Arab Region Needs Human Rights Lens to Make SDG Progress: UN Report
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UN entities working in the Arab region issued the second edition of the Arab Sustainable Development Report.

The 2020 ASDR finds an increasing recognition that more needs to be done to protect the environment, address climate change, and ensure the sustainable use of natural resources.

The report emphasizes the role of conflict in holding the region back from sustainable development, calls for shifting Arab economies away from an over-reliance on oil, and stresses the need to overhaul discriminatory legal frameworks.

UN entities working in the Arab region have issued the second edition of the Arab Sustainable Development Report. The report uses a human rights lens to examine how “inclusive, just and rights-based” the region’s situation is for each SDG. The 2020 report is the first ASDR since 2015.

The publication, released on 10 June 2020, was led by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). In the foreword, ESCWA Executive Secretary Rola Dashti says the ASDR calls for “humility to acknowledge that we are not on the right track.”

Findings indicate that the region will not achieve the SDGs by 2030. In line with the global diagnosis on SDG achievement, the authors observe, the region has yet to usher in a transformative shift in development. However, the report finds an increasing recognition among both governments and peoples that more needs to be done to protect the environment, address climate change, and ensure the sustainable use of natural resources.

Each SDG chapter includes sections on: key facts on the Goal; measuring the SDGs using the global indicator framework, and any targets with 2020 or 2025 deadlines in the global framework; barriers to transformation; those “at risk of being left behind;” and what the region can do to accelerate progress.

The report places major emphasis on the role of conflict in holding the region back from sustainable development. In the chapter on SDG 1 (no poverty), for example, it notes that as a result of conflict, the region has witnessed the only increase in extreme poverty in the world from 2010 levels, and this was the case even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other effects of conflict, the report finds that the vulnerability of women and girls to all forms of violence is exacerbated by prolonged humanitarian crises, instability and displacement.

Other pressing issues to tackle in all Arab countries include health care and education, namely to increase quality and access.

The report highlights the need for different approaches to data, including better disaggregation, more robust methodologies, more public availability of data, and better use of data produced by multiple stakeholders. 

The report also underscores the striking inadequacy of policy frameworks, and the potential power of integrated policy making. It finds that the region has yet to embrace an integrated approach that brings together the different dimensions of sustainable development. To a large extent, it asserts, trade-offs and complementarities between different Goals and dimensions are unaddressed.

Among the suggested ways to remove the barriers to progress, the report highlights the need to:

  • Shift Arab economies towards sustainability and productivity, noting that over-reliance on oil, rents and investment in real estate and services are depleting natural resources and failing to create the labor demand to absorb people’s capacities, especially young people;
  • Increase adherence to universal human rights, including by overhauling discriminatory legal frameworks and addressing discriminatory social and cultural norms and institutions;
  • Move towards a vision of education where schooling at all stages produces creative critical thinkers; and
  • Use regional action and integration, including: economic integration; harmonization of standards and capacities in transport and connectivity; promoting cultural change; producing data on the health of ecosystems; water governance across borders; responding to humanitarian crises; advocating for the restructuring of global governance structures and addressing the inequities of global trade systems and the cost of climate change; and pushing the global community to deliver on its commitments to developing and least developed countries.

[Publication: Arab Sustainable Development Report 2020] [ESCWA press release]

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