United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon addresses the Annual Conference of Swiss Developement Cooperation in Zurich, Switzerland January 22, 2016. On the screen behind are displayed the 17 goals of UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.    REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
FILE - Then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses a development conference in Zurich, Jan. 22, 2016. Behind him on a screen are displayed the 17 goals of the U.N. 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

NEW YORK - Growing inequality and climate change will not only derail progress toward global sustainability goals but also will threaten human existence, leading scientists said Wednesday at the United Nations. 

The world is falling off track on ambitious global development goals adopted by U.N. members, a panel of scientists said in an independent assessment report released at U.N. headquarters. 

Member nations unanimously adopted 17 sustainable development goals known as SDGs in 2015, setting out a wide-ranging "to-do" list tackling conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender equality and climate change by 2030. 

The bleak assessment report was released ahead of a 
sustainable-goals summit scheduled at the United Nations this month. 

"Overall, the picture is a sobering one," said Shantanu Mukherjee, policy chief at the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs. "One element of this is increasing inequality. … Another is the pace at which nature is being degraded by human activity, whether it is climate change or biodiversity loss." 

The independent panel of scientists investigated the ways 
and systems in which humans and the environment are linked and 
interact, said Peter Messerli of the University of Bern, 
Switzerland, the co-chair of the group of scientists. 

"These systems are on a very worrying trajectory, 
threatening the very existence of humanity," he told reporters. 
"We have not realized the urgency to act now." 

'This has to be corrected'

Countries must put into practice ways to address vast gaps 
in wealth distribution and access to economic opportunities and 
technological advances that undermine innovation and economic 
growth, the report said. 

"Each country has to decide," Jean-Paul Moatti, chief 
executive of the French Research Institute for Development and 
one of the scientists who compiled the report. 

"This has to be corrected," he told the Thomson Reuters 

The report called on nations to focus on food and energy 
production and distribution, consumption and urban growth to 
find ways of building sustainable development. 

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated 
at $3 trillion a year. 

These are not the first grim predictions made for the fate 
of the goals. Earlier reports have said they were threatened by the persistence of violence, conflict and destabilizing climate 

Outside assessments have cited nationalism, protectionism 
and a need to obtain more funding, ease national debts, boost 
wages and expand trade.