Latin America Is Lagging in Its Homework to Meet the SDGs

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Sustainable Development Goals

A view of the Altos de Florida neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia. Overcoming poverty is the first of the Sustainable Development Goals, and in the Latin American and Caribbean region there is not only slow progress but even setbacks in the path to reduce it. CREDIT: Freya Mortales / UNDP

A view of the Altos de Florida neighborhood in Bogotá, Colombia. Overcoming poverty is the first of the Sustainable Development Goals, and in the Latin American and Caribbean region there is not only slow progress but even setbacks in the path to reduce it. CREDIT: Freya Mortales / UNDP

CARACAS, Sep 15 2023 (IPS) – The Latin American and Caribbean region is arriving at the Sustainable Development Goals Summit on the right track but far behind in terms of progress, at the halfway point to achieve the SDGs, which aim to overcome poverty and create a cleaner and healthier environment.

“We are exactly halfway through the period of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but we are not half the way there, as only a quarter of the goals have been met or are expected to be met that year,” warned ECLAC Executive Secretary José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs.

“We are exactly halfway through the period of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but we are not half the way there, as only a quarter of the goals have been met or are expected to be met that year.” — José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs

However, the head of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) stressed, in response to a questionnaire submitted to him by IPS, that “the percentage of targets on track to be met is higher than the global average,” partly due to the strengthening of the institutions that lead the governance of the SDGs.

The 17 SDGs include 169 targets, to be measured with 231 indicators, and in the region 75 percent are at risk of not being met, according to ECLAC, unless decisive actions are taken to forge ahead: 48 percent are moving in the right direction but too slowly to achieve the respective targets, and 27 percent are showing a tendency to backslide.

The summit was convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for Sept. 18-19 at the United Nations headquarters in New York, under the official name High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

The stated purpose is to “step on the gas” to reach the SDGs in all regions, in the context of a combination of crises, notably the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, new wars, and the climate and food crises.

The SDGs address ending poverty, achieving zero hunger, health and well-being, quality education, gender equality, clean water and sanitation, affordable and clean energy, decent work and economic growth, industry, innovation and infrastructure, and reducing inequalities.

They also are aimed at sustainable cities and communities, responsible production and consumption, climate action, underwater life, life of terrestrial ecosystems, peace, justice and strong institutions, and partnerships to achieve the goals.

Drinking water is distributed from tanker trucks in the working-class Petare neighborhood in eastern Caracas. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is another of the goals that are being addressed with a great variety of results within Latin American and Caribbean countries, and there is no certainty that this 2030 Agenda target will be reached in the region. CREDIT: Caracas city government

Drinking water is distributed from tanker trucks in the working-class Petare neighborhood in eastern Caracas. Access to safe drinking water and sanitation is another of the goals that are being addressed with a great variety of results within Latin American and Caribbean countries, and there is no certainty that this 2030 Agenda target will be reached in the region. CREDIT: Caracas city government

Progress is being made, but slowly

“In all the countries of the region progress is being made, but in many not at the necessary rate. The pace varies greatly and we are not where we would like to be,” Almudena Fernández, chief economist for the region at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), told IPS from New York.

Thus, said the Peruvian economist, “there is progress, for example, on some health or energy and land care issues, but we are lagging in achieving more sustainable cities, and we are not on the way to achieving, regionally, any of the poverty indicators.”

Salazar-Xirinachs, who is from Costa Rica, said from Santiago that “the countries that have historically been at the forefront in public policies are the ones that have made the greatest progress, such as Uruguay in South America, Costa Rica in Central America or Jamaica in the Caribbean. They have implemented a greater diversity of strategies to achieve the SDGs.”

A group of experts led by U.S. economist Jeffrey Sachs prepared graphs for the UN on how countries in the various developing regions are on track to meet the goals or still face challenges – measured in three grades, from moderate to severe – and whether they are on the road to improvement, stagnation or regression.

According to this study, the best advances in poverty reduction have been seen in Brazil, El Salvador, Guyana, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay, while the greatest setbacks have been observed in Argentina, Belize, Ecuador and Venezuela.

In the fight for zero hunger, no one stands out; Brazil, after making progress, slid backwards in recent years, and the best results are shown by Caribbean countries.

In health and well-being, education and gender equality, there are positive trends, although stagnation has been seen, especially in the Caribbean and Central American countries.

In water and sanitation, energy, reduction of inequalities, economic growth, management of marine areas, terrestrial ecosystems, and justice and institutions, Sachs’ dashboard shows the persistence of numerous obstacles, addressed in very different ways in different countries.

Many countries in Central America and the Caribbean are on track to meet their climate action goals, and in general the region has made progress in forging alliances with other countries and organizations to pave the way to meeting the SDGs.

Young people in a Latin American country share a vegetable-rich meal outdoors. The notion of consuming products produced with environmentally sustainable techniques is gaining ground, and a private sector whose DNA is embedded in the search for positive environmental and social repercussions is flourishing. CREDIT: Pazos / Unicef

Young people in a Latin American country share a vegetable-rich meal outdoors. The notion of consuming products produced with environmentally sustainable techniques is gaining ground, and a private sector whose DNA is embedded in the search for positive environmental and social repercussions is flourishing. CREDIT: Pazos / Unicef

A question of funds

Even before the pandemic that broke out in 2020, Fernández said, the region was not moving fast enough towards the SDGs; its economic growth has been very low for a long time – and remains so, at no more than 1.9 percent this year – and growth with investment is needed in order to reduce poverty.

In this regard, Fernández highlighted the need to expand fiscal revenues, since tax collection is very low in the region (22 percent of gross domestic product, compared to 34 percent in the advanced economies of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), “although progress will not be made through public spending alone,” she said.

Salazar-Xirinachs pointed out that “in addition to financial resources, it is very important to adapt actions to specific areas to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The measures implemented at the subnational level are of great importance. Specific problems in local areas cannot always be solved with one-size-fits-all policies.”

Fernández underlined that the 2030 Agenda “has always been conceived as a society-wide agenda, and the private sector plays an essential role, particularly the areas that are flourishing because it has a positive social and environmental impact on their DNA, and there are young consumers who use products made in a sustainable way.”

ECLAC’s Salazar-Xirinachs highlighted sensitized sectors as organized civil society and the private sector, for their participation in sustainable development forums, follow-up actions and public-private partnerships moving towards achievement of the SDGs.

Finally, with respect to expectations for the summit, the head of ECLAC aspires to a movement to accelerate the 2030 Agenda in at least four areas: decent employment for all, generating more sustainable cities, resilient infrastructure that offers more jobs, and improving governance and institutions involved in the process.

ECLAC identified necessary “transformative measures”: early energy transition; boosting the bioeconomy, particularly sustainable agriculture and bioindustrialization; digital transformation for greater connectivity among the population; and promoting exports of modern services.

It also focuses on the care society, in response to demographic trends, to achieve greater gender equality and boost the economy; sustainable tourism, which has great potential in the countries of the region; and integration to enable alliances to strengthen cooperation in the regional bloc.

In summary, ECLAC concludes, “it would be very important that during the Summit these types of measures are identified and translate into agreements in which the countries jointly propose a road map for implementing actions to strengthen them.”


Halfway to 2030: Our 5 Asks at the SDG Summit

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Environment, Global, Headlines, Human Rights, Inequality, Poverty & SDGs, Press Freedom, Sustainable Development Goals, TerraViva United Nations


A protest for women’s rights in Puebla, Mexico. Credit: Melania Torres/Forus

NEW YORK, Sep 15 2023 (IPS) – At the UN SDG Summit in New York, the Forus global civil society network is calling for decisive action on SDG implementation. Clearly, as we hit the midpoint towards the “finish line” of the Agenda 2030, progress is stagnating.

The 2023 Special Edition of the SDG Progress Report emphasized that we’re falling short in implementing the SDGs. In April this year, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres deplored that “Progress on more than 50 per cent of targets of the SDGs is weak and insufficient; on 30 per cent, it has stalled or gone into reverse,” disproportionately impacting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

As we approach the halfway mark of the 2030 Agenda, we urge world leaders at the UN General Assembly to address the precarious state of SDG implementation. Here’s our 5 asks.

Walk the talk with clear implementation plans and benchmarks for the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.

“In Guatemala, there are two worlds, one for a small group that benefits from this macroeconomic stability, this weakness of democracy, this co-optation of state institutions, and a large majority of the population that faces poverty and inequality,” says Alejandro Aguirre Batres, Executive Director of CONGCOOP, the national platform of NGOs in Guatemala that recently published an alternative report on the implementation of the SDGs in the country.

Human rights activists in Cartagena, Colombia from the Coalition of Human Rights in Development at the Finance in Common Summit. Credit: Sebastian Barros/Forus

Governments must make specific national implementation plans to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, with clear benchmarks on when to achieve the targets set in 2015. Following the SDG Summit, we call on the United Nations and its partners to ensure that the “National Commitments to SDG Transformation” called for by the Secretary-General are adequately compiled and tracked, including by providing a transparent and inclusive platform for showcasing these commitments, helping to ensure adequate implementation, follow-up and accountability. All efforts and commitments must focus on breaching the increassing gap in inequalities, healing polarisation and restoring socio-environmental rights at the core of Agenda 2030 implementation as no form of development should come at the cost of environmental degradation and injustice.

Presenting a viewpoint from Asia, Jyotsna Mohan Singh, representing the Asia Development Alliance, emphasizes that while the SDGs look good on paper, their real-world implementation remains far from satisfactory. She explains, “Governments should develop a policy coherence for sustainable development roadmap with timebound targets,” adding that it’s all about creating spaces grounded in equity where civil society and other stakeholders can join discussions and connect with local communities.

In regions like the Sahel, stretching 5,000 kilometers below the Sahara Desert from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, challenges like conflict, political instability, extreme poverty, and food insecurity affect nearly 26 million people. Yet, this region is teeming with opportunities, boasting abundant resources and a young population, including 50% young women and girls. As civil society leader Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, Forus Chair and President of SPONG, the Burkina Faso NGO network, puts it, “What unfolds in the Sahel and in so many other forgotten communities ripples across the globe, impacting us all even if we choose to look away. Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals is vital to unlock a different future. But for global change to truly happen, we need countries to come together, we need solidarity, horizontal spaces, and for world leaders to start listening and acting accordingly.”

Commit to the protection of civic space and human rights.

“Although the state of Pakistan has ratified many global instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the SDGs, the irony is that none of them have been transformed into local policies and regulatory frameworks. Unfortunately, civil rights advocates and organizations have either transformed themselves into humanitarian organizations or practiced self-censorship to avoid state atrocities. Pakistan is failing to achieve SDGs due to disengagement with civil society and other stakeholders. Ironically, the government is unable to provide reliable data on any of their own priority indicators to measure progress towards the implementation of SDGs, particularly on rights-based indicators,” says Zia ur Rehman, National Convener of the Pakistan Development Alliance. Their newly published Pakistan Civic Space Monitor reveals a generally restricted civic space, including restraints on freedom of speech, assembly, information, rule of law, governance, and public participation, with further deterioration. This rings true for 92% of Forus members – comprising national and regional civil society networks in over 124 countries – who consider the protection of civic space and human rights a top priority.

Fridays for Future activists during a Climate March in Brussels, Belgium. Credit: Both Nomads/Forus

Indeed, over the past decade, thousands of civil society organizations have faced increasing challenges due to restrictions on their formation and activities. Nine out of 10 people now live in countries where civil liberties are severely restricted, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression, according to the CIVICUS Monitor. Forus reports confirm that civil society deals with increasing restrictions, involving extra-legal actions, misinformation and disinformation about their work both online and offline. Research also highlights the insufficiency of current institutional mechanisms to ensure an enabling environment for civil society, including addressing impunity for attacks on civil society and human right defenders, implementing supportive laws and regulations, and facilitating effective and inclusive policy dialogue. A recent ARTICLE 19 report highlights the inadequate integration of crucial elements like freedom of expression and access to information into SDGs, hampering progress. Journalist killings increased in 2022. Additionally, monitoring access to information mainly focuses on having a legal framework, ignoring its quality and adoption. Strengthening these rights is vital for advancing all SDGs. The growing number of human rights defenders being killed every year – at least 401 in 26 countries were murdered for their peaceful work in 2022 – is another worrying trend that needs to be reversed as the protection and promotion of human rights is the cornerstone of achieving sustainable development. Without human rights we will just move backwards.

Strengthen and Catalyze Robust Financing for the SDGs.

From the recent Summit for a new global financing pact to the Finance in Common initiative, it’s clear that the focus this year has been on increasing investment. But we need quality not just quantity, as expressed in a join civil society declaration aimed at public development banks signed by over 100 civil society organisations from 50+ countries. While we welcome UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s call for a SDG Stimulus, we remind Governments, International Financial Institutions, public development banks and donors that more efforts must be done to scale up investments for the realization of the SDGs at all levels, including through additional support for civil society and by involving communities in all “development talks”. The role of the private sector and financial institutions in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be talked about openly. It is important to include in all development projects being carried out specific budgets for actions linked to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Discussions about financial reforms that are being repeatedly undertaken by several countries cannot happen behind close doors and in non-inclusive forums such as the G7 and G20. Instead, they should be open, inclusive, and transparent, involving a broader spectrum of protagonists, including civil society, to ensure fairness and sustainability in shaping global financial policies.

“The SDGs are severely off track as we reach the critical half-way point of Agenda 2030. We need a renewed global ambition on financial commitments to make progress on the SDGs. Reforms of global financial architecture are a crucial part of this to ensure we have a fairer, more effective, inclusive and transparent system supporting lower-income countries that are at the forefront of the global climate, debt, poverty, food, and humanitarian crises. It’s not about a lack of finance, it is about political will and getting our priorities right,” says Sandra Martinsone, Policy Manager – Sustainable Economic Development at Bond UK.

Mobilize Transformative Commitments for SDG16+.

Recognizing the vital role of SDG16+ as a critical enabler for the entire 2030 Agenda, governments should come to the SDG Summit with targeted, integrated, focused and transformative commitments to accelerate action on SDG16+. As developed in the #SDG16Now collective campaign, this includes domestic policies and resources, legal reforms and initiatives to advance SDG16+ at the international, national and local levels, as well as ambitious global commitments to strengthen multilateralism and international resolve to promote peace, justice, the rule of law, inclusion and institution-building. Additionally, governments must use key moments – such as the 2024 High-Level Political Forum and the Summit of the Future – to advance implementation and delivery of the SDGs through similar commitments to action, and ensure adequate follow-up to these commitments going forward.

Ensure civil society participation and listen to communities, reinvigorate commitments to SDG17.

The 2030 Agenda overall cannot be achieved without building on the role of civil society and fostering a true global partnership. Every year at the fringes of the UN General Assembly, initiatives such as the Global People’s Assembly bring to the ears of world leaders the voices of communities historically marginalised. Governments need to reinvigorate engagement towards SDG17 to trengthen the means of implementing sustainable development goals and revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development. It’s high time we move away from conducting discussions about the future of development in closed-door settings. Tokenistic participation of civil society, where their involvement is merely symbolic or superficial, undermines the core principles of nclusivity, hurting genuine progress and meaningful collaboration. A more inclusive approach must be embraced that actively involves civil society and communities. Let’s #UNmute their voices and perspectives by bringing about reforms to current participation mechanisms, and giving them a real platform to be heard.

In 2015 every government in the world agreed as a global community on what we want for our comon future for people and planet. So many efforts and work went on to reach such an agreement. Now is the time for governments and world leaders to walk the walk and prioritize people and the planet, delivering the 2030 Agenda, essential to secure our shared future. It is time for world leaders to act decisively and uphold their commitments to the SDGs.

IPS UN Bureau


Meet the Black students who were instrumental in developing the first Covid-19 shots

CNN  — 

It was a meeting that changed their lives forever.

The year was 2020, and reports had emerged from China that a never-before-seen coronavirus was spreading quickly, sickening hundreds of people and turning deadly.

More than 7,000 miles away in Bethesda, Maryland, tensions were high in Dr. Barney Graham’s lab at the Vaccine Research Center of the National Institutes of Health. He convened a meeting of the lab’s scientists who were developing vaccines for other types of respiratory viruses.

Among about two dozen scientists in Graham’s lab were three young students: Olubukola Abiona, Geoffrey Hutchinson and Cynthia Ziwawo.

“We were sitting in that meeting, and Dr. Graham said, ‘It’s time to start thinking about running the drill,’ ” said Hutchinson, now 33 and a fourth-year doctoral student at the University of Washington.

“At the Vaccine Research Center, the mindset is sort of like anytime there’s something like that spreading, you can use it as an opportunity for a drill — a drill for the big one — if there’s going to be a real pandemic,” he said.

Geoffrey Hutchinson working in the NIH lab on coronavirus vaccine research.

The “drill” consisted of Abiona and Hutchinson making lab versions of this novel coronavirus’ protein. As with other types of coronaviruses, the scientists knew that this one carried a structure called a spike protein, which it uses to enter human cells and cause infections. Next, the protein went to Ziwawo, who tested the kind of immune responses a vaccine would elicit in response to it.

“We knew we were doing things that were important, but then it was like ‘Oh, wow, this is really big,’ ” Ziwawo said. “And then Fauci is coming to the lab.”

Shortly after the official drill was launched, Dr. Anthony Fauci, then director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced to the world that the NIH was working on a vaccine against the coronavirus, part of an existing collaboration with the biotechnology company Moderna.

What the world didn’t know at the time was that those three students — Abiona, Hutchinson and Ziwawo — were doing the foundational work for those vaccines to eventually save lives.

‘It was just all hands on deck’

At the lab, Abiona, Hutchinson and Ziwawo worked under renowned immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, then an NIH senior research fellow who guided them through their experiments and testing. The students hadn’t known each other before working together in the lab.

“At that point, it was just all hands on deck, and we were ready to go,” Corbett said of developing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccines, adding that the team felt confident and trusted each other through their work.

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Meet the trailblazing Black woman scientist behind a Covid-19 vaccine
09:09 – Source: CNN

“The work that these four people did in particular, I think, has been underappreciated and somewhat heroic, in my opinion,” said Graham, who was deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center and chief of the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the time.

“Their work led to not just the Moderna vaccine rapidly entering clinical trials but also to the discovery of monoclonal antibodies that were used for treatments and informed the development of other coronavirus vaccines, as well,” he said.

Graham, who is now a professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine and inaugural director of the school’s newly announced David Satcher Global Health Equity Institute, added that he made an effort to select a cohort of scientists in his lab who reflected the diversity of the rest of the United States in race, ethnicity and background.

“When he’s brought in different people in his laboratory from different backgrounds and ZIP codes and ethnicities, he’s had the opportunity to engage with them and understand how they think about science, how they would apply discoveries and how those discoveries would be integrated into a community differently,” said Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, president and CEO of the Morehouse School of Medicine.

“They’re going to ask questions from a different lens because of the differences they’ve experienced throughout life.”

The need for greater diversity in medicine has been an ongoing challenge for the scientific community. Only about 5.7% of physicians in the United States are Black or African American, according to data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. In the communities they serve, an estimated 12% of the US population is Black or African American.

Abiona, Hutchinson and Ziwawo are well aware of the lack of diversity in science and medicine. This week, as they reunited in person for the first time since working together in that NIH lab during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, they discussed it and their own journeys to where they are today – including working hard in school, learning lessons when lab experiments failed and chasing curiosity.

Their nostalgia quickly turned to laughter when Abiona joked that after she left the NIH, she felt like her life mirrored that of the Disney Channel’s Hannah Montana, a fictional character with a double life as a typical teenager by day and a famous pop singer at night.

Abiona described herself as a medical student by day and a Covid-19 vaccine researcher by night, finishing some of the pivotal work produced at one of the most renowned labs in the world and helping develop a lifesaving vaccine in record time.

Mutual admiration

As the trio met for lunch at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta ahead of the inaugural Dr. David Satcher Global Health Equity Summit, hosted by the Morehouse School of Medicine and KPMG LLP, each grew emotional when they reflected on what they admired about each other.

While working side by side in Graham’s lab, Abiona, whose family is from Nigeria, and Ziwawo, whose family is Malawian, bonded over choosing to be doctors without the typical pressure some children face from their parents to pursue medicine — while acknowledging that they somehow still ended up giving in to the African stereotype of becoming a doctor, lawyer or engineer.

The two are now in pursuit of medical degrees: Ziwawo, 25, is a fourth-year student at Indiana University School of Medicine, and Abiona, 27, is a third-year dual-degree medical and Ph.D. student at Case Western Reserve University.

Olu Abiona, left, and Cynthia Ziwawo

Abiona said she admired Ziwawo’s confidence and determination. Ziwawo said she saw Abiona as a mentor who made her feel welcome in the lab.

All three students grew up with a genuine interest in science and medicine. Ziwawo knew that she wanted to be a doctor since the age of 5. Abiona fell in love with science later, as a teenager, after doing a science and technology program in high school.

Hutchinson always thought science was interesting, but his passion for studying infectious diseases grew after his time in Mozambique. As he studied protein and the role it would play in the design of vaccines, he would often reflect on his time in a rural town in the northern part of the country, where, before joining the NIH lab, he served in the Peace Corps and taught chemistry to high school students.

He saw firsthand the devastating illnesses, such as hepatitis B, that easily could have been prevented with vaccinations. But many of the children there didn’t have access to such life-saving vaccines.

“The dormitory actually had to kick a bunch of students out of the dorms. They had chronic viral infections, something that we all get vaccinated against here” in the United States, Hutchinson said.

Abiona and Ziwawo both admired Hutchinson’s compassion.

Geoffrey Hutchinson poses for a photo at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta on September 13, 2023.

The three students had hope in the world’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic much sooner than many other people did.

The rest of the world cheered when the first Covid-19 shots went into arms — but for Abiona, Hutchinson and Ziwawo, the moment came much earlier, when their work indicated that the vaccine elicited an immune response in lab tests.

“It will turn yellow when it tells you, ‘Yes, you have a response,’ ” Ziwawo said about the tests. “That’s when I understood the gravity of what we were doing.”

They saw the results and cheered.

The fruits of Abiona, Hutchinson and Ziwawo’s labor were evident this week as the United States began to roll out updated versions of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines.

The updated vaccines “validate the work we did” in the early days of the pandemic, Graham said. “It’s now established a new pathway for developing new and better vaccines.”

The mRNA vaccines have been updated to teach the body to fight the XBB.1.5 subvariant of the coronavirus and other closely related strains that are currently circulating.

“Barring the emergence of a markedly more virulent variant, the FDA anticipates that the composition of COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated annually, as is done for the seasonal influenza vaccine,” the US Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Monday when it signed off on the new vaccines.

On Tuesday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the vaccines for everyone 6 months and older.

Abiona, Hutchinson and Ziwawo all confirmed Wednesday that although they haven’t made their appointments yet, they plan to get the updated shots.

“Booster me up,” Ziwawo proclaimed.