NEW YORK, New York, July 10, 2018 (ENS) – “It is literally the truth, that sustainable development is the path to happiness,” Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, told the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, HLPF, that opened on Monday at UN Headquarters in New York.

But it is also true that no country is on track towards achieving all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, by 2030, although the goals were unanimously adopted by the UN’s 193 Member States in 2015.

In the days between now and July 18, more than 1,000 government, business and civil society leaders will gather in New York to evaluate the progress made by dozens of countries towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

HLPF is the official forum to review progress towards the goals, and, under the theme, “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies,” this year’s Forum focuses on six of the 17 goals: SDGs 6 (water), 7 (energy), 11 (cities), 12 (consumption and production), 15 (terrestrial ecosystems), and 17 (partnership).

The Forum meets annually under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with a three-day ministerial segment. It will meet once every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the UN General Assembly.

More than 80 ministers and vice-ministers will be attending this year’s Forum, as well as 2,500 non-state actors, such as nongovernmental organizations. They will determine what is and what is not working, based on UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ annual progress report.

During the Forum, 47 countries will share their experiences, successes, challenges and lessons learned.

Sachs

Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University’s Center for Sustainable Development addresses the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development holding the 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report, which tracks data on how all countries are progressing towards the Sustainable Development Goals. July 9, 2018 (Photo by Kiara Worth courtesy Earth Negotiations Bulletin)

“The goals are this generation’s only hope for creating peaceful, safe, fair and sustainable societies,” said Sachs. “We have to make them work, but the biggest obstacle is greed.”

Sachs told of the greed and vested interests of coal, oil and gas companies, and he called out the global food industry’s unsustainable supply chains and unhealthy products.

Citing parallel sustainable development and happiness rankings, Sachs observed that the list of the top 10 countries closest to achieving the goals mirrors a ranking of the world’s happiest countries.

Sustainable development promotes wellbeing and happiness, said Sachs, while tax cuts for the rich undermine infrastructure, education and health services.

He called on rich countries and individuals to address the gap of US$200 billion in financing to achieve the SDGs, by:
* – increasing official development assistance;
* – using one percent of the wealth of the world’s 2,208 billionaires to ensure education for every child and universal health care access;
* – closing down off-shore tax regimes, and and taxing the $20 trillion held in offshore accounts in a “tax haven archipelago” designed by the United States, the United Kingdom and others.
* – taxing the five big technology monopoly companies given their use of public data;
* – taxing financial transactions;
* – establishing a global carbon tax; and
* – adopting measures to address tax evasion.

Sachs said that there are enough resources in the world for everyone to live free of poverty and it should not require a big effort on the part of large developed countries, to profoundly help those struggling in poverty.

Most important is quality education, declared Sachs, followed by universal access to health care, clean energy “without which the planet will be wrecked,” sustainable land and food, smarter cities with decent infrastructure, and proper use of digital technologies.

He said Sweden is the country most on course to achieving the SDGs, and that Europe is to date “by far” the region doing the best.

The happiest countries are the ones that tax themselves the most, he said, pointing out that Swedes think it is a good thing to pay half their national income to finance quality education and healthcare.

The United States, on the other hand, is “all about tax cuts for rich people,” Sachs declared. “To achieve sustainable development, you have to pay for it,” he said, adding that tax cuts for the rich stifle sustainable development.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network and the Bertelsmann Stiftung Monday released the 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report, “Global Responsibilities: Implementing the Goals,” which tracks data on how all 193 UN member states are progressing.

This year, three Nordic countries – Sweden, Denmark and Finland – top the global SDG Index ranking, yet all three still face major challenges in achieving the goals. Sweden, for instance, scores red on sustainable consumption and production as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken the most significant steps among G20 countries to achieve the goals. Yet, the implementation gaps in G20 countries remain large since only India and Germany have even partially assessed investment needs.

No G20 country has fully aligned its national budget with the goals. According to the SDG Index, the United States and Russia have taken the least action on implementing the goals.

Forum participants say progress has been made on achieving the goals of ending poverty and hunger, but meeting the targets by the 2030 deadline will require more effort.

“It will require policy makers’ unwavering attention, a laser-sharp focus on implementation of these goals, and a true sense of urgency,” said Liu Zhenmin of China, the UN Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs.

“We have only 12 more years to fully realize this transformative agenda, but these goals are absolutely within our reach,” he told the conference.

Introducing the UN Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, Liu cited gains in lowering maternal and child mortality but said challenges such as climate change and conflict are obstructing progress.

For the first time in more than a decade, there are now about 38 million more hungry people in the world, rising from 777 million in 2015 to 815 million in 2016.

The Secretary-General’s report finds that conflict is now one of the main drivers of food insecurity in 18 countries.

In 2017, a record 68.5 million people around the world have been displaced by persecution, conflict and mass atrocities.

Yet many people are living better lives than they were a decade ago, even in regions facing the greatest development challenges, the Index shows.

chair

Marie Chatardová, president, UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is chairing the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. July 9, 2018 (Photo by Manuel Elias courtesy United Nations)

The proportion of the world’s workers and their families now living below the extreme poverty line has dropped from 27 percent in 2000 to nine percent in 2017, Liu noted.

“However, drought and disasters linked to climate change, and surging conflicts in parts of the world, are hindering faster progress,” he warned.

ECOSOC President Marie Chatardová of the Czech Republic, who is chairing the Forum, said that achieving the goals requires more than just the “dedication and good will” of governments.

“We explored how civil society, the private sector, academia and other actors can help move the SDGs forward,” she said.

Chatardová said she expects that the Declaration, an outcome document to be adopted at the end of the Forum, will present a strong political message on the international community’s unwavering commitment to realize the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda.

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