Sustainable Development in Times of Multiple Crisis

“The fragmentation of our global response and the fragmentation of our world are feeding each other”. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General

UN Secretary-General at the United Nations Water Conference.

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Born in 2015 from the need to settle the unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets set for the period 2016-2030, was thought to be a triumph of multilateralism. To “turbocharge” the 2030 Agenda, in 2021 the UN Secretary-General presented, at the invitation of Member States, the Our Common Agenda report, which encapsulates his vision for the future of international cooperation. Crafted on the basis of consultations involving over 1.5 million people from 147 countries, Our Common Agenda has four headings (strengthening global governance; focusing on the future; renewing the social contract between governments and people; ensuring that the UN is fit for a new era) and represents one of the most far-reaching and comprehensive strategies ever produced by the United Nations.

But recent global crises threaten to derail the SDGs off track and, as the UN Secretary-General warned at the European Council meeting in Brussels, on 23 March 2023: “We have a perfect storm in many developing countries. More hunger, more poverty, less education, less health services in so many parts of the world. It is clear that our international financial system is not fit for purpose to deal with such huge challenge. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing tremendous suffering to the people of Ukraine but also having a huge impact globally”.

A study by the Economic Commission for Europe (“Growing Challenges for Sustainable Development: Can the UNECE Region Turn the Tide in 2023?”) reveals the destructive impacts of the current crises on the achievement of the SDGs in Europe: out of the 115 SDG targets for which progress was measured, the region will achieve only 21 targets by 2030, whereas for 79 targets progress has to accelerate, and for 15 targets the trend needs to be reversed.

The year 2023 may be crucial in fixing these crises. On 4 March, after almost 20 years of talks, The High Sea Treaty was finally concluded. On 9 March, the 5th UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries ended with a positive outcome. And on 24 March, the UN Water Conference adopted the Water Action Agenda containing almost 700 commitments to protect “humanity’s most precious global common good”.

From 10 to 19 July, the UN High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) will discuss on “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”. The HLPF will also perform reviews of SDGs 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), and 17 (Partnerships for the Goals).

Then, in September, the 2023 SDG Summit – a milestone on the road to the Summit of the Future in 2024 and the mid-point of the period to fulfill the 2030 Agenda – is expected to align national institutions and budgets with the SDGs, deliver tangible progress on SDG financing (the UN Secretary-General has called on the G20 to unlock an SDG Stimulus of at least $500 billion annually to developing countries), and reinvigorate the concept of partnership.

To prepare both the HLPF and the SDG Summit, between March and April the all five UN regional economic commissions organize regional forums on sustainable development, while from March to July the UN Secretariat will release eleven Policy Briefs with concrete ideas for Member States’ consideration. Two briefs were presented on 9 March: first, on “the needs of future generations” (proposing an Envoy for Future Generations, a Political Declaration defining “future generations” and an Intergovernmental Forum for intergenerational thinking and solidarity); second, on “improving the international response to global shocks” (proposing the creation of an Emergency Platform to convene and coordinate key actors in the event of global shocks). Other policy briefs will address the New Agenda for Peace, youth engagement in decision-making, reform of the global financial architecture, work on metrics that go beyond GDP, global digital cooperation, information ecosystem, sustainable use of outer space, progress on education, and strengthening the UN capacities for the 21st century.

These topics reflect António Guterres’ vision on multilateral governance in today’s interconnected and changing world, a perspective first shaped by his 2017 report on “Shifting the management paradigm at the UN:  ensuring a better future for all”, which introduced the concept of networked multilateralism: “The UN works hand in hand with regional organizations, international financial institutions, development banks, specialized agencies and civil society, in order to bring multilateralism closer to people”.

It was in this logic that the UNECE Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (Geneva, 29-30 March 2023) gathered over 1000 representatives from 78 countries to discuss on “Ensuring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable in the ECE Region in times of multiple crises“. As the region is further away from fulfilling the 2030 Agenda than it was a year ago, the event pointed out that regional cooperation is essential to achieve the SDGs, that green transformation and digital technologies are needed to cope with pressing challenges and facilitate the shift towards a circular economy, but also that sustainable development cannot be achieved without peace and security.

As the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed remarked in her message to the forum: “Our world is facing cascading crises. The lingering effects of Covid-19, the worsening impacts of climate change, and the food, energy and cost of living crises aggravated by the war in Ukraine, have caused untold human suffering and radically changed the development outlook for years to come. We therefore have a duty to act. Initiatives such as the EU Green Deal are paving the path towards a green transition. We must target those policy changes that can have a multiplier effect on key transitions: food systems, energy, digitalization, educational skills. This regional forum is an essential step in crafting a new way forward. Let us meet the tests of our times and realize a vision of the SDGs that is for everyone, everywhere.”

Strasbourg, France, April 2023


H.E. Dr. Ion I. Jinga, is Romania’s Ambassador  to Council of Europe


Note: The opinions expressed in this article do not bind the official position of the author.


H.E. Dr. Ion I. Jinga
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H.E. Dr. Ion I. Jinga, Romania’s Ambassador  to Council of Europe

Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations and was Chair of the 54th session of the Commission for Social Development
Dr. Ion Jinga has been Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Permanent Representative of Romania to the United Nations in New York since 2015. He was Chair of the 54th session of the Commission for Social Development. Ambassador Jinga joined the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1992. He was Director General for the European Union in the Ministry and a member of the Romanian Delegation to the Convention on the Future of Europe. He was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Romania to the Kingdom of Belgium and to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Ion Jinga has degrees in Physics and Law from the University of Bucharest and is also a graduate of the National School for Political and Administrative Studies (SNSPA). He has an MA in European Administration from the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, and a PhD in Law for his thesis entitled “Institutional Reform of the European Union in the Context of the Intergovernmental Conference to Review the Maastricht Treaty”.

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