Can setbacks to progress toward UN global goals be reversed?

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Updated 24 September 2022

Can setbacks to progress toward UN global goals be reversed?

Can setbacks to progress toward UN global goals be reversed?
  • Philanthropist Bill Gates has said in recent report UN’s 17 SDGs meant to be achieved by 2030 are all off track
  • Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman says investment in long-term sustainability must go hand in hand with immediate aid

NEW YORK CITY: “The goal should not simply be giving more food aid. It should be to ensure no aid is needed in the first place,” Bill Gates, the philanthropist and founder of Microsoft, wrote in an essay as his foundation launched a new report on the UN Sustainable Development Goals, published on the sidelines of the 77th session of the UN General Assembly.

The Goalkeepers Initiative was launched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2017 to bring together world leaders to speed up progress toward achieving the SDGs.

The 17 global objectives, set by the UN in 2015, are designed to help eradicate poverty and improve the lives of people worldwide by 2030.

With under eight years left to achieve the goals — which include education, gender equality, clean energy, and eradicating hunger — the Goalkeepers’ report says every indicator of the SDGs is off track.

At the beginning of September, UN Women published a report stating that it would take 286 years to achieve full gender equality in the legal system worldwide. It also stated that 10 percent of women and girls aged 15-49 were subjected to intimate partner violence in the last year.

“The truth is, we were never on track to reach SDG 5 — global gender equality — by 2030,” Melinda Gates wrote in an essay published by the Goalkeepers Initiative.

“Development experts knew this before they even finalized the goals. But today, halfway to our deadline, progress remains slow, even stalling,” she wrote, adding that economic inequality is a major root cause of the lack of progress.

“If you dig beneath the ‘years to gender equality’ metric, you’ll see that economic inequality is one of those root causes. The World Bank reported that the difference in expected lifetime earnings between women and men amounted to $172.3 trillion globally even before the pandemic — twice the size of the world’s annual gross domestic product,” Gates wrote.

While it lays out the challenges facing the achievements of these goals — from the COVID-19 pandemic to the war in Ukraine — the SDG report shines a spotlight on opportunities to accelerate progress by advocating for long-term investment in innovative approaches to entrenched issues such as poverty, inequality, and climate change.

Mark Suzman, CEO of the Gates Foundation, said the setbacks to the goals can “absolutely be reversed,” using different technologies and tools, particularly in those goals related to gender, climate and food security.

“We don’t have to settle for those trajectories,” Suzman told Arab News during a conversation on the sidelines of UNGA.




The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, headed by Mark Suzman, is monitoring global progress toward UN development goals. (Supplied)

He said the report is not only “a message of realism about the state of the world,” given the unprecedented shocks from the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, but is also “a message of optimism.

“The sustainable development goals are commitments made by every government in the world to their own citizens: This is not some kind of vague civil society campaign,” he said.

“This is a formal statement of global shared solidarity, and we have all learned together the hard way of the last few years that we are adding resources, we can dramatically accelerate progress in coming years.”

The report reveals that the current setbacks follow nearly two decades of unprecedented global progress, during which there were annual reductions in extreme poverty, child mortality, and improvements in access to education.

“But now, with the food-security crisis and the inflationary shocks that have been exacerbated by the conflict in Ukraine, we've had the first two years of genuine setbacks where some of these trends have gone in reverse,” said Suzman.

“After halving HIV/AIDS incidence and mortality over the last 20 years, we’ve suddenly seen an uptick again. After halving malaria incidence and mortality, we’ve seen an uptick again. We’ve seen many hundreds, or tens of millions, thrown back into extreme poverty. And now we see this massive shock of food insecurity (with) well over 100 million people in food insecurity from Yemen to Afghanistan, to the Horn of Africa.

“And so those are all really not just a call to action, but a demand to action to reverse it,” he said, lamenting the lack of commitment of many countries towards reversing these trends and accelerating the path towards achieving the SDGs.




South Sudan was declared the site of the world's first famine in six years, affecting about 100,000 people. More than three years of conflict have disrupted farming, destroyed food stores and forced people to flee recurring attacks. (AFP)

Action should be taken right now, Suzman said, using “extraordinary tools” — from providing women with digital financial access to the formal system, to the rapid scaling of more productive crops and resistant seeds which are more sustainable amid droughts which cause massive food insecurity.

Such tools could be life-changing for smallholder farmers across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, two areas that have been most affected by climate change, despite contributing the least to the emission of greenhouse gases.

“If governments and other partners, private sector, and philanthropy were able to respond at the scale that's demanded, we could see those trends shift very quickly,” Suzman said.

The Gates Foundation is bringing “a very major set of commitments” related to climate adaptation — which Suzman calls the “orphan child of the climate discussions” — to the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference, which will be held in Egypt later this year.

The Foundation will urge the world to prioritize long term investments in agriculture and climate adaptation to help meet the needs of the poorest communities, such as soil health, irrigation tools, and extension services for farmers, “because we can and we have the assets available to help generate self-sufficiency in these regions. It’s eminently possible even in the context of climate change.

“That has to happen now. It can’t just be another vacuous promise for resources that come in the abstract one, two, three or five years from now.”




The Taliban ordered girls' secondary schools in Afghanistan to shut on March 23 just hours after they reopened, sparking confusion and heartbreak over the policy reversal by the hardline group. (AFP)

Suzman’s words echo those of Somalia’s Special Envoy for Drought Response Abdirahman Abdishakur, who told Arab News earlier this week that he does not want “to be knocking on doors again in five years’ time or ever.”

Though he is calling for immediate humanitarian assistance to help save lives and prevent drought-driven famine in his country, he is also strongly advocating for long term climate-adaptive solutions for Somali farmers to allow for greater self-sufficiency.

“If we’re only investing $1 billion a year in agricultural research, but $10 billion a year in humanitarian aid, that's the wrong way around,” said Suzman.

The tools, he added, the technology, and the ability to use “more thoughtful” irrigation and fertilizers are available now.

The Lives and Livelihoods Fund, a partnership between the Gates Foundation and the Islamic Development Bank which has Saudi Arabia as a key partner, has invested over $1.4 billion in such tools over the last few years.

It helped develop more resilient domestic rice production in Guinea, which is intended to serve as a model for several countries in West Africa — the world’s largest rice importing region — which Suzman says should be able to grow its own rice.

Elaborating on the Gates Foundation’s work in the Middle East, Suzman said: “We’ve been working, for example, on polio eradication, where Afghanistan and Pakistan are the last few countries that have wide poliovirus endemic, and the current floods in Pakistan are deeply challenging in that regard.”

At the Global Fund to Fight HIV, TB and Malaria’s Seventh Replenishment Conference, hosted by US President Joe Biden in New York on Sept. 21, donors pledged $14.25 billion to end the spread of the three diseases, with “generous contributions” from several of the Gulf states.

“Our primary partnership with the Middle East is helping draw on some of the Middle East’s … technical logical resources and financial resources to help with our work in the Islamic world, and more broadly for some of these global efforts,” Suzman said.

 


Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’
Updated 9 sec ago

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’

Liz Truss pledges to steer Britain through ‘stormy days’
  • Truss: Conservatives must unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain
BIRMINGHAM: British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday urged her fractious party to stick together and help transform the economy and the country, fighting to restore her dwindling authority after a chaotic first month in office.
Addressing Conservative lawmakers and members at an annual conference overshadowed by internal bickering and confusion over policy, Truss said the party needed to unite to kick-start stagnant growth and tackle the many problems facing Britain.
So far, however, her misfiring attempt to cut $51 billion (£45 billion) of taxes and hike government borrowing has sent turmoil through markets and her party, with opinion polls pointing to electoral collapse rather than a honeymoon period for the new leader.
“We gather at a vital time for the United Kingdom. These are stormy days,” she said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and the death of Britain’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth.
“In these tough times, we need to step up. I’m determined to get Britain moving, to get us through the tempest and to put us on a stronger footing.”
As she started to speak, two protesters held up a sign asking “Who voted for this?” before they were escorted away by security personnel as the crowd chanted “out, out, out.”
Truss, elected by party members and not the broader electorate, was addressing the party faithful after she was forced to reverse plans to scrap the top rate of tax. She acknowledged that change brings “disruption.”
That U-turn has emboldened sections of her party who are now likely to resist spending cuts as the government seeks ways to fund the overall fiscal program.
That risks not only the dilution of her “radical” agenda but also raising the prospect of an early election.
Having entered the conference hall to a standing ovation and the sound of M People’s “Moving On UP,” Truss told party members and lawmakers that she wanted to build a “new Britain for the new era.”
“For too long, the political debate has been dominated by how we distribute a limited economic pie. Instead, we need to grow the pie so that everyone gets a bigger slice,” she said in the central English city of Birmingham.
“That is why I am determined to take a new approach and break us out of this high-tax, low-growth cycle.”
The conference, once expected to be her crowning glory after being appointed prime minister on Sept. 6, has turned into a personal nightmare, and a battle for the country’s political future.
As the debate moved on from tax cuts to how the government would fund them, lawmakers and ministers openly clashed, in stark contrast to the sense of discipline on display at the opposition Labour Party conference last week.
Some lawmakers fear Truss will break a commitment to increase benefit payments in line with inflation, something they argue would be inappropriate at a time when millions of families are struggling with the cost of soaring prices.
Ministers say they are yet to take a decision and are obliged to look at economic data later this month.
While markets have largely stabilized after the Bank of England stepped in to shore up the bond market — albeit after the cost of borrowing surged — opinion polls now point to an electoral collapse for the Conservatives.
John Curtice, Britain’s best-known pollster, said before the speech that Labour now held an average lead of 25 percentage points and the Conservatives needed to accept they were “in deep, deep electoral trouble.”

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe
Updated 54 min 40 sec ago

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe

Russia: Moscow should be part of Nord Stream leaks probe
  • Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts

MOSCOW: Moscow said Wednesday it should be part of the probe into leaks on the Nord Stream gas pipelines, after Sweden blocked off the area around the pipelines pending an investigation.
“There should really be an investigation. Naturally, with the participation of Russia,” Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Vershinin said, as quoted by Russian news agencies.
Four leaks were discovered last week on the Nord Stream pipelines connecting Russia to Germany, raising political tensions already sky high since the Kremlin sent troop to Ukraine in February.
On Friday, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the issue.
Vershinin told the assembly that “the general opinion was that this was sabotage and that it should be investigated” but that “no decision had been made” on an international probe.
Last Wednesday, Russia launched an “international terrorism” investigation.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said such a probe “required the cooperation of several countries.”
He denounced an “acute shortage of communications and unwillingness of many countries to contact” Russia.
On Monday, Sweden blocked off the area around the pipeline leaks in the Baltic Sea while the suspected sabotage was being investigated.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has accused the West of being behind the blasts.
Russia’s Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev said Wednesday that “it is clear that the United States is the beneficiary, primarily economic” of the leaks.
Both Moscow and Washington have denied involvement.


Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth
Updated 05 October 2022

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth

Trial date set for man accused of threatening to kill Queen Elizabeth
  • 20-year-old Jaswant Singh Chail is accused of making a threat to kill the late 96-year-old monarch

LONDON: A man accused of making a threat to kill the late Queen Elizabeth after being arrested at her Windsor Castle home on Christmas Day last year will go on trial next year, London’s Old Bailey Court heard on Wednesday.
Jaswant Singh Chail, 20, who has been charged under Britain’s Treason Act, is accused of making a threat to kill the 96-year-old monarch, possessing a loaded crossbow with intent to use it to injure the queen, and possession of an offensive weapon.
Elizabeth, who died last month, was at the castle on the day of the intrusion with her son and now King Charles and other close family members
Chail, who appeared at Wednesday’s hearing via videolink wearing a black hoodie, spoke only to confirm his name and his date of birth.
He was told the trial date was set to March 20 next and would last two to three weeks.
He did not enter a plea, the case was adjourned for further evidence to be obtained and Chail was detained in custody. The next hearing will take place at a date yet to be confirmed in December.


Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia

Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia
Updated 05 October 2022

Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia

Myanmar junta leader not invited to ASEAN summit: Cambodia
  • ASEAN has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power last year

PHNOM PENH: Myanmar’s junta leader has not been invited to a regional summit next month, host Cambodia said Wednesday, in a fresh diplomatic snub for the isolated military regime.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has led diplomatic efforts to resolve the turmoil that has gripped Myanmar since the military seized power last year.
But there has been little progress on a “five-point consensus” agreed with the junta, and its leader and ministers have been shut out of recent meetings of the 10-member regional bloc.
Linking the invitation to “progress in the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus,” a Cambodian foreign ministry spokesman said the junta had been invited to “nominate a non-political representative for the upcoming ASEAN Summits.”
This means junta chief Min Aung Hlaing would not be allowed to attend, just as his top diplomat was barred from foreign ministers’ gatherings in Phnom Penh in February and August.
The five-point plan, agreed in April last year, calls for an immediate end to violence and dialogue between the military and the anti-coup movement.
There is growing dissatisfaction within ASEAN — sometimes criticized as a toothless talking shop — at the Myanmar generals’ stonewalling.
The junta’s execution of four prisoners in July, in defiance of widespread international calls for clemency, caused further anger.
August’s meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers ended with a rare condemnation from the bloc for the junta’s actions.
The ministers said they were “deeply disappointed by the limited progress in and lack of commitment of the Naypyidaw authorities to the timely and complete implementation of the five-point consensus.”
ASEAN’s own envoy tasked with brokering peace has admitted the scale of the task, saying “even Superman cannot solve” the crisis.
The regional bloc’s snub comes as Washington attempts to exert more pressure on the junta through the United Nations, following outrage over an air strike that killed 11 schoolchildren last month.
US State Department counsellor Derek Chollet held talks with other governments and with representatives of the self-declared National Unity Government — dominated by ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party — during the UN General Assembly earlier this month.
Myanmar is planning fresh elections in August next year, but Chollet warned there was “no chance” they could be free and fair.
The junta has justified its power grab pointing to alleged fraud in the 2020 elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won easily.
A military crackdown on dissent in the wake of the coup has left more than 2,300 civilians dead, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta, meanwhile, says the uprising against its rule has left almost 3,900 of its supporters dead.


IAEA head Rafael Grossi may visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant again

IAEA head Rafael Grossi may visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant again
Updated 05 October 2022

IAEA head Rafael Grossi may visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant again

IAEA head Rafael Grossi may visit Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant again
  • Rafael Grossi would continue discussing the creation of a ‘safety zone’ around the facility

MOSCOW: International Atomic Energy Agency head Rafael Grossi said on Wednesday that he may visit Ukraine’s Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant again, Russian state-owned news agency TASS reported.
TASS reported Grossi, who headed an IAEA delegation to the plant last month, as saying that he would continue discussing the creation of a “safety zone” around the facility.