Special Edition of SDG Progress Report Finds Need for ‘Trajectory Shift’
Photo by Lynn Wagner
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The Secretary-General released a Special Edition of the annual SDG Progress Report, reviewing the past four years of progress on the SDGs.

It also observes that the shift in development pathways needed to meet the SDGs by 2030 is “not yet advancing at the speed or scale required".

Among other findings, the report stresses that a failure to meet Paris Agreement goals will “directly threaten attainment of all other SDGs”.

May 2019: The UN Secretary-General has released the advance, unedited version of his annual report on progress towards the SDGs. The report identifies cross-cutting areas where political leadership and urgent, scalable multi-stakeholder action are critical to shift the world onto a trajectory compatible with achieving the SDGs by 2030.

The publication titled, ‘Special Edition: Progress towards the SDGs: Report of the Secretary-General,’ comes as the first four-year cycle of SDG implementation and review comes to a close, with the last sub-set of the 17 SDGs to be considered “in depth” during the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). The report of the Secretary-General is released each year to help UN Member States prepare for the HLPF convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).

The 2019 SDG Progress Report finds that progress has been made on a number of SDGs and targets over the past four years. On SDG 1 (no poverty), extreme poverty continues to fall. On SDG 3 (good health and well-being), child mortality rates continue to decrease, and progress has been made against hepatitis. On SDG 5 (gender equality), the report finds an increase in implementing gender-responsive budgeting. On SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), the poorest countries have increased access to electricity, and energy efficiency continues to improve. On SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth), unemployment has returned to pre-financial-crisis levels, and labor productivity has increased. On SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities), the proportion of the urban population living in slums has fallen. On SDG 14 (life below water), the proportion of waters under national jurisdiction covered by marine protected areas (MPAs) has increased more than two-fold since 2010.

The report cautions that there is “no way” the world can achieve the 17 SDGs without achieving gender equality.

The SDG Progress Report also demonstrates slow progress on many Goals. It projects that in 2030, the extreme poverty rate will be 6%, missing the target. On SDG 2 (zero hunger), hunger increased for the third consecutive year, and millions of children experience undernutrition. On SDG 4 (quality education), 262 million children and youth were out of school in 2017, and more than 50% of children and adolescents do not meet minimum proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. On SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation), billions lack safe water, sanitation and handwashing facilities, and data suggests that the world needs to double its current annual rate of progress to achieve universal access to even basic sanitation. On SDG 13 (climate action), greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to increase. On SDGs 14 and 15 (life on land), biodiversity is being lost “at an alarming rate” with one million species facing extinction, many within decades. Invasive species and illegal wildlife trafficking continue to undermine efforts to protect and restore ecosystems and species. Progress on SDG 16 (peace, justice and strong institutions) is uneven, with millions deprived of security and rights.

On SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), the report finds slow-paced progress. It cautions that the most vulnerable countries and people suffer the most. Rural and urban differentials persist, such as on higher out-of-school rates for primary and secondary schools in rural areas. The report notes that gender inequalities also persist, cautioning that there is “no way” the world can achieve the 17 SDGs without achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.

The report recognizes the “wealth of action” undertaken by governments and other stakeholders in response to the 2030 Agenda; however, it stresses that overall, the “global response has not been ambitious enough.” The report welcomes insights from voluntary national reviews (VNRs), which have demonstrated a “near universal response,” and strong country ownership. Governments have prioritized integration of the SDGs into national plans and policies, and created institutional arrangements to support implementation and monitoring of progress. In addition, the report states that regional governments and cities, civil society, young people, academia and the private sector have “identified entry points to align with and advance SDG implementation.” Meanwhile, the UN development system is undergoing its “deepest reform in decades” to be able to respond to the paradigm shift at the heart of the 2030 Agenda.

Despite these positive signs of progress, the report observes that the shift in development pathways needed to meet the SDGs by 2030 is “not yet advancing at the speed or scale required.” The SDG Progress Report expresses a number of other concerns related to SDG implementation, monitoring and review, including the availability of timely, disaggregated data across all countries, targets and indicators. Other challenges addressed in the report include: challenges in multilateral cooperation; intensified conflict and instability, which have reversed progress made; and increased challenges as a result of disasters, particularly among vulnerable developing countries.

The report calls for world leaders to have an “honest and frank reflection on our current direction” in September 2019, stressing that a much greater urgency and ambition in the SDG response is required, particularly on climate change. The report cautions that a failure to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change will “directly threaten attainment of all other SDGs.” The report encourages all countries and partners to “do more and faster” to tackle systematic gaps.

Specific actions called for in the report include:

  • Placing special focus on the most vulnerable to ensure that no one is left behind;
  • Ensuring adequate and well-directed financing;
  • Strengthening institutions and making them more inclusive and effective;
  • Enhancing local action to accelerate implementation;
  • Bolstering economies and building resilience;
  • Improving collection, access and use of data for the SDGs; and
  • Harnessing science, technology and innovation (STI) with a greater focus on digital transformation for sustainable development.

The Special Edition of the SDG progress report was prepared in cooperation with the UN system Task Team on the High-level Political Forum, which is co-chaired by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP). [Publication: Special Edition: Progress towards the SDGs: Report of the Secretary-General] [SDG Knowledge Hub Story on 2018 Advance SDG Progress Report]


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