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IISD Speech: IISD President and CEO Scott Vaughan at the UN Economic and Social Council, 2017 Integrated Segment, New York

May 8, 2017 – Mr. Chair, Excellencies, Colleagues

Poverty reduction and sustainable development are inseparable. If we do not lift 836 million people out of extreme poverty, progress on the SDGs won’t happen.

A central aspect of poverty is hunger. We are facing both urgent shocks and longer-term chronic stressors to global food security.

This week, the UN World Food Programme announced that 20 million people in four countries are facing famine.

Some 2.2 million children in Yemen are malnourished, and 1.5 million people in northern Nigeria are facing hunger because of dwindling food stocks. An immediate priority is to increase urgent spending to end famine and save lives.

In addition to this urgent crisis, close to 793 million people today lack sufficient food for a healthy and active life. Food insecurity has especially devastating effects on infants and young children, including lasting effects such as stunting and wasting. Investing in healthy food systems is needed to end both hunger and malnutrition.

With colleagues at IFPRI, we estimate that an extra USD 11 billion of public spending each year from now to 2030 would meet the SDG 2 goal of ending hunger. USD 4 billion of this should come from donors, and the rest from countries themselves. This estimate, based on in-country household surveys, requires only a 3 per cent increase in current ODA levels.

To get there, we identify at least five areas of action: increase social safety nets, specifically cash transfers and food stamps; practical on-farm support; better rural development planning, infrastructure and market access; better nutrition support; and reforms to laws, policies and institutions.

One example of on-farm support is irrigation. The three most important global breadbaskets on the planet—the high-plain aquifers in the Midwest United States, India–Pakistan and the north China plain—are already strained from over-pumping and depletion.

There is thus an urgent need to better manage and conserve fresh water. Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of total fresh water withdrawals globally. Yet data shows that there has been a 40 per cent drop in the efficiency of irrigation systems in many countries in the past decade.

With climate change projected to affect hydrological tables in virtually every country to varying degrees, we need to increase irrigation efficiency. There are examples in which precision irrigation systems, coupled with other farming practices, have doubled yields in certain crops like barley, while reducing water used in irrigation systems by between 25 and 40 per cent.

I mentioned climate change. Work by WMO and others provide valuable information of the estimated impacts of climate change on agriculture.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization estimates 75 per cent of the world’s poor and food-insecure people rely directly on agriculture and natural resources for their living.

Many countries are creating national climate change adaptation plans and putting them into action, with agriculture as a priority sector for adaptation give its high vulnerability to climate risks—Jamaica, Uganda and Vietnam are three such leaders. Work is also underway in applying climate-resilient seeds as well as adjusting to less water-intensive crops in projected water-scarce areas.

Financing for both climate adaptations and sequestration is accelerating, supported by innovative climate and green finance that is de-risking needed investments through blended finance. Financing carbon sinks will only work if they proceed with a genuine partnership of farmers, cooperatives, seed and grain banks; they must also support the conservation of agro-biodiversity.  

These efforts need to be supported by reforming key economic laws and policies, notably trade and investment. We are in an uncertain period of global and regional trade and investment policy. The risk of increased protectionism threatens to undo some of the recent global achievements in reducing hunger and poverty, and may prevent us from achieving the SDGs.

One of the big challenges of the SDGs is around measurements that reflect the linkages between and among different goals. Many countries and institutions are working on ways to advance beyond GDP indicators, to mirror not only but also social, human and natural capital. Recently, IISD issued one of the first country-level Comprehensive Wealth reports that examines together human, social, natural and produced capital. These kind of insights are proving critical in bridging beyond GDP work with the SDGs. 

IISD is helping governments shape their trade and investment policies to proactively support the implementation of the SDGs. We need more robust legal and policy frameworks at the national level to promote sustainable trade and investment in agriculture. At the regional and global level, we need more urgently than ever to maintain an open, rules-based system and accelerate agricultural reforms to help developing countries.  

Finally, this session is about integration. The points touched on above—poverty, hunger, gender, climate, fresh water and trade—underscore the bold, innovative and interdependent nature of the SDGs. We will not make progress on one without taking others into account. Yet we know that building coherence within and across complex systems like national governments and the UN-wide system is immensely difficult. One way to bridge these challenges is through new deployment of ICT and big data applications. The UN Global Pulse, based in the Secretary General’s office, is a good example of the kind of integrated, innovative work that we need to build bridges and action together.

Thank you again for inviting me. 

Download the PPT presentation Ending Hunger What Would it Cost here.

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