23 July 2020

Newly Elected President Discusses Key Role of Economic and Social Council in Tackling COVID-19 Pandemic, Climate Change, as 2021 Organizational Session Begins

The Economic and Social Council’s mandate remains as relevant as ever, encompassing the three simultaneous global challenges Member States are facing — the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the existential threat of the climate catastrophe — its newly elected President said today at the first meeting of its 2021 organizational session, held via videoconference due to COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions at United Nations Headquarters.

The 54-member Council has the unique role and mandate to convene special meetings on these and other urgent and emerging issues, Munir Akram (Pakistan) said.  Highlighting areas requiring specific action, he pointed to:  financing of the COVID-19-related efforts, Sustainable Development Goals and climate targets; sustainable infrastructure development; and the application of advanced science and technology for sustained, efficient and sustainable growth.  While commitments and broad policy decisions have been made to address each of the world’s simultaneous challenges, what is needed now is implementation.  As such, all Council deliberations must focus on how to execute its decisions and fulfil commitments.

The International Monetary Fund has estimated that the developing countries will need more than $2.5 trillion in financing to recover from the impact of the pandemic and regain the path towards the Sustainable Development Goals, he said, stressing that the Council should help to build a coordinated approach to ensure the required capital flows.  Moreover, advanced countries must fulfil their pledges of $100 billion annually in climate action financing for the developing countries.

Outlining proposed activities during his tenure, he said he would suggest that the Council convene a special meeting to address the root causes of global inequality in 2021, marking the twentieth anniversary of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, given that the legacy of colonialism and racism are among its major systemic causes.  The tenth anniversary of the Council’s Youth Forum should promote the vision of a more equal, peaceful, united and dynamic world order, he said, also noting that he will reappoint a group of friends to pro-actively prepare the interaction on the voluntary national reviews at the next high-level political forum and will use the 2021 Development Cooperation Forum to foster a coherent and Sustainable Development Goals-oriented system.

Outgoing President Mona Juul (Norway) said that amid global upheaval and risk — from COVID-19, the climate crisis, racial injustice and rising inequalities — the Council’s mandate has proven to be as relevant and compelling as ever.  These unprecedented times call for deep reflection and strong action, with bold and creative answers needed to pave the way for a new normal.  Returning to the old normal is unthinkable.  Fortunately, the 2030 Agenda is a “shared road map” to transform the world.

In the past months, she said, the Council has shown its unique strength as an inclusive platform to engage and mobilize Governments, local authorities, the United Nations system, international finance institutions, the scientific community, civil society and young people around the world.  Throughout the crisis, the Council forged ahead with building partnerships and sharing information.  Although plans had to be modified, the Council was showing the world that the work of the United Nations does not stop, even when it seems that everything else has been brought to a halt.  Sharing advice gleaned from her tenure as Council President before passing the “virtual gavel” to her successor, she stated:  “Be ready to embrace change.  Let us change for the better and make our recovery based upon values, not value.  On compassion, courage, and cooperation.”

Under-Secretary-General Amina Mohammed, congratulating Ms. Juul for her achievements and welcoming the incoming President, recalled that last week’s high-level political forum on sustainable development was a mammoth undertaking and the largest such United Nations endeavour since the onset of the pandemic.  More importantly, it succeeded in galvanizing global commitment to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, not just despite the challenges of COVID-19 but as a direct response to the fragilities the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated.  Going forward, the Council must continue to play a leading role in helping countries push forward the Decade of Action with greater ambition and urgency and to expand the global movement for a better world that can be seen emerging in different guises in different countries, she said.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, thanking Ms. Juul for her work and welcoming Mr. Akram, said the Economic and Social Council and the high-level political forum have a critical role in demonstrating the way forward.  Recalling that the political forum broke new ground in many ways over the last week, he said it was the first opportunity to take the full measure of the dramatic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Sustainable Development Goals.  At the start of the new Decade of Action, the 2030 Agenda remains a “guiding light” towards a sustainable and resilient path, where no one is left behind, he said.  “Let us together, strengthen our cooperation and stay focused on the Sustainable Development Goals in order to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

The Economic and Social Council elected its current President and three Vice-Presidents, pursuant to the letter of the Council President dated 16 July, placing the election under the silence procedure that expired on 21 July, and also pursuant to its decisions 2020/205 and 2020/206 and in accordance with procedures adopted by the General Assembly during the pandemic.  Vice-Presidents for the 2021 session are:  Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana) from the African States; Sergiy Kyslytsya (Ukraine) from the Eastern European States; and Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland) from the Western European and other States.  The election of a Vice-President from Latin American and the Caribbean was deferred to a later date.

Mr. Kelapile said that with the enormous socioeconomic implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continued sharpening of the Council’s role as an ideal platform to foster the much-needed ongoing dialogue will become an increased priority in the coming years.  The Council should continue to effectively leverage the opportunity offered by the rich exchanges during its different segments and such events as the political forum.  Its role would be further enhanced through continuous improvement of its activities in relation to the United Nations funds and programmes and the specialized agencies.

Mr. Kyslytsya said the main focus of the 2021 session should be the Council’s role and activities aimed at post-pandemic recovery and economic development and ensuring adequate social protection.  Amid the pandemic, development gains are at risk of being reversed at a time when no country is able to address this crisis alone and when the world needs a global response, with the Council being well positioned as a platform for coordinating the activities of Governments and the United Nations specialized agencies in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  As such, the Council must promote collective action for overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic consequences, while also focusing on areas requiring attention, including countering illegal financial flows, promoting gender equality and financing for development, science and technology.

Mr. Baeriswyl said the Council plays a key role in promoting the three dimensions of sustainable development alongside well-coordinated humanitarian responses.  As such, the Council, and particularly the political forum, must remain the central and multi-stakeholder platform of the United Nations system.  In view of the urgency of the global challenges affecting all countries, there is a need for a long-term, holistic approach.  Switzerland supports the implementation of the Secretary-General’s reforms to strengthen the United Nations efficiency and effectiveness in order to meet the current challenges, with the Council being crucial in ensuring the follow up of the 2016 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of the United Nations system operational activities and the resolution on repositioning the Organization’s development system.

In other business, the Council adopted, on 22 July by the silence procedure, the resolution titled “Progress in the implementation of General Assembly resolution 71/243 on the quadrennial comprehensive policy review of operational activities for development of the United Nations system” (document E/2020/L.28).  Recognizing the unprecedented effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the United Nations system’s central role in catalysing and coordinating the global response to control and contain its spread, the Council welcomed the Secretary-General’s efforts and recommendations.  Also by the resolution’s terms, the Council looked forward to the full and timely implementation of all reform mandates as contained in General Assembly resolutions 71/243, 72/279, 73/248 and 74/238.

For information media. Not an official record.