From the start in 1945, one of the main priorities of the United Nations was to “achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” Improving people’s well-being continues to be one of the main focuses of the UN. The global understanding of development has changed over the years, and countries now have agreed that sustainable development – development that promotes prosperity and economic opportunity, greater social well-being, and protection of the environment – offers the best path forward for improving the lives of people everywhere.
Close to 40 per cent of the population of the developing world lived in extreme poverty only two decades ago. Since then, the world has halved extreme poverty, with the UN’s Millennium Development Goals greatly contributing to this progress. Recognizing the success of the MDGs, and the need to complete the job of eradicating poverty, the UN adopted an ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At the same time, as climate change poses a growing challenge to the world’s development objectives, the UN supported negotiations to adopt a meaningful and universal global climate agreement in 2015. The UN is also working to develop a financing for development framework to ensure that both the sustainable development agenda and climate action are properly resourced.
A Sustainable Development Agenda
A sustainable development portal, 2015 Time for Global Action for People and Planet, was launched by the United Nations in 2015. It focuses on the UN’s post-2015 sustainable development agenda and contains information on the UN’s efforts to tackle climate change and on many other related issues. The website highlights the Secretary-General’s report presenting the vision for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and shows how you can help publicize these important issues. The UN’s new post-2015 sustainable development agenda was launched at the Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015. The Millennium Development Goals helped end poverty for some, but not for all. The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will complete the work begun with the MDGs.
The Millennium Development Goals
In September 2000, world leaders committed their nations to achieving eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. These goals range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education. To attain them, the Secretary-General has launched different initiatives, including the Zero Hunger Challenge and Every Woman, Every Child. Great progress has been made in reaching many of these goals, but much more needs to be done.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of the increasing dangers of climate change and has spoken of the urgency to find solutions before it is too late. At the present rate, greenhouse gas emissions are rising and the world is on a path to raise the global average temperature by more than three degrees Celsius this century. The world is already experiencing the impacts of climate change, from sea-level rise to melting glaciers, to more extreme weather patterns. Sustainability is an important part of counteracting climate change. The UN is supporting efforts to assess the climate science, facilitate negotiations under the UN Framework Convention for a climate agreement, and provide assistance to countries and communities to reduce emissions and to build climate resilience. To address climate change, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has launched a number of initiatives, including Sustainable Energy for All, that is working to help people access clean energy, improve energy efficiency and increase their use of renewable sources of energy. The UNFCCC Secretariat supported efforts to reach a new universal climate change agreement in Paris in 2015, providing a pathway forward to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, maybe even 1.5. The Climate Summit, held in New York in September 2014, helped raise awareness of the importance of climate change by mobilizing support for a climate agreement and catalysing action in advance of the Paris meeting in 2015.
Disaster Risk Reduction
Disasters can destroy communities in seconds, which is why building resilience must be at the heart of sustainable development. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) works with governments and other stakeholders to ensure the reduction of disaster losses in lives and assets of communities and countries. A conference in 2015, near the site of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan, advanced actions to reduce the risks from disasters by adopting the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. To learn more, visit the portal for disaster risk reduction.
Gender equality and empowering women and girls
While the world has achieved progress towards gender equality under the UN Millennium Development Goals, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination and violence in every part of the world. Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. UN Women works to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, empower all women, and achieve equality between women and men as partners and beneficiaries of development, human rights, humanitarian action and peace and security.
What are the main UN offices and programmes working on development?
The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs works closely with governments and stakeholders to help countries around the world to meet their economic, social and environmental goals. The United Nations Development Programme works with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. Many UN agencies work on specific aspects of development, such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO and the UN Environment Programme.
What UN bodies work to promote development?
The General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial) deals with issues relating to economic growth, human settlements, poverty eradication, globalization and information and communication technologies.