Sustainable Development Report calls for a UN Parliament, goals off track

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo - June 29, 2023: These poignant editorial photos capture the harsh reality and suffering of displaced children in a camp located in the city of Goma.

This week, on June 17, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) published their annual Sustainable Development Report which evaluates and ranks the performance of UN Member States on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since 2015. 

Transformation of global governance

The 2024 edition focuses on the UN Summit of the Future on 22/23 September and includes an opening chapter with numerous recommendations authored and endorsed by over 100 scientists and practitioners. Suggested reforms include setting up “new UN bodies, such as a UN Parliament, new forms of global financing, and new strategies to ensure observance of international law and peace among the major powers.” 

The report notes that “the UN needs significant upgrading” and calls for the establishment of a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly (UNPA) constituted “by representative members of national parliaments”. In a “first instance”, the report points out, the new body could be created by the UN General Assembly as a subsidiary body. But ultimately, “the UN Charter will need to be revised and updated to reflect 21st century needs and realities”, the document says.

At the recent 2024 UN Civil Society Conference in Nairobi, creating a UN Parliamentary Assembly was one of four prominent proposals put forward in the field of transforming global governance with a view of the UN Summit of the Future. The picture shows the closing plenary. Photo: DWB

The purpose of a UNPA would be to strengthen representation of “We the Peoples” at the UN. The report suggests that the UNPA “should have oversight of the UN budget, and be vested with specific powers regarding the collection and disposition of international taxation.”

As financing sustainable development remains a critical challenge, the report includes an urgent call for reforming the global financial architecture. It notes that low and middle-income countries need access to affordable long-term capital to invest in sustainable development. One of the proposals is “to institute global taxation, for example, on CO2 emissions, air and sea travel, financial transactions, and other international goods and ‘bads,’ in order to mobilize sufficient global resources to provide the necessary global public goods.”

Progress of SDGs off track

According to the report, only 16% of SDG targets are on track to be met by 2030. Progress has stagnated significantly since 2020. Notably, SDGs related to “Zero Hunger”, “Sustainable Cities”, “Life Below Water”, “Life on Land”, and “Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions” are off track. Considerable reversals are observed with regard to obesity rates, press freedom, sustainable nitrogen management, and life expectancy at birth, largely going back to the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to other factors. Globally, 600 million people will still suffer from hunger by 2030, the study estimates.

Only about 16% of the SDG targets are on track The remaining 84% either show limited progress (insufficient to achieve the target by 2030) or even a reversal of progress. Source: 2024 SDR report / SDSN, p. 17.

The progress across regions and countries is diverse, with Nordic countries leading in SDG achievement. Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and France top the 2024 SDG Index. The BRICS countries Brazil, the Russian Federation, India, China, and South Africa as well as such considered “BRICS+” – Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – have shown significant progress according to the report, while poor and vulnerable nations, in particular Small Island Developing States, lag behind with a widening gap since 2015.

The report puts a critical emphasis on those SDGs that are doing worst. SDG targets related to food and land systems are particularly off track. The report outlines pathways for sustainable food and land systems, stressing the necessity of dietary shifts, investment in productivity, and robust monitoring systems to prevent deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The importance of global cooperation is underscored in the document and an “Index of support to UN-based multilateralism” (UN-Mi) is introduced which ranks countries based on their engagement with the UN system. Barbados ranks highest in commitment to multilateralism, while the United States in this assessment ranks lowest.

Extending and updating the SDG agenda

The report calls on the Summit of the Future “to establish follow-up inter-governmental mechanisms to extend the SDG agenda to mid-century with highly ambitious timelines, updated goals”, and “enhanced means of implementation”.

According to their website, the SDSN works under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General to promote “integrated approaches to implement the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, through education, research, policy analysis, and global cooperation”. The group is led by Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs.

International civil society advocacy for a UNPA is being coordinated by Democracy Without Borders in collaboration with numerous organizations, among them CIVICUS, Democracy International and Iswe Foundation.