United toward attaining the Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, world leaders adopted global targets as part of a new, ambitious and sustainable development agenda to meaningfully reduce poverty, protect the planet and bring prosperity to more of the world’s population. Today, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals present us with an extraordinary yet challenging opportunity to improve people’s lives throughout the Americas over the next decade and beyond.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has redoubled its effort in pursuit of a more energy-secure, prosperous and equitable future for the hemisphere. There is no question that our organization touches the lives of millions of people in the Americas every day and delivers tangible benefits to the people it serves. Yet the challenges posed by the new 2030 Agenda, which includes 17 goals covering wide-ranging areas and specific targets to meet them, will require better coordination and a stronger, united regional approach for their successful implementation. Our organization has a key role in all of this.
In our region, the strengthening of democracy is inextricably linked to the underpinning of gains in social and economic development. Therefore, the most crucial challenges relate to poverty reduction; educational improvements; advancements in health and nutrition; universal access to basic services, such as water, sanitation and affordable energy; climate change; and the overall reduction of inequality.
Among these, addressing the effects of climate change is paramount. Last year we experienced the hottest year on record. Indeed, over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history, and rising sea levels now threaten the very existence of many Caribbean nations. As a native of both the Caribbean and Central America, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of climate change on small states and low-lying coastal areas. Climate change is also a major contributor to extreme weather events and natural disasters, such as heat waves, damaging storms, coastal flooding and droughts, which in turn exacerbate poverty and threaten stable, long-term economic growth.
On a slightly more positive note, overall poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean have declined notably over the last decade. While this is a step in the right direction, the countries of our hemisphere still face the most unequal distribution of wealth, leaving access to basic services limited to a privileged few. Today one in five persons in the developing regions of the Americas still lives on less than USD $1.25 a day. Poverty also manifests itself in hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education, discrimination and social exclusion – all of which are scourges on our society.
Tied to the issues of climate change and poverty, access to energy has become increasingly important and necessary for the citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean. Energy is essential for jobs, security, managing climate change, food production and for responding to practically all other major challenges facing our nations. The region’s leaders have recognized that renewable energy can provide key environmental and economic benefits and is fundamental to the hemisphere’s sustainable development and the prosperity of our citizens.
An integrated approach is therefore essential for overcoming these obstacles. Through its proven four-pillar agenda of democracy, human rights, security and development, the OAS continues to play a strategic role in supporting member states in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. As part of a complex and often overlapping web of international institutions and other regional groupings, the OAS stands at the vanguard of a matrix of international entities whose singular and combined efforts coalesce around the attainment of the same goals. We have a collective responsibility to coordinate and maximize the impact of the work we do to respond to the needs of our shared constituents.
The international community has made great strides in improving the lives of the peoples of the Americas. Still, greater efforts must be undertaken. Citizens from across the region expect effective action from their elected leaders. This month, the OAS will gather officials from its 34 member states at its general assembly in Cancun, Mexico, to focus their attention on a holistic approach to address social, economic and environmental issues in the Americas. The central theme for the event “Strengthening Dialogue and Concerted Action for Prosperity” underscores the commitment and spirit of collaboration among member states and regional stakeholders.
In this forum, officials will hold discussions on “Integral Development and Prosperity in the Hemisphere”, “Opportunities and Challenges for Women’s Leadership in the Americas”, “The Rule of Law, Human Rights and Democracy” and “Multidimensional Security”. This multifaceted approach allows the OAS to better assist member states in their efforts to address the overarching issues of the sustainable development agenda.
Ultimately, the individual success of each member state in benefiting from the fulfillment of the objectives of this ambitious agenda depends on its ability to work in concert with partners across the entire hemisphere. It depends on member states’ ability to leverage their shared purpose to attain what no single nation can on its own. The OAS will continue to bring together the ideas, resources and dedication of proactive nations to transform the energy and ambition of our peoples into measurable and sustainable results. There is no greater catalyst for positive change in shaping the destiny of our countries than the shared spirit, commitment and determination of our hemisphere.
• Ambassador Nestor Mendez is the assistant secretary general at the Organization of American States.