Your Excellency, Ambassador Amrit Bahadur Rai, Chair of the Second Committee,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to begin by congratulating you, Ambassador Rai, and the other members of the Bureau on your election. I also wish to thank the previous Chair of the Committee, His Excellency Ambassador Niang, and the members of the previous Bureau for their outstanding work in advancing the Committee and improving its alignment with the 2030 Agenda.
I would also like to thank Professor Stiglitz for his keynote address today and I extend my high appreciation to him for his strong support to the United Nations, in particular DESA.
This Committee is meeting as we endeavour to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and get back on track to deliver the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals.
The effects of COVID-19 and the measures taken to mitigate its impact have overwhelmed health systems globally. COVID-19 has kept up to 90 per cent of students out of school, and caused businesses and factories to shut down. It has disrupted global value chains and the supply of products. Millions of jobs have been lost, many of which will never come back.
The pandemic is expected to push over 70 million people back into extreme poverty, and cause 132 million more to suffer from undernourishment in 2020. Around 370 million children missed out on school meals due to school closures this spring.
While the virus has impacted everyone, it is affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most and deepening gender inequality.
The world economy is in the midst of its deepest recession since the 1930s. According to the latest DESA projections, global output will decline by four per cent this year, further deepening job losses and poverty.
However, we have also seen recent glimmers of hope. Global trade in goods has started to recover following a historic decline in the second quarter. Economic activity has picked up in some of the world’s largest economies.
Yet, the economic outlook has continued to deteriorate in others. Developing countries have been hit hard by the crisis.
Still, while such uncertainties hang over the world economy, some rebound is expected in economic activity in 2021.
But the most important question is not what happens to economic activity this year. It is rather, what can we do to minimize the lasting damage from the pandemic on the SDGs? And how can we rebuild the global economy to be more inclusive, more resilient and more environmentally sustainable?
To set the world on a path towards recovery, COVID-19 response measures must be geared to supporting medium- and long-term sustainable development. This is all the more urgent in this Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030.
Let me flag four areas where we need urgent action:
1. We need to deploy all available resources to reduce poverty and inequality in all dimensions. The pandemic has exposed glaring gaps in social protection and job security. It is time to make universal social protection a reality. Policy efforts should also be focused on preserving – and bringing back – employment as much as possible. This requires strong support for small and medium-sized businesses.
2. Stimulus packages responding to COVID-19 will be most effective if they prioritize public investments that contribute to achieving the SDGs. In particular, we must boost investments in the green economy, climate mitigation and adaptation, and digital infrastructure. These investments will also help to create new jobs. At the same time, investing in health, education, skills and technical know-how will help us prepare better for the future. We must also develop robust universal healthcare systems building upon the emergency measures taken during the pandemic.
3. We must do everything to avoid a crippling debt crisis in developing countries. Creating fiscal space in highly indebted low- and middle-income countries is one of the most pressing global economic challenges today. The G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative will not be enough. Many countries will need debt relief and restructuring to reduce their debt burden. As the UN G20 Sherpa, I will bring to the G20 the views of the broader UN membership at the Second Committee. I started to do that at the third G20 Sherpa meeting last week. I will also bring to the G20, the new ideas that emerge from the FACTI Panel, and the discussion group on illicit financial flows under the Initiative on Financing in an Era of COVID-19.
4. We must mobilize a comprehensive response to the pandemic. The private sector needs to shift towards business models that integrate the SDGs. International development cooperation must be boosted to combat the crisis and promises must be kept. South-South and triangular cooperation also have critical contributions to make. In devising our response to the crisis, we must engage the most vulnerable and furthest behind.
A brighter future is within reach. But Member States need to work together urgently. In the current context, we have seen achievements implemented at a scale never seen before, ranging from rapid migration to digital technologies and a new generation of financial products and infrastructure, to ambitious social protection programmes.
The 2020 ECOSOC and the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) in July, the recent SDG Moment, the event on the UN 75th Anniversary, and the General Debate of the General Assembly – all sent a strong message about the power of multilateralism and collective action.
And in the coming weeks, you will elaborate guidance to reinforce the support that the UN development system provides to developing countries, through the quadrennial comprehensive policy review (QCPR) of the operational activities of the UN system. This review will serve as the guidance for the UN development system for the coming four years, building on the historical reforms since 2018.
The Secretary-General has said that the 2020 QCPR should focus – not only on how the UN system works – but on the kind of support it should provide to integrated policies and programmes to support implementation of the SDGs.
Looking forward to 2021, we shall convene global conferences on Oceans, Sustainable Transport as well as the High-level Dialogue on Energy.
We shall make better use of the FfD Forum, DCF, STI Forum and HLPF to follow up the initiatives discussed at the current GA.
Sustainable development is a global endeavour that requires collective action.
I wish you a fruitful 75th session of the Second Committee to translate your results into tomorrow’s sustainable development.