Megatrends, Future Projects Discussed at Close of 2019 ECOSOC Cycle

Faye Leone

The UN Economic and Social Council discussed projections for the future of the SDGs, drawing on research on long-term trends and scenarios. The session marked the conclusion of the Council’s 2019 ministerial segment, which had also included the final part of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).
As reported by the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin presented megatrends from the summary of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) Sustainable Development Outlook 2019, which will be launched in September 2019. Liu reported that:
– implementation of the SDGs is made more challenging by lower GDP growth and the looming risk of sudden deterioration of financial conditions;
– the global population is projected to reach 8.5 billion in 2030, and while this can present a demographic dividend for developing countries with a young workforce, nearly 1.8 billion are projected to face chronic unemployment risk and remain outside the workforce;
– more than two million people are experiencing high water stress due to climate change; and
– international migration, which will continue to shape population dynamics, is a win-win for both origin and destination states.
Cristián Samper, Wildlife Conservation Society, highlighted the “triple challenge” of protecting biodiversity, promoting human well-being, and addressing climate change. He said 30% of the solutions for climate change are nature-based, but are overlooked in most nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement on climate change. He called for 30% of ecosystems be set aside by 2030 and for the restoration of degraded areas.
Highlighting increasing carbon emissions and rising inequality as “counter-transformations,” Nebojša Naki?enovi?, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), listed six focus areas as pathways to transformational change: education and health; consumption and production; deep decarbonization; biosphere and land-use; smart cities; and digital revolution. He called for a shift from incremental to transformational change; identification of synergies using sustainable development pathways; formulation of sustainable development roadmaps; and a focus on inter-relationships to uncover multiple benefits and synergies.
Mahmoud Mohieldin, World Bank Group, stressed: guidance for policymakers on using indicators to track progress; domestic resource mobilization, given declining foreign direct investment; and healthy competition between countries to accelerate implementation. He also stressed the importance of taxing negative outcomes like pollution.
Discussing long-term trends and scenarios, moderator Claire Melamed, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, drew attention to the challenges of decision-making and SDG implementation in the face of uncertainty regarding solutions—for instance, of the transformational benefits or potential dangers of new technologies.
Isabelle Durant, UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), called for fair trade that benefits the entire supply chain, noting that while the volume of global trade has multiplied by five times in 30 years, the benefits are distributed unevenly. In response to a question from the moderator on why we fail to act collectively and individually on climate change despite knowledge of its impacts, Durant said transformative actions are not possible when governments focus on electoral cycles.
Isabelle Pypaert-Perrin, International Movement ATD Fourth World, said dialogue on inequalities must involve marginalized communities, so they can contribute to solutions for inclusive and sustainable societies.
Doreen Bogdan Martin, International Telecommunication Union (ITU), said half the world’s population is not connected to the internet, and growth rates are slowing at the bottom of the pyramid where connectivity is most needed for inclusion and equality. Highlighting that many lack the reading, numeracy, and technical skills needed to benefit from the internet, she said it will not be possible to achieve the SDGs without connecting the world’s population.
Paulette Metang, Association Camerounaise pour la Prise en charge des Personnes Agées, noted the anticipated rise in population of those aged 60 and over, from 962 million in 2017 to 1.4 billion by 2030. She called attention to human rights violations and age prejudice, while proposing a global convention to protect the rights of the elderly.
Participants called for: “moving with, not for” people and contextualizing solutions by taking cultural diversity and languages into account; promoting synergies between global agreements like the Sendai Framework on DRR, Paris Agreement, and the 2030 Agenda; and promoting “voluntary local reviews.”
Summing up, Elliott Harris, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, reiterated:
– the key role of equality in unlocking the potential of the other goals;
– the role of demographic trends in driving inequalities;
– the potential of climate change to exacerbate inequalities, and the need for “just transitions;”
– the importance of transparency, predictability, and accountability, especially in national budgets; and
– the need for all voices to be heard while drafting policies.
In closing remarks, Liu said the lack of data hinders progress in reaching those furthest behind, the high-level Summits in September 2019 present an opportunity to focus on this issue, among others.
ECOSOC President Inga Rhonda King said an integrated approach that includes people in decision-making is key to ensure that no one is left behind. She summarized several emerging mega-trends discussed at the ECOSOC High-level Segment, including the debt crisis, climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. She said the international community is still uncertain about how to achieve the transformational change to address these crises, and ECOSOC and HLPF are providing a platform to nurture that discussion.

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