ROME, Jan 6
2020 (IPS) – Let’s face what lies ahead with open eyes: 2020 is going to
be a very tough year for the world, and developing countries in particular. The
infant decade has already begun with the harbingers of climate disaster as
thousands fled to beaches in Australia from raging bush fires, and the Middle
East braced for more conflict after a U.S. air strike in Baghdad killed Iran’s
But even as
the world needs a concerted and decisive response to its challenges, we risk
more of the backsliding and indifference towards humanity that in 2019
characterised the behaviour of many powerful governments, from Australia to the
United States, from Brazil to China.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has cited wars, the climate crisis,
gender-based violence and persistent inequality in warning that the world is
well behind meeting the deadlines of its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable
Development. The 2019 SDG
momentum for positive change, but also identified several areas that need
urgent collective action: the climate crisis, human suffering, quality
education, and gender discrimination.
countries and stakeholders have indeed responded with pledges of “SDG
Acceleration Actions”. But we need to be brutally honest about the gulf between
past promises and action.
that the world will still have 500 million people in extreme poverty in 2030,
Mr. Guterres has called for this to be a Decade of Action. But he surely didn’t
envisage what President Donald Trump had in mind with the drone strike he
ordered that killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on
January 3. Iran quickly pledged “tough revenge” and “World War III” was
trending on Twitter.
without further conflict in the region, the proxy war fought in Yemen between
Iran and Saudi Arabia is expected by the UN to continue as “the world’s worst
humanitarian crisis” in 2020 after nearly five years of fighting. An estimated
24 million people, or 80 per cent of Yemen’s population, will remain in need of
168 million people will need humanitarian aid and protection in crises across
more than 50 countries in 2020, according to the UN’s emergency relief
coordinator. The UN humanitarian affairs coordination office (OCHA) launched its Global Humanitarian Overview
2020 with an appeal for nearly $29 billion in aid from donors. “It is the
highest figure in decades,” Mark Lowcock, head of OCHA, said, blaming climatic
shocks, large infectious disease outbreaks and intensifying, protracted
conflicts for an increase of some 22 million people in need last year.
conflicts are already killing and maiming a record number of children, with
women and girls at higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence than before.
Children’s Fund UNICEF has called for $4.2 billion for its 2020
emergency appeal to reach 59 million children with life-saving support in 64
countries. This is more than triple the funds requested in 2010.
world today, we’re seeing the largest number of children in need of emergency
assistance since we began record-keeping. One in four children lives in a
country affected by conflict or disaster,” said UNICEF Executive Director
assessments were blown off course by worse than expected climate crisis-related
events, such as drought, flooding and tropical cyclones.
world’s efforts to deal with the climate emergency have been dealt a most
severe blow by the policies of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro.
of the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest, soared in 2019 to
levels not seen in a decade. Protected areas have been opened to mining and
agricultural conversion, and murders of environmentalists have increased.
Commenting on the global picture, Rhett Butler, founder of the Mongabay
non-profit environment website, says: “After a decade of increased
deforestation, broken commitments, and hundreds of murders of rainforest
defenders, the 2020s open as a dark moment for the world’s rainforests.”
such as Carlos Nobre and Thomas Lovejoy warn that the Amazon is reaching a
critical tipping point as it shows signs of shifting from humid tropical forest
towards degraded wooded savanna which would result in releasing massive amounts
of carbon into the atmosphere. It is urgent that Brazil move away from
unsustainable agribusiness monocultures of cattle, soy and sugarcane, and
launch a major reforestation project on already degraded lands.
Bolsonaro is also joined by Mr Trump, who will seek re-election this year, in
abandoning climate leadership and damaging global conservation efforts.
mantra for climate scientists and UN envoys seeking to broker global agreements
is that “2020 is the last best chance” to turn the tide of the climate
emergency. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement countries pledged to review and,
hopefully, ramp up their efforts to cut greenhouse gases by this year, meaning
that a lot of effort is needed ahead of the crucial UN climate conference,
COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November.
As noted by
climate news site Carbon Brief, with key emitters such as the US, Australia and
Brazil hostile towards international climate action, a lot now hangs on China
and the EU acting as one to maintain the Paris Agreement’s momentum.
along with Brazil and India, have been called out by the Association of Small Island States as actively blocking ambitious
outcomes in discussions on carbon credit discussions.
month’s COP (Conference of the Parties) in Madrid was widely viewed by climate
activists as a flop.
outside the conference hall, including Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg,
demonstrated the yawning gulf between their aspirations and those inside of
diplomatic Mr Guterres said he was “disappointed” at the outcome and said the
major emitters of greenhouse gases need to “do much more” in 2020.
Much, much more.
*Senior Vice President of IPS Inter Press
Service; a journalist and communications expert, she is a former senior
official of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the
International Fund for Agricultural Development.