UN Calls Sustainable Development a Top Priority

The UN High-Level Panel Global Sustainability released its report in Addis Ababa yesterday entitled “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing.” The panel’s 99-page report, which will serve as an input to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June, (otherwise known as the Rio+20 Summit) is a call to action, “to address the sustainable development challenge in a fresh and operational way.”

This document is incredibly rich, beautifully written and filled with a tremendous amount of good thought, clear vision, careful analysis, sober assessment, and useful suggestions for ways to move sustainable development from an abstract concept to the core of mainstream economics.

The High-level Panel on Global Sustainability argues that by making transparent both the cost of action and the cost of inaction, political processes can summon both the arguments and the political will necessary to act for a sustainable future. The long-term vision of the Panel is to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and make growth inclusive, and production and consumption more sustainable, while combating climate change and respecting a range of other planetary boundaries. In light of this, the report makes a range of recommendations to take forward the Panel’s vision for a sustainable planet, a just society and a growing economy.

The panel’s snapshot of the current state includes the following observations:

    • 27 per cent of the world’s population lives in absolute poverty (down from 46 per cent in 1990)
    • Global economic growth is up 75 per cent since 1992 but inequality is still high
    • An increase of 20 million undernourished people since 2000
    • 5.2 million hectares net forest loss per year
    • Ozone layer will recover to pre-1980 levels in 50 years plus
    • Two thirds of the services provided by nature to humankind are in decline
    • 85 per cent of all fish stocks are over-exploited, depleted, recovering or fully exploited
    • 38 per cent increase in annual global carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2009
    • 20 per cent of the world’s population lack access to electricity
    • 884 million people lack access to clean water
    • 2.6 billion people are without access to basic sanitation
    • 67 million children of primary school age are out of school
    • 3.5-year increase in life expectancy between 1990 and 2010

Overall, the panel’s opines, “the progress towards sustainable development to date has been neither fast nor deep enough, and the urgency of further-reaching action is growing all the time. But…major changes are already in train in the larger, global context — changes that will have far-reaching implications for sustainable development.”

The panel’s 56 recommendations were grouped into 15 categories which included:

      • Delivering fundamentals
      • Education and skills for sustainable development
      • Creating employment opportunities
      • Managing resources and enabling a twenty-first-century green revolution
      • Building resilience
      • Incorporating social and environmental costs: regulation and pricing to reflect externalities
      • Creating an incentive road map that increasingly values long-term objectives
      • Establishing a common framework for measuring progress
      • Coherence and accountability at all levels (local, national, regional, global)
      • Strengthening international governance for sustainable development

Some specific recommendations include:

      • Phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020
      • Establish a global education fund
      • New economic sustainability indicators replacing GDP
      • Guidance for public and private investment and consumption towards better sustainability values
      • Ensure affordable electricity to all by 2030
      • Establish an ever-green agricultural revolution
      • creation of regional oceans and coastal management bodies that protect world fisheries
      • Enable young people’s participation in and influence on decision-making processes


The executive secretary of the panel, Janos Pasztor said, “We cannot go into sustainable development without… making a radical transformation of the economy.”

I cannot do justice to this document in the short space I have here, but I highly recommend that you check it out.

[Image credit: Ben Rimmer: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water. Now available on Kindle.

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RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com

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