#3, Fall 2022

Michael Marien
Senior Principal, The Security & Sustainability Guide

INTRODUCTION: Multiple Crises, Multiple Solutions

The UNDP’s latest Human Development Report (3.1) provides thorough discussion of multiple crises and “the new uncertainty complex,” as well as fresh insights on how to deal with this “new normal.”  The UN Secretary-General offers an extensive list of proposed reforms for a 21st century UN (3.2), while the Millennium Project (3.3) elaborates on five foresight elements of the UN’s common agenda that can help to overcome fragmentation, as this RRR series tries to do on a very modest scale.  Catalyst 2030 synthesizes seven “learnings” on how to improve collaborative action for the SDGs (3.4).  These four general reports—especially the first two—deserve far more attention.

The other six reports are more specialized, focusing on heatwaves of the future (3.5), drought management (3.6), some 200 solutions for cities (3.7), marine chemical pollution (3.8), progress toward gender equality (3.9) and on the first six SDGs in general (3.10).  Many more reports of this sort are available online, and the RRR series will try to report on these reports, probably appearing bi-monthly in 2023.  Readers of the RRR series are encouraged to suggest important new reports for coverage, and to comment on how this format of brief abstracts can be improved. 

For more on Reports and Organizations:

The Security and Sustainability Guide.

3.1  Human Development Report 2021/2022 (UN Development Programme, Sept 2022, 320p).  The sub-title reads “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping Our Future in a Transforming World,” where

COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, climate and ecological disasters, and growing inequalities threaten the world daily.  It is easy to discount crises as one-offs and hope for a return to normal, but “that is the new normal,” and democratic backsliding “has become the norm rather than the exception.”  Chapters describe the “new uncertainty complex” amid material prosperity for some, mental distress as an obstacle to human development (6 in 7 people worldwide feel insecure), dangerous planetary changes in the Anthropocene, pursuit of needed but sweeping transformations, widespread and intensifying polarization, and barriers to acting together. 

“All is not well, but all is not lost.”  Policies must focus on the Three Is: Investment in renewable energy, peacebuilding, and preparing for pandemics and extreme weather, Insurance to protect everyone from the contingencies of an uncertain world (including investments in health, education, and human rights), and Innovation  (technological, economic, cultural) as well as “widening the set of policy options by questioning underlying assumptions.”  Today’s new uncertainty is not only about planetary pressures of the Anthropocene, but “also about purposeful societal transformations”—necessary, worthwhile investments–that seek to ease these pressures on energy systems, food production, transportation, etc.  There are no policy panaceas.  “Tipping the scales towards promise requires that we keep testing the fences of conventional thinking, to embrace an evolving portfolio of perspectives from which to draw,” with “assessments towards imaging more desirable futures.”  [ALSO SEE New Threats to Human Security (UNDP, Feb 2022 Special Report, 175p; RRR 1.2) and Our World at Risk (UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, April 2022, 256p; RRR 1.1).]

3.2 Our Common Agenda: Report of the Secretary-General (UN, Sept 2021, 84p).  Antonio Guterres begins by stating that “We are at an inflection point in history” where we face a stark choice between Breakdown (involving pandemics, warfare, underfunded public goods, growing poverty, erosion of human rights, an uninhabitable planet) or Breakthrough for a greener and safer future, with healthy people, commitment to human rights, quality education and lifelong learning, and attention to illicit financial flows and tax avoidance.  An Agenda for Action is proposed to accelerate the SDGs and existing agreements, describing six action areas: Global Solidarity (finding new ways to work together), a Renewed Social Contract (to rebuild trust, embrace human rights, and foster equal participation of women and girls), Ending the War on Science (the “infodemic” plaguing our world), Measuring Economic Progress (new measures to complement GDP), Young People and Future Generations (meaningful youth engagement), and Effective Multilateralism (a stronger and more networked system).

Other proposals include a Global Vaccination Plan, a Summit on Transforming Education, a New Agenda for Peace, a Global Acceleration Plan for Gender Equity, a World Social Summit in 2025 on universal social protection floors, strengthened governance of our global commons and global public goods, expanding the Global Compact Office, a reformed international tax system, strengthening the UN Office for Partnerships, expanding the UN Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission, a Special Envoy for Future Generations, a Summit on the Future, and a Futures Laboratory to strengthen strategic foresight.  [NOTE:  Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has clearly tilted the world toward “Breakdown,” making this extremely ambitious agenda more relevant than ever.  If half of it was realized by 2030, we would be well on the road to Breakthrough.  Also see a longer review of this signal report and background influence of four other reports in Cadmus (4:5, Nov 2021, 42-47), which also includes comparison with the “Brundtland” report, Our Common Future, from The World Commission on Environment and Development (1987, 383p), seeking “higher expectations” for a global change agenda.]

3.3  Five UN Foresight Elements of Our Common Agenda: Results of a Delphi Study (The Millennium Project, Sept 2022, 36p).  A report to the Executive Office of the UN Secretary-General, based on a panel of 189 foresight experts from 54 countries.  The questionnaire called for judgment on the criticality of five foresight elements to improving global foresight.  In order of perceived importance:
1) UN Futures Lab: seen as urgent and essential to do as soon as possible, creating a global collective intelligence system that could become “the foresight brain for humanity” by analyzing hundreds of reports on the future and different indexes and variables, helping countries develop their national foresight capacities, while overcoming fragmentation and lost learning;
2) Summit on the Future: an opportunity to put global foresight at the center of multilateral decision-making, producing more long-term, systemic, and coherent global strategies to gradually build global consensus;
3) Strategic Foresight and Global Risk Reports: providing analysis and synthesis of all the other major foresight and risk reports and roadmaps for global strategies; a separate UN Office of Existential Risks should be established to provide input;
4) Trusteeship Council: a multi-stakeholder foresight body requiring a change to the UN Charter, as an arm of the Summit on the Future to enforce action and negotiate with governments;
5) Special Envoy for Future Generations: to signal that long-term thinking and inter-generational solidarity are taken seriously.

[NOTE: The RRR is a very small example of potential Futures Lab synthesis.  ALSO SEE Road to 2023: Our Common Agenda and the Pact for the Future (Stimson Center, June 2022, 89p; RRR 2.7).]

3.4  Catalysing Change: Catalytic Networks and Collaborations Towards Attaining the SDGs (Catalyst 2030, April 2022, 44p).  Global and inclusive collaborative action is possible and deeply needed in our fractured and divided world.  Seven “learnings” from two years of working together: 1) unite around a shared set of values; 2) empower the collective by assembling, convening big and small, and facilitating emergence; 3) broker with honesty; 4)  link many locals together; 5) cultivate “first mile” leadership;

6) shift the funding paradigm toward new and transformative practices; 7) seek to obtain systems change by addressing root causes and shifting conditions that hold a problem in place.

3.5 Extreme Heat: Preparing for the Heatwaves of the Future (UNOCHA and IFRC, Oct 2022, 83p).  Climate change is having severe impacts across the planet, bringing new challenges to those least responsible for GHG emissions.  This “sobering review” by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and IFRC Climate Centre, warns that heatwaves will become deadlier with every further increment of climate change.  They are a major cause of suffering and death, and prey on inequality. This is not a problem that humanitarian organizations can solve alone.  “The urgent priority must be large and sustained investments” that mitigate climate change, support preparedness, and adapt humanitarian response.

3.6 Drought in Numbers 2022: Restoration for Readiness and Resilience (UN Convention to Combat Desertification, 2022, 47p).  Discusses drought around the world (1900-2022), impacts on human society and ecosystems, predictable futures, the need for planning and proactive management, successful business cases, and landscape restoration as cost-effective.  A paradigm shift from reactive and crisis-based approaches to proactive risk-based drought management is “indispensable.”  [ALSO SEE Global Land Outlook: Land Restoration for Recovery and Resilience (UNCCD, May 2022, 176p; RRR 1.7.]

3.7 Solutions for Cities: An Overview (Solar Impulse Foundation, Sept 2022, 29p).  Many technological solutions exist today to protect the environment in an economically profitable way.  They represent systems, devices, products, materials, and sources of energy, in the fields of water, mobility, construction, energy, industry, and agriculture.  The full analysis assesses obstacles to change and presents >200 solutions as to how disruptive they are to existing systems, guiding users to implement efficient solutions.

3.8. The Invisible Wave: Getting to Zero Chemical Pollution in the Ocean (Back to Blue Initiative, Economist Impact and The Nippon Foundation, March 2022).  Chemicals in the form of heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, pesticides, plastics, sewage, medicines, and radioactive materials are everywhere on land and in watersheds, but also in the oceans—largely unseen and more difficult to detect.  Marine chemical pollution requires urgent action and will get worse, especially due to expanded production by the chemicals industry in countries with limited oversight.  “350,000 chemicals are registered for production and use, with thousands more being added each year, yet in most cases we know little or nothing about their impact on the ocean environment—or on humans.”  More research is vital. [ALSO SEE: The Second World Ocean Assessment (UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, 2021)]

3.9 Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Gender Snapshot 2022 (UN Women, Women Count, and UN/DESA, Sept 2022, 33p).  Gender equality is assessed for each of the 17 SDGs, e.g.:

1) nearly 1 in 3 women experienced moderate or severe food insecurity in 2021;
2) over 1.2 billion women and girls live in countries and areas with some restriction on safe abortion—a leading cause of maternal mortality and morbidity;
3) globally, over 10% of women and girls aged 15-49 were subjected to sexual and/or physical violence in the previous year;
4) lack of clean water claims the lives of >800,000 women and girls each year;
5) school and day care closures in 2020 led to >500 billion additional hours of unpaid childcare globally for women;
6) women’s labor force participation in 2022 is projected to remain below pre-pandemic levels in 169 countries and areas;
7) “funding for gender equality (SDG#5) is not keeping pace with the increasing severity of global challenges and backlash against women’s rights.”

3.10  The Future of Progress 2022 Report (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Goalkeepers, Sept 2022, 52p).  Each year, Goalkeepers shares the latest data on 18 key indicators, to help understand progress toward the first six of the 17 SDGs .  Seven years after agreement in 2015 on the Global Goals by 193 world leaders, “the world is on track to achieve almost none of the goals.”  High and low projections to 2030 are provided for each goal: e.g. rising spending on food aid to low-income countries.  But the goal should not be giving more food aid, but to change how we think about world hunger “to ensure that no aid is needed in the first place.”  Rethinking is also needed on gender equality: “women are force multipliers…when women have power—over their money, over their own bodies, and in society—we all benefit.”  When it comes to the future of progress, “one engine can drive all global goals: women’s power.”