UN Summit on the Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals icons
Kirsty Smith.
Author:Kirsty Smith
Posted on: Tuesday, 24th September, 2019

This week at the United Nations in New York, the General Assembly is hosting a High Level Political Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This SDG Summit is the first of its kind since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda For Sustainable Development and the 17 SDGs, and Heads of State and Government are spending two days reviewing progress.

The opening ceremony on Tuesday 24th September hears speeches from the President of the 74th General Assembly, Tijjani Muhammad Bande, UN Secretary General, António Guterres, and ECOSOC President, Mona Juul. Over the two days, government representatives are speaking on a number of issues, including trends affecting progress on the SDGs, accelerating achievement, leveraging progress, localising the SDGs, working in partnership; and the vision for the next ten years.

The Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities, of which CBM is a lead coordinator, is active across the week of the Summit. Jose Viera, a partner from World Blind Union, is an official speaker in the Leaders Dialogue 6, “The 2020-2030 Vision”; CBM colleagues Michael Herbst, Jan-Thilo Klimisch and Elizabeth Lockwood are attending a number of sessions, including the Universal Health Care meeting and CBM partner Mohammed Loutfy along with Elizabeth are attending the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development on 26 September. CBM has also been working closely with the UN to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities across the week.

We already know from July’s High Level Political Forum (under ECOSOC) that whilst there has been progress in areas such as a reduction in extreme poverty and child mortality, there has been little or none in other SDG areas such as rates of hunger, loss of biodiversity and adequate levels of financing for development. The Secretary General’s report to the HLPF has also noted that both people with disabilities and those living with HIV/AIDS in particular continue to face multiple disadvantages. He stresses how essential it is that the global landscape is improved and that that conflict, disasters, economic instability and intolerance are reduced. The Secretary General also hints that diminished political will and regression on commitments to human rights and environmental sustainability by certain UN member states are hindering the achievement of the SDGs.

The UN’s Disability and Development Report published at the end of last year also highlights the ongoing exclusion of people with disabilities in relation to the SDGs:

  • People with disabilities experience higher levels of poverty, in some countries double the rate of those without disabilities.
  • People with disabilities are more likely to have poor health: in 43 countries, 42% of people with disabilities versus 6% of persons without disabilities say they have poor health.
  • Children with disabilities are less likely to attend school and complete primary education. On average, one in three children with disabilities of primary school age is out of school, compared with one in seven children without disabilities.
  • Women with disabilities are three times more likely to have unmet needs for health care; three times more likely to be illiterate; two times less likely to be employed and two times less likely to use the internet. They are also at greater risk of experiencing sexual violence compared to those without disabilities.
  • People with disabilities continue to have limited access to work and tend to earn lower wages than their counterparts without disabilities. In eight low income countries, 32% of disabled people consider their workplace hindering or inaccessible.
  • People with disabilities have more limited access to information and communications technology. Among 14 countries, only 19% of people with disabilities compared to 36% of people who do not have disabilities use the internet.
  • Disabled people are also under-represented in political participation. Only 13% countries have no restrictions to vote and only 9% have no restrictions to be elected for public office.

However, the political declaration from the Summit commits governments to a number of actions, focusing on ‘the poorest and most vulnerable’, including people with disabilities. This includes: mobilizing financing; improving national and local implementation; strengthening institutions; reducing disaster risk and building resilience; enhancing international cooperation; harnessing science, technology and innovation; investing in data and statistics; and strengthening the high-level political forum.

At the beginning of the week, ahead of the Summit, the UK Department for International Development launched a flurry of announcements about UK action on climate change, an ‘action plan to save the natural world’ and continued commitment to Rohingya people; and the Prime Minister will speak on behalf of the UK at the event. Given that the UK submitted its Voluntary National Review on the SDGs this summer, which acknowledged the scale of the challenge still ahead, we hope that the Prime Minister will find time away from Brexit negotiations to turn any rhetoric into genuine commitment and resourcing, including ensuring people with disabilities are not left behind.


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