2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Remains Strong Vehicle for Ending Poverty, Creating Healthy Planet Benefitting All, Under-Secretary-General Says
The Economic and Social Council concluded its high-level segment today, endorsing a sweeping Ministerial Declaration adopted a day earlier by the high‑level political forum on sustainable development — an outcome document reflecting Member States’ commitments to overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic and building back better through green, inclusive recovery plans. (See Press Release ECOSOC/7060.)
In adopting the 50-paragraph Declaration (document E/2021/L.26), the Economic and Social Council recognized that the crisis caused by the pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated the world’s vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries, accentuated systemic weaknesses, challenges and risks, and threatens to halt or damage progress made in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. By its terms, the 54-member organ committed to a range of ways States and the international community can help to advance pandemic recovery, while, at the same time, boost progress towards realizing the Goals.
In closing remarks, Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, said that this year’s high-level segment looked back at 75 years of the Economic and Social Council’s work and looked far ahead at future trends and scenarios. “From both perspectives, it is clear that the 2030 Agenda has kept all its power as a ground-breaking and inclusive promise to eradicate poverty and achieve a better future for all on a healthy planet,” he said.
Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of Economic and Social Council, urged greater investment in sustainable infrastructure — $1 trillion per year — for the transition to a dynamic “green” global economy. Sustainable development investment strategies need to focus on employment‑creation in sectors like housing, construction, renewable energy, transport, sustainable agriculture and manufacturing. The triple crisis of the pandemic, economic recession and climate and environment challenges requires a paradigm shift in the approach to global development, climate change and economic cooperation. He stressed that it is time to convene another summit to agree on the structure and content of new, more dynamic and equitable structure of international economic cooperation.
The high-level segment also held two thematic discussions today — one on strengthening the Economic and Social Council at its seventy-fifth anniversary to support sustainable and resilient recovery from COVID-19 and advance the 2030 Agenda, and the other on scenarios and possible medium‑ and long-term trends related to the recovery from the pandemic and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m., Wednesday, 21 July, to hold the last Management Segment of its 2021 session.
Introduction of Reports
LIU ZHENMIN, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the theme of the high-level political forum and the Economic and Social Council in 2021 (document E/2021/62), and his report on long-term future trends and scenarios — impacts in the economic, social and environmental areas on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (document E/2021/61).
The former explores key lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, providing insights for a sustainable and resilient recovery — a road to the world envisioned by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It states that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the systemic and interlinked nature of risk in a tightly intertwined world. To recover sustainably, the report defines specific steps, including boosting international solidarity to urgently provide equitable access for all countries to vaccines. A strong primary health-care system in each country and for everyone is also needed. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that achieving universal health coverage could save 100 million lives by 2030.
The proposed measures include strengthening social protection, he said. Some 190 countries and territories had to introduce or adapt social protection measures to respond to the pandemic. It is essential to build on this momentum and construct inclusive social protection systems. Calling for better management of resources, he said that accelerating the structural transformation of energy systems, smarter urban development, greater emphasis on sustainable land-use and water management, and the shift towards a circular industrial economy, could deliver cumulative economic gains of $26 trillion between now and 2030, compared to the business-as-usual scenario. These strategies could also generate over 65 million additional low-carbon jobs by 2030. Harnessing the potential of digital technologies is vital. The pandemic showed the need to enhance digital skills and bridge digital gaps, particularly in developing countries.
Building on this analysis, the latter report outlines how coordinated global actions could attain the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, presenting a scenario based on integrated actions to realize the 2030 Agenda, support digitalization, address climate change and advance the COVID-19 recovery. If done right, actions in one area will drive progress in the other areas. The report describes a world that becomes increasingly high-tech, interconnected and focused on education, science and technology. It speaks of innovation leadership by developing countries and foresees rapid improvements in living standards in those States. It also shows that reducing global energy and resource use, despite rapid increases in living standards, is possible.
The report proposes strategies and near-term actions to electrify energy end-use worldwide as well as achieve pervasive digitalization and rapid innovation in granular technologies, he said. None of these is “rocket science” as the technologies are available. However, it will require reinforced global cooperation, most immediately, on the response to COVID-19. Many of the proposed actions can be taken right away by Governments, stakeholders, corporations, civil society, and others. “As we move forward, let us act to ensure that the coming decade reveals the ‘best case scenario’ for everyone,” he said.
JOSÉ ANTONIO OCAMPO, Chair of the Committee on Development Policy, introducing the organ’s report on its twenty-third session (document E/2021/33), said that the session took place from 22 to 26 February this year, addressing elements of the Economic and Social Council’s theme, “building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda”, as well as issues related to the least developed countries and the 2020 voluntary national reviews.
On the theme, the Committee recommended priority areas of action, such as securing rapid universal vaccinations, not only through financial support, but also through new multilateral arrangements to mobilize global production, removing obstacles created by intellectual property rights, adopting measures to promote the sharing of vaccines. The Committee also proposed increased financial support for developing countries to address the economic consequences of COVID-19 and secure sustainable, climate-resilient development, including significantly increased support by multilateral financial institutions on highly concessional terms and more official development assistance (ODA). In addition, the Committee recommended effective debt relief for developing countries, particularly least developed countries and those in debt distress, and underscored the importance of structural transformation for sustainable development and of Governments actively promoting the development of productive capacities.
Continuing, he said the Committee made recommendations on financial assistance for climate adaptation and resilience‑building, measures to de-risk institutional investment for green and climate-resilient infrastructure and harness private equity funds; strengthening of social protection; and addressing setbacks in education and digital inequalities, among other issues. The Committee also stressed that expanding productive capacity for sustainable development must be at the core of the programme of action to be adopted at the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries early next year.
The Council then held a panel on the theme “Strengthening ECOSOC at its seventy-fifth anniversary for sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 and advancing the 2030 Agenda”. Chaired by Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, it featured a presentation by Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan.
Elizabeth Cousens, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, moderated a fireside chat with the following speakers: Maria Fernanda Espinosa, former Minister for Foreign Affairs and of Defence of Ecuador, and former President of the seventy-third session of the United Nations General Assembly; Jeffrey Schlagenhauf, Deputy Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD); Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer of the African Union Development Agency — New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and Co-Chair of the FACTI Panel; John Frank, Vice‑President for United Nations Affairs of Microsoft; and Jayathma Wickramanayake, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth.
Mr. AKRAM said the commemoration of the Council’s seventy-fifth anniversary has coincided with the biggest global crisis since the founding of the United Nations. A more inclusive and networked multilateralism will be crucial for the recovery and to build resilience to avoid another crisis. Over the past 75 years, for multiple reasons, the Economic and Social Council has struggled to fulfil the policy and coordination mandate assigned to it by the Charter. But, never before has the fulfillment of this mandate been more imperative as it is today, he said, welcoming participants.
Mr. QURESHI highlighted Pakistan’s efforts in confronting the COVID-19 crisis, from succeeding in achieving macroeconomic stability to adopting effective policies that limited casualties and protected the poorest and most vulnerable segments of the population. Given the massive rise in poverty and vulnerability caused by the pandemic, it is essential to incorporate a sustained social protection programme as an essential component of the response. Citing examples of partnerships to address these issues, he said Pakistan, Finland and Costa Rica, with the cooperation of the World Bank and United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, have initiated a proposal for the universal adoption of social protection in development strategies. Highlighting other areas for action, he said massive investment in sustainable infrastructure — energy, transportation, agriculture and manufacturing — is indispensable to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and the climate objectives. Summarizing Pakistan’s efforts across these and other sectors, he said cooperation and partnerships are key. The debates and discussions of the Economic and Social Council are an essential vehicle to promote such recognition of the imperative of cooperation to enable humanity to build a shared future of peace and prosperity, he said.
Ms. COUSENS, opening the fireside chat, introduced the panellists, saying the Economic and Social Council is the umbrella for so many on so many issues, and its work is critical, especially during the pandemic. Now, the world faces the prospect of a two-track recovery. As such, the work of the high-level political forum and the panel is vital.
Ms. ESPINOSA said a robust United Nations system and a strong Economic and Social Council is needed to move forward on the Sustainable Development Goals in an inclusive, lasting manner to transform people’s lives on the ground. The Goals are the guide, she said, encouraging such bold actions as expediting the General Assembly revitalization process.
Mr. SCHLAGENHAUF said strong multilateral cooperation and coordination is critical, amid uneven economic growth, as COVID-19 cases rise in four regions. The multilateral architecture should be boosted in three areas, including speeding up the process of vaccination. In addition, long-standing challenges, from climate change to pandemics, must be tackled in a coordinated manner. Efforts must also restore trust in a multilateral system that contributes to a global, level playing field featuring greener, inclusive efforts to recover.
Mr. MAYAKI said illicit financial flows remain a chronic problem for all countries, including African States who are most challenged in realizing the 2030 Agenda. The pandemic has exacerbated this problem, along with financial crises that devastated economies. However, Governments with resources can do extraordinary things, such as create vaccination programmes. Citing a recent report on the current situation, the FACTI Panel has made 14 recommendations for all stakeholders. Issues must be addressed, including holding bankers accountable and the need to adopt strong, effective policies.
Mr. FRANK said the goal of companies is evolving and the capitalist structure is changing. Microsoft, like other businesses, sees challenges in a different light than Governments. Building on the digital road map and focusing on connectivity is essential at a time when people who are “connected” are left behind. Building back in an inclusive way hinges on a human-centred framework that includes training, and not just coverage maps.
Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE said the trust gap between young people and Governments is widening. At the same time, youth are hopeful about the future of the United Nations and multilateralism, which must change. In meetings with youth, she said they routinely called for inclusive efforts to reach all stakeholders. Tangible results are needed on such issues as addressing racism, climate change and gender equality. Today, there is a unique opportunity to build a better “normal”.
Ms. COUSENS asked the panellists for examples of how best to strengthen the Economic and Social Council.
Ms. ESPINOSA said efforts must lead to operational and result-oriented partnerships. Member States, young people and the private sector are ready for the retooling of the multilateral system, so the time is right.
Mr. MAYAKI said that, as 2030 nears, enormous gaps persist. The FACTI Panel has avoided duplicating support and instead focused on existing initiatives. However, challenges remain. Multilateral forums can help States in building capacities, as there is a need to break down the silos and improve cooperation. The Economic and Social Council must be the venue to foster international cooperation and build financial integrity.
Mr. SCHLAGENHAUF said OECD aims at working with the United Nations and other partners to support each other, rather than compete. Strengthening the rules‑based international trading system and addressing tax issues is also important. Efforts are under way to reduce carbon emissions. However, bridging the digital gap is vital, and partners must leverage their resources in tackling that challenge.
Mr. FRANK said the private sector can take steps to foster stronger partnerships with Governments. Far too often, companies have arrived with fanfare to launch a project, then walk away, leaving it to a local team without sustainable financing. What is needed are long-term sustainable financial health of projects and local expertise along with diverse voices, including those of young people. Citing examples of fruitful partnerships, he said a project with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is developing curricula, and an initiative with the Government of Kenya is broadening Internet access.
Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE said the Youth Forum is a unique platform to hear current concerns and recommendations, drawing 20,000 participants from 193 countries. The outcome feeds into the high-level political forum, she said. The political forum should consider the outcome, as well as include youth delegates. Young people could also be involved in the voluntary national review process. They should be included broadly and not just with youth-specific topics.
In the ensuing discussion, ministers and representatives shared national challenges and recommendations for strengthening the work of the Economic and Social Council to ensure a balanced COVID-19 recovery.
ZEINA AKAR, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Emigrants of Lebanon, said the Council can play a role in connecting developing countries with adequate financial resources and attracting viable projects. The United Nations, its agencies and international financial institutions must strengthen their cooperation and efforts to ensure an inclusive, sustainable recovery for all countries. Expressing deep concern about the global vaccination gap, she called for vaccine equity, increased production and fully funding the COVAX initiative. The 2030 Agenda calls for transformative change which requires a paradigm shift towards policy integration, environmental sustainability, and human rights with a focus on gender equality, social justice, inclusion and strong institutions. A revitalized Economic and Social Council at the heart of a networked, inclusive and effective multilateralism can help us to do so.
The representative of Turkey, said the Council’s role and mandate are more important than ever before in advancing global solidarity and cooperation, as it has significant capacities to assist countries to cope with the pandemic and to increase resiliency against future shocks. Turkey’s achievements under the Sustainable Development Goals have become its strengths in the fight against the pandemic, he said, highlighting several key areas, including its universal health coverage system. As of mid-July, 58 million vaccines were administered, 17 million of which were second doses. While the pandemic has taken a heavy toll on all economies, Turkey achieved a 1.8 per cent growth rate in 2020. As a developing country that expects to be seriously affected by climate change, Turkey follows policies towards green growth and improving adaptation capacity. To bounce back from the pandemic and achieve the 2030 Agenda, all stakeholders must share responsibilities and act with solidarity and cooperation, including by ensuring global vaccine justice.
RAMTANE LAMAMRA, Minister for Foreign Affairs and National Community Abroad of Algeria, said one of the key messages from the seventh Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development is the urgent need for the international development partners to strengthen multilateral cooperation mechanisms and to ensure the full and timely disbursement of financial pledges. Solutions to current obstacles and challenges lie in a system of global governance, based on a multilateral decision‑making process that is effective, inclusive, representative and transparent, with clear and fair rules. Making several recommendations, he said the Economic and Social Council must be enabled to ensure adequate monitoring of the implementation of its resolutions, with enhanced coordination with various United Nations bodies to ensure an effective and efficient response. The Council must also focus more on developing countries by ensuring that more space is dedicated to issues related to financing, external debt problems and infrastructure, and ensure a coherent political vision for monitoring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda to help countries recover and rebuild their resilience in the post-pandemic era.
MOHAMMED AL-JADAAN, Minister for the Economy and Planning of Saudi Arabia, called for global collective action to achieve more stability and progress towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. As growing food insecurity and unemployment has led to increased poverty, he said targeted efforts must reverse this trend. A re-evaluation of priorities is needed to ensure that all vulnerable groups are protected. The opportunity must be seized to take action to realize the targets outlined in the 2030 Agenda. While Saudi Arabia has suffered from the pandemic, he said, national measures aim at protecting the population and its economy, including the private sector. Citing a range of achievements, he said more than 90 million vaccines have been administered and a strategy for social protection has been redrafted to reach those in need. Other efforts include supporting sustainable projects and initiatives to reduce emissions and prevent land degradation.
GORDAN GRLIĆ RADMAN, Minister for Foreign and European Affairs of Croatia, citing several efforts and partnerships to address pandemic-related challenges and responses, said the Economic and Social Council has a critical role to play. As a Council member for 2022 to 2024, Croatia is prepared to contribute to make the Council deliver a strong multilateral response to the pandemic, as no country can address it alone. Safe and effective vaccines should be readily accessible to all. As the Council is a key platform to reach the Goals, efforts must work towards further strengthening its ties with Government and non-Government sectors. Civil society participation, which has been especially negatively affected by the pandemic, must be part of building back better and is a crucial part of recovery. “We need to continue to explore how to fully utilize the Council as a catalyst in bringing together all actors in the common goal of achieving the 2030 Agenda,” he said, adding that: “We need more flexibility and interactive exchanges; success of the Economic and Social Council should not be measured by the number of resolutions we adopt, but by the difference that we make on the ground.”
ERIKA MOUYNES, Minister for Foreign Relations of Panama, said that the Decade for Action on delivering the Sustainable Development Goals underlines the important role of the Economic and Social Council. Effective recovery plans must reach the most vulnerable and consider the rights of women and girls, while being inclusive with a view to leaving no one behind. For its part, Panama has presented a national voluntary review, which includes recent efforts and plans for the future. Highlighting Panama’s approach to combat COVID-19, she said social assistance guarantees have been implemented, reaching 1.3 million during the pandemic. While science has produced record-breaking vaccine discoveries, access is key. In this regard, all countries must be able to enjoy the benefits of equal access to the COVID‑19 vaccine. Member States must make the most of the Economic and Social Council’s role, with a view to ensuring that there the world becomes a better place in future.
EAMON COURTENAY, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Immigration of Belize, said the impact of the pandemic has been truly catastrophic, as its economy contracted by 14.1 per cent in 2020 and the Government’s debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio ballooned to 130 per cent, with unemployment doubling to 29 per cent; the latest data shows half of the population now lives in poverty. The challenges of the pandemic merely exacerbated Belize’s vulnerabilities and magnified the existential threats posed by climate change, a reflection of experiences of many developing countries. “The future of our planet and people will depend on the ability of the multilateral system to deliver a post-pandemic recovery that is inclusive, equitable and green,” he said, adding that the Council is well positioned to be at the centre to fashion a bold and innovative post-pandemic recovery that addresses new and emerging issues. It should more readily convene special sessions to facilitate dialogue, exchange of national experiences and inputs of regional commissions on these pressing issues at the core of advancing the 2030 Agenda. Expressing concern that the opportunity to “build back better” is slipping away, he said 82 per cent of vaccines administered have been in developed or upper middle-income countries. It is imperative that this two-track recovery is merged into a single, even path of recovery. To do so will require political will, solidarity, international cooperation, and an effective multilateral system in which the Council is an integral part. As Belize prepares to take its seat at the Council in 2022, the Government welcomes all efforts to further strengthen the organ and looks forward to working closely with all stakeholders.
ROSEMARIE G. EDILLON, Undersecretary for Policy and Planning of the National Economic and Development Authority of the Philippines, said the world must work together to truly overcome the pandemic. Making five recommendations, she first appealed for stronger global mechanisms to overcome delays in COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution. A digital vaccine certificate is also needed alongside efforts to improve online learning platforms and resources. As teachers and students adapt to blended learning, she encouraged stakeholders to adopt such initiatives as Open Educational Resources for COVID, or “OER4Covid”, established by the Commonwealth of Learning and partners, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute for Information Technologies in Education. Indeed, partnerships are key in institutionalizing knowledge exchanges, she said, proposing the creation of a platform where Member States could learn from each other’s pandemic response that can serve to inform policymaking. Ensuring access to food and essential goods is also crucial, she said, adding that the path to recovery will be difficult. “This is exactly the time we need to believe in our collective strength to do better,” she said, stressing: “Only then we can move forward.”
PETER LAUNSKY-TEIFFENTHAL, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria, said that, with the global crisis serving as a wake-up call, policies must become more effective and innovative, with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change as the world’s road map. The Council plays a central role in providing guidance and coordinating the United Nations development system. In the face of recent pandemic-related setbacks, he said that rays of hope have also been seen in community resilience, expansion of social protection and the acceleration of digital transformation. In order to achieve a sustainable and green recovery, it will be crucial to bring all actors on board, including civil society, the private sector, international financial institutions, academia and many more. However, the financing gap to achieve the 2030 Agenda has widened during the pandemic, with foreign direct investment decreasing by 40 per cent in 2020, he said, reiterating Austria’s steadfast support of the Economic and Social Council.
THANI THONGPHAKDI, Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, expressed hope that the fine-tuning of the Coordination Segment will remove silos in the work of the United Nations system to promote a more integrated workflow, including through formulating common action-oriented policy guidance. The Council can and must effectively respond to pandemic-related challenges. Working with specialized agencies and with support from its subsidiary bodies, it is well‑placed to support Member States in addressing the daunting challenges of the pandemic. The work of promoting inclusive and balanced growth, building resilience against future disasters and crises, including public health emergencies, as well as responding to interrelated challenges such as climate change and the digital divide, is more vital than ever. New and innovative ways are needed to promote a more balanced growth and sustainable development, he said, urging the Council to take the lead in that regard. Advancing investment in the Sustainable Development Goals, especially through the Council’s Forum on Financing for Development, is crucial. “No country can walk alone,” he said, adding that the Council has the convening power to bring all States closer together on the journey towards 2030. Thailand is determined to work with all partners to further strengthen the Council so that it becomes a beacon for sustainable development and a reservoir of hope.
The representative of Ethiopia said the Sustainable Development Goals have a role to play in accelerating national efforts, and in general in fulfilling the transformation of Ethiopian economy and society. This emanates from two reinforcing commitments: to put citizens on a path of prosperity, and to enhance multilateralism. The world agreed to the 2030 Agenda to end poverty not just by the individual efforts of nations but by the collective efforts of the global community. At the current rate, the world is not on track, and the pandemic has complicated efforts, but these challenges can be overcome. A good place to start will be to reaffirm a commitment to the two underlying principles: leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first. Drawing attention to the Sustainable Development Goal on revitalizing global partnerships, he said countries can only survive the current crisis by working together. The Economic and Social Council should be at the front and centre of this process, taking a more assertive role in the implementation of the Goals.
The representative of Indonesia said the world continues to struggle to recover from the pandemic, complicated by inequality and the digital divide. Right now, the world must work together to provide effective and collective responses, he said, sharing several ideas on how best to do so. Cooperation must be enhanced, with silos broken down, as “business as usual” no longer applies. Instead, innovative financing and digital transformation initiatives must enhance efforts to respond and recover better. Jump-starting the economy is key to recovery, he said, “but, we need to do it differently”. New policies must guide the way forward, using innovations to best help countries to overcome the pandemic and engaging in solidarity to foster growth and achieve common goals.
TETSUYA KIMURA (Japan) said the continued spread of COVID-19 reminds the world that coordinated and consolidated efforts by various actors in the international community are needed. To build back better from this crisis, it is important for countries to focus on human security, by addressing the protection and empowerment of every individual through cross-sectoral and comprehensive approaches to addressing multidimensional threats to the lives, livelihoods and dignity of all people. For its part, Japan is working to realize universal health coverage, address climate change and tackle other challenges, including with partners. The Economic and Social Council has a clear role to play, he said, welcoming recent reforms. Calling for further efforts to make the Council more effective and efficient, he said Japan supports and promotes discussions and initiatives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in cooperation with relevant stakeholders.
The representative of the International Indian Council Treaty said the Council must establish mechanism to ensure accountability and non-discrimination, with indigenous peoples participating at all levels. Indigenous peoples’ knowledge on climate change and its solutions must also be acknowledged. Stronger global cooperation and financing the Sustainable Development Goals should support indigenous peoples in their respective countries. With less than a decade left to 2030, she said the Council must take bold steps to ensure progress.
Also participating in the discussion were ministers and representatives of Andorra, Tunisia, Venezuela, Côte d’Ivoire, Chile, Kenya, Madagascar, Sudan, Mexico, Dominica, Spain, Honduras, China, Russian Federation, Costa Rica, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Qatar, South Africa, Morocco, United States, Argentina and Nigeria.
Representatives of the Commonwealth Medical Trust and the SCS Organization also participated.
The Council then held a panel on the theme “Scenarios and possible medium‑ and long-term trends related to the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the achievement of SDGs”. Chaired by Mr. Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, it featured a keynote address by Bertrand Piccard, Founder and Chairman of the Solar Impulse Foundation.
Moderated by Daniella Tilbury, Gibraltar's Commissioner for Sustainable Development and Future Generations, the panel featured presentations by Keywan Riahi, Director, Energy Programme, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria, and United Nations 10-Member-Group of High-Level Representatives to support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism; Paula Caballero, Managing Director, Lands for Life Programme, Rare, United States; and Debapriya Bhattacharya, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, and United Nations Committee for Development Policy. Felix Dodds, Adjunct Professor, Water Institute in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, University of North Carolina, United States, was lead discussant.
Mr. PICCARD said that communicating the point that “life is a miracle on our planet” would mean using the language of “those who decide” — those who have the power. The language is one of job creation, economic growth and industrial profit — meaning that there is a huge gap between those who want to protect the environment and those who are in control of today’s reality. In the last four years, the Solar Impulse Foundation has identified 1,200 solutions that can protect the environment in a financially profitable manner and create jobs. These solutions involve new energy sources, devices, products and materials that are usable in the fields of water, energy, construction, industry and agriculture, to name a few.
“We have now the proof that all these solutions are financially profitable and can create jobs,” he assured. “There is no reason to continue saying that protection of the environment is expensive, or that it requires sacrifices in terms of mobility or growth.” New technologies now allow people to “be in the world” much more efficiently. However, societies are still using technologies invented 50, 80 and even 100 years ago, wasting precious natural resources and funds. It is possible to decouple GDP from “the quantity of production and consumption” and recouple it with “the quality of efficiency”, he explained, stressing that “efficiency is the product to be sold, more so than the outdated systems that are still here”. Using these solutions would mean reaching the Sustainable Development Goals, he assured.
Ms. TILBURY, introducing the panel, said questions will centre on what the world has learned from the pandemic, how it can deliver on the 2030 Agenda and commit to the principle of intergenerational equity underpinning the Sustainable Development Goals. Other questions will focus on how national plans, through legal and institutional measures, can enable better social protections and support health care systems.
Mr. RIAHI observed that the pandemic has significantly increased inequalities, notably housing disparities, and amplified the fact that societies are off track in achieving net‑zero emissions. The lack of progress in the face of challenges is due to supply-side issues, leading to inertia and small changes. He called for refocusing the transformation to the demand side, with emphasis on granular and small-scale technologies. The advantages of a transition that focuses on the demand side means that such technologies will flow into the marketplace more quickly, accelerate innovation cycles and reduce costs. Small‑scale technologies are less risky, easier to finance and more democratic since they can be shared easily. They would fundamentally change how countries consume energy. It is most critical to initiate the required reforms to restructure key markets, such as electricity, and to allow the efficient use of data‑sharing.
Ms. CABALLERO called for a “re-think”, pointing out that, in the massive stimulus packages helping countries weather the COVID-19 crisis, less than $1.8 trillion is categorized as “green”. Societies must initiate deep transformation by building on the current disruption. In the absence of transformative action, she asked delegates to consider what assets will be irreversibly lost, stressing that an entire generation has been derailed by COVID‑19 and that rising food insecurity is now leading to irreversible cognitive impacts. She suggested that the global community commit to a global target that addresses stunting. This would reduce poverty, with knock-on effects, because it also means tackling food insecurity. “COIVD-19 recovery has to be about transformation,” she insisted, adding: “Let us find entry points,” which in turn, will create massive ripple effects that build on the current disruptions.
Ms. BHATTACHARYA called for a decision-driven approach, rather than a future-driven one, as countries recover from COVID-19. Interim appraisals have shown that the pandemic washed away many of the Sustainable Development Goal‑related achievements in countries of the global South, particularly those related to Goal 1 on ending poverty. He called for targeted assessments based on the intensity of the pandemic’s impact and the disaggregation of data. According to initial appraisals, the pandemic revealed structural faultiness within societies — and there is now the emergence of new inequities and injustices. Medium-term trends can only be understood through a disaggregated and contextualized approach to understanding Sustainable Development Goal achievement. For understanding mid‑term recovery trends, he recommended a robust, disaggregated analysis of coping strategies and the effectiveness of public policies, especially as related to Goal targets, rather than simply the Goals themselves.
Mr. DODDS described three challenges related to the pandemic, climate change and “the silent impact of the fourth industrial revolution”, noting that one of the hopes is that the latter will help developing countries create greener industries. He described new challenges related to “deep fake”, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, drone weaponization and the use of personal data for political targeting, urging delegates to consider that 70 per cent of people around the world will be employed as freelancers by 2030. “Are we preparing this generation for this?”, he asked. He said the high-level political forum is not fit for purpose for tackling these challenges, stressing that the mid-term review of the Sustainable Development Goals should strengthen this body. He called for evidence-based decision pathways and a refocusing of efforts on private sector finance to help deliver the 2030 Agenda. He added that the fourth industrial revolution is characterized by the emergence of new technologies that are blurring the lines between the digital, biological and natural worlds.
The Council then heard a series of video messages delivered by ministerial respondents.
OMAR RAZZAZ, former Prime Minister of Jordan, said the Sustainable Development Goals have been “an amazing tool” for raising awareness, nudging research and shaming some countries by revealing how far they are behind they are. He took issue with Goal 17 on partnerships, noting that its premise assumes that enlightened self-interest is the modus operandi of all countries. Noting that the Goals generally deal with local, national and global public goods — those that affect everyone — he recalled the phenomenon of “free ridership” in stressing that the Goals are off track. In describing why this is, he pointed to the current “patchwork of a global governance structure that does not involve all externalities” or “provide carrots and sticks” to ensure the right behaviour. Goal 17 should be revised to incorporate a global trusteeship that provides the know-how, measurement and forum for countries to be rewarded.
ARLETTE SOUDAN-NONAULT, Minister for Environment, Sustainable Development and the Congo Basin of the Republic of Congo, and Chair of the seventh Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, said COVID-19 caused the first recession in Africa in 25 years. She cautioned that the response should not be guided solely by emergency considerations. Countries must consider how policy measures taken today will shape a better future. She described the continent’s “triple imperative” to define the well‑being of people and ecosystems, linked to an inclusive recovery that tackles climate change. “Africa is ready to promote solutions to climate change, unemployment and to drive inclusive green growth,” she said, pointing to the forests, peat lands and water resources of the Congo Basin, the second largest “ecological lung”. She stressed that investment in renewable energies and nature-based solutions create 130 per cent more jobs and 280 per cent more value added to economies than investment centred on fossil fuel use.
DINESH GUNAWARDENA, Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, said that, over the last month, his country prioritized pandemic control. Through its emergency plan, micro‑, small and medium-sized enterprises were provided with material resources and low-interest working capital. He pointed to several refinancing programmes, which benefitted some 6 million families. To ensure food security and an inclusive transformation of agriculture, Sri Lanka stopped importing chemical fertilizer, guaranteeing people access to a non-toxic diet, he said. In addition, 7,000 rural solar power plants and two large wind plants will be built. The Government also partnered with telecommunications providers to ensure the continuity of education, with other incentives geared towards improving vocational education, he said, expressing his hope that the forum will help reinforce solidarity in such efforts.
DAG-INGE ULSTEIN, Minister for International Development of Norway, said the world is facing the consequences of health, economic and environmental crises, stressing that “we are all equal, but we are not all equally vulnerable”, with those at risk of being left behind already feeling the greatest impact of the pandemic. The international community must respond to poverty and climate risks, as well as digital divide, by ensuring all people have access to sustainable solutions. He called for implementing nature-based solutions. Describing the digital divide as “the new face of inequality,” he said digital technologies are critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Norway supports universal access to these systems through its involvement in the Digital Public Goods Alliance.
RITA SCHWARZELUEHR-SUTTER, Parliamentary State Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety of Germany, said the pandemic has demonstrated that the world must change course, moving towards inclusive and sustainable consumption and production systems. These efforts must shape global recovery from the pandemic, she said, stressing that “we must make our societies more resilient”. The world’s economies must become more environmentally friendly and climate policies more effective. Noting that Germany has made its Climate Change Act more stringent, she underscored the importance of aligning long-term plans with global agreements. The climate crisis and digitalization must be considered “in tandem”, she said, underscoring that digital transformation must be harnessed to fulfil the 2030 Agenda.
During the interactive discussion, Mr. DODDS summarized the thematic issues raised during the panel by pointing to a common recognition of the need to address new technology and its impact on the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. “People do not like rapid change,” he said. “And we are in an insecure world”. Underscoring the need for societies to help people deal with change, he pointed to the “Green New Deal” adopted by European societies as one such way.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said COVID-19 is accelerating the transition to digitalization and the green economy, transforming labour markets, while also exacerbating inequalities. Countries must take advantage of this transition, while simultaneously reducing inequality. He pointed to the “Korean New Deal” as a pathway for increasing productivity by investing in the integration of data and artificial intelligence, promoting carbon neutrality and protecting vulnerable people by expanding employment insurance. “Public trust is the key to our strategy,” he explained.
A speaker for United Way Worldwide pointed to the 1 billion volunteers across the world as powerful resources for helping to achieve the 2030 Agenda. He called on States to recognize volunteering in their voluntary national reviews, to promote integrated rather than siloed approaches and to effectively engage the public and private sectors, particularly in crisis prevention, management and resolution.
The representative of the United Kingdom, noting that data systems are under strain, making it difficult to assess the impact of the pandemic, asked panellists what States can do to champion fair and inclusive data in efforts to ensure that no one is left behind.
Mr. DODDS, responding, said it is vital that countries support national statistical offices to set up measurement processes, particularly in developing countries. Citizen data‑collection should be supported in the development of new indicators. Mr. BATTACHARYA similarly underscored the importance of data, calling for analyses disaggregated by location, age group and other factors and cautioning that without such studies, it will be extremely difficult to assess the effectiveness of public policies.
The representative of Denmark said stimulus packages should not be used only for short-term damage control or maintaining the status quo. One area for investment is in youth, as they have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. “Investing in young people will lead to economic and social growth,” she said, recommending the establishment of youth panels to advise Governments on key issues, such as climate change.
The speaker for the International Federation of Medical Students Association said young people are a driving force behind innovation and development. As youth representation in decisions related to the Goals is lacking, he called for the involvement of young people in the initiation of national strategies. Governments also should consider the needs of young people, as well as age and gender when devising climate sensitive approaches to achieving the Goals.
Action on Draft Ministerial Declaration
The Economic and Social Council then considered its draft Ministerial Declaration (document E/2021/L.26–E/HLPF/2021/L.2).
At the outset, the representative of the Russian Federation introduced three amendments, on paragraphs 20, 25 and 36 of the draft Ministerial Declaration.
The Council rejected an amendment to paragraph 20 as contained in Conference Room Paper 5 (document E/2021/CRP.5), by a recorded vote of 38 against to 3 in favor (Armenia, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia), with 3 abstentions (Angola, Madagascar, Solomon Islands).
The Council then rejected an amendment to paragraph 25 of the Declaration, as contained in Conference Room Paper 6 (document E/2021/CRP.6), by a recorded vote of 39 against to 2 in favor (Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia), with 2 abstentions (Angola, Madagascar).
The Council rejected an amendment to paragraph 36, as contained in Conference Room Paper 7 (document E/2021/CRP.7), by a recorded vote of 39 against to 2 in favor (Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia), with 2 abstentions (Angola, Madagascar).
Then, a recorded vote was requested on paragraph 29.
The Council retained paragraph 29 of the Draft Ministerial Declaration (document E/2021/L.26) by a recorded vote of 27 in favor to 3 against (Australia, Canada, United States), with 17 abstentions.
The Council then adopted the draft Ministerial Declaration as a whole, without a vote.
The representative of the United States, expressing full support for the Sustainable Development Goals, said that, while the Ministerial Declaration reflects a global shared values, many crucial issues have been omitted, such as the “One Health” approach to pandemic preparedness and the elimination of the worst forms of child labour. Stressing his delegation’s concern that numerous paragraphs inappropriately attempt to characterize or influence processes in independent fora, he said the United Nations must respect the independent mandates of other processes and institutions and must not attempt to characterize or interfere with related decisions and actions. The United States reaffirms that it does not accept such attempts and will not treat them as agreed language in future negotiations, including on emergency trade measures, trade finance and trade facilitation measures. The inclusion of paragraph 35 from the 2030 Agenda does not contribute to the Declaration and represents an attempt to politicize the important work of the high-level political forum. The United States has consequently voted against its inclusion as paragraph 29 in the Declaration, and reaffirms its position on the 2030 Agenda as detailed in its explanation of position delivered on 1 September 2015.
The representative of Panama said the world must work together to overcome the pandemic and redouble efforts to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. Reaffirming her delegation’s commitment to these objectives, she expressed hope that efforts will succeed by the 2030 deadline.
The representative of Israel, reiterating her delegation’s support for the Ministerial Declaration, said she had hoped the document would have avoided the politicization of certain issues. As it did not, she disassociated herself from paragraph 29.
The representative of Guatemala said his delegation’s position was explained on 15 July at the high-level political forum and requested that statement be reflected in this meeting’s official record.
The representative of Iran said his country is not committed to implementing any provisions of the Ministerial Declaration that contradict his country’s laws and Islamic values. Rejecting measures that have exterritorial impacts, as well as unilateral sanctions against developing countries, he said these are incompatible with the United Nations Charter and international law. His delegation was disappointed that the proposal of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China for including agreed language from paragraph 30 of the 2030 Agenda was rejected.
The representative of Ukraine disassociated her delegation from paragraph 11, underlining that, in 2020, the Russian Federation presented its voluntary national review, which misrepresented the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol of Ukraine.
Mr. AKRAM (Pakistan), President of Economic and Social Council, said that, on the occasion of the Council’s seventy-fifth anniversary and as the end of Pakistan’s presidency of the organ approaches, it is timely to review the status of its role in the context of the developments of the past year. This has been a period when the international community faced a “perfect storm” of economic and development challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the deepest economic recession and climate and environmental crisis. The Council was able to respond with unique unity and solidarity to the multiple crises.
Major tasks ahead include achieving universal and affordable access to the COVID-19 vaccine and mobilizing the $4.3 trillion the developing countries require to recover from the crises and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, he said. Creating the $650 billion in new special drawing rights and a generous re‑allocation of unauthorized reserves are awaited. New financing mechanisms, such as “FACE” Fund, proposed by Costa Rica, and the liquidity and sustainability facility proposed by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) would be welcome. Fulfilment of the commitment made by developed countries to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance is critical.
It is also critical to scale up investment in sustainable infrastructure — $1 trillion per year — for the transition to a dynamic “green” global economy. Sustainable development investment strategies need to focus on employment creation – in sectors like housing, construction, renewable energy, transport, sustainable agriculture and manufacturing. Poverty and hunger have increased and must be attacked frontally, including through social protection and relief programmes, and sustainable food production and distribution. Access to advance technologies and innovations especially digital technologies must be liberalized drastically. Finally, he stressed the need to mobilize the political will to address the structural and systemic issues which impede equitable and dynamic growth and development: the unequal, financial, tax and trade regimes. The triple crisis requires a paradigm shift in the approach to global development, climate change and economic cooperation. It is time to convene another Summit to agree on the structure and content of new, more dynamic and equitable structure of international economic cooperation, he stressed.
Mr. ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, said that the 2021 high-level segment looked back at 75 years of work of the Economic and Social Council and looked far ahead at future trends and scenarios. “From both perspectives, it is clear that the 2030 Agenda has kept all its power as a ground-breaking and inclusive promise to eradicate poverty and achieve a better future for all on a healthy planet,” he said. A strong message today — and throughout the high-level political forum on sustainable development — has been that the 2030 Agenda is the road map for recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, he said, stressing the need for a global plan for all countries to recover together from the pandemic, and for putting the poorest countries on the path to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. This involves mobilizing financial resources and sharing knowledge and technologies. The Council can, and should, play an integral role in addressing and supporting this endeavour, he emphasized.