Sun | Jun 25, 2017

Nestor Mendez | OAS committed to development goals

Published:Monday | June 19, 2017 | 6:00 AM
Nestor Mendez
Paul Henry pushes Aljay Howitt in an old refrigerator in Cornpiece, Hayes, Clarendon, on Saturday, June 17. Heavy rains have decimated south-central Jamaica over several weeks, influencing environmentalists to argue that climate change might be a causative factor.Photograher Jermaine Barnaby
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In 2015, world leaders adopted global targets as part of a new, ambitious, and sustainable development agenda to meaningfully reduce poverty, protect the planet, and bring prosperity to more of the world's population.

Today, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals present us with an extraordinary, yet challenging opportunity to improve people's lives throughout the Americas over the next decade and beyond.

The Organization of American States (OAS) has redoubled its effort in pursuit of a more energy-secure, prosperous, and equitable future for the hemisphere. There is no question that the OAS touches the lives of millions of people and delivers tangible benefits. Yet the challenges posed by the new 2030 Agenda, which includes 17 goals covering wide-ranging areas and specific targets to meet them, will require better coordination and a stronger, united regional approach for their successful implementation.

In our region, the strengthening of democracy is inextricably linked to the underpinning of gains in social and economic development. Therefore, the most crucial challenges relate to poverty reduction; educational improvements; advancements in health and nutrition; universal access to basic services such as water, sanitation and affordable energy; climate change; and the overall reduction of inequality.

Among these, addressing the effects of climate change is paramount. Last year, we experienced the hottest year on record. Indeed, over the past 50 years, the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history, and rising sea levels now threaten the very existence of many Caribbean nations.

As a native of both the Caribbean and Central America, I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of climate change on small states and low-lying coastal areas. Climate change is also a major contributor to extreme weather events and natural disasters such as heat waves, damaging storms, coastal flooding and droughts, which exacerbate poverty and threaten stable long-term economic growth.

On a slightly more positive note, overall poverty levels in Latin America and the Caribbean have declined notably over the last decade. While this is a step in the right direction, the countries of our hemisphere still face the most unequal distribution of wealth, leaving access to basic services limited to a privileged few.

 

PANGS OF POVERTY

 

Today, one in five persons in the developing regions of the Americas still lives on less than USD$1.25 a day. Poverty also manifests itself in hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education, discrimination and social exclusion.

Tied to the issues of climate change and poverty, access to energy has become increasingly important. Energy is essential for jobs, security, managing climate change, food production and for responding to practically all other major challenges facing our nations. The region's leaders have recognised that renewable energy can provide key environmental and economic benefits and is fundamental to the hemisphere's sustainable development.

An integrated approach is, therefore, essential for overcoming these obstacles. Through its proven four-pillar agenda of democracy, human rights, security, and development, the OAS continues to play a strategic role in supporting member states in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The international community has made great strides in improving the lives of the peoples of the Americas. Still, greater efforts must be undertaken. Citizens from across the region expect effective action from their elected leaders.

This month, the OAS will gather officials from its 34 member states at its General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico, to focus their attention on a holistic approach to address social, economic, and environmental issues in the Americas.

In this forum, officials will hold discussions on 'Integral Development and Prosperity in the Hemisphere; Opportunities and Challenges for Women's Leadership in the Americas; The Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Democracy; and Multidimensional Security'. This multifaceted approach allows the OAS to better assist member states in their efforts to address the overarching issues of the sustainable development agenda.

Ultimately, the individual success of each member state in benefiting from the fulfilment of the objectives of this ambitious agenda depends on their ability to work in concert with partners across the entire hemisphere. It depends on their ability to leverage their shared purpose to attain what no single nation can on its own.

The OAS will continue to bring together the ideas, resources, and dedication of proactive nations to transform the energy and ambition of our peoples into measurable and sustainable results. There is no greater catalyst for positive change in shaping the destiny of our countries than the shared spirit, commitment, and determination of our hemisphere.

- Ambassador Nestor Mendez is assistant secretary general of the OAS. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.