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The Sustainable Development Report 2019 calls for six major transformations to address skills and jobs, health, clean energy, biodiversity, cities and digital technology. -File pic

AT the end of last month, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and Bertelsmann Stiftung published a report detailing progress by countries against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) pledged by world leaders in 2015.

While not an official monitoring tool, the Sustainable Development Report 2019 complements efforts by National Statistical Offices and international organisations to collect and standardise SDG indicators to monitoring.

Launched in 2016, the annual report provides the most up-todate data from the World Bank, World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation and official sources, as well as non-official data sources (including research centres and non-governmental organisations).

In addition to its index and dashboards, the report offers recommended implementation strategies.

The concept of “transformative change” is gaining momentum in the research, business, and policy communities due to alarming trends in climate change and biodiversity loss that may soon become irreversible.

According to the report, “rising income and wealth inequalities and unequal access to key services, such as health and education, within countries also call for deep transformations of social, territorial, and fiscal policies.

Designing the right mix of transformative policies and balancing short-term and long-term considerations require the integrated efforts of scientists, engineers and policy specialists.

Broad public support and buy-in are also needed.”

In the report, the performance of nations is ranked worst on SDG 13 (Climate Action), SDG 14 (Life below Water), and SDG 15 (Life on Land).

No country obtains a “green rating” (the report’s indicator for the achievement of an SDG) on SDG 14 (Life below Water).

This is quite disturbing as it implies that most countries are only paying lip service to these environmental issues.

And we are losing ground in many areas, as underscored by recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

One million species are threatened with extinction, and, as IPBES said, “we are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.

Young people around the world are taking to the street to protest the lack of environmental action by governments and businesses.

The SDSN report authors conclude that “sustainable land use and healthy diets require integrated agriculture, climate, and health policy interventions.

New indicators on nations’ trophic level and yield gap closure highlight where energy and agricultural efficiency can be strengthened to support sustainable food supply while addressing negative environmental, biodiversity, and health impacts of diets.”

High-income countries generate high environmental and socio-economic spillover effects such as “deforestation as a result of altered land use for agriculture, tax havens and banking secrecy that undermine a country’s ability to raise public revenues, and tolerance for poor labour standards in international supply chains” that harm the poor and women in particular.

Meanwhile, widespread conflicts continue to be a leading cause of reversals in SDG progress.

Modern slavery and the share of waiting detainees in prison remain high, particularly in low-income countries.

Trends in corruption and freedom of press are worsening in more than 50 of the countries covered in the report, which include several middle-income and high-income countries.

“Eradicating extreme poverty remains a global challenge with half of the world nations not on track for achieving SDG 1 (No Poverty).

In middle- and high-income countries, rising income inequalities and persisting gaps in access to services and opportunities by income or territorial area remain important policy issues.”

The SDG Index and Dashboards summarises countries’ current performance and trends on the 17 SDGs.

This year’s index is topped by Denmark, Sweden and Finland, whereas the Congo, Chad, and the Central African Republic rank last among the 162 countries assessed.

How did Malaysia fare? We were 55th last year but we are now 68th. That said, the indicators, data, and methodology have been revised for the 2019 Index, meaning that the rankings and scores are not exactly comparable with the three previous annual editions.

According to the report, of the 17 SDGs, Malaysia has achieved SDG#1 (ending poverty) and is on track to achieving both SDG#8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG#9 (industry innovation and infrastructure).

There are challenges to address SDG#14 (life below water), SDG#13 (climate action) and SDG#15 (life on land).

We are moderately improving on the rest of the SDGs.

Says Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the SDSN: “The Sustainable Development Report 2019 calls for six major transformations in every country to address skills and jobs, health, clean energy, biodiversity and land use, cities, and digital technology.

All countries have a big job ahead to create SDG roadmaps and strategies for success.”

At the end of the day, political will and strong leadership are much needed to carry us over the top.

The writer is a member of the SDSN Global Leadership Council and the founding chair of the SDSN Malaysia chapter

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