As the pressure to qualify to be in the last 16 teams in the World Cup heightens, our latest MDG Match of the Day sees New Zealand play Paraguay in Polokwane, South Africa. Here at UNICEF UK we’re stepping away from attempting to poorly commentate on the comparative skills of the two teams, and are instead reapplying our narrating skills to the progress that both countries are making on hitting the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – something we’re much better at explaining than the offside rule or starting lineup choices.
Over the last two weeks, we have been looking at several matches, and seeing how the teams playing are faring in their progress towards each of the eight MDGs. Today, New Zealand and Paraguay’s progress towards ‘MDG 7: Ensuring environmental sustainability’ is under the spotlight.
Environmentally sustainable development is development 'which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs and aspirations'. Which means that MDG 7 focuses on targets such as improving access to safe water and sanitation, reducing per capita CO2 emissions, biodiversity loss and the proportion of the world’s population living in slums. Overall, the global progress towards MDG 7 is very mixed. Whilst the targets for slum dwellers and access to safe water are likely to be met, the progress towards MDG target for sanitation and biodiversity is far off track.
Progress in environmental sustainability is also closely related to the other MDGs. For example, without addressing access to safe water and sanitation, achieving and reducing child mortality and diseases such as cholera will be impossible. UNICEF estimates that improved sanitation would contribute to reducing 1.75 million child deaths a year which are caused by diarrohea. Similarly, without reductions in CO2 emissions, the impacts of climate change will hit children in the most vulnerable communities, putting them at risk of disease and malnutrition.
© UNICEF/NYHQ1997-0363/Alejandro Balaguer. A woman from the Quechua indigenous group walks on a road next to a field where children play football, in the mining town of Huanuni, near the city of Oruro in Bolivia, which neighbours Paraguay.
So, bearing all this in mind how are Paraguay and New Zealand faring in relation to MDG 7?
As two geographically different countries with very different levels of economic development, we can look specifically on their progress towards per capita limits in CO2 emissions. Whilst New Zealand’s population has a relatively high carbon footprint, 7.8 tonnes per person, Paraguay’s population is far less carbon intensive with a carbon footprint of 0.72. The New Zealand government, however, set itself strict targets for the country, aiming to reduce emissions by 20% by 2020 and has signed up to the Copenhagen Accords in December 2009, showing New Zealand to be on the way to reaching this target.
Meeting this target of MDG 7 is essential as it means there will be less CO2 in the atmosphere that causes the planet to heat up, leading to the climatic changes that can have a devastating impact on children. As an island nation, New Zealand will be at risk of sea level rising, which could cause flooding and disrupt water supplies (another MDG 7 focus), putting children in the country at risk of a reduction to standards of living. Similarly, as a low lying country, Paraguay is also at risk of flooding and contamination of water supplies. In addition, the country has already experience increased uncertainty in rainfall patterns which can cause droughts and failed harvests leading to devastating impacts on children such as malnutrition and disease.
So what is UNICEF doing to help progress towards these two goals in the country? In both countries, we are working on projects that impact directly on these goals.
In western Paraguay we are working with communities who are affected by sporadic rainfall and providing them with rainwater harvesting systems that allow the community to store up rain water for use during dry periods. This ensures children in the community are able to adapt to these impacts of climate change, and also have safe access to water at all times - meeting the water MDG target.
In New Zealand, the UNICEF office is supporting a group of young climate ambassadors to raise awareness of the impact of New Zealand’s per capita carbon consumption on the world and potential effects of climate change on the country itself. These young people have been meeting with senior politicians to argue their case and ensure they realise their right to a voice on this important issue that impacts them and their peers now, and will continue to do so in the future.
UNICEF is helping many other countries achieve all the targets of MDG 7 by working with communities to develop safe drinking water resources and sanitation facilities, running child protection centres for vulnerable children living in slum areas and helping communities adapt to the impacts of a changing climate.
Jazmin Burgess is Climate Change Policy and Research Officer at UNICEF UK.