Presentation by Mary Van Lieshout, GOAL, to Irish Government Committee on Foreign Affairs, on SDG progress. - GOAL Global Skip to content

Presentation by Mary Van Lieshout, GOAL, to Irish Government Committee on Foreign Affairs, on SDG progress.


April 19, 2023 • 5 min read

Tuesday, 18th of April 2023

Thank you, Chairman, for the opportunity to meet with you and your Committee today. Before I outline the challenges facing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), I’d like to remind everyone of the many positive strides in the fight against global poverty of recent decades.  You can be sure that the efforts of your committee and the agencies represented by Dochas have been part of that success.

Between 2015 and 2018 for instance, global poverty reduction continued its historical decline; with the extreme poverty rate falling from 10.1 % to 8.6%; that means that the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day fell from 740 million to 656 million over that three-year period.

In the past 20 years, gains have been made in maternal and child health, with the global maternal mortality ratio and under five years mortality rate falling by nearly 40% and 60% respectively. Very importantly, the total number of children affected by growth stunting, which is caused by chronic malnutrition, was 27% lower in 2020 than in 2000.

This is all-important evidence of the value of Development Cooperation and global leadership, north and south.  All of us in this room need to ensure that as we take on the current challenges we do not lose sight of, nor let the public lose confidence, in the value of solidarity, partnership and humanitarian action.

We all know, however, that the poly crisis of Covid, climate change and conflict are combining to pose an unprecedented threat to this progress. Covid has wreaked havoc on health systems across the world and an estimated 14 million people have died due to its direct and indirect effects.

Every region across the globe is experiencing weather and climate extremes; if current trends continue, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction projects that medium to large-scale disaster events could reach 560 a year – an average of 1.5 per day, by 2030, a 40% increase in 2015.

Conflict is also affecting more countries, more people and more communities than ever before with almost 2 billion people living in conflict-affected countries. The world is witnessing the largest number of violent conflicts since World War II and today a record 100 million people are forcibly displaced worldwide.

Finally, total external debt stocks of low and middle-income countries rose by 5.3 % in 2020 to $8.7 billion. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have seen the most pronounced deterioration in debt indicators: the ratio of debt to Gross National Income rose from an average of 23% in 2011 to 44% in 2020. The average debt-to-export ratio tripled over the same period.

 What does this all mean ‘on the ground’ for the communities with whom GOAL and other agencies work? Firstly, the steady progress on poverty reduction over the past 25 years has been reversed, increasing sharply between 2019 and 2020, from 8.3 % to 9.2%; the first rise in extreme poverty since 1998 and the largest increase since 1990, erasing more than four years of steady gains.

The progress on ZERO HUNGER, (SDG 2) has also been halted: 150 million more people faced hunger in 2021 than in 2019; 350 million more people lacked regular access to adequate food in 2021 since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. Today, 1 in 10 people worldwide are suffering from hunger.

The progress on GOOD HEALTH & WELLBEING (SDG 3) is equally negatively impacted as the disruptions to health services caused by the pandemic affected maternal and child health, immunization rates, mental health programmes and treatment of diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, TB and Malaria. 22.7 million children missed basic vaccines in 2020, that’s almost 4 million more than in 2019.

Tragically, progress on GENDER EQUALITY (SDG 5) is abysmal: the world is not on track to achieve gender equality by 2030, and the social and economic fallout from the pandemic has made the situation even bleaker. Progress in many areas, including time spent on unpaid care and domestic work, decision-making regarding sexual and reproductive health, and gender-responsive budgeting has eroded. Women’s health services, already poorly funded, have faced major disruptions. Violence against women remains endemic. And despite women’s leadership in responding to COVID-19, they still trail men in securing the decision-making positions they deserve.

Ireland has an important opportunity as the Co-Chair of the SDG Summit to lead and revitalise the global cooperation on the SDGs. I want to make four recommendations in support of this revitalisation effort. Firstly, as part of its localisation approach, we recommend Ireland launch a specific fund dedicated to strengthening locally-led initiatives in the global south focused on tackling gender-based violence, women’s rights and women’s health, all of which remain severely under-funded despite global commitments to gender equality.

Secondly, while climate finance provided by developed countries totalled almost $80 billion in 2019, it’s estimated that $1.6 trillion to $3.8 trillion will be needed each year through 2050 for the world to transition to a low-carbon future. Ireland’s stated commitment and leadership on Climate Finance is welcome and we urge that the Government continues to increase its contributions to the global south, beyond 2025, including increased financing for the new Loss and Damage Fund.

We also note it is important that Ireland closes the implementation gap between its own ambition and action on climate change: despite having committed to a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows that Ireland’s emissions increased by 4.7% in 2021. We urge Ireland to reduce polluting emissions across all sectors and a phasing out of all fossil fuels in accordance with Paris Agreement commitments and national climate action legislation.

Third, to end the catastrophic out-of-pocket health expenditure for resource-poor families, Ireland must deliver on political commitments at the 2023 UN High-level meeting on Universal Health Coverage this September to reinvigorate progress towards delivering health for all, which is significantly off-track to achieving its target of coverage for 1 billion additional people by 2030.

Finally, we urge the Minister of Finance to push for debt cancellation for Sub-Saharan African countries rather than debt rescheduling at this week’s Financing for Development Forum and to ensure that IMF post covid austerity measures do not erode local social protection and universal healthcare measures.

We’re in unprecedented times: the assumptions of peace, prosperity and partnership that underpinned the SDG targets have not held. But we in this room know that global solidarity has worked to reduce poverty and inequality in the past. We need to maintain momentum and public confidence in this effort.

The key to getting the Sustainable Development Goals back on track is ambitious, sustained investment and leadership from the global north, and a deeper than ever commitment to partnership with communities and governments in the global south in the face of this daunting complexity.