Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 May 2019

Some countries expected to miss UN targets on hunger and equal pay

UAE Public Policy Forum hears how 2030 deadline for solving societal problems is out of reach for some states

A Dubai forum on public policy heard how poorer nations could take decades to achieve key United Nations sustainable development goals to address poverty and hunger. AFP
A Dubai forum on public policy heard how poorer nations could take decades to achieve key United Nations sustainable development goals to address poverty and hunger. AFP

Sustainable development goals laid down by the United Nations could take decades to achieve on the current path of progress, policy experts said at a Dubai forum.

A blueprint for a better future where ‘no one is left behind’ has been backed by the UAE, highlighting 17 key areas of society for improvements.

On the opening day of the UAE Public Policy Forum, experts said big improvements were needed to get nations back on track.

A deadline of 2030 to achieve each goal has been set, but targets of equality, health, sustainability and education could be out of reach for some.

“If you look at the global trends, we may have to wait until the end of the 22nd century to achieve some of these goals,” said Dr Yannick Glemarec, former UN Assistant Secretary General.

“We are not in very good shape in some of these trends and there are plenty of opportunities for progress.

“Governments facing budget cuts are under a major handicap to achieve sustainability development goals.

“It could be 70 years until we see equal pay between women and men, for example.”

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the average American woman earns 18.2 per cent less than the average man.

In the European Union, the gender pay gap is 19.1 per cent, excluding considerations of physical ability, age, race, sexual orientation, income level and if they have children.

Gender equality is just one of the UN goals that could be unachievable before the 2030 target, without drastic change in government policy around the world.

Poverty is another area interconnected to many other sustainable development goals, such as access to education, zero hunger and good health and well-being.

A poor family is more likely to suffer from poor nutrition and the related consequences of unhealthy development, said Dr Glemarec, now in charge of policy at the UN Women programme for gender equality.

“The poorest in society are more likely to have an insufficient education, be married as a child or be exposed to dangerous environmental conditions,” he said.

According to the latest 2018 report on sustainable development goals, although the number of people living on less than $2 a day is falling, around 700 million people remain trapped in poverty.

Access to reliable healthcare is another barrier preventing many countries from achieving development targets.

“There are many people still living in a dire situation that makes them vulnerable to many issues, such as gender inequality to access to education,” said Prof Salman Keshavjee, director of Harvard Medical School Centre for Global Health Delivery.

“Unless we really tackle inequality head on, it will become a big problem.”

One success story in achieving global targets has been the switch to renewable energy.

The UAE has led the way in the region in adopting new technologies to encourage more sustainable sources of energy.

As the technology has become more efficient, policy has adapted to suit a more environmentally sound national agenda.

Half the electricity used at Expo2020 will be from renewable sources, and several eco-friendly residential areas are now in use across the UAE.

The UAE has ambitions to have 25 per cent of its transport be autonomous by 2030, and that success could depend on government policy.

Dr Glemarec said policy and regulation of autonomous cars will need careful consideration to ensure it achieves a positive effect on society.

“Driverless cars should reduce traffic and improve the quality of commuting by increasing the resilience of cities towards climate change,” he said.

“That is the commonly forecast scenario.

“But, where driverless cars reduce the cost of transport by 60-70 per cent per mile, it could become so cheap people will not use public transport any more.

“The poorest will not be able to afford driverless cars, and will no longer have access to public transport if it becomes obsolete.

“Public policy will determine which scenario becomes more apparent.”

Updated: January 27, 2019 07:18 PM