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WESS 2013 Report Focuses on Energy, Food Security and Sustainable Cities

UNDESA2 July 2013: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) launched the World Economic and Social Survey (WESS) 2013, which is subtitled 'Sustainable Development Challenges,' in Geneva, Switzerland. The 2013 report focuses on three sustainable development challenges identified for action at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20): energy transformation; food security and nutrition; and sustainable cities.

In the report's forward, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon describes the report “as a valuable resource in translating Rio+20 outcomes into concrete actions.” Despite progress, the report finds that economic, environmental and social sustainable development has not been achieved. It identifies barriers to sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including: rising inequalities; continued environmental degradation; climate change; population growth; and shortfalls in development partnerships and financing.

The report states that current strategies will not be “sufficient to achieve sustainable development beyond 2015” and recommends ambitious, action-oriented and collaborative strategies adapted to different development levels, including: reducing inequalities; preserving natural endowments; introducing environmental accounting; strengthening economic governance; and correcting prices.

The survey recommends creative mechanisms to support sustainable energy and increase energy access, including through the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative (SE4ALL). It also suggests, inter alia: ending dependence on traditional biomass; improving access to adequate, reliable electricity; ensuring that low-quality or unreliable energy sources do not compromise the livelihoods and opportunities of the working poor; and designing and implementing sustainable development pathways. The report further calls for energy policy coherence and emphasizes that the challenges that a sustainable energy transformation faces range from issues of growth, macroeconomic balances, increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, technology innovation and its diffusion, to human development concerns.

According to the report, the greatest food security and nutrition challenge is increasing food production and resource use efficiency while minimizing environmental impacts and pressure on biodiversity, land and water resources. It underlines the need for changes at all levels of the food chain, including production, storage, transport and consumption, stating that 32% of food is wasted globally. It also describes malnutrition challenges and recommends ensuring universal access to enough nutritious food in the post-2015 development agenda.

The report underscores an urgent need to address the challenges posed by rapid urbanization, including increased demands for energy, sanitation and water, as well as biodiversity conservation, climate change, employment, infrastructure development, transport and waste management. It states that the number of slum dwellers could reach three billion by 2050 if no policy framework for sustainable urban development emerges to address these challenges. It further calls for changes in the design and management of urban development and increased public and private investments in urban infrastructure and services.

DESA publishes the WESS annually to analyze long-term economic and social development issues and policies. [UN Press Release] [DESA Press Release] [Publication: WESS 2013: Sustainable Development Challenges]