The 2023 SDG Summit, held on September 18-19 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, marked a pivotal moment in the journey towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Convened by the President of the General Assembly, this landmark event took place during the High-level Week of the General Assembly and served as a beacon of hope amid a landscape shaped by interconnected global crises.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres delivered a stirring opening address, where he emphasized that the SDGs represent not just a set of goals but also the collective aspirations and inherent rights of people across the globe. He reminded the world leaders gathered at the summit that the SDGs pledge to eliminate extreme poverty, ensure universal access to clean water and sanitation, champion green energy solutions, and provide quality education, among other noble objectives.
However, despite the commitments made in 2015, Secretary-General Guterres lamented that only 15% of the 169 SDG targets are currently on track, while several are regressing. Guterres described the political declaration adopted at the summit as a potential game-changer, capable of accelerating progress towards the SDGs.
The declaration includes a robust commitment to financing for developing nations and provides clear support for Guterres’s proposal for an annual SDG Stimulus of at least $500 billion. It also advocates for the establishment of an effective debt-relief mechanism, acknowledging the debilitating burden of debt on many nations. Furthermore, the declaration calls for a transformation of the business model of multilateral development banks to make private finance more accessible to developing countries and endorses the reform of the international finance architecture, which Guterres has termed “outdated, dysfunctional, and unfair.”
Secretary-General Guterres outlined six critical areas that demand immediate and concerted action. He stressed the urgency of addressing hunger, characterizing it as “a shocking stain on humanity and an epic human rights violation.” He further noted that it is an indictment of our collective conscience that millions of people are still starving in this day and age.
Guterres also highlighted the need for expeditious progress in transitioning to renewable energy sources, pointing out that the world is not moving fast enough in this direction. Simultaneously, he underscored the fact that the benefits and opportunities of digitalization are not being distributed equitably, leaving many behind in an increasingly digital world.
In addition, Guterres drew attention to the pressing issue of education, highlighting that too many children and young people worldwide are victims of poor-quality education or have no access to education at all. He called for the creation of decent jobs and the extension of social protection programs to vulnerable populations.
Lastly, the Secretary-General issued a clarion call to address “the triple planetary crisis” characterized by climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. He emphasized the need to end the war on nature and work towards a sustainable future for all.
In the midst of these challenges, Guterres emphasized the overarching need to ensure full gender equality, stating, “It’s long past time to end discrimination, ensure a place at every table for women and girls, and end the scourge of gender-based violence.”
To tackle these urgent challenges, the UN has initiated a range of efforts. These include comprehensive initiatives to transform global food systems, ensuring everyone can access a healthy diet. The UN is also intensifying efforts to boost investment in the transition to renewable energy and promote universal internet access. Moreover, ambitious plans are in place to create 400 million new decent jobs and extend social protection to over four million people.
Paula Narváez, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), expressed her appreciation for the adoption of the declaration. She described it as a testament to leaders’ unwavering commitment to implementing the SDGs. ECOSOC, central to the UN system’s work on all three pillars of sustainable development—economic, social, and environmental—provides a platform for the review and follow-up of the goals.
The two-day SDG Summit served as the centrepiece of the UN General Assembly’s High-level Week, which annually convenes Heads of State and Government from around the world. Narváez also highlighted two additional events on the agenda—the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development, addressing the pressing need for an international financial architecture that can respond to current needs and emerging challenges, and the Climate Ambition Summit, offering an opportunity for decisive progress on climate action and raising the bar for more timely and targeted efforts.
As the 2023 SDG Summit concluded, the global community stood at a crossroads, with an opportunity to rescue the SDGs and steer the world towards a more sustainable, equitable, and inclusive future by 2030. Paula Narváez aptly said, “This week should serve as a turning point to rescue the SDGs. We must not let this moment slip away.” The world now watches with anticipation as nations translate their commitments into tangible actions, ensuring that no one is left behind in the noble pursuit of a better world for all by 2030.
Written by Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar, USA Correspondent