UN summit day #3 : SDGs in the spotlight

"The college of commissioners must be secured by the broadest vote possible. If we do not take into account the fact that there is no solid majority in the European Parliament, it will be difficult to act during the next five years. This is what needs to be secured," a French government source said. 

Over this special series on the UN climate action summit (23 September) and SDGs summit (24-25 September), EURACTIV gives you a glimpse into the goings-on in New York and what is driving the conversation there. In this edition: A radical change of the food system, climate adaptation, dozing commerce secretary and World Heritage.

Monday was all about climate at the UN headquarter in New York, Tuesday (24 September) saw the opening of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Summit that will last until tomorrow.

Climate change is part of the SDGs while they are meant to address major humanitarian challenges such as reducing poverty, hunger, disease, or improve access to education. They define 17 priorities for socially equitable, environmentally secure, economically prosperous, inclusive and predictable development by 2030. They were adopted in September 2015 by the UN as part of the Agenda 2030.

Just like the fight against global warming, the implementation of the SDGs is lagging behind. In mid-2019, the various data collected at national level show that countries are still far from achieving this objective, including in the 20 richest countries in the world, the G20. The OECD stated in a report that “advanced economies still have a lot of work to do to meet the SDGs,” particularly on gender equality issues and reducing inequalities.

Not only national governments are expected to contribute to the SDGs – corporations, NGOs, investors, cities, and citizens are also expected to play a part.

Private sector. As it is, one of the major announcements made this Tuesday came from the corporate sector. French food giant Danone Chairman and CEO Emmanuel Faber called for a radical change of the food system as we know it and announced the launch of a new business coalition to do just that.

“The food system that we built over the last century is at a dead-end. In essence, we thought that science could change the cycle of life and its rules. The resulting monocropping consequences are standing right in front of us now. We depend for 2/3 of our food on this planet on only nine plants today. And 40% of our lands are already degraded. In a nutshell, we have broken the cycle of life,” he said.

In order to reinstore the lost biodiversity, Danone along with 20 of the largest food and other agri-based companies in the world, launched the One Planet Business for Biodiversity that will commit to put nature-based solutions “at the heart” of their strategies, processes and supplies.

The corporations have set out three priorities: shifting their practices towards regenerative agriculture in order to restore soil health, using the thousands or so brands they have in their portfolio to create a demand for a variety of crops, species and traditional seeds. The latter are “forgotten today” and are dying, Emmanuel Faber said. The third priority will address fighting deforestation and protecting wildlife and wild biodiversity. “The total sales of this coalition today is about $500 billion, in 100 countries where we operate. It looks big, but it is not. It’s only a start, we need many more partners,” Danone’s CEO said.

Climate adaptation. Building on the momentum of the UN Climate Action Summit, the Global Commission on Adaptation is launching a Year of Action to accelerate and scale climate adaptation solutions. The Commission is led by Ban Ki-moon, 8th Secretary General of the United Nations, Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank.

At an event at the UN headquarters, Commission leaders and partners launched eight Action Tracks that focus on the following areas: Finance and Investment, Food Security and Agriculture, Nature-Based Solutions, Water, Cities, Locally-Led Action, Infrastructure, and Preventing Disasters. More than 75 national governments, multilateral banks, civil society organisations and private sector actors have signed on to support and deliver on these initiatives. The Commission will champion this package at the Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Netherlands in October 2020.

European Commission. Neven Mimica, the EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, announced that the European Commission will mobilise €30 million to the UN joint fund for the 2030 agenda to help partner countries implement the SDGs. “Last May, EU and ACP countries agreed to step up their cooperation. The future agreement that we are currently negotiating will set a new paradigm for development and the SDGs will be an integral part of it,” he said.

Tackling US President Donald Trump, the EU Commissioner stressed that “multilateralism is the only way forward to implement the Paris Agreement and SDGs such as inequality, climate change, peace security, and migration to name but a few. The summit is there to get back on track.”

Heads of states. Tuesday saw US president Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro address the UN Assembly, which they did not do the day before.

Donald Trump. The US president has long defended the sovereignty of states against “globalists” and all forces that intend to exercise “control” over the sovereignty of peoples.  For Trump, the main division in the world is between those who aspire to control, who believe they are destined to govern others, and those individuals and peoples who aspire only to govern themselves. He thus presented himself as the “elected leader of a nation that aspires to freedom and self-government”.

Recalling that US Armed Forces are “by far the most powerful in the world,” Trump said he hoped his country would never have to use that power. But the US is fiercely defending the traditions and customs that have made Americans “what we are,” the President said, stressing that each country has “a history that is dear to it, a culture, a heritage to defend and honour. “Be proud of your country. If you want peace, love your nation,” he said, making this theme a recurring part of his speech. For Mr. Trump, these foundations must be respected and should not be replaced. In his view, “the future does not belong to globalists, it belongs to patriots, to sovereign, independent nations that protect their citizens and respect their neighbours”.

During Trump’s speech, the Venezuelan delegation chose to read a book….

… while US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross seems to have taken a quick nap.

Jair Messias Bolsonaro. The Brazilian President first “thanked God for being alive” before indicating that he represents a new Brazil that is being reborn from socialism and rebuilt on the basis of the aspirations of its people. “Socialism has plunged my country into widespread corruption, a severe recession and criminalisation that has undermined the very foundations of the family,” he said.

The Brazilian President announced that his government was ready to launch the process of accession to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). “We are on track and have adopted best practices in all areas, including the environment,” he said.

Commenting on the Amazon, which has been devastated by wildfires this year, Bolsonaro said his government was firmly committed to forest conservation. “Brazil is one of the richest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity and mineral resources. Our forest is larger than Western Europe and remains almost intact because we are one of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world,” he said.

“We cannot say that Amazonia is a World Heritage Site,” he warned, accusing some countries of simply reporting media lies and making disrespectful statements in a “colonialist” spirit that questioned Brazil’s sovereignty. “Thank you to the countries that refused to support the absurd proposal made at the G7 Summit in France. Thank you to Mr. Donald Trump, who reaffirmed the importance of respecting everyone’s freedom,” he said. Today 14% of Brazil’s territory is dedicated to agriculture and indigenous peoples, he underlined. “Let me be clear, Brazil is not going to increase this share.”

Emmanuel Macron. The French president said the international community had failed to meet the demands of the UN Secretary General at the Climate Action summit the day before. This is despite the clear science (“never before has science been so advanced to help us formulate the answers”), the extraordinary means at humanity’s disposal (the world has an “unparalleled” capacity for innovation and an “unprecedented awareness of contemporary ills”) and a multilateral framework in the form of the Paris Agreement, he said. “So, what are we missing?” asked the French leader. “On reflection, I remembered a text that often accompanied me, the one Alexandre Solzhenitsyn wrote in 1978 at Harvard University: we lack the courage,” he replied. “The return of courage, the courage to know how to build peace and the courage of responsibility,” he said. During his speech, he touched on the eradication of feminicide and called for effective action and a legal status while also insisting on the eradication of AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria that “is within reach”, he said. “We can save 16 million lives in the next 3 years. We have three weeks to raise $14 billion. Let’s mobilise!”

Outside the UN precinct. US environmental NGO Mighty Earth called on major grocery stores Costco, Ahold Delhaize, and Walmart to end their links to deforestation in the Amazon and throughout South America.

“While much of the blame for the fires has rightly fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for directly encouraging the burning of forests and the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands, the financial incentive for the destruction comes from large-scale international meat and soy animal feed companies like Cargill, Bunge, and JBS,” Mighty Earth said in a letter addressed to the grocery stores.

The letters call on Costco, Ahold Delhaize, and Walmart among others to immediately cease purchases from companies responsible for the destruction of forests. Furthermore, they call on Grocery chains to establish industry-wide mechanisms to monitor and stop destruction of native ecosystems across South America, require suppliers to implement regenerative agro-ecological farming practices that verifiably improve soil health, water quality, and biodiversity and set a public, science-based target to rapidly shift a significant portion of protein sales towards plant-based options.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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