22 July 2020

Economic and Social Council High-Level Segment Concludes with Calls for Stronger Multilateralism, Inclusive Path to Recover Better from COVID-19 Pandemic

The Economic and Social Council’s high-level segment concluded on 17 July with calls to strengthen multilateralism and forge an inclusive path to recover better from the COVID-19 pandemic, yet failed to adopt a Ministerial Declaration approved at the closing of its 2020 high-level political forum session, held from 7 to 17 July via videoconference due to coronavirus-related restrictions at United Nations Headquarters.

The Council had placed the Ministerial Declaration for adoption under its silence procedure, which ended on 22 July without an agreement, pursuant to its decisions 2020/205 and 206 and in accordance with procedures adopted by the General Assembly during the pandemic.

In a 17 July letter, Mona Juul (Norway), Economic and Social Council President, indeed stressed that the meetings of both the Political Forum and Council made “a clear call to action”.  Despite their virtual format, these meetings were “substantial”, she noted, while regretting that the pandemic had prevented delegations from working in a truly interactive way as they usually do during consultations.  In closing remarks, she stressed that the spirit of multilateralism must be summoned today to recover better and build a just, inclusive and sustainable world.

The Ministerial Declaration on the high-level political forum session’s theme, “Accelerated action and transformative pathways:  Realizing the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development”, outlined ways States can contribute to a better pandemic recovery and to making inroads towards achieving the 17 goals set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  From 13 to 16 July, the political forum heard regional perspectives on the annual theme and the presentation of voluntary national reviews.  (For details on the Forum’s activities from 7 to 10 July, see Press Release ECOSOC/7022.)

Among provisions in the 28-paragraph Ministerial Declaration approved by the political forum on 16 July, Ministers pledged:  to reaffirm their commitment to international cooperation and multilateralism, recognizing the central role of the United Nations system in supporting the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and in catalyzing and coordinating a global response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and to acknowledge that the pandemic reinforces pre-existing obstacles to realizing the Goals, structural inequalities, gaps and systemic challenges.  They also committed to a dozen action-oriented provisions, including a pledge to support the most vulnerable nations and to redouble collective efforts to build inclusive societies through reducing inequalities.  They called for further effective measures and actions to be taken to remove obstacles to the full realization of the right of self-determination of peoples living under colonial and foreign occupation and committed to combining short-term actions with long-term disaster risk reduction strategies and policies to prevent the creation of new risks.

Other actions in the Ministerial Declaration included:  ensuring that emergency social and economic schemes integrate a gender perspective and the promotion and protection of the rights of the child; investing in strengthening national health and social protection systems; and working to ensure the flow of vital medical supplies, food and agricultural products and other goods and services across borders.  The Ministers pledged to increase their level of ambition to mobilize and effectively use all available means to fully implement the 2030 Agenda, Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the agreed conclusions and recommendations of the Economic and Social Council Forums on Financing for Development follow-up.  They also committed to maintaining the integrity of the 2030 Agenda by raising the ambition and ensuring continuous action on the targets with a 2020 timeline, by redoubling their efforts to achieve these targets in an accelerated timeframe.  Furthermore, the Ministers committed to strengthening their national statistical capacities to address 2030 Agenda data gaps, and they pledged to promote public engagement and innovative partnerships through whole-of-Government and whole-of-society approaches.

During the week, delegations presented voluntary national reviews.  For details, visit the political forum’s voluntary national reviews website.

Opening the ministerial segment on 14 July, the Council President said the 2020 political forum has made it very clear that “we are living in a time of global crisis”.  Emphasizing that global leadership must be strengthened in all areas, she said that “we must individually and collectively galvanize our resolve to work together better, and ensure that this decade ushers a new era of peace and prosperity for all.”  Holding the 2020 session in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed new innovations and forms of collaboration, she stated, expressing hope that the knowledge shared during the sessions will boost efforts to accelerate actions in the decade ahead and ultimately realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, recalling that more than 12 million people have been infected by the coronavirus and 550,000 have died, said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered widespread consequences, including massive job losses, the sharpest decline in per capita income since 1870 and an expected 70 to 100 million people being pushed into extreme poverty.  As the pandemic’s impact is falling disproportionately on the most vulnerable, development gains could be set back years and even decades, taking the world further from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  “We must rise to meet the moment,” he declared, adding that the world cannot go back to the previous “so-called normal”.  Encouraging participants to renew their determination to enact a multilateral response that gears recovery efforts towards the Sustainable Development Goals, he said their deliberations in the coming days can help to “turn the tide globally”.

Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, President of the General Assembly, called for collective efforts to accelerate action and carve out transformative pathways to ensure that no one is left behind as the world embarks on the new Decade for Action.  He called on States to emulate the penholders of the Charter of the United Nations and advance multilateralism, adding that new types of data need to be developed and harnessed in order to strengthen evidence-based policy.  Humanity cannot survive these multiple parallel crises unless all stakeholders work together with full respect for all peoples and all life on the planet.  The reality is that the Decade of Action has become the decade of recovery, with the Sustainable Development Goals at the forefront of Government strategies, he said, emphasizing that:  “This is a moment of reckoning; now is the time to build back better, to step up our ambition and translate the global Goals into local action in order to create the future we want.”

Delivering the keynote address, Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, said that even amid a pandemic, global successes must be recognized, including the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  For Finland, the European Union is an example of how countries become stronger through cooperation and finding effective solutions, such as the European Green Deal.  At the same time, she said, “our generation of global leaders will be judged by the decisions we make over the course of this year; our children’s destiny must not be shaped by accelerating climate change, more global inequality and human suffering on an unforeseen scale.”  Indeed, sustainable development does not depend on individual choices alone, but on politics, and all stakeholders must join in the effort.  For Finland, the Nordic welfare model has been key to its success in pursuing the goal of becoming a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society by 2030.  Such elements as carbon pricing, energy taxation, comprehensive social security, high-quality public health care and equal opportunities in education are interconnected, she said, pointing out that:  “We cannot get emissions down if inequality goes up at the same time.”

Yet, the Nordic welfare model is not widespread on a global scale, she continued, adding that the transition to sustainability will not be equally easy everywhere.  Globally, the pandemic has demonstrated how central the principle of leaving no one behind must be in implementing the 2030 Agenda.  Citing gains, she said more cities are now involved at the political forum and stakeholders are becoming increasingly engaged with the 2030 Agenda, adding that the Governments of Finland and Chile are co-chairing the new Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action, which now has more with 50 members.  In addition, innovations are playing a vital role in responding to humanity’s complex challenges.  Successes and gaps in progress on the 2030 Agenda have been identified, and the process itself has taught States a lot, she said, emphasizing that this year’s political forum implies that it is high time to boost implementation and deliver progress.

Youth representatives delivered a joint statement highlighting that the COVID-19 crisis has revealed and exacerbated other pandemics.  Farai Lwandile Mubaiwa, Co-Founder of Afrika Matters Initiative and Lead at Youth Employment Service of South Africa, said femicide is on the rise, climate change requires swift action and the resurgence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States has spread to the Netherlands, Indonesia, United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, with widespread protests underlining the quest for justice and equality.  To address all these issues, youth must be involved at all levels.  “Young people are not the leaders of tomorrow; we are the leaders of today,” she said, pointing at examples of their contributions, from the political sphere, with Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Information, Communication and Technology Emma Theofelus, to civil society, with leaders like Reanne Olivier of the Africa Matters Initiative.  “Young people are actively changing their communities for the better,” she stated.  “We need you to trust in us, to believe in us.  As it stands, youth inclusion is no longer a debate; it is a necessity.”

Tina Hocevar, Vice President of the European Youth Forum, said “we do not want a ‘recovery’ that aims to go back to ‘normal’ because ‘normal’ was never working for the majority of us, nor for our planet.”  Instead, building back better means taking bold decisions now to prevent a “lockdown generation” and to ensure inclusion.  Regarding recovery plans, she demanded that States provide no bailouts for polluters.  Beyond recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the current pause must fundamentally change the way the economic system perpetuates the concentration of wealth, knowledge, data and power that leads to growing inequalities between and within countries.  Doing so can be accomplished by putting “the brakes on for a few weeks” before the whole system implodes.  Then, stakeholders must replace the gross domestic product (GDP) as a yardstick of progress with alternative measures to redefine prosperity and to integrate values of human rights, health and well-being and those of planet Earth.  Next comes moving from a linear model to a circular economy, where services and not products are bought.  Lastly, States must mainstream youth rights and intersectionality to tackle the specific barriers faced by young people in accessing their rights, particularly those of young girls, non-binary individuals, youth with disabilities and young migrants and displaced people.  The new “normal” must mean fairness, dialogue, human rights and solidarity, she said, stressing that the best time for a new beginning is now.  “Gather up the courage,” she said.  “Take a chance.  Make a change.  Because the time to build back better is now.”

In the afternoon, a session chaired by the Council President featured a keynote address by Sveinung Rotevatn, President of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly and Minister for Climate and Environment of Norway.

Mr. Rotevatn conveyed 13 recommendations and key messages, emphasizing that the world is not on track to achieve the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda and related internationally agreed goals.  First, the Environment Assembly stressed that nature is an essential requirement and key enabler of sustainable development and that COVID-19 does not provide a green “silver lining”, but offers an opportunity to rebuild better through sustainable recovery efforts and the sound management of hazardous medical and chemical waste.  Recognizing the role of regional level coordination as key to address environmental challenges, it also underlined the need to enable and increase coordination and mainstreaming to promote cross-sector action at all levels.  In this vein, it called on all sectors to develop enabling economic policies and incentives to expedite the transition to low-carbon socially inclusive economies that are resource efficient and protect biodiversity and ecosystem services.  It also called for stronger action to protect, restore and sustainably use nature and promote ecosystem-based approaches, and for reinforcing the implementation of environmental law and good governance.

He said the Environment Assembly’s recommendations for the promotion of integrated approaches to sustainable infrastructure to meet development needs was accompanied by a call to make use of the potential of sustainable finance in achieving goals set out in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.  Key messages highlighted the need to foster innovative pathways to achieve sustainable consumption and production, as well as the importance of access to information and the engagement of all relevant stakeholders as a key condition for implementing the 2030 Agenda and promoting integrated approaches.  Finally, the Environmental Assembly requested other United Nations entities to contribute and support the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in drafting a global strategy, which its Executive Director was asked to develop by 2025, he said, adding that:  “We are convinced that these measures will contribute to the delivery of the Decade of Action.”

On 15 July, the session on “Messages from the regions” was chaired by Council Vice-President Omar Hilale (Morocco) and moderated by Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Coordinator of the Regional Commissions.  The following Ministers and representatives delivered presentations:  Paul Mavima, Minister for Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, and Chair of the sixth Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development; Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment of Cuba, and Chair of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development; Lolwah al-Khater, Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, speaking on behalf of the Arab region; Vaqif Sadiqov, Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations in Geneva, and Chair of the fourth session of the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) region; and Samantha K. Jayasuriya, Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Chair of the seventh session of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development.  Nezha El Ouafi, Minister Delegate to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates of Morocco, served as a respondent.

Ms. Songwe, summarizing achievements and challenges, said the regional messages providing a “traffic light” status of progress towards the 2030 Agenda contained pre-COVID data from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ global Sustainable Development Goals database.  The results showed that progress is insufficient to meet the ambitious 2030 Agenda, data gaps are affecting the ability to measure achievements, and COVID-19 is adding new challenges and complexity.  But, the United Nations system “is ready to help you” to reach for the 2030 Agenda ambitions and build back better amid the pandemic, she stressed.

Turning to regional findings, she provided a snapshot of progress on the 2030 Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  (For descriptions of the Goals, please see the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Sustainable Development website.)

She noted that Africa is on track on only Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Below Water, and the continent made relatively good progress on Goal 10, Reduced Inequalities.  However, the region cannot achieve any of the other Goals at the current pace and is not moving in the right direction on Goal 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.  Moreover, overall data availability is weak for Goals 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16.  Latin American and the Caribbean is on track to meet Goal 14 and Goal 15, Life on Land, and is making good progress on Goal 4, Quality Education, and Goal 7, Affordable and Clean Energy.  There is great concern about regression in Goals 6, 8 and 13, and progress is slow on other Goals, while data gaps exist for many of the globally agreed indicators, in particular for Goals 1, 5, 11, 13, 14 and 16.

Regarding the Arab region, she said it is making some progress on Goal 3, Good Health and Well-Bring, and Goal 9, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.  However, there is great concern regarding regress in Goal 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, and progress is very slow or stagnant on other Goals.  Strength of evidence overall is weak in Goals 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17.  In Europe, global indicators do not give a strong signal on nine of the Goals.  Of those with more data, the region is on track with Goal 7, and is close to being on track with Goal 1, No Poverty, Goal 3 and Goal 9.  However, it has to catch up on Goals 4, 8, 15 and 17.  Turning to the Asia-Pacific region, she said it is not on track to meet any of the Goals, but is making good progress on Goal 4 and Goal 7.  Environmental goals are particularly concerning, and data gaps exist for many of the globally agreed indicators, particularly for Goals 11, 12, 13, 14 and 16.

On July 16, the high-level political forum concluded the ministerial segment of its 2020 session, adopting the Ministerial Declaration.

Council President Mona Juul (Norway), in her closing remarks, said participants agreed that the 2030 Agenda remains the world’s “shared road map” to build a better world and recover better.  To do so, States need policies that build on the synergies encompassed in the Sustainable Development Goals.  Summarizing activities held during the two-week forum, participants examined six areas for accelerated progress:  human well-being; integrated food systems; protecting the planet; sustainable energy; urban development; and inclusive growth.  Under the assumption that “we cannot revert to the old normal”, she said, discussions had underlined that the recovery from COVID-19 represents a rare opportunity to shape a new normal.  The Ministerial Declaration is an additional opportunity to demonstrate the United Nations global solidarity during the ongoing crisis and a commitment to recover better.  Recalling that a youth delegate had asked “why don’t we just change?”, she said the world must follow their lead.  “Let us change for the better and recover better,” she concluded.

Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, in her closing remarks, said the world was not on track to deliver the Goals before COVID-19 hit, and given the impacts of the crisis, “the road ahead is now even steeper”.  However, she continued, “we can turn this around if we stay true to the 2030 Agenda”.  This entails showing solidarity and foresight on financing, increasing investment in public services and pursuing a recovery that builds an inclusive, green and gender-responsive economy.  It also means reimagining and reshaping the way people work, learn, live and consume, listening to the world’s young people and investing in an inclusive and networked multilateralism, with the United Nations at the centre.  “If we do all of this — consciously, concertedly, cooperatively — we can build a better world, our shared destination,” she said.  Commending commitments made during the high-level political forum, she said the United Nations development system’s full support is ready to accompany the ongoing response, recovery and Sustainable Development Goals acceleration efforts, emphasizing that:  “Through higher ambition, greater urgency and heightened solidarity, we must keep our promises to people and planet.”

On 17 July, two sessions were held, chaired by Council President Mona Juul and featuring presentations on how best to move forward on the 2030 Agenda.

The session on “Where are we heading:  Visions and scenarios for the future of the Sustainable Development Goals following the COVID-19 crisis” was moderated by Michael Obersteiner, Executive Director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, United Kingdom.  Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, made a presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals Progress Chart 2020.  Serving as resource persons were:  Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Executive Director of The World in 2050, former Deputy Director and Chief Executive Officer of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis; and Claudia Martínez, Executive Director of E3 — Ecología, Economía y Ética, Colombia, and Co-Chair of the Food and Land Use Coalition’s country programmes.  The lead discussant was Kostas Stamoulis, former Assistant-Director General of the Economic and Social Development Department, and Senior Adviser to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  Respondents were:  Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence of the United Arab Emirates; Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany; and María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Disability and Accessibility.

Discussion themes focused on the long-term implications of current and near-term decisions, such as those to address COVID-19 or the impacts of new Internet and artificial intelligence technologies and how they will influence the capacity and available options to deal with other great sustainability challenges that humanity is facing in the longer run.  Also examined were ways Governments can turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to “build back better”, highlighting the most important policies and actions to overcome the current global economic crisis and put the world on a pathway towards realizing the 2030 Agenda.

The session on “Multilateralism after COVID 19:  What kind of United Nations do we need at the seventy-fifth anniversary?” was moderated by Kevin Rudd, former Prime Minister of Australia and Chair of the International Peace Institute’s Board of Directors, and featured remarks by United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.  Serving as resource persons were:  Angel Gurría, Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Yasmine Fouad, President of the fourteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity; Zhang Xinsheng, President of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; Sanda Ojiambo, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact; Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and Julia Sanchez, Chair of the Board of CIVICUS.

Topics under discussion included the concrete steps the international community could take, through the United Nations, to enhance global solidarity and international cooperation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Also examined were ideas on what an “ideal United Nations” would look like and how to make it so, including the kind of actions needed to make the Organization’s work more open and inclusive.  Participants also discussed the Economic and Social Council’s future role and contribution in a reinvigorated and strengthened multilateral system that is fit for addressing short- and long-term global challenges, including the provision of global public goods and justice for all.

During the discussion, Member States delivered presentations.

At a separate session on the introduction of reports, chaired by the Council President, presentations were made by José Antonio Ocampo, Chair of the Committee on Development Policy, and Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Mr. Ocampo, introducing the Committee on Development Policy’s report, summarized its proposal of five principles to guide the design of a new multilateralism, formulated through a series of consultations with a group of stakeholders from the global policy, advocacy and research communities.  The principles are that:  global rules should be calibrated towards the overarching goals of social and economic stability, shared prosperity and environmental sustainability, and protected against capture by the most powerful players; States share common but differentiated responsibilities in a multilateral system built to advance global public goods and protect the global commons; and the right of States to policy space to pursue national development strategies should be enshrined in global rules.  In addition, global regulations should be designed both to strengthen a dynamic international division of labour and to prevent destructive unilateral economic actions preventing other nations from realizing common goals; and global public institutions must be accountable to their full membership, open to a diversity of viewpoints, cognizant of new voices and have balanced dispute-resolution systems.

Formulated before the COVID-19 crisis, these principles are ever more relevant, he said.  He also highlighted five issues within the multilateral system that need to be urgently reformed:  rules limiting States’ capacity to implement progressive tax systems, mobilize fiscal resources, manage international capital flows and curb illicit financial flows; provisions in global, regional and bilateral trade and investment agreements limiting nations’ ability to adopt policies to develop their productive capacities and industries in ways to foster equitable and sustainable development; rules on intellectual property rights limiting access to or increasing the cost of technology related to essential goods; the current fragmentation of environmental multilateralism; and governance arrangements that do not guarantee adequate representation of developing countries in international institutions.

Mr. Liu first highlighted some of the key messages from the Secretary-General’s report on the 2020 theme of the Economic and Social Council, “Accelerating action and transformative pathways:  Realizing the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development”.  The report focused on a range of issues, including making reduction in income inequality a key strategy to eradicate extreme poverty and committing to the rapid, sustained reduction of carbon dioxide to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.  On the issue of climate change, the report stressed that the assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sees the current global emissions trajectory requires global carbon dioxide emissions to start declining now.

Building on this analysis, he said, the companion report of the Secretary General, “Long-term future scenarios and the impact of current trends on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals”, examined a global, best-case scenario pathway to achieve the Goals and to advance sustainable development until 2050.  The scenario provides a quantified timeline of what could be technologically feasible with coordinated actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond.  It also outlines a rapid transition driven by extremely high end-use efficiencies, behavioural change and business innovations in energy, water and land use, fuelled by new Internet applications and artificial intelligence.  The report concludes with several recommendations for Member States, stakeholders and the United Nations system, including one on instituting a regular exchange between scenario analysts, Government science advisers and decision-makers.

At the closing session of the high-level segment, Council President Mona Juul said that while the current reality can be disheartening amid a continuing pandemic, this is precisely the kind of global challenge for which the United Nations was founded.  As the world celebrates the Organization’s seventy-fifth anniversary, she said that:  “We are reminded once again, never to take progress for granted; let this be our call to action.”  Even in troubling times, there remains great hope in the power of working together, which is the very spirit of multilateralism.  Highlighting that the 2030 Agenda is the “road map”, she said this spirit of multilateralism must be summoned today to recover better and build a just, inclusive and sustainable world.

For information media. Not an official record.