The world has the means, money, skills and vaccines to strike a monumental post‑pandemic shift towards an inclusive, connected and healthy planet for all, and the time for hesitation is over, world leaders declared at the opening of the ministerial segment of the 2021 high-level political forum on sustainable development today.
The forum is the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals adopted in 2015. Under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, the high-level forum will review, from 6 to 16 July, progress in implementation.
The three-day informal ministerial segment will focus on the forum’s 2021 theme: “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
Opening the segment, Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said these are challenging times, when the world is still reeling from the pandemic. International solidarity and cooperation can enable the world to build a sustainable and resilient recovery and restore nations on the path to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. This ministerial segment is a tool to build a global recovery strategy that encompasses containing the coronavirus, mobilizing and deploying recovery and sustainability investments and establishing a universal social protection programme for the most vulnerable. “We have no option other than international cooperation and solidarity,” he said.
António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, said the COVID-19 crisis has taken 4 million lives and devastated the global economy, affecting many countries’ efforts to realize the Goals. Four areas are key to forging a green, inclusive recovery, the first being equal access to COVID‑19 vaccines. At least 11 billion doses are needed to vaccinate 70 per cent of the world and end the pandemic, and the world needs a global vaccine plan that supports national immunization programmes. In addition, global emissions must drop and renewable energy must flourish, he said, expressing hope for galvanized action ahead of the forthcoming Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Investing in more equal and inclusive societies must include decent work, social protection, gender equally and zero tolerance for violence against women. Financing for development must be made more responsive to boost a strong economic recovery for all countries, including developing States.
“We are at a pivotal time — for people, societies, economies and our planet,” he said, reiterating the United Nations pledge to be a steadfast partner on the ground. “We need to mobilize together to face this crisis. This high‑level political forum can help turn the tide. Let us renew our determination to build a strong, sustainable and inclusive recovery from the pandemic, and to take decisive action together to defeat the climate crisis and keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda.”
Volkan Bozkir (Turkey), President of the General Assembly, in a pre-recorded video message, said that, rarely in the history of the world has a society been given the opportunity for such radical change. While the pandemic is first and foremost a tragedy, it is also an opportunity. For the first time in generations, there is widespread public and political support, for true, transformational change. This, coupled with vast resources, intended for recovery, allow for more than small fixes or adjustments. “This time, we can turn it around, and put our societies on a course, that is more sustainable, more resilient, more equitable and more just,” he said. “Now is not the time to be tepid or timid in our approach. Let us be bold and transformative, deliberate and restorative. The future of sustainable development is inclusive, resilient and green. Let us seize this moment.”
Providing four recommendations on how to make this transformational change a reality, he said that, first, the global financial architecture must be closely examined, including such volatile elements as availability of official development assistance (ODA), foreign investments and the heavy burden of debt. It must feature inclusive and innovative financing systems that expand access to concessional lending, debt relief and debt‑for‑climate swap mechanisms, so that all countries can benefit. Digitalization must rapidly expand, as access is swiftly becoming the new face of inequality with only half the world remaining unconnected to the Internet. Next, closing the gender gap is imperative, as the need is being reflected in the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women. Finally, a green recovery must help to reconcile people’s relationship with the natural world. These options are all realistic, pragmatic and on the table; the only obstacle is the world’s hesitation, he said, stressing: “Let us move past this.”
In a keynote address, Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, recommended various national and global action to address the unprecedented triple challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reversal of economic progress and the existential threat posed by climate change. First, universal and affordable access to the COVID-19 vaccine is essential to defeat the virus and to revive global trade, investment and growth. The world must ramp up vaccine production, including in the developing countries, and ensure its rapid distribution. Of vital urgency is the waiver of intellectual property rights, even if temporary, vaccine production under license, full funding of the COVAX Facility and the provision of grants and concessional lending to enable developing countries to purchase vaccines at fair prices.
Adequate finance must be mobilized to enable the developing countries to meet the triple challenge and “build back better”, he said. While an agreement to create $650 billion in new special drawing rights by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is welcome news, the additional reserves created for the poorest countries will not provide anywhere close to the magnitude of financial relief the developing countries require. It is, therefore, essential that the high-income countries voluntarily re-allocate part of their unutilized IMF quotas — at least $150 billion — to finance sustainable development projects and programmes in developing countries. The restructuring of high-cost debt is another essential instrument to provide fiscal space and development finance for the affected developing countries. At least 50 per cent of the climate finance should be allocated for adaptation measures, he said, stressing that Pakistan’s landmark projects such as “Recharge” initiative and 10 Billion Tree Tsunami project can benefit greatly from such support.
National and international development strategies should target COVID-19 recovery, human development, social protection, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, climate change and digitalization to enable developing countries to address the triple challenge, he said. The United Nations — with its unique convening power — should initiate a multi-stakeholder dialogue to mobilize the $1 trillion investment required annually in sustainable infrastructure. Calling for the structural and systemic reform of the international financial and trade architecture, he said all developing countries must have equitable and preferential access to global markets. Warning against protectionist measures erected by some major economies in violation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, he also called for halting illicit financial flows out of the developing countries. Their stolen assets should be returned unconditionally, he said, welcoming the United States proposal for a minimum global corporate tax to prevent profit shifting and tax evasion.
Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, said that the remaining time to achieve the 2030 Goals is less than 9 years. “No country can progress, until all countries progress,” he said, noting that, to enable the world’s quick recovery from the pandemic, fair and equitable access to vaccines must be guaranteed. Vaccines as a global public good must not remain merely a slogan, he said, encouraging measures to accelerate realization of vaccines for all, including by sharing doses through the COVAX Facility, and fulfilling the funding requirements of multilateral vaccine schemes. Stressing the need to enhance assistance to vulnerable groups, he said social security and protection is an important part of the pandemic recovery effort. For its part, Indonesia has allocated $28.5 billion for social assistance, with no fewer than 9.8 million microenterprises having received assistance to sustain their businesses.
He went on to stress that the international community and the world economy must recover together. Expedited economic recovery must be carried out while prioritizing health and sustainable development. Going forward, investment in resilient, just and green recovery is fundamental. Developed countries’ support for a green economic transition in developing countries, as well as global partnership, must be strengthened. The principle of “no one left behind” must be realized in a concrete manner and a “me-first policy” must be avoided. This spirit will also be carried by Indonesia’s presidency for the Group of 20 next year, under the theme “Recover Together, Recover Stronger”.
Marta Lucía Ramírez Blanco, Vice‑President of Colombia, said that, even before the current pandemic, the world had faced global crises, such as climate change, environmental degradation and growing social inequality. It’s clear the pace of implementation of the 2030 Agenda was not fast enough. The pandemic aggravated these challenges. Her country focused on innovative green solutions on a large scale, responding to the needs of vulnerable populations and striking a delicate balance in protecting people’s health. These measures included: financial aid to more than 10 million families, allocating resources equivalent to 11 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP); innovative schemes such as value‑added‑tax refunds, prioritizing municipalities with higher poverty rates; and solidarity income programmes for poor households that are not beneficiaries of State social programmes.
They also included programmes to preserve women’s employment and provide them with incentives to balance work and home responsibilities; protection and revitalizing the business sector, especially micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs; and the historical budget allocation to the education sector, including free university. Colombia has developed a solid institutional framework for national implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she noted, adding that it has also integrated the Goals into the national development plan 2018‑2022. Her country presented its third voluntary national review on 12 July, sharing its experiences — from adopting nature-based solutions, a circular economy, and sustainable tourism, to transitioning to clean energy and closing digital gaps. “Leaving no one behind is everyone’s work,” she emphasized.
Sebastian Kurz, Chancellor of Austria, outlining three of the most important national lessons learned during its pandemic response, said COVID-19 testing has been key to stopping the virus’ spread by providing the data required to enable real-time reactions with a focus on where efforts are most needed. Austria introduced easy self-tests twice or thrice weekly for all students when schools re-opened, and Austria has among the highest rate of COVID-19 tests per capita, with about 2 million tests weekly on a population of less than 9 million. To mitigate social and economic fallout, Austria implemented a new income-support policy to help small and medium-sized companies save 1 million jobs. To improve digitalization, Austria will invest €1.4 billion in broadband infrastructure for companies, public administration and schools, with the goal of providing nationwide coverage by 2030.
The value of international cooperation and solidarity in countering the pandemic is a lesson likely learned by most countries, he continued, citing Austria’s contributions, from joining “Team Europe” to transferring more than 600,000 vaccines to the Western Balkan States. The pandemic has made it clear that to recover better and greener, States must adapt their policies. Solutions are also needed to build a more sustainable, inclusive, just, equal and resilient world, mapped out in the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change to help States emerge from this crisis even stronger. The European Green Deal is the region’s sustainable growth strategy, aimed at achieving climate neutrality by 2050. In the COVID-19 response, the role of partnerships and the value of the United Nations as a global forum have been essential.
Indeed, the 2030 Agenda will be “our joint compass” to build forward better, he said, emphasizing that it is the international community’s joint responsibility to support the world’s most vulnerable regions. While the pandemic revealed areas for improvement, it also brought out the world’s best, from scientists developing vaccines in record time to health workers and other essential front‑line workers across the globe risking their lives to keep others safe. Multilateral mechanisms were also created to help countries in need of vaccines. “Much more needs to be done, but these examples give hope that we can overcome this crisis together and get back to normality,” he said, adding that Austria stands ready to do its share during this crucial Decade of Action to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. “Let us build on this hope and turn it into momentum. Let us apply the same determination in the remaining years until 2030,” he stressed.
Youth representatives also delivered presentations and shared their messages.
Steve Seungjoon Lee, a youth representative speaking on behalf of the major group for children and youth, said he is joining the meeting from Toronto, Canada — the traditional land of the indigenous people of the HuronWendat, Seneca and the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation. Outlining calls to action from the Youth Forum 2021, he stressed the need to urgently prioritize designing and implementing affordable access to effective mental health services “with young people for young people” to address the psychological impact of COVID-19. Youth also need to be provided right away with universal and affordable access to the Internet, he said, calling for an immediate end to all investments in coal, oil and gas, and redirecting the funds into clean energy transition.
Moreover, the Youth Forum recommended a shift towards an intersectional approach to capturing disaggregated data on the experiences of young people to achieve the 2030 Agenda, he said, adding the major group’s two proposals: Share the decision-making power with young people, especially in national and local policy processes; and include children in Government delegations, as well as provide an opportunity for them to share experiences and solutions. Children should also be included in the voluntary national review process at national, regional and global levels.
Melati Wijsen, Co-Founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags and YouthTopia, in a pre‑recorded message, said youth must be equal partners in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. “We are at an important tipping point,” she said, recalling past gains that reflected young people’s desire to act. The current generation realizes that time and power are against it. World leaders can support and drive the change needed. Recalling her own experience campaigning to get Bali to say “no” to using plastic bags on the island, she said it took a few years, but it was done, and it is only the start. Young people are ready for more. Inspired by questions many young people have asked her about how they can contribute, she said she helped to establish YouthTopia. The organization helps young people around the world to accelerate change and address climate-related mental health issues. Young people are contributing in many ways and are strong partners for change. “Can we reach the Sustainable Development Goals?”, she asked. “Yes, we can, and we will.”
Next, Member States presented their voluntary national reviews. In the afternoon, the forum heard a keynote address by Sveinung Rotevatn, President of the fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly and Minister for Environment and Climate of Norway.
In the afternoon, Sveinung Rotevatn (Norway), President of the United Nations Environmental Assembly, delivered key messages from its fifth session held earlier this year. These recommendations are the intergovernmental body’s contribution to ensuring that the environmental dimension of sustainable development continues to be fully integrated into recovery efforts and implementation of the 2030 Agenda, he said. Deploring that the world is not on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda, he pointed out that this is especially true for the environmental dimension and internationally agreed environmental goals. The poor and marginalized continue to be those most vulnerable to the impacts of environmental risks, he said, adding: “Protecting those most at risk needs to be central to COVID-19 response and recovery measures. This means putting inclusion and the eradication of poverty at the top of our agenda. We must embed equity within and between generations and gender equality more systematically across all planning and response measures.”
The outcomes of the Environmental Assembly called for scaling up global climate action to deliver on the adaptation and mitigation goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement, he said. Environmental ministers also called for the establishment of economically and socially sustainable pathways to halt and reverse biodiversity loss and enhance ecosystem integrity, and for enhanced capacity to achieve sound management of chemicals and waste. They also promoted an effective global governance system informed by an open and inclusive environmental multilateralism, including through the Environmental Assembly. There must be adequate, predictable and sustainable resource mobilization from all sources, he stressed. The development, dissemination, diffusion and transfer of technology on mutually agreed terms and capacity-building are important for unlocking practical, affordable and innovative environmental solutions.
Moreover, he stressed the need for an ambitious and realistic post-2020 global biodiversity framework and called for the development of measures to mainstream environmental sustainability across economic sectors and include better conservation and sustainable use of natural resources into economic and social development planning. He went on to report that the Environmental Assembly have identified initiatives that can leverage the opportunities for enhanced cooperation, including the Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) and the online platform for post-pandemic sustainable and resilient recovery, which showcase policies and actions taken by Governments.
The high-level political forum will meet again at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 July, to continue its 2021 session.