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03 June 2020

Eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an overarching objective of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The mainstreaming of poverty-environment objectives into policy, budgeting, programming and investments by the United Nations Development Programme–United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP–UNEP) Poverty-Environment Action for Sustainable Development Goals, launched in 2018, and its predecessor entity, the UNDP–UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI), demonstrates how improved environmental sustainability can address this challenge and contribute to poverty eradication.

At the beginning of 2018, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the Third United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (2018–2027) under the theme “Accelerating global actions for a world without poverty,” in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It adopted a system-wide plan of action for poverty eradication to coordinate the efforts of the United Nations system to maintain the momentum generated by implementation of the Second Decade towards poverty eradication and ensuring that markets work better for people living in poverty.

The plan of action’s basic principles recognize that “Poverty is multi-dimensional in the forms it takes and its underlying causes, and new forms are emerging” and “Integrated economic, social and environmental policies are needed nationally and internationally.”

At the beginning of 2019, while extreme poverty stood at its lowest level in recorded history, the risk of falling back into poverty in lower-middle-income countries remained a particular concern for the most vulnerable segments of society — mainly youth and women. Poverty had becoming increasingly concentrated in one region: Sub-Saharan Africa. The total number of extremely poor people in Sub-Saharan Africa grew from 279 million in 1990 to 413 million in 2015. With the global economic slowdown of the coronavirus emergency, which began in late 2019 and had yet to reach its peak during the first quarter of 2020, it is estimated that the number of people living in poverty could increase by 420–580 million globally, undermining the progress that had been made in eradicating poverty in the 21st century.

The United Nations Environment Assembly has reaffirmed that poverty eradication, changing unsustainable and promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base of economic and social development are essential requirements for sustainable development. In a 2019 resolution on the poverty-environment nexus, the Assembly recognized the important role of UNDP–UNEP Poverty-Environment Action in applying the innovative approaches and solutions which are necessary to move our world closer to the sustainable vision set out in the 2030 Agenda. Livelihoods, poverty reduction and economic growth are highly dependent on the quality and availability of natural resources — the “gross domestic product of the poor” in least developed countries and the basis of the natural capital enjoyed by all countries which make human life possible.

Building on more than a decade of experience by its predecessor, PEI, Poverty-Environment Action seeks to strengthen integration of poverty, environment and climate objectives into the policies, plans, regulations and investments of partner countries to accelerate delivery of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The focus for Poverty-Environment Action is on deepening and broadening poverty-environment mainstreaming and aligning finance and investment with poverty, environment and climate objectives, in the face of the changing forms and conditions of poverty found in the world today.

The progress achieved by Poverty-Environment Action based on its proven model of integration in its initial year of operation reveals new horizons of hope for eradicating poverty and achieving related Sustainable Development Goals — such as Goal 2, Zero Hunger — in least developed countries through targeted investment in sustainable management of the environment and natural resources. As we operate in the shadow of COVID-19, the need is ever more urgent; and the relevance of Poverty-Environment Action never greater.