Uphold UN in global Governance

By Sha Zukang

Q: As a former UN under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs, what do you think have been the UN’s biggest achievements in promoting global economic and social development in its 75-year history?
First is peace and security. The main motivation for establishing the United Nations was to save future generations from war. Since its founding, the UN has often been called upon to settle disputes between countries and thus prevent them from escalating into war, or to help restore peace following the outbreak of armed conflict.
By and large, the UN has succeeded in achieving that goal, creating conditions conducive to social and economic development.
Second is decolonization it is an achievement not often talked about but I think it is a major success story of the UN.When the UN was founded in 1945, some 750 million people, nearly a third of the world’s population, lived in colonies and semi-colonies. Today, fewer than 2 million people live under colonial rule in the 17 remaining non-self-governing territories. The wave of decolonization, which changed the face of the world, began with the founding of the UN and represents the UN’s first great success.
The global poverty rate has been cut by more than half over the last few decades, with significant progress being made in East and Southeast Asia. China has made the most dramatic achievement, lifting about 800 million people out of poverty. And the UN has played an important role in promoting global cooperation in the fight against poverty. The UN has also been coordinating global partnerships to combat pandemics. It is now leading the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, this is an achievement of the UN some countries choose to ignore, which is sad especially because the world body supplies vaccines to 50 percent of the world’s children, and helps save 3 million lives a year.
As for climate change, the UN family is at the forefront to save our planet. In 1992, its Earth Summit gave birth to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as a first step toward addressing climate change.
In Paris in December 2015, the parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change. The agreement builds upon the convention and, for the first time, brings all member countries together for a common cause that is, to make efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. I can say with pride that China has played a significant role in advancing the implementation of the Paris Agreement, leading by example.
Q: How did the UN Millennium Development Goals come about? And how impactful have they been for the world?
The MDGs emerged from the Millennium Declaration adopted at the UN Summit in September 2000 at the UN Headquarters in New York City. The world leaders who gathered at the summit committed their countries to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty, and set a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015. These came to be known as the MDGs. The eight MDGs are eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and developing a global partnership for development.
The MDGs facilitated the most successful anti-poverty movement in history, and served as the springboard for the Sustainable Development Goals. The number of people living in extreme poverty has declined by more than half, falling from 1.9 billion in 1990 to 836 million in 2015. And I am very proud to say that China’s success was a large part of that story.
Thanks to the MDGs, the world also saw a dramatic improvement in gender equality in schooling and an almost 50 percent drop in the mortality rate of children below five, dropping from 90 to 43 deaths per 1,000 live births since 1990. The maternal mortality rate has also declined worldwide.
Q: Why did the UN decide to roll out the SDGs? How is the UN pushing forward this initiative?
A major reason for launching the SDGs, which are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was to ensure that globalization remains inclusive in the future, addresses the emerging inequalities within and between countries. Indeed, the SDGs are not just for developing countries; they are for developed countries too. They are universal. The SDGs comprise social, economic and environmental targets while the eight MDGs comprised 21 targets, the 17 SDGs consist of and 169 targets. The SDGs as a vision and action framework are bolder, more ambitious and aimed at addressing the emerging global challenges in a more comprehensive and integrated way.
All 193 UN member states have signed the SDGs, and the 2030 Agenda is being pushed by the whole of government, not just the ministry of environment or the ministry of foreign affairs. Also, there is a progress monitoring mechanism, called voluntary national reviews, and the UN has set up a forum high-level political forum for exchanging experiences and for mutual learning.
Overall, after five years of implementation, the record is uneven. Progress had been made in some areas, such as improving maternal and child health, expanding access to electricity and increasing women’s representation in government. Yet even these advances have been offset elsewhere by rising food insecurity, deteriorating natural environment, and persistent and pervasive inequalities.
Funding remains a challenge, with many developing countries facing financing difficulties. That is why the UN secretary-general has launched a financing strategy to mobilize the international community to increase financing for the SDGs.
If all the 17 goals are achieved, then we will have a world free of poverty, hunger, disease and want; a world free of fear and violence; a world with universal literacy; with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels, to healthcare and social protection; a world where everybody has access to safe drinking water and nutritious, safe and affordable food; a world with universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy, and a world with sanitary, healthy living conditions.
Q: How effective has the UN been in curbing climate change?
I served as former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s adviser when he attended all the climate change conferences during my five years as under-secretary-general for economic and social affairs. So I witnessed first-hand the multilateral negotiations on climate change.
It was not easy. Climate change is the defining issue of our times. From shifting weather patterns, to rising sea levels, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Without coordinated global action today, coping with these impacts will be very difficult and highly costly.
– The Daily Mail-China Daily news exchange item