaign involving Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health and Population, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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This is an important step to protect children from deadly childhood diseases”, said Peter Hawkins, UNICEF Representative in Yemen.

“With confirmed cases of polio among Yemeni children, an imminent threat persists. This is an ongoing risk to the life of every unvaccinated child. Health authorities and donors must continue to work together to ensure universal immunization coverage for all children across Yemen”.

WHO Representative, Arturo Pesigan, described the inoculation drive as a major achievement in advancing the health outcomes and well-being of children in Yemen.

Investment in the future

“Poliovirus and other childhood diseases can cause permanent disabilities and, in many cases, death. But a small dose of vaccine can provide the necessary protection”, he said.

“There is no reason for children to die of vaccine-preventable diseases. Children are the future, and all investment in their health is an investment in the development of the country”.

The campaign was implemented with the support of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Yemen joined more than 35 countries in using the novel oral polio vaccine type 2 (nOPV2), which has been granted WHO prequalification.

‘No sustainable development without peace’: Deputy UN chief

There can be no sustainable development in line with the Global Goals for 2030, without peace, the UN deputy chief told a high-level meeting of Arab States in the Lebanese capital on Tuesday.

Amina Mohammed addressed the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development the world is facing complex challenges, not least in the Middle East, which is being roiled by conflict and instability. 

“Persistent and recurrent conflicts and fragility are directly impacting 182 million people in nine countries in this region and exacerbating the refugee crisis” she said.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed speaks at the opening of the 2024 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development in Beirut, Lebanon.
© ESCWA/Najib Dib

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed speaks at the opening of the 2024 Arab Forum for Sustainable Development in Beirut, Lebanon.

The war in Gaza and other crises “remind us that there can be no sustainable development without peace. And truly sustainable development – here in the Arab world, and across the globe – remains a very long way off”, she added.

More than halfway to the deadline of the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are severely off-track, globally and in the Arab region.

The Deputy Secretary-General said that extreme poverty in the region has more than doubled since 2015 and is now above 20 per cent while unemployment stands at 10.7 per cent.

Gaps widening

The Arab region is also suffering from a growing financing gap while droughts, floods, the sand and dust storms, and other climate and environmental challenges constrict economic and social development, with carbon emissions rising 68 per cent between 2000 and 2020, twice as fast as the global trend.  

But against this backdrop, “there are signs of hope”, she said, noting the pledge of $500 billion a year made during last September’s SDG Summit and reforms to the global financial architecture to make it more equitable, resilient, responsive and accessible to everyone.

We need to ramp up action around policies and investments that can drive transformative change” she told delegates, adding that many Arab countries are already accelerating efforts around key transformations from clean energy, food systems, to digitization, social protection reforms and economic diversification. 

 

UN issues global alert over teacher shortage

The Global teacher shortage alert was issued at a meeting on Monday of the International Task Force on Teachers for Education in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on the Teaching Profession announced a new set of recommendations to safeguard future learning for all.

Quality education for ‘learning societies’

Now, more than ever, we need to move towards learning societies. People everywhere need high-quality skills, knowledge and education. Above all, they need the best teachers possible,” UN chief António Guterres said in his video message to the forum.

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UNESCO points out that seven out of ten teachers at the secondary level will need to be replaced by 2030, along with over half of all existing teachers who will have left the profession by the decade’s end.

Although it’s a global issue, the teacher shortage is impacting sub-Saharan Africa the most, where an estimated 15 million new teachers are needed by 2030. 

Teachers overwhelmed

The effect of a worldwide teacher shortage is profound, creating larger class sizes, overburdened educators, educational disparities, and financial strain on educational systems, impacting educational quality and access.

Building on the landmark UN Summit on Transforming Education in 2022 and supported jointly by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNESCO, the High-Level Panel’s recommendations are focused on six core aspects: dignity, humanity, diversity, equity and inclusion, quality, innovation and leadership, and sustainability.

Support to educators

Just as teachers support us all, it’s time to support teachers. Let’s make sure they have the support, recognition and resources they need to provide quality, relevant education and skills for all,” UN chief António Guterres said, advocating for the wide implementation of the guidelines produced by the education experts. 

Responses to the challenge include recommendations to cultivate an environment where teachers can drive educational change, foster critical thinking and promote modern learning skills. 

The Panel advocates for teachers as collaborative partners rather than mere purveyors of knowledge. Adequate funding for education systems and technology integration are key, with a focus on supporting the use of digital learning and other technology.

Financing the future

Attrition rates among primary teachers almost doubled from 4.62 per cent globally in 2015 to 9.06 in 2022, with teachers often leaving the profession within the first five years, the report reveals.

According to recent estimates, financing additional teachers will cost $12.8 billion for universal primary education and $106.8 billion for universal secondary education. 

In total, the annual additional financing needed to cover salaries at primary and secondary levels by 2030 is estimated at $120 billion, if Sustainable Development Goal 4 is to be reached envisaging “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”.

“Getting there means investing in teacher training, establishing professional teaching standards, reflecting teachers’ voices in policy decisions, and creating national commissions to tackle teacher shortages,” Mr. Guterres said. 

UN forum: Nations must collaborate now or risk further setbacks in sustainable development

The 11th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) kicked off in Bangkok, with participants echoing a compelling plea for nations to swiftly implement urgent actions, fostered by robust and sustained multilateral cooperation.

The stern warning suggested that countries risked lagging further behind in their pursuit of sustainable development goals amid recent global crises. 

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Addressing the gathering, Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, emphasized the indispensability of international cooperation, stressing that the existing multilateral arrangements were inadequate for the task at hand. 

“No country or region could achieve the Sustainable Development Goals or navigate contemporary global challenges alone,” she asserted, underlining the need for profound changes recognized by world leaders in September.

Organized by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and running in the Thai capital from February 20 to 23, the Forum serves as a crucial platform uniting key development stakeholders, including senior government and UN officials, the private sector, and representatives from youth and civil society. The event aimed to facilitate the exchange of experiences, mobilize regional action, and devise solutions.

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, identified six focal points for transformative actions: food systems, energy access and affordability, digital connectivity, education, jobs and social protection, and climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

In a video address, Paula Narvaéz, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), shared concerning data indicating that at the current pace of implementation, the Asia-Pacific region was on track to miss 90 per cent of the 118 measurable SDG targets by 2030.

Over the next four days, Forum participants were expected to conduct a thorough review of the region’s progress on specific SDGs, including on ending poverty, zero hunger, climate action, peace, justice, and strong institutions, and partnerships for the goals. 

The outcomes would contribute to the global High-Level Political Forum in July and the Summit of the Future in September in New York. 

On the sidelines, ESCAP, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) jointly launched the Asia-Pacific SDG Partnership Report 2024 titled “People and Planet: Addressing the Interlinked Challenges of Climate Change, Poverty, and Hunger in Asia and the Pacific.”

The report highlighted the interconnected challenges and potential solutions, emphasizing the urgent need for concerted efforts to tackle climate change, poverty, and hunger in the region.

Asia-Pacific off track on path to SDGs, UN data shows

Adopted by world leaders in 2015, the 17 Goals focus on ending extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, and providing quality universal education, among other targets, by 2030.

The 2024 SDG Progress Report, launched by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), highlighted persisting challenges of poverty and inequality, with gender and location playing pivotal roles.

“Our unwavering commitment is vital, as progress towards the SDGs remains uneven and inadequate across the region,” Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, wrote in the report’s foreword.

“While additional efforts are required across the board, granular data emphasizes the urgency of addressing inequalities that impact marginalized groups, including women, girls, rural populations and the urban poor, who continue to find themselves locked out of education and employment opportunities,” she added.

The annual SDG Progress Report provides an overview of progress on the global goals in the Asia-Pacific region, serving as a foundation for activities and policy responses by ESCAP and its partners.

Country divide

Progress over time by LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS
ESCAP report

Progress over time by LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS

The painted a worrying picture for Asian and Pacific countries in “special situations” – its Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS).

The SIDS were the ones most in need of support given their unique vulnerabilities, ranging from geographical isolation to limited resources and climate change impacts. 

The COVID-19 pandemic all but erased progress these nations made towards the SDGs since 2015, leaving their achievement at a mere 5.9 per cent, according to the report.

The LDCs and LLDCs fared marginally better than the islands, registering only 11.5 per cent and 13 per cent progress, respectively, but still falling significantly short of what is needed to achieve the Goals by 2030.

Gender divide

The report also highlighted the different societal challenges faced by men and women, especially along so-called “gendered” roles.

Women’s challenges primarily related to education and employment. They had lower enrollment rates and struggled on literacy targets. Young women also encountered difficulties accessing labour markets, leading to higher rates of youth unemployment.

Men’s were more associated with health and personal safety, including new HIV infections, mortality rates attributed to diseases, suicide rates, alcohol consumption, road traffic deaths, mortality attributed to poisoning, prevalence of tobacco use.

Urban-rural divide

People living in rural areas faced pronounced disadvantages, the report noted, such as limited access to basic drinking water and sanitation facilities.

In addition, insufficient clean cooking fuels in these areas contributed to serious respiratory diseases, especially among women and girls who spent longer hours in the kitchen.

In general, urban areas exhibited better conditions, yet paradoxically, within these areas, the poorest boys and girls faced significant hurdles in completing upper secondary education.

Asia-Pacific is home to several of the countries worst affected by climate change impact. Pictured here, the 2022 floods in Pakistan.
© UNICEF/Saiyna Bashir

Asia-Pacific is home to several of the countries worst affected by climate change impact. Pictured here, the 2022 floods in Pakistan.

Urgency of climate action

Among the 17 SDGs, Goal 13 on climate action required most attention, as progress on all of its targets are off track and some are in reverse, according to the report.

This underscored the need to integrate climate action into national policies, strengthen resilience and improve adaptive capacity to cope with climate-related disasters, it noted.

The report also called for significant ramp-up in investment towards sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy sources.

Guterres urges G-77 and China to drive momentum for global governance reform

More than 130 countries are members of the bloc – the largest grouping of the global South, representing 80 percent of the planet’s population – and their solidarity and partnership are essential to building a sustainable, peaceful, and just world for all, he said.

“Let us face it: those that benefit most from the present global governance system are unlikely to lead its reform.  So, momentum for change must come from you,” he told leaders.   “I urge you to keep driving these efforts forward.”

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Commitments still stand

The Secretary-General was in the Ugandan capital this weekend to participate in the Summit and the latest meeting of another UN partner, the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), held on Saturday.

He outlined many of the challenges facing the world today, including achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline as well as ensuring economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, respect for human rights, and climate action.

“While South-South cooperation is strong and deepening, it does not replace the need for the respect of the commitments of the global North – for sustained engagement to reduce poverty and inequality, support growth, and build resilience in developing countries,” he said.

Furthermore, peace “is breaking down amidst a climate of global impunity”, with wars in Sudan, Ukraine, the Middle East and beyond. These conflicts are devastating lives, fuelling mass displacement, disrupting global supply chains and threatening to set entire regions alight.

An 11-year-old girl sits on the rubble of a house in Rafah, in the southern the Gaza Strip.
© UNICEF/Eyad El Baba

An 11-year-old girl sits on the rubble of a house in Rafah, in the southern the Gaza Strip.

Middle East ‘tinderbox’

Highlighting the conflict in Gaza, the Secretary-General warned that “the Middle East is a tinderbox”, and called for action to prevent spillover across the region.  He again stressed the need for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, access for humanitarian aid, and the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.

“The repeated refusal yesterday to accept the two-State solution for Israelis and Palestinians is totally unacceptable, as I told the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement,” he said.

“The denial of the right to statehood for the Palestinian people would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security; exacerbate polarization; and embolden extremists everywhere.” 

Outdated international system

Although righting our troubled world requires effective global action, Mr. Guterres said “the current international system is out of date, out of time, and out of step” as it was established when many G-77 countries were still colonized.

He called for reform of the UN Security Council, saying it is paralyzed by geopolitical divisions while its composition does not reflect the reality of today’s world.  The Council is comprised of 15 members, and five – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States – have the right to veto any resolution.

Similarly, the global financial system established after the Second World War, which “failed to provide a global safety net for developing countries in distress”, must also be reformed to be more inclusive.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres meets with G77 leaders during the Third Southern Summit held in Kampala, Uganda.
UN/Monicah Aturinda Kyeyune

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres meets with G77 leaders during the Third Southern Summit held in Kampala, Uganda.

Hope lies ahead

“Yet, amidst all this gloom, there is hope,” Mr. Guterres said, pointing to the SDG Summit last year and its strong political declaration, and the Summit of the Future this September provides an opportunity to build on that success.

“It is a chance to create the conditions for countries to achieve the SDGs. To find consensus on frameworks to address new challenges. And to build a better world for us all,” he said, noting that the Summit will also consider deep reforms of the international financial architecture.

Calling for the G-77 to unite against climate catastrophe, Mr. Guterres urged members “to hold developed countries to account for climate justice, and for leading an equitable and just transition, based on the phaseout of fossil fuel and massive investment in renewable energy.”

Financial commitments made by richer countries also must be met, and clarification on the $100 billion promised annually for climate action as well as doubling adaptation finance by 2025 are mere starting points.

While the Loss and Damage Fund marks a step forward, “we must call for meaningful contributions that have not yet been announced,” Mr. Guterres said.

As new technologies can turbocharge progress toward the SDGs, he expressed hope that the proposed UN Digital Compact will be adopted at the Summit of the Future.

He added that a newly created expert body has made preliminary recommendations on global Artificial Intelligence (AI) governance, including for accelerating sustainable development.  

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Another advisory board is working to ensure scientific breakthroughs are shared equally for the benefit of all people.

Seize the opportunity: Assembly President

The President of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis, also delivered remarks at the Summit.

“Now – more than ever – the G77 and all nations must come together and build bridges of dialogue, hope and cooperation to create a more fair, more just and more prosperous world for all,” he said.

Warning that the international community is “quite literally at a fork in the road,” he urged countries to “seize the opportunity of Summits such as this, to rededicate ourselves to our core values – principles that remain as relevant and compelling today as they ever were.”

Echoing the Secretary-General, he upheld the need for urgent reform of multilateral organizations, including the UN, and international financial institutions, “to better recognize and leverage the significance of the Global South.”

 

WMO confirms 2023 as warmest year on record ‘by a huge margin’

The World Meteorological Organization uses six leading international datasets from across the globe to monitor global temperatures, which reveal a new annual temperature average of 1.45°C set against the pre-industrial era (1850-1900). 

Every month between June and December set new records. July and August were the two hottest months ever recorded, WMO said.

The 1.5°C figure is the temperature limit set out clearly in the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change but that refers to the long-term temperature increase averaged over decades, rather than an individual year like 2023.

Still hotting up

“Climate change is the biggest challenge that humanity faces. It is affecting all of us, especially the most vulnerable,” said WMO Secretary-General Prof. Celeste Saulo, presenting the report’s findings. “We cannot afford to wait any longer. We are already taking action, but we have to do more, and we have to do it quickly.”

For that, Prof. Saulo explained, drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated transition to renewable energy sources are needed.

Looking ahead, the head of WMO warned that as the cooling La Niña phenomenon was replaced with a warming El Niño midway through last year – which usually has the biggest impact on global temperatures after it peaks – 2024 could be even hotter.

Celeste Saulo who became WMO Secretary-General on 1 January, explained that “while El Niño events are naturally occurring and come and go from one year to the next, longer term climate change is escalating and this is unequivocally because of human activities”. 

Scorched Earth

Since the 1980s, each decade has been warmer than the previous one and the past nine years have been the warmest on record. The data drawn from the six datasets shows that the ten-year average temperature increase in 2014-2023 was at about 1.20°C. 

Humanity’s actions are scorching the Earth. 2023 was a mere preview of the catastrophic future that awaits if we don’t act now. We must respond to record-breaking temperature rises with path-breaking action,” UN chief António Guterres said in response to the latest data.
 
“We can still avoid the worst of climate catastrophe. But only if we act now with the ambition required to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius and deliver climate justice,” he said in a statement.
 
Long-term monitoring of global temperatures is just one indicator of how climate is changing. 

Other key indicators include atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat and acidification, sea level, sea ice extent and glacier mass balance to name a few. WMO’s provisional State of the Global Climate in 2023 report, published on 30 November, showed that records were broken across the board.

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