26 August 2020

Developing Countries Deserve Greater Role in Formulating Policy, Secretary-General Says, Launching Report on Digital Financing of Sustainable Development Goals

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to launch the report by the Task Force on the Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in New York today:

The COVID-19 pandemic has strained public health systems and disrupted national and local economies.  It is already pushing tens of millions of people into extreme poverty and exacerbating inequalities of all kinds.

In the midst of this turmoil, digital technology is a critical lifeline, enabling billions of people to maintain connections with loved ones, buy daily necessities, preserve their livelihoods and receive Government assistance.

From mobile payments to crowdfunding, digital technology is already helping to meet development challenges.  As we begin the Decade of Action to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, it can be a critical enabler, kick-starting the transformative changes we need to create stronger, more resilient and inclusive communities and societies on a healthy planet.

That is the background to my decision in late 2018 to establish a high-level Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals.  I asked the Task Force to explore the nexus of digital technology, finance and the SDGs, complementing the work of the High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation.  I wanted to explore how digital innovation can put more of the $380 trillion in assets managed by the global financial system, and the many trillions channelled through Governments, at the service of people and planet.

The Task Force’s report, “People’s Money:  Harnessing Digitalization to Finance a Sustainable Future”, sets out an ambitious but achievable set of recommendations that could make a major difference in achieving our collective global goals.  I urge everyone to study the recommendations closely and consider how we can take them forward together.

I thank the Task Force members for their insights, energy and investment of time, especially during the pandemic, and express my particular gratitude to Achim Steiner and Maria Ramos for their leadership.  I also thank the Governments of Germany, Italy and Switzerland for their generous support, and the many Member States, institutions and individuals that contributed to the report’s findings.

The Task Force has set out five catalytic opportunities to move public and private money into alignment with the SDGs.  There is work to be done on all of these.  But, what has truly drawn my attention is the conclusion that digitalization will make a difference by giving people greater control over how global finance — their own money — is used.  Whether it is channelled through markets or through State intermediaries, global finance is accountable to ordinary people.  Taxpayers hold Governments to account, while savers and investors need to hold financial institutions to account.

And people, whether they are taxpayers, savers or investors, care deeply about their families, communities and our planet.  So, I fully endorse the Task Force’s vision of citizen-centric finance, and its conclusion that the digitalization of finance must be inclusive and empowering so that it becomes a force for good.

Currently, 3.6 billion people worldwide — including a disproportionate number of women — lack the resources and capabilities to take advantage of the digital world.  Addressing this gap will contribute to the economic resilience of communities and national economies.  It will also address gender inequality by enabling women to have greater power over how they make, spend, save and control their money.

Today’s report also highlights the importance of institutional arrangements to steer digital finance into alignment with the SDGs.  The continued dislocation between our collective commitment to the SDGs, and decision-making around public financing, cannot continue.  The Task Force therefore recommends strengthening the links between the governance of finance, including its transformative digital aspects, and policy goals and citizens’ interests.

Much can be done at the local and national levels.  But, international cooperation is needed to make a real difference, and that cooperation cannot be confined to yesterday’s clubs of influential actors.  Digitalization must democratize the governance of finance in order to democratize finance itself.  Developing countries need and deserve a much greater role in formulating the policies and decisions that will impact their citizens.

Thanks to the Task Force, and to the many others who have taken part in formulating this powerful report, we now have an ambitious set of ideas to deliver financing for the Sustainable Development Goals, by shifting the centre of gravity of the financial system towards empowered citizens.  Working with Member States, we ourselves will be able to better harness digitalization in moving substantive resources to fund our own activities.

Our current initiative on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond is an opportunity to bring the recommendations of the Task Force forward.  The recovery from the current crisis must be driven by investments in digital solutions that support inclusive, green and sustainable growth.  The options that are being developed under our Financing for Development initiative must overcome the deepening digital divide and ensure that digital technologies are a key component of financing for a sustainable recovery.

As Secretary-General, I am fully committed to supporting the implementation of the recommendations in this report.  I urge the entire United Nations system and its partners to do likewise.

For information media. Not an official record.