New York

01 December 2020

Secretary-General's remarks at the commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development [as delivered]

Excellencies, distinguished delegates,

I am pleased to join you in commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the World Summit for Social Development. 

It is a critical time to reflect on what it will take to ensure equality for all and achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing gaps in social development.

It has wiped out important development gains in a matter of months.

For the first time in decades, extreme poverty is rising.

Millions of jobs are being lost.

High and, in many instances, rising inequality continues to challenge our institutions and rip at the social fabric.

The pandemic’s economic fallout is taking a heavy toll on people working in the informal economy; small and medium-size businesses; and people with caring responsibilities, who are mainly women. 

And the virus poses the highest risk to the most vulnerable: such as those living in poverty, older persons, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and those with pre-existing health conditions.

The long-term impacts of this crisis will depend on the actions of governments, institutions and leaders.

We must be bold and imaginative to avoid putting countries on a negative trajectory that pushes us further from our 2030 goals, risks intensifying public discontent and further weakens trust in institutions.

The pandemic brings new awareness of the social and economic risks that arise from inadequate social protection systems, unequal access to health care and other public services and high levels of inequality, including gender, race inequality and all the other forms we witness in the world. 

It can therefore open the door to the transformational changes needed to build a New Social Contract at the national level that is fit for the challenges of the 21st century.

One with a strong emphasis on quality education for all and on access to the new digital economy as powerful equalizers; measures related to fair labour markets and fair taxation; Universal Health Coverage and a new generation of social protection measures.

Countries with strong social protection systems before the crisis were much better positioned to rapidly offer access to much-needed healthcare, ensure income security and safeguard jobs.

We must make every effort to extend social protection systems to the two billion informal economy workers, many of whom are women. They are particularly vulnerable to the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also brought home the huge gaps in governance structures and ethical frameworks.

It is time to re-imagine global systems and institutions to build a more inclusive, equal and sustainable world.

We need a New Global Deal where power, resources and opportunities are better shared at international decision-making tables – and governance mechanisms better reflect the realities of today. 

And at the same time, we need to integrate the principles of sustainable development – and the promise of leaving no one behind – into all international decision-making. 

It is essential, for instance, that we urgently secure the international cooperation and financing required to rollout COVID-19 vaccines and treatments that are available and affordable to all; and to ensure that developing countries have the resources they need to both weather this storm and invest in a better recovery.


This is how we can help beat back the spread of COVID-19 and meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – agreements that address precisely those failures exposed and exploited by the pandemic.

Agreements whose foundations were laid by the World Summit for Social Development.

In that spirit, let us together resolve to build that future of sustainability, dignity and equality for all that we need.

Thank you.