A new United Nations (UN) report has found that nations are way off course in tackling multiple major global crises. However, it’s hardly a surprise – given that the UN’s ‘sustainable development’ approach to solving systemic issues has always been a glaring contradiction in itself. In the first section of this two-part article, we’ll take a look at the ways in which the nations are falling short of the mark under the UN’s sustainable development roadmap.
‘Far off track’
On 12 September, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launched a key report on the world’s progress towards a set of shared global goals.
The second edition of the Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR) analyses the international community’s efforts to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UN established 17 SDGs in 2016. These lay out a series of interconnected development objectives to address internationally important issues impacting people across the planet. More specifically, the goals aim to eradicate prevailing problems like poverty, hunger, lack of access to education, healthcare, clean water, and sanitation. Averting planetary-scale emergencies like the climate crisis and rapid biodiversity loss are also included among the 17 overarching ambitions.
Reviewing the progress towards meeting these goals, the new report warned that “the world is far off track”.
As the UN’s roadmap to solving the issues hits its halfway point, it has exposed its own inadequacy in the face of worsening world problems.
Failing to meet the Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, nearly 200 heads of state adopted the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals aimed to “banish” a suite of what the UN referred to as “a whole host of social ills”. In particular, it aimed to do so in the 14 years up to 2030. Then UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon hailed them as a:
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shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people
He described the 17 goals, comprised of 179 actionable targets, as the:
to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success
However, the new assessment has shown that the world is no closer to banishing these “social ills”.
The UN previously published a progress report in 2019. It planned to produce follow-up publications every four years until the 2030 deadline. Referring back to the 2019 analysis, the 2023 report acknowledged that even then:
The indications were not encouraging. That Report concluded that on the current trajectory the world was unlikely to achieve the SDGs by 2030.
Moreover, it said that the 2019 report identified how:
in some respects the world was slipping backwards – regressing on climate action and biodiversity, for example, and on reducing inequality.
Four years on from the first progress report and the new assessment has lamented that “the situation is much more dire”.
Specifically, it noted that:
The analysis shows a worsening trend across many of the SDGs between 2020 and 2023.
In effect, the new report found that nations had slowed progress in many areas where they had been making headway. For example, these included steps to ending extreme poverty, improving the mortality rate for children under five years of age, access to electricity, and curbing fossil fuel subsidies.
Worse still, on a number of other targets, nations had not only stalled but in fact regressed. On this point, prominent areas included achieving food security, reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, and curtailing the extinction of species.
A ‘confluence of crises’
The new report attributed the faltering progress to what it termed “a confluence of crises”, including:
the ongoing pandemic, rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis, and planetary environmental and economic distress, along with regional and national unrest, conflicts, and natural disasters.
Moreover, it acknowledged that:
To have these crises overlap so relentlessly might seem bad luck, but they are not independent events: they are entwined through various physical, economic, and social strands, each fuelling other’s intensities.
This was a meek and evasive way to identify a key force underpinning each intersecting threat: rampant capitalism. In the next section of this two-part article, we’ll take a look at why exactly the assumption of capitalism is a fatal thorn in the side of the sustainable development goals.
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