UN Secretary-General António Guterres has urged global leaders to formulate a plan to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which are woefully off-track halfway towards their 2030 deadline.
Mr Guterres was speaking at the opening of a high-level forum at UN Headquarters on Monday in New York, according to UN News.
In the forum, world leaders adopted a political declaration to accelerate action to achieve the 17 goals, which aim to drive economic prosperity and well-being for all people while protecting the environment.
“The SDGs aren’t just a list of goals. They carry the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people everywhere,” he said.
World leaders adopted the SDGs in 2015, promising to leave no one behind. The goals include ending extreme poverty and hunger, ensuring access to clean water and sanitation, as well as green energy, and providing quality universal education and lifelong learning opportunities.
UN General Assembly President Dennis Francis noted that despite commitments, 1.2 billion people were still living in poverty as of 2022, and roughly eight per cent of the global population, or 680 million people, will still be facing hunger by the end of the decade. The international community cannot accept these numbers, he said.
"With concerted, ambitious action, it is still possible that, by 2030, we could lift 124 million additional people out of poverty and ensure that some 113 million fewer people are malnourished," he said.
Each of the 17 goals contains targets, with 169 overall, but the Secretary-General warned that currently only 15 per cent are on track, while many are going in reverse.
The political declaration "can be a game-changer in accelerating SDG progress," he said.
It includes a commitment to financing for developing countries and clear support for his proposal for an SDG Stimulus of at least $500 billion annually, as well as an effective debt-relief mechanism.
It further calls for changing the business model of multilateral development banks to offer private finance at more affordable rates for developing countries, and endorses reform of the international finance architecture which he has labelled "outdated, dysfunctional and unfair."
The UN chief highlighted the need for action in six critical areas, starting with addressing hunger, which he called “a shocking stain on humanity, and an epic human rights violation.”
“It is an indictment of every one of us that millions of people are starving in this day and age,” he added.
The Secretary-General said the transition to renewable energy isn’t happening fast enough, while the benefits and opportunities of digitalization are not being spread widely enough.
At the same time, too many children and young people worldwide are victims of poor quality education, or no education at all, he continued, before shining a spotlight on the need for decent work and social protection.
Finally, he called for an end to the war on nature and “the triple planetary crisis” characterized by climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss.
“Cutting across all of these transitions is the need to ensure full gender equality,” he said. “It’s long past time to end discrimination, ensure a place at every table for women and girls, and to end the scourge of gender-based violence. “
Mr. Guterres highlighted UN response to each area, including initiatives to transform global food systems so everyone can have access to a healthy diet.
Other efforts focus on boosting investment in the renewable energy transition, promoting internet access for all, creating 400 million new “decent jobs”, and extending social protection to over four million people.
The President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Paula Narváez, was heartened by the adoption of the declaration, calling it a testament to leaders’ unwavering commitment towards implementing the SDGs.
ECOSOC is at the core of the UN system’s work on all three pillars of sustainable development - economic, social and environmental – and provides a platform for follow-up and review of the goals.
The two-day SDG Summit is the centrepiece of the UN General Assembly’s high-level week, the annual gathering of Heads of State and Government, and Ms. Narváez also pointed to two other events on the agenda.
She said the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development will address the need for an international financial architecture that can respond to current needs and emerging challenges.
Meanwhile, the Climate Ambition Summit presents an opportunity for decisive progress on climate action and to raise the bar for more timely and targeted efforts.
“This week should serve as a turning point to rescue the SDGs,” she said. “We must not let this moment slip away.”