Creating economic growth just by increasing consumption of material goods is no longer a viable option at the global level, a new United Nations report said Wednesday.
The report, requested by all countries to evaluate the progress on the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, is the first of its kind since the landmark Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted four years ago.
Drafted by an independent group of 15 scientists appointed by the UN secretary-general, the full report will be presented during the High-Level Political Forum at the 2019 SDG Summit that will convene heads of state and government in New York on Sept. 24-25.
Boosting economies via increasing consumption is exhausting the planet's materials and creating toxic by-products which threaten to overwhelm the world.
According to the report, the global use of materials is set to almost double between 2017 and 2060, from 89 gigatons to 167 gigatons, with correspondingly increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions, and other toxic effects such as those from mining and other pollution sources.
The present model of development has led to continuing poverty and other deprivations; unprecedented levels of inequality that undermine innovation, social cohesion and sustainable economic growth; and it has brought the world close to tipping points with the global climate system and biodiversity loss, it said.
To change course, the scientists said the world must transform a number of key areas of human activities, including food, energy, consumption and production, and cities.
The report emphasized that achieving the SDGs fundamentally requires decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, while at the same time, reducing social and gender inequalities in wealth, income and access to opportunities.
The authors emphasized that strong political will and commitment will be required to make the needed transformations, that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions, and the interventions in developed countries will look very different from those in developing countries.
They stressed that developed countries need to change their production and consumption patterns, including by limiting the use of fossil fuels and plastics, and to encourage public and private investments that align with the SDGs.
According to the report, there are 20 points of intervention that can be used to accelerate progress toward multiple goals and targets in the next 10 years. Among these, basic services such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation infrastructure, housing and social protection must be made universally available, as a prerequisite toward eliminating poverty.
The authors identified the food and energy systems as particularly important arenas for change.
At present, approximately 2 billion people suffer from food insecurity and 820 million people are undernourished. Close to 1 billion people are without access to electricity, and more than 3 billion people rely on polluting solid fuels for cooking, causing an estimated 3.8 million premature deaths each year.
The report said that stronger social protection floors are needed in developing countries to ensure food security and nutrition, and countries must reduce the environmental impact of their food production systems, considering the entire value chain, by reducing food waste and reducing reliance on animal-based protein sources.
As for the energy system, it called for increasing energy efficiency and phasing out fossil-based power generation without carbon capture and storage, so that the world economy is decarbonized.
"Achieving human well-being and eradicating poverty for all of the Earth's people -- expected to number 8.5 billion by 2030 -- is still possible," the scientists highlighted, "but only if there is a fundamental -- and urgent -- change in the relationship between people and nature."