13 July 2020

Speakers at High-Level Political Forum Outline Action Urgently Needed to Overcome Widespread Ill Effects of COVID-19 Pandemic, Advance Sustainable Development

Addressing what has become the worst human crisis in decades requires a new dynamic to overcome the widespread negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Economic and Social Council’s President said at its 2020 high-level political forum on sustainable development, held from 7 to 17 July via videoconference due to coronavirus-related restrictions at United Nations Headquarters.

From 7 to 10 July, sessions were held to address various areas where urgent action was needed to promote effective responses to the pandemic, prevent the reversal of gains made to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and help countries build back better.

Opening the high-level political forum, under the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways:  Realizing the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development”, Council President Mona Juul (Norway) said the annual gathering was convening at a critical time.  As the world embarks on the Decade of Action, the forum must maintain the momentum achieved during the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Summit.  It must also create a new dynamic to overcome the negative effects of the pandemic, guided by the values enshrined in the 2030 Agenda and the related financing framework in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

While the progress report is a reminder of uneven gains, she said, new initiatives are required to realize the 2030 Agenda due to the pandemic, which is exacerbating the already difficult situation for millions of people living in poverty.  Meaningful progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals could not be more urgent, she continued, adding that the 47 countries presenting their voluntary national reviews and the panel discussions on targeted areas that need attention will advance an understanding of how to trigger a better recovery.

“Let us make the high-level political forum a springboard for greater solidarity and cooperation,” she said, emphasizing that the world needs a committed multilateral effort to control the pandemic and resume progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.  “As we celebrate the United Nations seventy-fifth anniversary, let us again demonstrate the power of the United Nations.  Let us show the world that we are up to the task, and that with commitment and action, we can rebuild better and move the world forward,” she said, adding:  “We need all hands on deck to get this work done.”

The high-level political forum annual meeting is the core United Nations platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  During the 2020 session, participants debated where the world stands on the Goals in light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and how to proceed, with 47 countries presenting reviews of their implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  (For details, visit the Forum’s voluntary national review website.)

The programme included sessions on a range of issues intertwining the objectives established for the Decade for Action and addressing the negative consequences of the coronavirus pandemic.  Side-events highlighted national, regional and global achievements and challenges ahead.

During the opening session, Economic and Social Council Vice-President Mher Margaryan (Armenia) presented key messages from the Council’s Integration Segment held on 6 July.  (For details, see Press Release ECOSOC/7021.)

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, presenting the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, contained in document E/2020/57, said:  “Unfortunately, the news is not good.  Even before the pandemic, the world was not on track to meet the Goals, and now with COVID-19, the news is worse.”  Despite improvements in maternal and child health, access to electricity and women’s representation in Government, food insecurity is rising, the natural environment continues to deteriorate and inequalities remain persistent and pervasive.  The catastrophic impact of COVID-19 is threatening to reverse hard-won gains, as an estimated 71 million people are expected to be pushed back into extreme poverty in 2020, marking the first rise in global poverty in more than 20 years.

“This is a global crisis that requires a global response,” he declared.  “The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the need for global cooperation and solidarity.  It is a reminder to strengthen our efforts to leave no one behind, and to forge the transformative pathways needed to create a more livable world.”

Launching Decade of Action at Time of Crisis

The forum then held a session on “Launching the Decade of Action at a time of crisis:  Keeping the focus on the Sustainable Development Goals while combating COVID-19”, featuring keynote speakers Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Cooperation of the European Union, and Victor Harison, Commissioner for Economic Affairs of the African Union.

Some of the issues covered in a two-part discussion addressed how the responses to the impact of COVID-19 can accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals and considered lessons learned from the pandemic to help to increase country resilience and embark on risk-informed sustainable, resilient development pathways.

Part I focused on the theme “Progress on Sustainable Development Goals, regional dimensions and countries at different levels of development including middle-income countries”.  Moderated by Manish Bapna, Vice President and Managing Executive Director of the World Resources Institute, the discussion featured the following resource persons:  Jaouad Mahjour, World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Emergency Preparedness; Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and Coordinator of Regional Commissions; and Mariana Mazzucato, founder and Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at the University College London and member of the Committee on Development Policy.  The lead discussant was Mohamed Boudra, Mayor of City of Al Hoceima, Morocco, and the respondents were:  Pilar Garrido, Minister for National Planning and Economic Policy of Costa Rica; Stientje van Veldhoven, Minister for the Environment of the Netherlands; and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

Part II centred on the theme “2020 targets, data, institutions for integrated policy making”.  An interactive discussion was moderated by Claire Melamed, Executive Director of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, and featured the following resource persons:  Ariunzaya Ayush, Co-Chair of the High-Level Group for Partnership, Coordination and Capacity-Building for Statistics for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Chairperson of the National Statistical Office of Mongolia; Geraldine Joslyn Fraser-Moleketi, Chair of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration, former Minister for the Public Service and Administration of South Africa, and former member of the National Executive Committee of the African National Congress; and Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Lead discussants were Jack Dangermond, President and founder of ESRI (Geographic Information Systems and Location Intelligence), and Maria Isabel Leon Klenke, President of PERU Employers Federation, Peru (Business and Industry Major Group).  It also featured the following respondents:  Hala Al Said, Minister for Planning of Egypt; Norbert Barthle, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation of Germany; and Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

In the afternoon, a session on “Protecting and advancing human well-being and ending poverty”, chaired by Council Vice-President Omar Hilale (Morocco), began with a keynote address by David Nabarro, WHO Special Envoy on COVID-19.  Moderated by Cristina Duarte, former Finance Minister of Cabo Verde and member of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration and the United Nations High-Level Advisory Board on Economic and Social Affairs, it also featured the following resource persons:  Imme Scholz, Professor and Deputy Director of the German Development Institute; and Githinji Gitahi, Global CEO and Director General of the AMREF Health Africa Group.  Lead discussants were:  Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Jane Miano, founder and Coordinator of Focus of Disabled Persons, Kenya (Stakeholder Group of Ageing/Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities).  Vladislav Smrz, Deputy Minister for Policy and International Relations at the Ministry for the Environment of the Czech Republic, and Eryka Mouynes, Vice Minister for Multilateral Affairs and Cooperation of Panama, served as respondents.

Participants highlighted a variety of promising actions to support progress towards advancing human well-being that generate synergies across the Sustainable Development Goals and targets and of how science and technology can support well-being in the context of COVID-19 and in the future.

Mr. Gitahi outlined the main areas requiring action, noting that first “we need to leverage multilateralism to put human well-being at the centre of policy”.  Many people have realized during the COVID-19 pandemic that health is the foundation for people, communities and economies to reach their full potential.  As such, universal health coverage has proven to be a catalyst for economic growth for all.  Recalling that UHC2030 is a movement to expedite progress towards universal health coverage by providing a multi-stakeholder platform that promotes collaboration, he said a recent paper, “Living with COVID-19”, recommends that all actors place more emphasis on public health actions as part of universal health coverage.  Inclusive and participatory policy and decision-making is also needed.  In many ways, the world already knows what must be done, but does not have the global institutional arrangements to discuss and act on these priorities, such as a checklist for action, he said, adding that:  “We need to know how to go forward to address these global challenges.  We need various United Nations bodies working as one.”

A discussion on “Ending hunger and achieving food security”, chaired by Council Vice-President Hilale, was moderated by Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and former Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Serving as resource persons were Endah Murniningtyas, Co-Chair of the Independent Group of Scientists for Global Sustainable Development Report 2019 and former Deputy Minister for Natural Resources and Environment at the Ministry of National Development Planning/National Development Planning Agency of Indonesia, and Bernard Lehmann, Vice-Chairperson of the Steering Committee of the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition and former Director of the Federal Office for Agriculture of Switzerland.  The lead discussant was Andrea Carmen, Executive Director of the International Indian Treaty Council of the United States (Indigenous Peoples Major Group), and respondents were:  Luis Basterra, Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina; Qu Dongyu, Director-General of FAO; Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); and Valerie N. Guarnieri, Assistant Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).

The discussion addressed Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”, noting that while progress had been made over the last two decades, a slow-down in hunger reduction and food security has been apparent since 2015.

Mr. Lehmann provided a conceptual framework of food security and nutrition and shared the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition’s recommendations so that “zero hunger” can be achieved within a decade.  Shortfalls in achieving 2030 Agenda targets have resulted in an estimated 821 million people experiencing chronic undernourishment, with poor nutrition contributing to nearly 45 per cent of the deaths in children under age five.  In its latest report, the High-Level Panel of Experts recommends prioritizing the right to food.  In terms of achieving zero hunger within 10 years, he said it recommended that all actors join in a new consolidated approach to food security and nutrition, guided by the principles and legal framework of the right to food and supported by improved enabling environments.  Policy shifts must include measures promoting a radical transformation of food systems to boldly reshape underlying principles, from production to consumption, and appreciate the interconnectedness of food systems with other sectors, develop context-specific solutions and learn from such crises as COVID-19 to build resilience.

Ms. Murniningtyas said the 2019 Independent Group of Scientists for Global Sustainable Development Report recommended that all 17 Goals be addressed in a systemic manner.  It also suggested entry points for transformations, including one on food system and nutrition patterns, requiring scaled up production to meet projected demand using a sustainable system in line with the Paris Agreement.  Policy changes must enable more equitable global access to nutritional foods, with technological innovation remaining a prerequisite for the transition.  The pandemic is also an opportunity to transform systems, based on “survival activities” on the ground, as people cook more at home with more concern for healthy diets, and many Governments are also widely providing social protection during the crisis.  “Globally, we need to increase partnership, transform our financing and use science, technology and innovation to accelerate and intensify our transitions to end hunger and achieve food security,” she said.

Ms. Carmen, the lead discussant, recalled that in 2002, the International Indian Treaty Council co-sponsored, with FAO, the first Global Consultation on the Right to Food for Indigenous Peoples, adopting the Declaration of Atitlan, which identified eight primary obstacles to the exercise of the right to food, including lack of access to land, loss of systems for transmitting traditional knowledge and the growing climate change threat.  Although Sustainable Development Goal 2 is one of only two Goals specifically mentioning indigenous peoples, these obstacles have persisted, and in some cases, are even more pronounced.  While the United Nations recognizes that small-scale and family farmers, including indigenous peoples, produce a substantial portion of the world’s food supply, few policies and programmes exist to support them.  The pandemic has further highlighted the fragility of high-technology, corporate-controlled food production and distribution systems.  Meeting the targets of Goal 2 requires the full participation of indigenous peoples, recognition of their knowledge systems and respect for their rights.

The respondents shared the perspective of international agencies working on the frontlines and provided some recommendations.

Mr. Dongyu, recalling that in 2019, about 2 billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious and adequate food, said the pandemic is worsening food insecurity.  Conflicts are still the key threat to food security and good nutrition in affected countries, where approximately 490 million people are undernourished, and current production and consumption patterns are not sustainable.  Change needs to happen in three interconnected ways:  First, in the way food is produced, processed and distributed along the value chain.  The second area involves changing dietary patterns towards healthy diets, which will drive improvements in how food is produced.  Finally, efforts must focus on reducing inequalities and ensuring access to healthy diets for all.  Outlining FAO efforts, he said innovation is the most essential solution, investment is the basic requirement and enabling policy is very important, adding that:  “We have got all the young farmers empowered and with all the international cooperation and partnership, we can solve this problem, leave no one behind and end hunger for a better world.”

Mr. Houngbo said IFAD has repeatedly seen how communities achieve food and nutrition security when rural women and men have access to financial services, markets, knowledge and training, and when Governments, development institutions and private sector partners invest in infrastructure benefiting them.  Recalling the benefits of early investment in resilience, he said that today, amid a global pandemic, there are farming families who are still able to grow, sell and eat.  “We know that to create a world without hunger, we need to focus our energy and our efforts where the vast majority of the world’s hungry and food insecure live:  the rural areas of developing countries,” he said, citing success stories from Burkina Faso to Thailand.  Noting that small farming systems produce 50 per cent of the world’s food calories on only 30 per cent of its agricultural land, he said that with an economic recession on the horizon, “it is time to redouble our efforts to deliver on our 2030 Agenda, particularly on zero hunger”.

Ms. Guarnieri said the WFP believes it is critical and urgent to support bold, inclusive, people-centred and environment-friendly structural transformation that addresses the root causes of hunger, food insecurity, inequality and unsustainable management of natural resources in a comprehensive manner.  Rural transformation is already a top priority, with countries ensuring smallholder access to markets and Government and donor programmes and investments enhancing the effectiveness of public and private initiatives.  This should go hand in hand with investments in a broader social protection agenda to ensure no one is left behind.  Since inequities are pervasive across food systems and all areas of society, actions should be informed by a more equity-sensitive approach to data collection, analysis and reporting, which facilitate identifying and understanding the drivers of unequal food security and nutrition outcomes.

The final session of the opening day focused on the theme “Transformative pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda:  A whole of society approach taking into account the impact of COVID-19 (Stakeholder perspective)”.  Chaired by Council President Juul, the discussion was moderated by Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron, Adviser for the United Nations Programme at the Center for International Dialogue and Cooperation at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung in the Philippines.  Rilli Lappalainen, Director of Sustainable Development at Finnish Development Non-governmental Organizations, who spoke on behalf of Finland, served as lead discussant, and resource persons were:  Haaziq Kazi, Grade VIII Student at the Indus International School of Pune; Refat Sabbah, President of the Global Campaign for Education; Limota Limotat Goroso Giwa, Board Member of the Huairou Commission (Sendai Group Stakeholder Engagement Mechanism); and Alessandrabree Chacha of the TransSmart Trust (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Intersex Stakeholder Group).

Opening the discussion, Ms. Juul said the forum was meeting at a time of colossal global upheaval and risk from COVID-19, a climate emergency, racial injustice and rising inequalities.  To effectively address these issues, especially the pandemic with its far-reaching socioeconomic consequences, Governments and citizens must come together for dialogue and cooperation that enhances participation, she said, declaring that:  “You are catalysts of change, linking our global goals to local realities.”  Amid so much uncertainty and upheaval, the spirit of solidarity must be rekindled, she said, highlighting that:  “COVID-19 is changing the world we live in, but it should not change our commitment to realizing the future we want together.”

The session, organized in collaboration with the High-Level Political Forum Coordination Mechanism of Major Groups and other Stakeholders, included a range of critical concerns and concrete proposals for the Decade of Action.  Members of the major groups and other stakeholders highlighted their contributions to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and their recommendations.

Mr. Kazi said a generational change is urgently needed if the Decade of Action is to be more than just a catchy slogan.  Building the capacity of young people, and civil society more generally, is required to raise awareness and localize actions.  Nations can no longer put people, planet and peace on a back seat and give a front seat to profit, he said, sharing several recommendations to galvanize efforts in the Decade of Action.  At the global level, the withdrawal from international agreements jeopardizes the world’s collective well-being.  Global economic and environmental governance must be democratized through reformed, renewed and newly created multilateral institutions.  At the national level, around the world, democratic spaces are shrinking, so follow-up and review mechanisms must encourage active stakeholder participation and peer learning.  While the pandemic is a huge obstacle to progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, it is time to turn this period into an opportunity to reaffirm the universality of the Goals and importance of defending the global commons.  “The greatest barrier to progress is not a lack of solutions; it is our love of models that have proven their insufficiency in the face of current realities,” he said, adding that:  “No matter who we are or where we come from, everyone can contribute and support one another in achieving the future we want.”

Mr. Sabbah said that because COVID-19 will not go away easily, all stakeholders must look at the 2030 Agenda with a new lens, review the 17 Goals and adjust them accordingly.  Deep systemic reforms are needed and a multilateral system should focus on people, specifically the most marginalized groups.  Responses to COVID-19 and its impact can only succeed when global governance institutions and national political systems are democratic, fair and inclusive and when civil society can operate without restrictions.  Highlighting the primacy of the common good to which all actors, particularly for-profit and business actors, should be subjected to, he said that:  “As we need tools and resources we need values, we need hope, solidarity and political will.”

Ms. Chacha said that while major groups and other stakeholders have been a key player in realizing development goals, shrinking spaces to operate in have impacted their safety, security and ability to serve their communities.  The pandemic has deepened already existing inequalities and relief programmes and policies remain inaccessible to the most needy communities, with some Governments using the crisis to subvert democracy and violate human rights.  To address that, community-based organizations must be involved in the design and implementation of response policies and programmes.  A post-pandemic world is not one where people and organizations can revert to conducting business as usual, she said, adding that:  “We see and feel the impacts of this crisis on our communities, on our ability to survive and on our future sustainability.”  Emphasizing that the forum provides an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen partnerships to advance the COVID-19 response and ensure that no one is left behind, she said its legitimacy will be questioned if there is no meaningful inclusion, engagement and institutionalized participation of civil society and marginalized communities at the forum and beyond.

On 8 July, four sessions were held, focusing on responding to economic shock, mobilizing global solidarity for small island developing States, building resilience and ensuring access to sustainable energy.

Chaired by Council Vice-President Margaryan, a session on the theme “Responding to the economic shock, relaunching growth, sharing economic benefits and addressing developing countries’ financing challenges” was moderated by Mahmoud Mohieldin, Special Envoy on Financing the 2030 Agenda.  The interactive discussion featured the following resource persons:  Carolina Sanchez Paramo, Global Director for Poverty at the World Bank; and Arunabha Ghosh, Chief Executive Officer of the Council on Energy, Environment and Water of India and member of the Committee for Development Policy.  Lead discussants were Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Mamadou Diallo, Deputy General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, Senegal (Workers and Trade Unions Major Group).  Saad Alfarargi, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to development, served as the respondent.

Mr. Alfarargi, emphasizing that those denied the benefits of past development efforts remain marginalized, disempowered and excluded, called for durable and inclusive efforts.  As States have previously agreed, priorities must be set by those who development should benefit most, removing visible and invisible barriers to their involvement.  States must institute and budget for planning processes and monitoring mechanisms that enable everyone to participate.  “Business as usual is not going to deliver results,” he said, emphasizing that the current crisis provides an opportunity for all relevant actors in development processes to take a hard look at the ways they identify those left behind, including their efforts to mitigate the damage inflicted by the pandemic.  They must also ensure that their initiatives resonate with the real and actual needs of the most marginalized, he said, adding that development finance is the theme of his 2020 reports on the right to development for the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.

A session on the theme “Mobilizing international solidarity, accelerating action and embarking on new pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda and the Samoa Pathway:  Small Island Developing States”, chaired by Council Vice-President Munir Akram (Pakistan), was moderated by Fekitamoeloa ʻUtoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.  It featured keynote speaker Aiyaz Sayed- Khaiyum, Attorney-General, Minister for Economy and Minister responsible for climate change of Fiji, and the following resource persons:  Abdulla Shahid, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives; Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC); and Terri Toyota, Head of the Sustainable Markets Group at the World Economic Forum.  The lead discussant was Karol Alejandra Arambula Carrillo, Executive Director and founder of MY World Mexico (Non-governmental Organization Major Group), and the respondent was Marsha Caddle, Minister at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment of Barbados.

Resource persons and country representatives from across the three small island developing States’ regions shared their challenges, strategies and approaches in response to COVID-19 and for realizing the transformational change necessary for building resilience in these economies.

Ms. Barcena, making a presentation on the special needs of small island developing States, highlighted five recommendations for financial support and increased fiscal space for Caribbean nations, which were:  ECLAC debt relief initiative for resilience; debt and service stand still and access to concessional funding, eligibility criteria of international financial institutions; stage contingency bonds with a hurricane clause; green and blue bonds; and liquidity support special drawing rights issuance.

The afternoon session under the umbrella theme of “Building back better after COVID-19 and acting where we will have the greatest impact on the Sustainable Development Goals” unfolded with two discussions, on resilience and energy.

Opening the session, Council President Juul said the past decade and the recent COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated the systemic nature of risk and the cascading impact of disasters, crossing economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development and affecting all countries.  However, the natural environment is humanity’s first line of defence against hazards of all kinds, and nature-based solutions enable stakeholders to protect and work with nature to build resilience and reduce risks at all scales, she stated, noting that the entire 2030 Agenda addresses these concerns.

Part I, focusing on the theme “Protecting the planet and building resilience”, was chaired by Vice-President Akram and moderated by Shaun Tarbuck, Chief Executive Officer of the International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation.  Adjany Costa, Minister for Culture, Tourism and the Environment of Angola, and Sandra Diaz, Co-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, served as resource persons.  Lead discussants included Takeuchi Kazuhiko, President of the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies and Project Professor of the Institute for Future Initiatives at the University of Tokyo, Japan, and Theo De Jager, President of the World Farmers’ Organisation (Farmers Major Group).  Ministerial respondents were:  Joaquin Roa Burgos, Minister for the National Emergency Secretariat of Paraguay; María Claudia García, Vice-Minister for the Environment, acting as a Minister-in-Charge, of Colombia; Eva Svedling, State Secretary at the Ministry for the Environment of Sweden; Enamur Rahman, State Minister at the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief of Bangladesh; Kitty Sweeb, Chair of the sixteenth session of the United Nations Forum on Forests and Permanent Representative of Suriname to the United Nations; and Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity.

Ms. Diaz said the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Global Assessment presented three clear conclusions:  people are dependent on the fabric of life on Earth, and nature and its contributions to people underpin achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals; the deterioration of nature due to human actions is vast, having sped up dramatically in the past five decades; and the appropriation of nature and the unprecedented global connectivity have not led to a fairer world, but one that is exacerbating inequalities.  Business-as-usual scenarios will only worsen in the future, but there is hope.  Areas the panel identified as plausible scenarios compatible with the 2030 Agenda involve transformative change addressing the root socioeconomic causes of today’s crisis.  Offering three recommendations, she said, first, do no harm, ensuring post-COVID-19 recovery plans do not further compromise the health of people and nature, adding that:  “Unfortunately, we are not seeing this in most of the rescue packages announced so far.”  Second, re-allocate incentives, subsidies and investment, rewarding actions that promote sustainability and firmly discouraging harmful activities.  Finally, efforts are needed to mainstream nature and people’s health in all sectors.  “The path is not going to be easy; it will hurt some interests and sectors, but it will definitely hurt less, cost less money and harm fewer people than the business-as-usual scenarios,” she said.

Mr. Roa Burgos, highlighting the opportunity and despair of the crisis, said that Paraguay was the first country in the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) to close its borders, adopt social distancing measures and implement a lockdown that went from total to partial.  While the crisis caused deep degrees of stress and socioeconomic effects, a window of opportunity resulted in the Government’s readjustment of mechanisms, redirection of social programmes to non-visible sectors and the creation of new forms of relationships with the private sector.  Thus, it was also possible to discover new realities and design and correct development models, update health systems, and introduce technology in distance education, e-commerce and management at different levels of daily life.  The pandemic and the global “stoppage” should have contributed to environmental regeneration, and these trends should be capitalized for reducing global warming and applying mitigation measures for climate change, he said, emphasizing that:  “Today, more than ever, we must learn from each other; it is time to make contributions and provisions based on the experiences of our countries.”

Part II of the session addressed the theme “Sustaining efforts to ensure access to sustainable energy”, chaired by Council Vice-President Margaryan and moderated by Damilola Ogunbiyi, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All.  Resource persons were:  Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency; Hans Olav Ibrekk, Policy Director of Energy and Climate Change at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Co-Facilitator of the Sustainable Development Goal 7 Technical Advisory Group; and Sheila Oparaocha, Executive Director of ENERGIA (international network on gender and sustainable energy).  The lead discussant was Leena Srivastava, Deputy Director General for Science, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, India (Science and Technology Community Major Group), and the following were respondents:  Omar Ayub Khan, Minister for Energy of Pakistan; Cristina Gallach, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and for Ibero-America and the Caribbean and Vice-Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Spain; Li Yong, Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; and Fatima Al Foora, Assistant Minister for the Ministry of Energy of the United Arab Emirates.

The discussion centred on the critical need for an accelerated clean energy transition, as ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030 will open opportunities for billions of people through new economic opportunities and jobs, empowered women, children and youth, better education and health, more sustainable, equitable and inclusive communities, and greater protections from, and resilience to, climate change impacts.

On 9 July, the forum held three sessions, on themes related to the COVID-19 response and recovery, eradicating poverty and mobilizing global solidarity for African States, least developed countries and landlocked developing States.

A session on the theme “Bolstering local action to control the pandemic and accelerate implementation”, chaired by Council Vice-President Juan Sandoval (Mexico), was moderated by Gino Van Begin, Secretary General of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI).  It featured as resource persons Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), and Yūji Kuroiwa, Governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.  Lead discussants were:  Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); Santiago del Hierro, architect and researcher, Ecuador; and Mabel Bianco, President of the Fundacion para Estudio e Investigación de la Mujer, Argentina (Women’s Major Group).  Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner for International Affairs of the United States, served as a respondent.

Participants addressed a range of issues, including an examination of how the Sustainable Development Goals framework can support response to and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen preparedness for future pandemics at the local level.

Mr. Kuroiwa, recalling how he implemented a quality-of-life plan for the 9 million citizens of the Kanagawa Prefecture over the past decade, said the pandemic has brought new challenges.  Existing measures, including a daily health management application, have been vital to the COVID-19 response plan, alongside telecommuting and other steps.  Digital transformation is “exactly what we need to control outbreaks like COVID-19,” he said, adding that:  “The world faces a huge challenge, but I believe this is a great chance to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals, for building back better.”  As such, Kanagawa will join with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to hold the Sustainable Development Goals Action Festival, scheduled for early 2021.

The second session focused on the theme “Are we leaving no one behind in eradicating poverty and working towards the 2030 Agenda?”.  Chaired by Council Vice-President Margaryan, it was moderated by Diane Elson, Professor Emeritus at the University of Essex, United Kingdom; Research Affiliate at the Centre for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University, United States; and member of the Committee for Development Policy.  Serving as resource persons were Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and Ifeyinwa Ofong, National Coordinator at WorldWIDE Network Nigeria and board member of the Habitat International Coalition, Nigeria.  Lead discussants were:  Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Anriette Esterhuysen, Chair of the Internet Governance Forum’s Multistakeholder Advisory Group, South Africa; Sophia Bachmann, German United Nations Youth Delegate on Sustainable Development; and John Patrick Ngoyi, Director of the Justice, Development and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria (Together 2030).  Natalia Kanem, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Paul Ladd, Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, were lead discussants.

Participants examined the current crisis’ implications for the furthest behind.  They also discussed comprehensive policies and strategies to “recover better” and build the kind of social and economic systems that will leave no one behind, improving the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable, including women and girls exposed to multiple discrimination.

The third session was on the theme “Mobilizing international solidarity, accelerating action and embarking on new pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda and respond to COVID-19:  African countries, Least Developed Countries and Landlocked Developing Countries”.  Chaired by Council President Juul, the keynote speaker was Agnes Kalibata, former Minister for Agriculture of Rwanda, President of the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa and Special Envoy for the 2021 Food System Summit.  The session was moderated by Fahmida Khatun, Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Bangladesh, and featured the following resource persons:  Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, former Prime Minister of Niger and Chief Executive Officer of the African Union Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD); Khalifa bin Jassim Al-Kuwari, Director General of the Qatar Fund for Development; and Ahmed Ouma, Deputy Director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.  The lead discussants were Vanessa Chivizhe, Junior Parliament of Zimbabwe, and Trymore Karikoga, Acting Executive Chairperson and VIONet Zim National Coordinator of VIONet Zimbabwe (Volunteers’ Stakeholder Group).  Serving as respondents were:  Matsepo Molise-Ramakoae, Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Relations of Lesotho; Fekitamoeloa ʻUtoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States; and Thomas Munthali, Director General for the National Planning Commission of Malawi.

Opening the session, Ms. Juul emphasized that the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and African countries will bear the heaviest burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession at a time when they are vulnerable due to the fragility of their health systems, limited social protection systems, restricted financial and other resources, vulnerability to external shocks and significant dependence on international trade and financing.

Delivering the keynote address, Ms. Kalibata said the pandemic has highlighted long-standing weaknesses in more vulnerable countries, with Governments left wondering what became of huge investments in health systems following the Ebola crisis.  “It is very unclear if we have learned from the Ebola crisis,” she said.  The economic fallout from the COVID-19 shock demonstrates the fragility of many economies, with some countries experiencing pandemic-related lockdowns that caused half of informal sector workers to lose their jobs overnight.  In late June, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast downgraded global growth in developing and emerging economies from 2.4 per cent in April to -3.0 per cent.  In low- and middle-income countries, 265 million people go to bed hungry due to the pandemic and the World Bank estimates that global poverty will increase to 8.6 per cent from 7.8 per cent.  New vulnerabilities are likely to deter growth and cause a rapid build-up of private debt in reserve currencies plus the burden of additional spending on the immediate health response, support to households and firms, and recovery investments.  As such, priority areas must be addressed, she said, adding that:  “We need to approach action with a mindset of solidarity for mankind”, to minimize the reversal of 2030 Agenda gains.  The 2021 Food Systems Summit, launched by the Secretary-General in 2019 as part of the Decade of Action, offers the world the chance to commit to a different path to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. Mayaki, providing a snapshot of pressing challenges and suggestions for the way forward, said the pandemic spotlights the reality that Africa, as a continent, is affected by global imperatives, both good and bad.  “We cannot beat this virus without global cooperation,” he said, noting that public trust in resilience and structural transformation initiatives is a Government’s most valuable asset.  However, proactive development focused on resilience alone, without a holistic approach to well-being and broader development needs, is counterproductive.  Africa’s COVID-19 experiences highlight the value of bold action for inclusiveness, well-being, equality and resilience.  COVID-19 has created an opportunity for Governments to engage communities and post-pandemic interventions and development initiatives must build on regional and national development plans while involving civil society and youth.  The pandemic also presents an opportunity for African Union member States to rethink development trajectories, with the measurement of success extending beyond gross domestic product (GDP) to include well-being, job creation, resilience, inclusiveness and equity.

Mr. Al-Kuwari agreed that “out of the box” thinking is needed to address the pandemic and lagging development goals, noting that the Qatar Fund has partnered with UNDP and Germany in building the world’s largest and fastest learning network to address development challenges effectively and efficiently.  The Accelerator Labs Network, currently active in 78 countries, mostly least developed States or landlocked developing nations in Africa, uses a grassroots approach, exploring socially acceptable, locally sourced solutions.  In Uganda, the project partnered with Jumia Food Uganda, a leading e-commerce company, connecting informal market vendors to reach consumers in the wake of COVID-19 and related movement restrictions.  However, the next major disruption is merely a matter of time, he said, adding that it will again be on top of existing chronic development and humanitarian challenges.  Offering several lessons learned, he said locally sourced ideas can offer creative, innovative, socially acceptable and often also scalable solutions.  The international community should have a more robust forecasting and decision-making framework in place to ensure early collective action.  Stand-by action plans and anticipatory financing mechanisms can reduce the humanitarian impact and costs of a subsequent response, help safeguard lives and livelihoods, and amplify sustainable development gains.  For its part, Qatar has disbursed more than $1 billion to support least developed countries and small island developing States since 2012.  Doha also pledged $100 million to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change and will host the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries.

Mr. Karikoga, as a lead discussant, described his experience in Zimbabwe transforming the narrative of volunteerism to reflect it as a catalyst and the backbone of all meaningful sustainable development towards achieving the 2030 Agenda.  With COVID-19 providing the opportunity to re-examine the roles of individuals, society, institutions and the environment in development processes, he shared examples of challenges facing micro-entrepreneurs, who are largely marginalized and excluded by the current financing models.  Noting his organization’s efforts to develop community savings and credit, which has benefited many micro-entrepreneurs, he said supporting the economic development and livelihoods of those who are worst affected across Africa will be critical to “building back better” from the COVID crisis.  Launching the Global Volunteering Standards was a great step forward, he said, recalling that a group of grassroots volunteers had met to discuss the issue in Zimbabwe in 2013.  Ahead of next week’s Global Technical Meeting on Volunteering, he asked Member States to integrate evidence on volunteering at all stages in the 2030 Agenda processes and work together to enable partnerships to ensure robust cross-sector volunteering practices.

Respondent Ms. Molise-Ramakoae shared findings of the 2019 Midterm Review of the Vienna Programme of Action, noting that one third of citizens in landlocked developing countries still live in extreme poverty, economic growth declined over a five-year period, and their participation in global trade remained below 1 per cent.  The proportion of people using the Internet in developed countries is more than three times that in landlocked developing States, she said, noting also that moderate or severe food insecurity in these States increased to almost 51 per cent in 2017, compared with the global average of 25 per cent, at a time when foreign direct investment inflows have been declining since 2011.  As such, joint urgent action is needed from Governments, the private sector, international financial institutions and United Nations resident coordinators.  Pointing out that official development assistance (ODA) fell by 4.1 per cent in real terms in 2018, she called on development partners to increase these levels, but not at the expense of humanitarian efforts and other bilateral channels of cooperation.  With only five years left to implement the Vienna Programme of Action, she said, “we need to accelerate international actions”.  As such, the Secretariat of the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States has prepared the United Nations Road Map on Accelerated Implementation of the Programme of Action.

Mr. Munthali said the least developed countries were not on the right track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals even before COVID-19, lagging in education, research and development, biodiversity and ecosystems.  The pandemic has affected all areas, and a lack of access to technologies has crippled these countries as they try to cope with the crises, with millions of children deprived of education and workers facing massive job losses.  The current scenario could have been averted if the States had access to high-speed broadband and digital goods and services.  Yet, a variety of weak and fragile pre-existing structural conditions have made least developed countries, landlocked developing States and African nations more vulnerable than others to the pandemic.  In the health sector alone, systems cannot bear the heavy load of service needs.  To avoid an imminent economic and humanitarian emergency in least developed countries, sufficient global support is immediately needed to regain lost opportunities.  States must build back better, cleaner and resilient societies.  Development partners should fulfil their official development assistance (ODA) targets, new and comprehensive debt cancellation measures must go beyond the IMF and Group of Twenty (G-20) packages, and export opportunities must be boosted, he said, adding that these are among the key priorities that would form the basis of the next programme of action for least developed countries to be adopted in Doha in 2022.

On 10 July, two sessions were held, addressing the areas of mobilizing financing and science, technology and innovation.

The session on “Mobilizing well directed financing” was chaired by Council President Juul, and moderated by Annalisa Prizzon, Senior Research Fellow at the Overseas Development Institute.  Serving as resource persons were:  Ryan Straughn, Minister at the Ministry of Finance of Barbados; Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Co-operation Directorate; and Sharinee Shannon Kalayanamitr, Partner at Gobi Partners, Thailand.  The lead discussants were Ambroise Fayolle, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank, and Lidy Nacpil, Coordinator at the Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development, Philippines (Civil Society Financing for Development Group).  Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, State Secretary and Director of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs of Switzerland was the respondent.

Participants discussed policy measures and financing options that can enable countries to build back better and achieve a resilient and sustainable recovery, and how the economy can be aligned with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

The session on “Science, technology and innovation” was chaired by Council Vice-President Sandoval and moderated by George Essegbey, Director of the Science and Technology Policy Research Institute at the Council of Science and Industrial Research, Ghana.  Serving as resource persons were Vaughan Turekian, Senior Director of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, United States, and Co-Chair of the 10 Member Group to Support the Technology Facilitation Mechanism, and Helen Rees, Chairperson and Executive Director of Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and board member of GAVI, South Africa.  Lead discussants were Teresa M. Stoepler, Executive Director of the InterAcademy Partnership and member of Global Young Academy, and Elenita Dano, Co-Coordinator of the ETC Group, Philippines (Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Organization Engagement Mechanism).  Respondents were:  Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth of the European Commission; Afework K. Gizaw, State Minister at the Ministry of Science and High Education of Ethiopia; Viktor Nedovic, Assistant Minister at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia, representing Mladen Sarcevic, Minister for Education and Science of Serbia; and Kekgonne Baipoledi, Chair of Commission on Science and Technology for Development and Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology of Botswana.

Participants discussed the most promising technology solutions, innovations and transformative technology pathways towards the Sustainable Development Goals the challenges and opportunities in developing and deploying science, technology and innovation for emerging challenges such as COVID-19 pandemic.

In the afternoon, Member States began presenting their voluntary national reviews.

The high-level political forum is scheduled to meet again virtually, via videoconference, from 14 to 17 July, when it would continue to hear Member States present voluntary national reviews, hold a ministerial segment, hear messages from the regions and conclude its work.  On 17 July, Council members are expected to adopt a ministerial declaration.

For information media. Not an official record.