Video Statement at at the Human Rights Council 2020 Social Forum: "Climate Change, Poverty and Inequality Among Countries"

Statement by Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

8 October 2020 
Geneva, Switzerland

Ladies and gentlemen,


It is an honour to join you.

The topic of your meeting lies at the heart of the lives and futures of the people in the 91 countries OHRLLS advocates for.

These are the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries and small island developing countries, with roughly one billion persons and most at risk of being left behind.

This risk has deepened and accelerated in 2020.

None of us may have anticipated how 2020 would turn out to be a disruptor, a game changer.

It is now up to us, individually and collectively, to heed the warnings and to ACT.

It would be at our collective peril to once more ignore the warnings! 

I come from the world of small and remote island nations.

In the Pacific languages, you find a wording called Malama Honua.

Malama Honua means to take care of and protect everything that makes up our world: land, oceans, living beings, our cultures and our communities.

It is about symbiosis, togetherness, dignity and respect.

In the same vein, climate change, poverty, inequality are not separate, neatly isolated issues.

They go together, they are part and parcel of a symbiotic system where our values are the dividing line between including or excluding people.

The current pandemic shows vividly how inequality, how poverty, how exposure to climate change impacts make or break how each individual, community, nation and region faces this major life and livelihoods challenge.

They are issues at the very core of the Universal Déclaration of Human Rights.

Already prior to the pandemic, we knew that climate change was accelerating, poverty growing and inequalities within and across nations growing at rapid speeds.

Now, we are in the midst of an unprecedented global economic and social  disruptions worsening poverty and inequalities  coupled with the  relentlessly worsening  diverse climate change impacts.

The peoples of the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS are among those most seriously affected.

Tourism, trade and remittances have beyond plummeted in these nations.

An already unsustainable debt situation continues to accelerate as revenue earning activities are at a standstill, major job losses have occurred and this means a corresponding decline in government revenues. 

Formal safety nets, social security packages rarely exist. Family, community and remittances tended to be the “safety net”  but these truly vital support pillars also are disrupted.

Given the situation, there is limited scope in governments’ fiscal space to extend safety net packages.

Food insecurity is on the rise.  The lockdown and closures have triggered major social disruptions and notably in the education sectors and access to basic connectivities. At this stage, we do not even know what this may mean for social stability and for security.

Add to this an accelerated series of extreme weather events like the Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Harold in the Pacific or the devastating floods experienced in Bangladesh and Sudan.

People and their governments are faced with a highly complex challenge in terms of policy choices to be made and capacity to deliver short- term relief that must dovetail with measures for an inclusive and sustainable recovery.

The starting point is that these vulnerable countries have the lowest capacities to adapt and are also the most susceptible to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The SIDS, for example, account for two thirds of the countries with the highest relative annual disaster losses.

Add weak health systems and overall weak health status, disproportionately affecting poor people,  add limited access to modern education, and it is hard to see how to break the poverty spiral. 

We once talked about eradicating poverty but studies now estimate that 70-100 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of COVID-19 and that inequalities within and across countries will accelerate.

This year’s Sustainable Development Goals Report found that the pandemic is reversing decades of progress on poverty, healthcare and education, especially for the most vulnerable, and has left them further behind.

We know that we are a long way from living up to the values enshrined in the Universal Déclaration of Human Rights.

Our challenge, our question has to be, what to do?

Allow me to share my thoughts on four key areas of immediate action to serve the people of the most vulnerable countries.

First, the pandemic should not be an excuse to divert our efforts away from addressing climate change.  There is no way we can build back in inclusive and sustainable ways if we drop the momentum for ambitious climate action in the updated Nationally Determined Contributions.

Yes, there are justified short- term, immediate relief demands on budgets, but collectively we must honour the Paris Agreement.

We must maintain and even scale-up funding and we must make funding more easily accessible to the most vulnerable nations.

All stimulus packages ought to be able to answer three very basic questions:  how they help people to live in safe and healthy environments, help lift them out of poverty and how they contribute to reducing unsustainable inequalities.

Secondly, this implies that we look into long-term and sustainable solutions to what is now an escalating debt crisis.

At last week’s High-level meeting on Financing for Development in the era of COVID19, calls were made to extend and expand the Debt Service Suspension Initiative.

A call was made to go further towards debt restructuring and debt workout, for example by introducing a new global debt relief initiative for LDCs. Calls were also made to provide additional liquidity through Special Drawing Rights, and to increase support through international financial institutions.

It is a good first step, but it is now that we need a longer-term fundamental review on what has to be done so that  countries , and above all their peoples,  emerge sustainably from the trap in which they find themselves. 

Third, we need support for stimulus. 

The stimulus packages for the G20 run from 5-20% of GDP.

LDCs, LLLDCs and SIDS have only been able to direct a small fraction of their GDP towards stimulus, if at all. 

The share of international support going to these countries is relatively low. Without assistance, the impact on fragile health situations, loss of employment and livelihoods will deepen extreme poverty and amplify inequalities.

In short, we will have left people behind!

Fourth, we must listen to people and seek and encourage participation.

Yes, this is more than ever a moment for solidarity, a moment for cooperation. We also know, there is no one size fits all and we know it is change people own, making that change sustainable.

I could not agree more with the words of the High Commissioner and I quote “we must ensure that participation is not merely formal or tokenistic, but in fact truly meaningful and effective. It must therefore have an actual impact on decisions, and be timely and sustained. Crucially , participation must be inclusive, extending participation especially to marginalized and vulnerable groups.” ( end of quote )                     

It is my humble view that without seeking that participation, we will not be able to move forward in sustainable ways.

So, let us come together to move from words to action.

I thank you.