Recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating socioeconomic consequences must not leave anyone behind, speakers told the high-level political forum on sustainable development as it opened its 2021 session today.
Over two weeks, the forum — under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — will review progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was adopted in 2015.
The 2021 session provides a paramount opportunity to show unwavering commitment for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda despite the obstacles and challenges posed by the pandemic, said Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, stressing that the forum can offer a further basis for a multilateral effort to resume and accelerate progress to ultimately realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda.
This year’s theme focuses on sustainable, resilient recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive, effective path for realizing the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.
In a keynote address, Macky Sall, President of Senegal, pointed out that Africa, whose economic growth rates had regularly exceeded the world average, is in recession for the first time in more than 20 years, due to the impacts of COVID-19. Though his country is among a few rare exceptions, its growth has fallen from more than 6 per cent to 1.5 per cent.
In order to not leave the continent behind, the world’s economic and financial governance must be reformed by giving developing countries access to capital markets, he said, also outlining necessary measures, including a relaxation of the rules of debt and deficit ceilings, a correction to the perception and assessment of investment risk, and a more transparent and fairer rating of developing countries. The fight against tax heavens and illicit financial flows must be toughened, he added, calling for a “New Deal” where the interests of all countries will be considered to achieve a fairer and more inclusive world.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), warned against vaccine inequities and vaccine nationalism, which are further deepening the divide between high‑ and lower-income nations. “If countries immediately share doses with COVAX [the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility], and if manufacturers prioritize COVAX orders, we can vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, and at least 40 per cent by the end of the year,” he said.
Outlining key priorities, he urged countries to share their mRNA COVID-19 vaccines technologies and know-how with the WHO technology transfer hub and the COVAX Manufacturing Task Force, so that those countries with manufacturing capacity can get to work. They should also support the proposal for a pandemic treaty. It is time to move beyond the cycle of panic and neglect that has marked global emergency response for decades, he said.
Kristalina Georgieva, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said that IMF raised its global growth forecast to 6 per cent in 2021 and 4 per cent in 2022. But, the overall growth picture masks dangerously uneven developments. Nigeria, for instance, because of the pandemic, faces a six-year delay in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Countries must focus on pro-growth structural reforms, supported by more fiscal capacity through domestic resource mobilization. Countries also need to collect more in taxes. Moreover, reforms that spur private sector engagement are needed.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), emphasized that rapid, equitable vaccine roll‑out is a prerequisite for inclusive economic growth. Trade is indispensable for ramping up COVID-19 vaccine production on the scale needed to end the pandemic, she said, urging WTO members to free up vaccine supply chains by lowering export restrictions and facilitating trade; work with manufacturers to identify supply chain bottlenecks; bolster investment to increase production, particularly in developing countries; and find pragmatic solutions to issues regarding technology transfer, know-how and intellectual property to assure developing countries near-automatic access.
Michael Kremer, Professor in Economics and Public Policy at the University of Chicago and 2019 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on alleviating global poverty, said that innovation is crucial to achieving the global Goals and important for well-being beyond income. While it is a public good as new ideas developed in one place can spread cheaply and easily, individual countries tend to underinvest in innovation, he pointed out, emphasizing the need for more investment, particular in innovations that serve the needs of impoverished people. Recounting how his research on water safety led to an innovation that benefits 2 million people daily across Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, he noted that he set up a lab to support development innovation.
Following the opening segment, the forum held three panel discussions, titled, respectively, “The SDGs in time of crisis: A sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 as an opportunity to realize the SDGs”; “Ensuring that no one is left behind”; and “Building resilience against future shocks through structural changes and investment in sustainable infrastructure”.
In addition, Juan Sandoval Mendiolea (Mexico), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, presented key messages from its Integration Segment held on 2 July.
The political forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 7 July, to continue its work.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact everywhere, with health systems stretched and shattered and lives and livelihoods devastated. In addition, the economic and social consequences have been severe. Recalling that, in 2015, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and agreed on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as a global framework for financing its implementation, he said these international agreements must continue to guide efforts. The United Nations high-level political forum is the central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The 2021 session provides a paramount opportunity to show unwavering commitment for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda despite the obstacles and challenges posed by the pandemic.
Over the next several days, the political forum will take stock of the impact of the pandemic on the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals and reflect on policies to achieve a sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and build an inclusive, effective path for the realization of the 2030 Agenda. It will also undertake systematic and thorough thematic reviews relating to sustainable development, including in-depth reviews of several goals and their interlinkages. Forty-three countries will present voluntary national reviews of how they were impacted by the pandemic and what measures they are undertaking to open the pathway to a more equitable world living in harmony with nature. This year’s political forum can provide a further basis for a committed multilateral effort to bounce back, rebuild, and resume and accelerate progress to ultimately realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda, he said.
JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, presented key messages from its Integration Segment held on 2 July, including the importance of regaining trust in institutions and strengthening social contracts. It is also imperative not to leave anyone behind in COVID-19 vaccination and to eliminate inequality. Economic recovery must protect people and the planet, he said, calling for a new, more equitable, sustainable model of development. It is time to rethink the development paradigm towards equality, resilience and environmental sustainability and to ensure no one is disconnected, he said, pointing out that there cannot be a recovery without global digital connectivity. Stressing the need for reliable data to guide evidence-based decisions, he also underscored the importance of reducing fragilities of vulnerable countries, such as the least developed counties, landlocked and small island developing States, while also calling for a consolidated Economic and Social Council.
MACKY SALL, President of Senegal, said that, for the first time in more than 20 years, Africa, whose growth rates had regularly exceeded the world average, is in recession, with a few rare exceptions, including his country, whose growth has fallen from more than 6 per cent to 1.5 per cent. Nevertheless, Africa continues to be resilient in the face of the crisis. Senegal responded by mounting a swift health response, purchasing medical equipment and vaccines, constructing and rehabilitating health structures, and by launching a $1.64 billion economic and social resilience plan, with support from development partners and voluntary donations. Senegal’s new economic programme is intended to turbocharge recovery. He noted that, in addition to the $650 billion in new special drawing rights, of which $33 billion is intended for Africa, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) considers that African countries need an additional $285 billion by 2025, calling on the Group of 20 countries to reallocate at least $100 billion in support of low-income countries.
The world’s economic and financial governance should be reformed by giving developing countries access to capital markets, he said, also outlining necessary measures, including a relaxation of the rules of debt and deficit ceilings, a correction to the perception and assessment of investment risk, and a more transparent and fairer rating of developing countries. The fight against tax heavens and illicit financial flows must be toughened. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), these flows are costing Africa $89 billion per year. He also called for improvements to the rules of international tax system and for a “New Deal” where the interests of all countries will be considered to achieve a fairer and more inclusive world.
TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, Director‑General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said that, while some countries have high COVID-19 vaccination rates and are seeing lower numbers of hospitalizations and deaths, countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia are now facing steep epidemics. These increases are due to the spread of variants of concern, more social mixing, the ineffective use of public health and social measures, and inequitable access to vaccines, among other things. Through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility, nearly 96 million vaccines, as well as other essential health products, have been delivered to 135 countries. That amount, however, is miniscule considering that 3 billion vaccines have been delivered globally. Vaccine inequities and vaccine nationalism are further deepening the divide between high and lower-income nations. “If countries immediately share doses with COVAX, and if manufacturers prioritize COVAX orders, we can vaccinate at least 10 per cent of the population of every country by September, and at least 40 per cent by the end of the year,” he said. A pandemic treaty can provide the basis for improved preparedness, detection and response, and improved cooperation to identify the origins of new pathogens.
Outlining three key priorities, he urged countries to immediately share doses with COVAX, as an additional 250 million doses are needed by September, and 1 billion by the end of the year, and to provide financing for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator so that countries can receive the requisite diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics — including oxygen. Second, countries need to share their mRNA COVID-19 vaccines technologies and know-how with the WHO technology transfer hub and the COVAX Manufacturing Task Force, so that those countries with manufacturing capacity can get to work. Third, they, along with our multilateral partners, should support the proposal for a pandemic treaty. It is time to move beyond the cycle of panic and neglect that has marked global emergency response for decades, he said. At the core of all efforts must be universal health coverage, based on strong primary health care, which is the cornerstone of social, economic and political stability.
KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said that IMF raised its global growth forecast to 6 per cent in 2021 and 4 per cent in 2022. Without fiscal and monetary actions by policymakers around the world, the global recession in 2020 would have been three times worse. But, the overall growth picture masks dangerously uneven developments. Nigeria, for instance, because of the pandemic, faces a six-year delay in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. IMF has outlined a plan for mobilizing all stakeholders to overcome delays, accelerate development and achieve the global Goals. First, countries must focus on pro-growth structural reforms, supported by more fiscal capacity through domestic resource mobilization. Cambodia is a good example, she said, noting that, over the past two decades, it has grown, on average, by more than 7 per cent per year, driven by investments in infrastructure, health and education. To finance investments in human and physical capital, countries need to collect more in taxes.
Second, she said, is private sector engagement. Reforms that support a favourable business climate can help spur private sector investment in development. In Rwanda, private sector investment in the water and energy sectors increased from virtually nothing in 2005-2009 to over 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) per year during 2015-2017. Pursued in tandem, these reforms can be transformative but that may still not be enough to meet the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Therefore, the international community ought to step up. Gradually increasing official development assistance (ODA) towards the long‑aspired United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income would generate some $200 billion annually in additional financing for development. This will make a huge difference in helping countries meet their targets by 2030 or shortly thereafter. IMF is doing its part by providing a crucial boost of global reserves through a $650 billion new allocation of special drawing rights.
NGOZI OKONJO-IWEALA, Director‑General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said it could help put the 2030 Agenda back on track in two areas — vaccines and fisheries subsidies — in the coming months. Stressing that rapid, equitable vaccine rollout is a prerequisite for inclusive economic growth, she said she joined hands with her counterparts from WHO, IMF and the World Bank to call for a $50 billion up‑front investment in vaccinating at least 40 per cent of the population in all countries by year’s end, and 60 per cent by the middle of 2022. Trade is indispensable for ramping up COVID-19 vaccine production on the scale needed to end the pandemic. She said she urged WTO members to free up vaccine supply chains by lowering export restrictions and facilitating trade; work with manufacturers to identify supply‑chain bottlenecks; bolster investment to increase production, particularly in developing countries; and find pragmatic solutions to issues regarding technology transfer, know-how and intellectual property to assure developing countries near-automatic access while still incentivizing research and innovation.
A WTO fisheries deal this year would make a material difference to global fish stocks — one third of which are no longer within biologically sustainable levels, she said. It would help meet target 6 of Sustainable Development Goal 14, albeit a few months behind schedule. And it would demonstrate that WTO members still take their founding objective of sustainable development seriously and remain capable of negotiating multilateral agreements and responding to global challenges.
MICHAEL KREMER, Professor in Economics and Public Policy at the University of Chicago and 2019 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on alleviating global poverty, said that, sometimes, people associate innovation with gadgets, but it’s much more than that. Innovation is crucial to achieving the global Goals and important for well-being beyond income. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of medical innovation. Innovation is a public good, which makes it very valuable: new ideas developed in one place can spread cheaply and easily. But, individual countries tend to underinvest in innovation, he said, emphasizing the need for more investment, particular in innovations that serve the needs of people living in poverty.
Recounting how after studying water safety in Kenya in the early 2000s, he said he developed a solution in which a large dispenser of water treatment was placed at the water source that enabled people, when collecting water, to add the right dose of chlorine by turning a knob. Its use was convenient and free. The dispenser increased water treatment four-fold annually over the following three years. That innovative approach is now providing clean water for about 2 million people daily across Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, at a cost of only $1.50 per person per year. This year, he said he set up the Development Innovation Lab at the University of Chicago with an focus on finding cost-effective ways to provide safe water at scale. Several funds have been set up to identify and scale promising innovations, he said, noting that he co-founded and serves as Scientific Director of USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures, which supports a wide variety of sources — including social entrepreneurs, for-profit firms and researchers — and is open to innovations intended for scale either commercially or through developing country Governments or donors.
The forum started with a panel discussion on the theme “The Sustainable Development Goals in time of crisis: A sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 as an opportunity to realize the Sustainable Development Goals”. Chaired by Mr. Akram (Pakistan), Council President, the panel was moderated by Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Making presentations were the following speakers: Tariq Ahmad, Minister of State for South Asia and the Commonwealth of the United Kingdom; Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister and Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime Minister of Pakistan; Birgitta Tazelaar, Deputy Vice-Minister for International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Netherlands; Henrietta H. Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Marsha Caddle, Minister for Economic Affairs and Investment of Barbados; Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA); Claudine Uwera, Minister for State in charge of Economic Planning of Rwanda; Isaac Alfie, Director of the Office of Planning and Budget of Uruguay; Sofía Sprechmann Sineiro, Secretary General of Care International; Dominic Waughray, Managing Director of the Centre for Global Public Goods and Member of the Managing Board at the World Economic Forum; and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Visiting Senior Fellow at Khazanah Research Institute, Visiting Fellow at the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, Columbia University, and Adjunct Professor at the International Islamic University in Malaysia.
Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, also delivered a presentation on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals along with measures to realize them amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Mr. ZHENMIN, highlighting elements of the Secretary-General’s report, said that, even by early 2020, the world was not on track to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. Using the latest available data and estimates, the report reveals the devastating impact of the crisis on the 2030 Agenda, from an economic downturn that pushed an additional 119 to 124 million people into extreme poverty to an additional 101 million children and youth who fell below minimum reading proficiency levels. Women and children have faced increased domestic violence, and up to 10 million more girls are at risk of child marriage in the next decade. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 slowdown has done little to alleviate the climate crisis, with preliminary data showing increased concentrations of major global greenhouse gases in 2020. The report also outlined other pandemic-related consequences and a path forward, he said, noting that global flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) fell by 40 per cent in 2020, compared to 2019, and the value of global merchandise trade is predicted to fall by 5.6 per cent over the same period.
While the report paints a worrying picture regarding the state of the Sustainable Development Goals, he said they are still within reach if the world can act on the systemic shortfalls revealed by the pandemic. The international community must also leverage hard-won policy wisdom from previous crises and harness ongoing advances in science and technology. Proposing three elements to guide this strategy, he said equitable conditions must be set for all countries to recover. Countries must also ensure that Sustainable Development Goal losses from the pandemic do not translate into a long-term erosion of capabilities. Further, States must all act smartly to leverage scientific knowledge and new technological developments. Governments, cities, businesses and industries must use the recovery to adopt low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways that will reduce carbon emissions, conserve nature, create better jobs, advance gender equality and tackle growing inequities. “Our success will largely depend on our collective response over the next eighteen months,” he said, adding that: “This crisis can be the wake-up call that drives us to transform our world, deliver on the 2030 Agenda, and keep our promise to current and future generations.”
Mr. STEINER, serving as moderator, said vaccine equity remains a prerequisite for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery from COVID-19 everywhere. Citing UNDP research, he said just 1 per cent of debt service in 2021 would cover the cost of 1 billion vaccine doses under the COVAX initiative. Recalling several innovative ways local to global actors worked together to solve complex problems, he said that, moving ahead, the choices countries make today in investing the pandemic stimulus packages will frame the development pathway for the future, with responses tailored to the needs of countries, including the least developed countries, landlocked developing nations and small island developing States, and the middle-income countries.
Mr. AHMAD said the Sustainable Development Goals provide a ready-made framework to build back better after COVID-19. Highlighting concerns about the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women and girls, he said efforts must pay due attention to them in crafting response plans. Asking international partners to support urgent targets, he said efforts include getting 40 million more girls in school and 20 million to be able to read by age 10. Citing joint efforts the United Kingdom is making with Pakistan to broaden access to online learning, he said cooperation among Member States can make a difference when tackling education and other challenges.
Ms. NISHTAR said that, in Pakistan, health responses were priorities, with a focus on reaching the most vulnerable. Sharing lessons learned, she said data innovation and delivery systems are crucial to addressing long-standing fault lines. Gaps in financial and digital literacy also need more attention. Noting that human capital must be protected in the face of the pandemic, she said the Government has initiated social protection efforts and scaled‑up education programmes, heavily targeting women and girls. Partnerships are being forged to address a range of concerns, she continued, adding that the pandemic has unearthed opportunities for countries to take constructive steps.
Ms. TAZELAAR said systematic change for the planet is imminent to enable it to tackle myriad challenges. Realizing the 2030 Agenda requires, among other things, empowering women and youth and other groups affected by the pandemic. She pointed out that international banks have broadened efforts to target climate change efforts and other areas. Calling attention to areas requiring more attention, she said social protection systems are needed now more than ever before. Underlining the importance of maximizing financing for development and ensuring responsible business conduct, she said the Netherlands’ efforts will be outlined in its forthcoming voluntary national review, adding that: “At this critical juncture, let’s make the right choices and get to work.”
Ms. FORE, citing vast changes since the start of the pandemic, said UNICEF has found that millions of children are out of school, with girls being disproportionately affected. Calling for an increase in investments in all areas affecting children, she highlighted several areas where urgent efforts are needed. Given that more than 400 million children without Internet access were shut out of classrooms, she said public-private efforts must work to reverse that trend. While protection efforts are paramount, such areas as improving mental health remain chronically underfunded. Calling for increased investments to address this and other problems, she said children’s health, social protection and education must be reimagined with a view to contributing to their well-being.
Ms. CADDLE said that, in Barbados, national and global efforts are covering key areas in pandemic recovery strategies. Pandemic response plans have considered a range of hard-hit and emerging areas, from the tourism industry to vaccine distribution. Efforts are addressing economic recovery, geared towards narrowing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, with targeted programmes aimed at emission reductions and rebuilding better. Right now, the world needs a new agreement addressing States’ particular vulnerabilities and a set of effective responses, she said.
Ms. DASHTI said all regions face the same challenges, requiring a collaborative approach. Productive recovery efforts hinge on several critical elements, she said, among them is adopting transformative, inclusive policies. At the same time, across the five regions, attention is needed to address the fact that developing countries have lost precious fiscal space, putting recovery and development trajectories at risk. Low- and middle-income countries need an additional $5 trillion to recover from COVID-19, with the Arab region alone needing $462 billion. Political commitment must drive these efforts forward. “This is your call,” she told Member States, adding that: “The best policies and the best tools and more resources are not enough to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and recover better; we need to move forward with resilience, inclusion, sustainability and solidarity.”
Ms. UWERA said Rwanda has taken numerous steps, such as lockdowns and establishing a national COVID-19 committee, complete with monitoring and reporting systems. This response has been coupled with a health-care worker training programme, which has limited the virus’ spread and improved services. Sharing other experiences, she said shortcomings must be immediately addressed, including lockdown challenges. The Sustainable Development Goals are more important than ever before, she said, adding that more efforts must address social protection to ensure no one is left behind and to shape effective recovery plans.
Mr. ALFIE, outlining Uruguay’s efforts, said the Government adopted a basic income for adults in 2020 and took a multidimensional approach, as required by the pandemic’s impact. Citing action in preserving life, mental health and economic growth, he said the Government has supported small enterprises and used science‑based efforts to address national concerns, from health to job creation. Turning to the education sector, he said Uruguay has worked to preserve in-person learning and keep schools open for all students. Investments were also made in strengthening the health-care system and promoting small and microenterprises. In terms of the COVID-19, he said two thirds of the population has been vaccinated, including those ages 12 to 17. Exchanging such experiences among Member States can only help to learn lessons and to build better for the future, he said.
Ms. SPRECHMANN SINEIRO highlighted the gender impact of COVID-19, which is deepening existing inequities for women and girls. In a 2020 Care International survey, 6,000 women declared that the pandemic’s impact on their lives was nothing short of catastrophic, including in such areas as worsening jobs and livelihoods, alongside hunger becoming more prevalent, with females disproportionately affected. Even pre-COVID‑19, women were doing three times as much unpaid care work as men. “We are at a global crossroads where inaction has never looked so costly,” she stated. Making several suggestions, she said efforts must build “caring” economies and stop seeing care work as a “women’s issue”, but as an economic one, given that, each year, unpaid care work adds approximately $10.8 trillion to the global economy. This is why at the Gender Equality Forum in Paris last week, civil society recommended that 10 per cent of domestic national income be spent on affordable child, elder and disability care services. For its part, Care International has committed to support at least 10 million women to take part in community savings groups.
Mr. WAUGHRAY outlined the work of the World Economic Forum, saying that swift and bold policy choices must be adopted to ensure that no one is left behind. Initiatives include providing a global platform for constructive, scaled‑up action, he drew attention to the growing group of companies realigning their strategies with the Sustainable Development Goals. The World Economic Forum has, among other things, hosted conferences to sharpen the focus on action‑oriented responses and has worked with partners on a range of issues, including with the Edison Alliance to connect people to the Internet. Such innovative partnerships are key to support the Sustainable Development Goals.
Mr. SUNDARAM said much can be learned from developing countries, including progress achieved using innovative whole-of-society approaches. Lockdowns are blunt instruments and not the only option available. Tracing and testing are essential, but the assertion of intellectual property rights have driven up costs of such activities. Providing greater access to technical and scientific advances has not been effectively addressed, he said, underlining the crucial importance of building forward better rather than building “back”. Cooperation is essential to eradicate COVID-19, as was the case with tackling the global spread of other diseases, he said.
In the ensuing discussion, Member States drew attention to their national challenges and accomplishments. Several offered suggestions.
The representative of France, noting that her country is donating 16 million vaccine doses to the COVAX Facility, cited other contributions and areas that need attention. To build back better, she emphasized the need for support to include addressing debt issues of developing countries and building more resilient social systems.
The representative of the Philippines said a global, cooperative response is required. Pre-pandemic, the Philippines was improving its health system, which has faced great challenges amid COVID-19. Strengthening the capacity of global health systems is essential, she said, recognizing the importance of taking a whole-of-society approach. In this vein, the Philippines has invested in sustainable policies and actions to ensure an effective, resilient health-care system, as it plays a key role towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.
A representative of the Stakeholder Group for Persons with Disabilities said her personal experience in Lebanon reflects broader challenges. During the pandemic, persons with disabilities have been discriminated against in accessing health services, among other things. What the world chooses to do next is as important as how efforts are being crafted, she said, calling for the participation of persons with disabilities in planning and emphasizing that programmes must be accessible and inclusive.
The representative of China said a science-based response to the pandemic should include strengthened support for developing countries. For its part, China has, among other things, provided 450 million vaccine doses to developing countries, he said, calling on States to refrain from hoarding vaccines and instead focus efforts on closing the gaps among nations with and without supplies.
The representative of Nepal said the pandemic has especially affected countries in special situations, including landlocked development States. Responses must go hand in hand with climate change efforts, and vaccines should be made available to all. Creating economic resilience requires focused financing instruments to build forward better underpinned by a strong global partnership. Indeed, cooperative efforts can turn the pandemic into an opportunity to build a better world.
The representative of South Africa called for timely access to affordable medical supplies, including vaccines. Concerned by the growing inequalities and global shortages of medical equipment, he hoped for more cooperation in these and other areas.
A representative of the Stakeholder Group for Children and Youth recalled that efforts are lacking to end child labour in all its forms. As such, their needs must be fully addressed in recovery efforts.
Also participating were representatives of Finland, Indonesia, Switzerland and the Republic of Korea.
The political forum then held a discussion under the theme “Ensuring no one is left behind”, chaired by Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland), Council Vice‑President. Moderated by Jane Barratt, Secretary‑General of International Federation on Ageing, the dialogue featured the following panellists: Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Jane Coffin, Senior Vice‑President of Internet Society; Joshua Phoho Setipa, Managing Director of the Technology Bank for Least Developed Countries; and Fabio Veras, Senior research coordinator at the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth and the Institute of Applied Economic Research researcher. Other guest speakers were Saad Alfarargi, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Antonio Vitorino, Director-General of International Organization for Migration (IOM); Beena Pallical, Executive Director at the Asia Dalit Rights Forum; and Sarah Adwoa Safo, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana.
Ms. BAERISWYL said that leaving no one behind has been one of the key principles of the 2030 Agenda from its very inception. However, fulfilling the promise of inclusion of all people in society has not been successful. Poverty is still ravishing the planet, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased many of the world’s inequalities. The challenges to protect and empower vulnerable groups in society has become greater than ever. This session will address some of these challenges.
Ms. BARRATT said that the most vulnerable and marginalized groups paid the highest price during the pandemic. The session explores key issues, such as lessons learned from the pandemic, progress towards the achievement of sustainable development goals, as well as monitoring and evaluation.
Ms. BACHELET said human rights-based approaches to development are powerful tools that make the world safer and more resilient. They place an emphasis on the people most at risk of discrimination and are the best way to reduce inequalities and resume a path towards realizing the 2030 Agenda. A human‑rights-based approach to recovery also requires greater international cooperation and solidarity to keep people afloat and rebuild fairer, she said. Universal and equitable access to vaccines is likely to be the strongest determinant of whether and how every State — and humanity overall — can control the pandemic.
Ms. COFFIN stressed that the topic of the dialogue is more timely than ever. Some responses to the pandemic were enabled by the Internet, such as working from home and online learning. The Internet unlocked human capability during the pandemic. However, a more open connected network is needed, and the multi‑stakeholder approach must be strengthened, to address existing connectivity gaps. Digital connectivity is an enabler of human development, and therefore it is not an option, she stressed, warning that failing to take adequate measures will risk deepening the digital divide.
Mr. SETIPA highlighted how least developing countries were negatively impacted by the pandemic, which eroded the basic human rights of people in those countries, such as the right to health and education. Many least developed countries are dependent on commodity exports. They need structural transformation integrating science, technology and innovation. These countries need affordable access to technology, he said, emphasizing the need to narrow the digital divide and bring down the cost of Internet access.
Mr. VERAS emphasized that vulnerable populations, including migrants, refugees, homeless persons and women, must be protected in both normal times and crises, also underscoring the need to include hard-to-reach groups. The burden of social protection increased in the global South, but it is possible to increase social protection coverage.
Mr. ALFARARGI said that developing countries suffered a serious setback in implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Global poverty is on the rise for the first time since 1998. With women, minorities, indigenous peoples, internally displaced persons and other vulnerable groups bearing the brunt of marginalization, inclusive development remains elusive. Recovery from the pandemic offers an opportunity to align policy with development priorities, he said, calling for fiscal stimulus by IMF and the World Bank to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable.
Mr. VITORINO said migration is relevant to all the Sustainable Development Goals. Migrants have been seriously hit by COVID-19, but they are also at the front line of the pandemic response. If the international community is serious about leaving no one behind, migrants and others on the move must be included in pandemic recovery efforts. Governments must include them in social protection and vaccination. During the pandemic, FDI decreased, but remittances increased. This shows that migrants are an integral part of social and economic recovery.
Ms. PALLICAL said COVID-19 exacerbated existing inequalities, impacting marginalized populations, including lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and intersex people, sex workers, migrants and daily wage workers. Due to the digital divide, many children remain unable to attend school. Recovery from the pandemic must be more inclusive, and support communities. Vaccination must be free, he emphasized.
Ms. SAFO said that COVID-19 took the world by surprise, but her country turned it around and made it a blessing by supporting youth and adolescents. Ghana is tackling child labour and early marriage through interventions targeting adolescent girls. Youth must be included in the recovery process, she said, calling for a global adolescent summit in 2023.
Following these presentations, the floor opened to delegations and civil society representatives.
The representative of Norway said an independent and pluralistic locally based civil society can contribute significantly to the principle of leaving no one behind. Stressing the need to reinforce a rule- and human rights-based social contract between Government and the people to leave no one behind, Norway increased the use of cash transfers to provide social safety nets and reach families falling into poverty.
A youth representative from Belgium said because of school closures, about two thirds of European students believed they were learning slightly or significantly less during the pandemic. Recovery policies should focus on limiting the long-term impacts of economic, mental and educational scars left by the pandemic.
Taking the floor again, Mr. VERAS said it is possible to increase social protection. Mr. SETIPA said partnership is key to successful endeavours. Ms. COFFIN said universal digital connectivity is essential to reach the furthest behind. Ms. BACHELET said inequalities stem from policy choices and can be dismantled. To be successful, place human rights, including the right to development, at the core of action, she urged.
Also speaking were delegates from Mexico, Sweden, Finland, Indonesia, as well as civil society representatives.
In the afternoon, the forum a panel discussion on the theme “Building resilience against future shocks through structural changes and investment in sustainable infrastructure” was chaired by Mr. Akram and moderated by Atif Kubursi, professor emeritus at McMaster University in Canada. The following speakers made presentations: Isabelle Durant, Acting Secretary-General of UNCTAD; Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Jim Hall, Professor of Climate and Environmental Risks and former Director of the Environmental Change Institute, Oxford University; Erik Berglof, Chief Economist of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; Isabel Ortiz, Director, Global Social Justice Program Initiative for Policy Dialogue; Gavin Power, Executive Vice‑President and Chief of Sustainable Development and International Affairs of PIMCO; and Stephen Devereux, Professorial Fellow, Co-Director of the Centre for Social Protection Institute of Development Studies.
Serving as lead discussants were Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; Francesco La Camera, Director‑General of IRENA; Yannick Glemarec, Executive Director of the Green Climate Fund; Andre Zhu, Senior Vice‑President of Global Affairs and General Counsel of Pinduoduo, China; Refat Sabbah, President of the Global Campaign for Education and the General Director and founder of the Teacher Creativity Center, Palestine (Education and Academia Stakeholder Group); and Suran Maharjan, Volunteers Major Group. Eamon Ryan, Minister for Transport and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications of Ireland, served as a respondent.
Mr. KUBURSI opened the discussion, saying that the impact of this massive economic slowdown is likely to trickle down to fragile economies and vulnerable communities, exacerbating human insecurity. The world’s unequal divides will hamper the collective ability to feel safe again, he said, highlighting the sharp gaps in areas from the digital divide to collective security. One of the pandemic’s immediate consequences is the widespread questioning of the globalized economy’s failure to deal with the COVID-19 and its impact. Globalization cannot be taken for granted any more as people call for balancing its benefits against the inherent risks and challenges that global value and supply chains have faced in today’s globalized economy. If there is a lesson to learn from this crisis, that is likely to be repeated with the onslaught of climate change, it is that the world needs to change its entrenched and dysfunctional consumption habits, the highly polarized income and wealth distribution systems and its relentless pursuit of growth.
Ms. DURANT, recalling that global investment shrank during the pandemic, said Governments and businesses are now striving to build back, prioritizing resilience in their recovery plans. Investments are needed in, among other things, green economies, infrastructure and other key areas in line with the 2030 Agenda. The problem is that most recovery funding targets certain States. As such, tailored investments must aim at reaching low-income developing countries along with efforts to boost private investment. Efforts must also support multilateral and bilateral lenders. Social governance and environmental considerations must be part of such plans, she said, adding that UNCTAD has an action plan for realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, which could help States.
Ms. SONGWE, highlighting three areas for coordinated action, said financing must first be tailored to contribute effectively to national economies, including by addressing the issue of liquidity. The United States effort for financing is bold, but funds have yet to arrive in nations in need. Cooperation is needed to ensure an effective distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, she said, noting that Africa has only vaccinated 2 per cent of its population. Market access also needs to be coordinated, she said, adding that taking these steps can help to realize the 2030 Agenda and recovering from the pandemic.
Mr. HALL highlighted his work as a professor and director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, saying that resilience entails improving the capacity to improve reactions against shocks. Social safety nets and building institutions’ capacity are among the steps needed. Infrastructure systems can be made more resilient by diversifying to find ways to avert catastrophes. To address this issue, he recommended regular stress tests to be conducted on such systems before a crisis arrives.
Mr. BERGLOF made a pre-recorded video statement, outlining the work of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
The forum then heard from the lead discussants.
Ms. MIZUTORI said that if recovery funds are invested wisely, resilience will be bolstered. Social and economic systems must be constructed based on the risks at hand. Infrastructure investments must include building resilience along with recognizing the interlinkages among other sectors. The private sector will launch investment in infrastructure projects, with the United Nations leading with global benchmarks to ensure progress, she said.
Mr. LA CAMERA said that building back better is a guiding principle for decision makers when responding to the immediate and longer-term needs of people and planet. The renewables-led energy transition is central alongside focused and targeted infrastructure investments. Also needed are greater system flexibility, modern grids and significant investment in grid-connected and off-grid renewable power‑generation infrastructure. Public institutions can play a significant role in working together to mitigate investment risks and encourage the flow of private sector capital that is needed to build back better. This reinforcing process can help to attract the $4 trillion of investment needed annually, to align the energy system with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. By doing so, the world can ensure universal access to energy, education services and health-care facilities, while creating stable, productive economic opportunities for millions of people. These are the hallmarks of more resilient societies, he said, adding that building back better means building back greener.
Mr. RYAN said that Ireland is playing its part at this critical moment when the world tackles the climate crisis and the pandemic. The developed world must do more, he said, adding that efforts must address climate change and other urgent concerns. Reducing emissions is key, he said, outlining the United Nations efforts in this regard. With a spirit of cooperation, as seen in protecting the elderly during the pandemic, he said that it is now time for the world to protect its younger generation and their future.
During the ensuing discussion, some participants highlighted national and global examples. Several offered suggestions on lessons learned and how best to proceed as the world grapples with COVID-19 and its consequences.
The representative of Guyana said efforts must ensure that livelihoods are protected. Approaches must consider access for all and must be non‑discriminatory, with an aim of reaching the entire population. There should also be a movement to encourage financial institutions and partners that support such efforts to consider concessionary initiatives to fund sustainable, resilient infrastructure projects.
The representative of France said her country is investing in infrastructure to deal with climate change and supporting related structural reforms. Efforts are addressing the resilience of such systems along with the consideration of the positive environmental impact. Collective public transport and other areas help to combat social divisions and other inequalities. However, financing needs are significant, often going beyond public funding, she said, adding that France is making efforts to promote public-private partnerships in this regard.
The representative of Thailand said investments have targeted the national health sector to better prepare for future shocks and have supported sustainable, resilient infrastructure. Private sector involvement can make disaster risk efforts part of their businesses, he said, also calling on international donors to increase their support for infrastructure development.
A representative of civil society said the scientific and technological community, co-organized by the International Science Council and the World Federation of Engineering Organizations, has underlined the important role these fields can and must play in building a resilient and sustainable future. As such, he called on the United Nations system and Member States to establish trust and confidence in the scientific, engineering and technology community. Highlighting areas for action, he said good governance, stability, transparent procurement and delivery processes are essential, with the World Federation of Engineering Organizations’ model code of ethics being a guide for sustainable development and environmental stewardship.
The representative of China said infrastructure gaps must be addressed, with help from the international community. Efforts must also promote post-pandemic recovery, education, transportation and health, to ensure that no one is left behind. Innovation must help to develop new business models and green infrastructure. For its part, China has worked on various projects to advance transportation projects, including a China-Europe rail line initiative that began in 2013.
The forum then heard from the remaining panellists.
Ms. ORTIZ said the pandemic has shown the weak state of public health systems after decades of insufficient investments. Since the 1980s, the Washington Consensus has left a legacy of minimal investment in the social sectors that must be abandoned to achieve a structural transformation. To do so, she said investments must be made in universal public health, education and social protection. A few safety nets targeted to the poor, with private pensions for the rich, cannot and will not lift societies, she said, noting that most countries are reversing pension privatization, because it did not work. Outlining ways to achieve structural transformation, she said countries need universal public social protection systems. In addition, investments are needed to secure affordable drinking water, as demonstrated by more than 250 reversals of the privatization of water over the last 15 years, she said, pointing to the re-municipalization of the Paris water supply in 2010 as an example which led to cheaper prices and better delivery. Structural transformation must also generate employment with living wages, she continued. Pointing to existing fiscal space even in the poorest countries, she said there are at least eight financing options, fully supported by policy statements from the United Nations and international financial institutions. Governments around the world have been successfully applying these options for decades, she said, adding that: “There is financing; achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 can be done.”
Mr. POWER said PIMCO projects are aligned with the 2030 Agenda across many sectors. Noting the drop in private sector investment, he said that public‑private‑sector partnerships are essential now. PIMCO manages $600 billion in assets that are oriented to the 2030 Agenda. However, a market failure in national 2030 Agenda plans is apparent, he said, pointing to targeted efforts to reverse that trend. Pioneering work is unfolding in the area of sustainable infrastructure investment. These and other related actions are keeping with the notion of building back better, he said.
Mr. DEVEREUX said shock‑response systems have the ability to respond rapidly in times of crisis. The best way to improve such systems is boosting efforts across sectors. Beneficiary management systems and digitalized payment mechanisms are some of the tools Governments can use in this regard. However, glaring gaps in social protection systems must urgently be filled, he said, drawing attention to the challenges facing some countries. For instance, he said, farmers often are not reached by social assistance. More broadly, he said that temporary interventions during the pandemic should be extended to ensure that social protection covers those in need at all times.
Mr. GLEMAREC said the Green Climate Fund is the largest of its kind and uses a multiple-pronged approach. Citing a range of ongoing initiatives, he said partnerships are developing the benefits of green solutions. Efforts are aimed at making blended finance work better, he said, citing examples of financing sustainable infrastructure projects in 42 countries. Initiatives are also focusing on domestic financing institutions, he said, highlighting a project in South Africa to recycle water.
Mr. ZHU said that, in China, agriculture is at the centre of his organization’s growth strategy. To address the traditional distribution networks that were blocked by the pandemic, efforts included operationalizing a livestream channel and online grocery services, which improved the situation and also created millions of jobs. Infrastructure must be developed in a sustainable way going forward, he said. Stakeholders must partner closely to advance innovations, like online retail for food. As such, the food system will become more resilient when it is grown and distributed better.
Mr. SABBAH said action is needed to reduce the cycle of poverty. Solidarity leads to justice, which, in turn, can guarantee change. Institutions must reflect on their procedures and commit to making progress. Educational systems must also be examined and improved. The pandemic exposed how big the problems are, but some partnerships are not translating into practice on the ground. To address these issues, a solid collective value system is required, he said, adding that empty assurances are not enough to ensure progress.
Mr. MAHARJAN highlighted the crucial role played by civil society, with volunteers bridging key gaps between stakeholders. In Nepal, such efforts are supporting projects related to sustainable infrastructure development, education and health sectors. Initiatives centre on building a fairer and more resilient world, he said.
Also participating in the panel discussion were the representatives of Indonesia and Guatemala. Representatives of several civil society and stakeholder groups also participated.