An independent international team of 15 scientists - including our compatriot Jean-Pascal van Ypersele - drew up a progress report on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It was presented in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York (September 2019).
This document is complementary to the annual report on the SDGs. It aims to identify the sectors in which more effort is required for sustainable development and those for which rapid progress is possible.
Firstly, the report recognises the positive changes since the adoption of the SDGs. Indeed, countries have taken initiatives to preserve the environment, limit global warming, and introduce a better use of land and oceans. The private sector has also adapted its commercial model which now takes account of sustainability standards. Civil society and NGOs too have mobilised for sustainable development.
However, despite all this, it appears to be difficult to achieve the SDGs. The report shows that the current development model is not sustainable. This implies that the progress highlighted in the report risks being cancelled by the worsening of social inequalities and the deterioration of the natural environment.
However, the scientific community is also painting a more optimistic picture of the future if development policies take drastically different directions. It also stresses that a better understanding of the many interdependencies between each of the 17 SDGs is essential for defining and implementing these policies.
The scientists confirm the need for a deep-seated transformation of our system, especially in the field of consumption, production, food, energy, and urban development.
A complete transformation
Although globalisation has helped to reduce poverty, create employment, ensure access to a wider range of products and encourage innovation, it has also had serious effects on working and environmental standards. Perpetuating current production and consumption methods is harming our chances of achieving the SDGs in 2030.
The scientists confirm the need for a deep-seated transformation of our system, especially in the field of consumption, production, food, energy, and urban development. This can only be achieved via the coordinated action of governments, enterprises, communities, civil society, and individuals. Science also has its role to play.
A call for action
The report identifies a series of interventions for achieving the SDGs and their targets over the coming decade.
Although great progress has been made in terms of the well-being of humans in recent years, 8.6% of the global population was deemed to be "extremely poor" in 2018. This poverty is concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.
Scientists highlight the importance of universal access to basic quality services for eradicating poverty and ensuring human well-being. These services include access to healthcare, education, water and sanitation facilities, housing and social protection.
Also, the report stresses the importance of putting an end to legal and social discrimination by strengthening trade unions, NGOs, women's groups, and other community organisations. These are all important partners for the implementation of the SDGs.
It is necessary to dissociate economic growth from activities that are harmful to the environment.
A fair and sustainable economy
It is necessary to dissociate economic growth from activities that are harmful to the environment. It is also necessary to combat poverty, reduce social, gender and income inequalities, and promote a fairer society that takes account of differences and disability.
In the poorest countries, high levels of growth are still necessary for ensuring social services and the setting up of quality facilities. Nevertheless, "growth at all cost" regardless of the damage caused should not be the goal of policies. Among other things, developed countries must limit their use of fossil fuels and plastic and encourage public and private investment in line with the SDGs.
Such transformations should not be carried out without a degree of anticipation. It is necessary to compensate for the loss of jobs caused by abandoning fossil fuels. It is also necessary to promote substitution activities and allow the setting up of substantial alternatives.
A fair and sustainable food system
Food and energy systems are also areas that require major changes because they are key elements for the health and well-being of humans. Their current functioning is leading the world to a point of no return in environmental terms.
Today, about 2 billion people suffer from food insecurity, 820 million people are underfed, yet, the number of overweight people is increasing in almost all regions of the world. On the one hand, it is necessary to ensure food security and nutrition in developing countries and, on the other hand, reduce the environmental impact of food production systems in developed countries. One of the solutions is to reduce food waste and the dependency on animal protein.
However, this requires technological innovations and political, institutional and cultural changes in order to set up a fair and sustainable system.
A reformed energy system
Our energy system must be completely reviewed in order to ensure access to energy for all. Currently, 1 billion people, mainly in Sub-Saharan African, do not have access to electricity. Consequently, more than 3 billion people have to use polluting solid fuels (such as biomass) to cook.
The share of renewable energy out of the total energy supplied has increased by 5.4% over the past ten years. However, direct and indirect subsidies for fossil energies continue to exceed those for renewable energies.
The solutions for improving this "energy divide" must be specific to the context of each country, with energy combinations that counter the use of fossil energies. Therefore, society's stakeholders must commit to maintaining universal access to affordable, modern, and "clean" energy at the heart of their economic development strategies so that the global economy is completely "decarbonised" in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
More than 3 billion people have to use polluting solid fuels (such as biomass) to cook.
Sustainable urban development
The report concludes that if the current demographic trend continues, cities will become home to about 70% of the global population.
To achieve the SDGs, leaders must work hand-in-hand with all of society's stakeholders in order to develop more compact and efficient cities better served by public transport. They must also ensure access to decent work, effective public services, attractive and secure public spaces, regardless of the gender, age, ethnic origin, and disability of individuals.
Industries and services will also have to focus on solutions based on nature and technological progress in order, for example, to ensure the better management of waste.
The common good and the environment
The report also insists on the preservation of the global common good and the environment, such as the atmosphere, oceans, rivers, lakes and forests. It is necessary to reverse the current trend of over-exploitation in order to maintain the stability of natural ecosystems and allow nature time to renew our resources.
Therefore, governments, local communities, the private sector and international players work together to conserve, restore, use natural resources in a sustainable manner, and treat waste more effectively.
The report calls for the use of the SDGs as a theoretical framework for all political programmes but also for optimal cooperation between society's different stakeholders in order to establish a transition towards a more sustainable development model.