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SG/SM/21196
22 March 2022

World Moving Backwards on Sustainable Development Goals, Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council , Deploring ‘Fundamental Lack of Solidarity’

Following are Un Secretary-General  António Guterres’ remarks to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as a follow-up to the report entitled Our Common Agenda, in New York today:

I thank the President of ECOSOC for convening this discussion on the follow-up to my report on Our Common Agenda.  Indeed, as it was demonstrated by your intervention, Mr. President, there is a lot of Our Common Agenda that directly relates to the work of this chamber.

And my thanks to Member States for the rich and substantive engagement with the ideas in the report, during the General Assembly and the five thematic consultations, and in meetings since then.

Our world is suffering from the impact of unprecedented emergencies caused by the climate crisis, pollution, desertification and biodiversity loss, the COVID-19 pandemic, by new and ongoing conflicts, and by the ungoverned development of new technologies.

The COVID-19 crisis shone a spotlight on international cooperation and exposed massive shortcomings, from vaccine inequity to a lack of financial solidarity.  Developing countries are struggling to recover — with record inflation, rising interest rates, looming debt burdens, and exponential increases in the cost of financing.

The war in Ukraine is now causing food, fuel and fertilizer prices to skyrocket, and our United Nations agencies are warning of hunger on an unprecedented scale.  The FAO’s (Food and Agriculture Organization) global food price index is at its highest level ever.  And according to the World Food Programme (WFP), in the past three years, the number of people on the brink of famine has risen by 17 million.

It is clear — we are moving in the wrong direction.  The report on Our Common Agenda is aimed at addressing these interlinked crises head-on, so that we can rescue the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and I think rescue is the right word.  We are moving backwards in relation to the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals because of the circumstances I have mentioned and because of a fundamental lack of solidarity in today’s world and in the mechanisms that are relevant for the global economy and the global financial system.  We need to rescue the SDGs and get them back on track.

Your input through the consultations organized by the President of the General Assembly provided important feedback to shape the way forward.  There are several areas in which I took away strong support from the discussions able to consider moving forward to more detailed discussions.  Allow me to provide an overview.

First, my report on Our Common Agenda calls for a New Global Deal to ensure power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly, so countries can invest in their people.  This is fundamental to allow the creation of a renewed social contract, based on rights and opportunities for all, that is essential to tackle poverty and hunger and to rebuild trust and social cohesion.

I welcome Member States’ recognition that more than ever, developing countries need to invest in poverty reduction, digital connectivity, fighting hunger, providing quality education, expanding social protection, creating jobs, and transitioning to renewable energy.  But they are currently blocked, by a global financial system designed by the rich and powerful, to benefit the rich and powerful.

Your support for the ideas in Our Common Agenda means we can now move ahead, in full transparency and consultation with Member States.  The report proposes biennial summits that will convene United Nations Member States with the G20 and international financial institutions under the United Nations umbrella, to accelerate ways to finance the implementation of the SDGs and improve global economic governance.

We heard broad support in the consultation for an inclusive process and will work toward the first summit before the end of this year.  These summits will provide a forum to consider reforms to end the systemic injustices and inequalities of the global financial system.  Reforms should include a serious review of credit ratings agencies and the issuance of special drawing rights, and the creation of an operational debt relief and restructuring framework.

Many Member States reiterated the importance and urgency of this agenda.  We also heard broad support to move forward on the proposal to develop new metrics to complement gross domestic product, an area of great interest to ECOSOC, that take into account our climate, our environment, and huge swathes of economic activity that are currently invisible.  Work is under way in the Chief Executives Board, and we aim to present a concrete proposal in due course.  We are aware of your strong view that new metrics should build on existing indices, including the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index.

Second, my report on Our Common Agenda is a booster shot for achieving the SDGs, despite ground lost during the pandemic.  Member States acknowledged that the pandemic has left people who were already vulnerable even further behind.  Some 100 million more people have been pushed into extreme poverty.  Over 160 million people have been added to those facing hunger.

We are experiencing the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression, with hundreds of millions of people out of work or underemployed, essentially in the developing world.  With a global financial system that is failing the Global South, the growing divergence between developed and developing countries is becoming systemic.  The overwhelming message from our consultations was that it is time to change course; and that Our Common Agenda offers a way to address this crisis head on and turbocharge the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

I am glad to report that we have already taken some steps to implement recommendations within our purview.  The Food Systems Summit and the creation of the Food Systems Coordination Hub in Rome are the first steps towards preventing the major increases in global hunger that have been projected and achieving SDG 2 and the goal of zero hunger.  The Global Accelerator on Job and Social Protection is aimed at a massive expansion of social protection and the creation of decent jobs in the care, digital and green economies.

Taken together these proposals can advance SDGs 1, 3 and 8.  I welcome the strong support expressed for this during the consultations and invite all Member States to join the proposed High-Level Coalition of Member States to ensure realization of this objective.

We are moving ahead with the Transforming Education Summit, heartened by your support during the consultations and your strong participation in the recent briefings held by the Deputy Secretary-General.  We launched the Summit preparation process in Paris at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) last week, and I welcome Member States’ continued engagement.  In particular, I encourage your support for national dialogues to move us towards inclusive, equitable, quality education for all, in fulfilment of SDG 4.  The Deputy Secretary-General and my Special Adviser on the Transforming Education Summit will be at your full disposal.

The proposed World Social Summit in 2025 would be an intergovernmental process to create momentum and coordinate action towards achieving the SDGs and take stock of efforts to renew the social contract.  The United Nations system has registered your support for this process.  We stand ready to prepare a proposal on the potential scope and modalities of the Summit for further consideration and decision by Member States.

Third — my report on Our Common Agenda accelerates work on gender equality and inclusion of young people, to get the world on track to achieve SDG 5 by 2030.  Thirty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we need a sea change in our approach.  Support for this came out very clearly from the consultations, as well as your commitment to the five transformative recommendations to achieve gender equality set out in Our Common Agenda.

Moving forward, I have asked the Deputy Secretary-General to take the lead in reviewing the United Nations system’s capacity on gender, and with the support of UN-Women and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and to ensure gender equality is at the core of everything we do, with clear metrics for success.

Among many recommendations on young people, Our Common Agenda proposes the establishment of an Office on Youth in the United Nations Secretariat.  I welcome the affirmation of support from the Member States for this proposal.  The creation of a dedicated capacity focusing on young people would make the entire United Nations system much more accountable in delivering for young people and put the work of my Youth Envoy on a stronger financial footing.  I stand ready to work with Member States to bring this proposal to life as soon as possible.  I also noted the General Assembly’s call to consider the needs of older persons in addition to younger people.

Many of the proposals in my report, including the New Agenda for Peace, the Global Digital Compact, protocols around an Emergency Platform, a Declaration on Future Generations, and a proposed code of conduct for integrity in public information, could come together at the proposed intergovernmental Summit of the Future in 2023.  One such outcome of this summit could be a Pact for the Future agreed upon by the Member States, turbocharging the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Ultimately, the modalities and outcomes of the Summit are in the hands of the Member States.  We stand ready to support the President of the General Assembly and all Member States in the coming weeks as you determine the best way forward.

Our Common Agenda is now in your hands.  It goes without saying that the United Nations — at all levels — remains a Member State organization.  The inclusive, networked multilateralism we need is precisely aimed at providing Member States with expertise, knowledge and ambition from civil society, the private sector, local and regional authorities and more.

Broadening the concept of multilateralism is essential to enrich our discussions and decision-making processes.  As the intergovernmental platform to advance sustainable development and the SDGs, ECOSOC is uniquely placed to advise on how best to take Our Common Agenda forward.  I look forward to our discussions, your ideas, your suggestions and your proposals today.  I am confident that, once again, we will take the necessary decisions to go forward together.

Thank you for your continued trust and leadership.

For information media. Not an official record.