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ECOSOC/7055
8 July 2021
High-Level Political Forum

Health, Inequality Dangerously Linked, Speakers Warn, Stressing Exclusion, Disparity Impeding Ability to Contain COVID-19, on Day Three of High-Level Political Forum

Inequality and exclusion have deeply impaired the ability to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, which, in turn, further widened such disparity, demonstrating the dangerous links between health and inequality, experts warned, as the high‑level political forum on sustainable development moved into the third day of its two-week session.

The forum is the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals adopted in 2015.  Providing for the full and effective participation of all Member States of the United Nations and of specialized agencies, the 2021 forum — under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — will review, from 6 to 16 July, progress in implementation.

The forum held three panels today, focusing on issues under the 2021 theme:  “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development:  building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.

The morning panel discussion centred on interlinkages among Sustainable Development Goal 3 on good health and well‑being, Goal 10 on reduced inequalities, Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions and Goal 17 on partnerships.

Sarah Cliffe, Director of New York University Center on International Cooperation, described how a regression in one global Goal can erode gains in other areas in a vicious cycle.  For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, more unequal societies had significantly higher infection rates than more equal, inclusive societies, she pointed out, highlighting the links between Goals 3 and 10.  Another example is the relationship between Goals 10 and 16, she said, explaining that “vertical” inequality — between classes on socioeconomic grounds — has a clear relationship to criminal violence, including on homicide rates, she said.

Along the same lines, Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research, and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at Columbia University, described how countries that have invested sufficiently in vaccine development infrastructure and human resources or that have capacity for bulk manufacturing and distribution have been able to ensure sufficient numbers of vaccine doses for their citizens, while the rest of the world joins the end of the queue even if they have participated in multicentre clinical trials to evaluate the vaccine.

Presenting the Secretary-General’s progress report on the Goals under review, Haoyi Chen, Coordinator, Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys, Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said that COVID-19 is likely to reverse progress made in reducing income gaps since the financial crisis.  Moreover, the pandemic is disproportionately affecting children, threatening to push an additional 8.9 million into child labour by the end of 2022, adding to the 160 million children already suffering that plight at the beginning of 2020.

Proposing a solution to reduce inequality, Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International, called for the introduction of permanent wealth taxes and corporation taxes worldwide to both reduce inequality and fund equalizing policies.

James K. Boyce, Senior Fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, said that, instead of an equitable allocation of protective equipment, medicine and vaccines, these scarce resources followed “the contours of wealth and power”.  He stressed that national fiscal capacity to provide vital public goods and services can be built by encouraging tariffs on luxury imports and by ending the ubiquitous tax exemptions granted to the international community.

Armida Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that regional cooperation is necessary to avoid the emergence of a K-shaped recovery [in which different parts of the economy recover at different rates, times or magnitudes] with new divides.  The annual ESCAP session in April endorsed the “Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific”, which has some 15 national actions to be implemented by 2030, including setting national targets for social protection.

In the afternoon, the forum held panel discussions on the themes “Going local” and “Restoring the conditions for SDG progress in African countries, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries”.

The political forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Friday, 9 July, to continue its work.

Panel 7

The forum began its third day with a discussion on the theme “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in focus:  SDGs 3, 10, 16, 17 and interlinkages among those goals and with other SDGs”.

Chaired by Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), Vice‑President of the Economic and Social Council, the session featured a presentation of the Secretary-General’s latest progress report on Sustainable Development Goal 3 on good health and well‑being, Goal 10 on reduced inequalities, Goal 16 on peace, justice and strong institutions and Goal 17 on partnerships, by Haoyi Chen, Coordinator, Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys, Statistics Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Moderated by Jan Beagle, Director-General of the International Development Law Organization, the discussion also featured the following panellists:  Armida Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International; Sarah Cliffe, Director, New York University Center on International Cooperation; Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director, Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research, and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology, Columbia University; and James K Boyce, Senior Fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Lead discussants were Marina Sereni, Vice‑Minister, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy; Najat Maalla M'jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children; Nata Menabde, Executive Director, New York Office, World Health Organization (WHO); Valentina Bodrug-Lungu, Associate Professor, Moldova State University (women’s major group and Economic Commission for Europe regional CSO engagement mechanism).

Respondents were Francisco André, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Portugal; Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt), Chair of Peacebuilding Commission; Jorge Bermudez, Comptroller General of Chile; Irma Pineda Santiago, Member of Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Mexico; and Margit Kraker, Secretary‑General of the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions.

Mr. KELAPILE said that the continuation of the COVID-19 crisis risks increasing inequality both within and among countries in many areas, including health and well-being.  This growing divide risks heightening social tensions and polarization and weakening social cohesion.  However, the crisis could also be a chance to motivate new partnerships and initiatives to reduce inequalities, advance good health and well-being and promote justice and inclusive, effective and accountable institutions.  This session will focus on the types of transformative actions needed in the immediate and longer-term to advance progress on Sustainable Development Goals 3, 10, 16 and 17 including ways to leverage the interlinkages among these objectives.

Ms. CHEN said the Secretary-General’s progress report was prepared by her Department with inputs from more than 50 international and regional organizations, based on data from national statistical systems.  Many health indicators were moving in the right direction before COVID-19.  The pandemic has halted or reversed progress in health.  Noting that understanding the true magnitude and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been hindered by a lack of data, she warned that COVID-19 is likely to reverse progress made in reducing income inequality since the financial crisis.  By mid-2020, the number of people who had fled their countries and become refugees due to war, conflict, persecution, human rights violations and events seriously disturbing public order had grown to 24.5 million, the highest absolute number on record.

The world is still a long way from achieving the goal of peaceful, just and inclusive societies, she continued.  Between 2015 and 2020, 176,085 civilian deaths were recorded in 12 of the world’s deadliest armed conflicts.  The pandemic is disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable, with children at high risk.  Globally, 1 in 3 trafficking victims in 2018 was a child.  At the start of 2020, the number of children engaged in child labour totalled 160 million, she said, adding that the impacts of COVID-19 threaten to push an additional 8.9 million children into child labour by the end of 2022.

Ms. BEAGLE, opening the panel discussion, said that the global Goals 3, 10, 16 and 17, although they may appear to have little in common at first glance, are playing out together to devastating effect.  “After living through over a year of a crisis that has challenged us to adapt and innovate, no one has all the answers but all of us, I am sure, have part of the answer,” she said.

Ms. BUCHER reminded all that even before the pandemic 10,000 people were dying each day for lack of access to affordable health care, 100 million were being pushed into extreme poverty each year because of health expenditures, and just 1 in 6 countries were spending the internationally accepted very basic level on health care.  “Our economies for too long have pursued private profits before the public good — and it is the poorest people, women and girls and racially marginalized groups who suffer most — while a few at the top are able to spiral their wealth and power,” she said.  All these inequalities are being magnified during the pandemic.  The forum must push for action to achieve COVID-19 vaccination free from monopoly control.  Second, every country needs a plan to get to publicly delivered, publicly funded quality, universal health care.  Third, she stressed the need for the introduction of permanent wealth taxes and corporation taxes worldwide to both reduce inequality and fund equalizing policies.

Ms. ALISJAHBANA said that responses to the pandemic have shown that countries with well-funded and comprehensive health care and social protection systems were able to deal more effectively with the pandemic and limit its health and socioeconomic impacts.  Acknowledging this, the annual ESCAP session in April endorsed the “Action Plan to Strengthen Regional Cooperation on Social Protection in Asia and the Pacific”.  This plan has some 15 national actions to be implemented by 2030, including setting national targets for social protection and sharing national experiences in progress reports.  ESCAP, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and other United Nations entities will collaborate to support its implementation.

ESCAP also adopted a resolution requesting the Commission to work with all other relevant United Nations entities and WHO to ensure universal access to vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics, she said  It plans to develop and utilize regional cooperation mechanisms and frameworks for this purpose.  The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated inequalities not only within, but also across countries.  Regional cooperation is necessary to avoid the emergence of a K-shaped recovery with new divides, and to exploit opportunities to enhance economic dynamism.

Ms. KARIM described how COVID-19 widened inequalities.  Countries that have invested sufficiently in vaccine development infrastructure and human resources or that have capacity for bulk manufacturing and distribution have been able to ensure sufficient numbers of vaccine doses for their citizens while the rest of the world joins the end of the queue even if they have participated in multi‑centre clinical trials to evaluate the vaccine.  Access to the Internet is defining who can work remotely or not, continue with online schooling; participate in meetings or conferences, and participate in research or not, she said, pointing to pronounced racial and gender differences within and between countries.  Women are more likely to lose jobs and have greater household responsibilities, with a notable increase in experiencing gender-based violence and in school drop-out rates particularly among adolescent girls.  Data from several countries highlight the higher COVID-19 mortality rates being experienced by blacks than whites.

Mr. BOYCE said that the COVID-19 pandemic holds important lessons for responses to the global climate crisis.  Far from seeing an equitable allocation of scarce resources like protective equipment, medicine and vaccines, these resources followed the contours of wealth and power, he said, stressing the principle that resources for climate adaptation and mitigation should be allocated on the basis of equal rights to a healthy and safe environment, rather than purchasing power or power.

International assistance must build national fiscal capacity to provide vital public goods and services rather than supplanting this capacity by encouraging, rather than discouraging, tariffs on luxury imports and by ending the ubiquitous tax exemptions granted to the international community, he said.  Governments and international agencies must move resolutely to curb plunder, money‑laundering, tax evasion and capital flight.  Stemming the massive haemorrhage of resources from developing countries to offshore havens requires deep reforms in the international financial architecture, including concerted action by countries on the receiving end of the looted resources.

Ms. CLIFFE said that inequality and exclusion have deeply impaired the ability to contain the pandemic, demonstrating the links between global Goals 3 and 10.  More unequal societies had significantly higher infection rates than more equal, inclusive societies.  Another vicious circle refers to the relationship between Goals 10 and 16.  Inequality increases corruption and capture by increasing the influence of elites over political, legislative, judicial and administrative decision-making, and by biasing the function of the justice system towards defending property and privilege rather than a people centered-approach.  What academics call vertical inequality — inequality between classes on socioeconomic grounds — has a clear relationship to criminal violence, including on homicide rates, she said.  Trust increases when both Government and civil society are involved in addressing challenges such as pandemics, and more broadly in addressing access to justice, violence reduction and inequality and exclusion.  The answer to these challenges cannot be found in Government alone, or in civil society alone, but in the complementary action of the two, focusing on results for people.

The lead discussants then presented experiences from their perspectives.

Ms. SERENI reported on the outcome of a global conference on Sustainable Development Goal 16 hosted by Italy in April, in partnership with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the International Development Law Organization, outlining recommendations adopted at the event, including the establishment of a more equal society.  Building resilience of society requires accelerated peacebuilding efforts and the promotion of a people-centred justice system.  It is imperative to implement policies at the national level, she emphasized, also stressing the need to develop national anti-corruption policies.  It is also vital to rethink governance by placing the global Goals at its centre.  A peaceful, just recovery from the pandemic is only possible through accountable, transparent institutions.

Ms. M'JID said that across the world, progress in the protection of children’s rights has been slowed or even reversed by the pandemic, undermining the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  “We cannot hope to end violence against children if the SDGs related to poverty, hunger, health, education, justice, gender, social inclusion, decent work, equality, migration, climate change and building peaceful societies are not met,” she said, adding that, equally, progress towards these Goals will be impeded if violence against children does not end.  Calling for a paradigm shift to see spending on services for children’s well‑being as an investment for an inclusive, sustainable recovery, she stressed that this should be reflected in national development and socioeconomic recovery plans.  Post-pandemic recovery is an opportunity to build a new social contract that is not only adult-centred, but also child-centred, and that paves the way for more sustainable resilient economies and human capital development.

Ms. MENABDE said the cornerstone of a better world is health — social, economic and political stability depend on it.  COVID-19 has reinforced the existing evidence that investments in health have long-term returns, while underinvestment has potential large-scale social and economic implications.  It has proven, without a doubt, that the protection and resilience of health systems must be a top priority.  Financing equitable health systems and an equitable global health architecture should not be viewed as a cost, but rather an investment in a better future.  At the core of all efforts must be universal health coverage built upon a strong foundation of primary health care.  Stressing the need to invest in equitable distribution of COVID-19 tools, including tests, treatments, medical supplies and vaccines, she called for more investment in health systems and health workers to translate this into action.  “Global health security starts with local health security,” she emphasized.

Ms. BODRUG-LUNGU offered some recommendations, including the promotion of policies and actions based on obligations within the human rights framework, the fight against discrimination, universal social protection in all countries and support for transparent, strategic alliances for the achievement of global Goals among civil society, Government and grass‑roots organizations.  She also recommended amplifying the voices and role in decision-making of those most impacted by local and global inequalities, as well as placing economic, racial, climate, and gender justice at the centre of pandemic recovery and global Goals’ implementation.  The forum must transform into a space for real accountability between Governments and civil society, she stressed.

Then, respondents shared their views.

Mr. EDREES said persisting challenges from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including lack of universal access to vaccines, have compounded risks to hard-won peacebuilding gains and nationally owned efforts towards building more peaceful, inclusive and responsive societies.  The Peacebuilding Commission’s engagement with countries and regions under its consideration has highlighted the disproportionate toll of the pandemic on conflict-affected countries, he said, pointing out that only 18 per cent of those countries are on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.  The Commission has been playing a vital role in mobilizing a concerted, multilateral response.  The decision to convene a high‑level meeting during the forthcoming General Assembly session on predictable and sustained financing for peacebuilding provides a strong affirmation of Member States’ commitment.  Strengthened cooperation and dialogue, such as this, between the Commission and the Economic and Social Council, will be critical to progress in addressing the root causes of poverty and conflict, achieving the global Goals and making an impact at the country level to build back better.

Ms. KRAKER said the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions performs the essential task of assessing how taxpayers’ money is used and whether the measures taken are transparent, sustainable and inclusive.  In doing so, they contribute to Goal 16’s target 6.  The International Organization has supported its member institutions through audits of crisis preparedness and response, as well as of vaccine roll‑outs, and the performance of cooperative audits linked to global Goals 3, 5 and 12 — addressing resilient national health systems, gender equality and sustainable public procurement.  The International Organization is also very active in the fight against corruption and mismanagement through cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).  In the future, supreme audit institutions will have a key role to play in assessing their Governments’ recovery plans — also based on the principle of “leaving no one behind”.

Mr. BERMUDEZ, citing a UNODC study, said the procurement of medicines and supplies in health systems is typically one of the most vulnerable areas for corruption.  The Chilean Supreme Audit Institution is committed to doing its part.  Chile is close to launching its own national anti-corruption strategy, after a widespread process that had vast participation.  This strategy proposes 25 effective measures to approach the most vulnerable areas of the State administration to corruption.  This also complies with citizen’s calls for “4 Es” — efficiency, efficacy, economy, and ethics.  Stressing the need to mainstream anti-corruption to be a pivotal axis in public administration, he called for alliances involving international organizations, the public and private sectors, enterprises, civil society and academia.  In times of crisis, do not hesitate to see supreme audit institutions as an ally, he said.

Mr. ANDRÉ, noting that the pandemic is a reminder of the interdependence of human, animal and environmental health, said Portugal emphasizes the value of the “one health” approach integrating these three.  Health is at the top of the global agenda.  His country has made significant progress in terms of improving the population’s health and well-being.  Consequently, during the pandemic, all patients with COVID-19 were exempt from paying user fees, both in the diagnosis and treatments.  Special attention was given to mental health, reinforcing its intrinsic connection with human rights.  Portugal has decided to extend access to the National Health Service to all migrants and refugees, regardless of their status, contributing to global Goal 10.  His country has also granted temporary extension of documents and visas to enable migrants to stay in the country.

Ms. SANTIAGO said indigenous peoples have indicated that the 2030 Agenda provides a historic and unique opportunity to ensure that the more than 370 million indigenous peoples in at least 90 countries are not left behind.  However, they continue to be victims of serious human rights violations.  Therefore, it is fundamental to seek mechanisms to achieve full and effective participation of indigenous peoples, including indigenous women.  It is also essential to achieve a balance between economic growth and respect for human rights and Mother Earth, to counter existing inequalities.  The predominant use of the term “vulnerable groups” does not cover the various situations and needs of indigenous peoples.  She called for a breakdown of data for them, protection of their lands, territories and resources; and their greater participation and representation in decision-making and relevant bodies, among other measures.

Then, the floor opened to representatives of Member States and other stakeholders.

The representative of Switzerland said the pandemic has demonstrated the need for a migrant-inclusive crisis response.  Noting that remittances have recorded only a minor decline, he called for a stronger development case for them.  Switzerland, together with the United Kingdom, has launched a call to action to raise awareness and promote measures to unlock the full potential of remittances.

A youth representative from the Netherlands said youth delegates gathered at a side event to shed light on human rights violations.  Noting that youth still experience barriers in policy negotiations, he stressed the need to turn this group from passive to active stakeholders.

The representative of Indonesia emphasized the importance of accountable governance, explaining how a supreme audit institution conducted oversight in his country and how the Government is reforming the country’s social protection system.

The representative of Belgium called for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the linkage between climate change and human rights and the integration of the concept of “intergenerational justice”.

The representative of Norway said civil society plays an important role in holding Governments accountable.  The Norwegian welfare society is built on broad and progressive tax systems, gender equality and universal social protection and services.  “When everybody enjoys the benefits, the willingness to contribute has also been high,” she said.

The representative of Nepal stressed the importance of building strong institutions.  Her country has made progress on Goal 3, but fiscal space for implementing the global Goals remains limited, she said, calling for international support.  A 30 per cent quota for women’s representation and a social security scheme have been introduced to build a prosperous Nepal.

An official from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) stressed it is time to listen to nature, calling for the adoption of a “one health” approach.  The weakest link is environmental health, he said.

A speaker representing the Major Stakeholder Group on Persons with Disabilities said this group faced discrimination before the pandemic, including difficulty accessing health care.  Discrimination against them was magnified during the pandemic.  Governments must ensure active participation of persons with disability in decision-making and ensure their access to justice.

Also speaking were the delegates of Russian Federation, Sweden, Denmark, Republic of Korea and Finland, as well as an observer from the European Union and other stakeholders.  The representative of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE) also delivered a statement.

After a short break, the forum resumed the discussion, hearing from panellists.

Ms. BUCHER stressed the need to deepen collective resolve to accelerate efforts on implementing the global Goals and tackle them collaboratively.  Calling for a pandemic treaty to be better prepared for future crises, she pointed to a greater possibility of investment in implementing the transformative agenda.

Ms. CLIFFE highlighted the need for a new social contract.  In the short term, the world faces two credibility tests:  equitable distribution of vaccines and access to financing to put a new social contract in place.

Mr. BOYCE said effective governance requires adequate resources, as well as guiding principles to allocate those resources.  Mobilizing international financing is important, but let’s not lose sight of the importance of tapping domestic resources, he said.

Ms. KARIM said that sharing doses of vaccines will bring immediate relief, but partnership must be strengthened to transfer technology and open intellectual property rights.  It is imperative to strike a balance between saving lives and livelihoods.

Ms. BEAGLE, wrapping up the discussion, said the interlinkages of Goals 3, 10, 16 and 17 were evident.  The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake‑up call, and all stakeholders must move beyond words.  Addressing inequalities and exclusion requires an integrated people-centred approach with attention to vulnerable groups, including women and girls, persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples.

Panel 8

In the afternoon, the forum held a panel discussion on the theme “Going Local”.  Chaired by Sergiy Kyslytsya (Ukraine), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, it was moderated by Tony F. Pipa, Senior Fellow on Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution.  On the panel were Noraini Roslan, Mayor of Subang Jaya, Malaysia, a voluntary local review city, and Jan Vapaavuori, Mayor of Helsinki, Finland.  Lead discussants were Bjorn Arild Gram, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, and Thembisile Nkadimeng, President of the South African Local Government Association, also representing the local authorities major group.  Serving as respondents were Arantxa Tapia, President of Regions4, which is a voluntary local review region; Penny Abeywardena, Commissioner for International Affairs at the New York City Mayor’s Office; and Kenji Kitahashi, Mayor of Kitakyushu City, Japan.

Mr. KYSLYTSYA said that States recognized cities, local authorities and communities as key drivers towards realizing the 2030 Agenda when they adopted the Political Declaration at the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Summit.  They also committed to empowering and supporting them in pursuing the Goals.  Discussions today will address how to fulfil that promise, he said, as the forum addresses voluntary local reviews on implementing the Goals submitted by local and regional governments.  Modelled after voluntary national reviews, these reports have proven to be useful for local governments, he said, adding that they foster the localization of the Goals and demonstrate their capacity and commitment towards the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. PIPA, opening the discussion, highlighted the growing numbers of voluntary local review submissions, which are feeding into national reviews and fostering dialogue among all levels of government.  Anticipating a fruitful discussion, he introduced the panellists and participants.

Ms. ROSLAN said approaches to the Goals have always been top‑down in Malaysia.  Now, efforts are being made to bring energy to the local level.  As Mayor of Subang Jaya, a voluntary local review city, she said she is making efforts to change this.  Dialogues with stakeholders are helping the Government prioritize Goals where action can be taken, she said, adding that the process of conducting a voluntary review is helping, including by identifying gaps.

Mr. VAPAAVUORI said the urban movement has supported a multitude of new cities and regions adapting the voluntary local reviews in order to become a member of a global language, where action and pragmatic steps are in the centre and where human-centric and inclusive way of delivery is a guiding principle.  However, cities are only able to do as much without a wider context, he said, pointing to the United Nations, World Bank and others that have created resources and services for local and regional localization of the Goals.  It is crucial to keep local action at the centre, he said, emphasizing that urban communities are quick-moving environments where innovations on transportation, food supply, health care and technology infrastructure are not just for city populations, but are globally relevant.  The ongoing pandemic has created new challenges for cities, and local reviews can be a powerful tool in ensuring a better recovery.  Economic, social and environmental aspects of delivery must all coexist.  Long-term sustainable results can only be achieved if all stakeholders recognize that every decision should be a 2030 Agenda decision.

Mr. GRAM, President of the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities, said local reviews are excellent case studies, which can feed into subnational reviews while revealing gaps or inconsistencies.  To transform the current system, innovation is needed, he said, adding that cities are poised to work towards finding better ways to ensure the implementation of common goals.

Ms. NKADIMENG said the issue goes beyond supporting Governments and towards transforming the system of governance to ensure local and regional authorities are able to act.  The system must be redefined to ensure the sustainability of basic services, with pandemic recovery plans built on local capacities, a concept that should extend to decision-making tables.  The full implementation of the 2030 Agenda is only possible if it led by local priorities, and if the Goals are fully incorporated into local and regional plans, policies and actions.  Two thirds of the Goals are achievable at the local level, she said, suggesting that the implementation of the New Urban Agenda can be an accelerator for realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

The number of local review submissions have climbed to 100 from 40 in the last year; subnational reviews continue to grow, with 15 total, representing over 16,000 local and regional governments and their associations, she continued.  The next step is to strengthen coordination mechanisms among spheres of government, harness their potential and commitments and include local and regional governments in voluntary national review processes.  The potential of local and regional governments in the monitoring and review of the 2030 Agenda is high, and building on it can ensure that local communities everywhere can take ownership of the global Goals.

Ms. TAPIA, serving as a respondent, said COVID-19 responses demonstrate that recovery must be rooted in equity and resilience, with regional governments being key actors to move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Progress will be possible only through effective coordination among all levels of government and institutions alongside a new governance framework.  She called on the United Nations and national Governments to promote reforms to strengthen the role and resources of local and regional authorities and to recognize subnational reviews in the forum’s deliberations.  The Regions4 brief report “Regions Voice in United Nations Reporting” highlights how voluntary subnational reviews translate efforts and progress in monitoring and reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals, and can foster cooperation.

Although subnational reviews are increasing in numbers and quality, regional governments’ engagement in national reporting is not progressing enough, she said.  Calling for an inclusive United Nations in which regional Governments are recognized as a sphere of national authorities and have a permanent seat at the decision-making table, she said the Organization’s bodies and regional commissions could further support existing networks and build on work through dedicated platforms for multi-level governance.

Ms. ABEYWARDENA said the role of cities and local governments is critical in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.  Indeed, local governments are best positioned to inform national policy on how to build back better, with voluntary local reviews being a powerful tool in the collective arsenal.  New York City had created the voluntary local review in 2018 so that, as a global city, it could have a pathway for a substantial and direct engagement with the United Nations.  While it is modeled after the national review, it is important to note that this was not an attempt to usurp Member State authority.  Rather, the local review process is an opportunity for subnational voices to take part in global conversations.  In September 2019, New York City unveiled the Declaration on the Voluntary Local Review.  With more than 200 signatories today, the Declaration’s provision include identifying how existing strategies align with the Sustainable Development Goals, providing at least one forum where stakeholders can come together to share experiences and submitting a voluntary local review to the United Nations during the high-level political forum.

Noting that some national Governments are open to subnational collaboration on achieving the Goals, she called on more Member States to embrace the opportunities and insights that the voluntary local reviews bring.  “As the global battle against COVID-19 continues, and communities look to build back better, I believe the voluntary local reviews can be a powerful tool for introspection, accountability, and most importantly, action,” she said.

Mr. KITAHASHI said that, as Mayor of Kitakyushu City, the local reviews are extremely helpful in identifying challenges and areas that need attention.  Dialogues among 1,300 stakeholders, from civil society to the private sector, are considering ways to find solutions to issues facing the city.  Citing a range of actions, he said the city is developing its own teaching material for elementary and high schools.  Working together with partners, the city is making strides, fostering resilient, sustainable achievements towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.

LEENDERT VERBEEK, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, representing 150,000 authorities, said localizing the Goals is key to realizing the 2030 Agenda.  Recognizing the importance of the local level is a start, but action is now needed, including by empowering towns and regions with autonomy, finances and support.  They also need skills and tools to implement and monitor the Sustainable Development Goals.  National associations of local and regional authorities are platforms where towns and regions learn from one another, develop tools and avoid double work.  In Germany and Italy, national associations set up portals with city-level indicators to measure the Sustainable Development Goals’ implementation.  Such tools help local Governments understand where they stand, but also what more they can do.  Their insights are also needed to inform policymaking, and they must be given a seat at the national table.

Voluntary local reviews can help adapt national policies to the reality on the ground, he said, noting that the Norwegian whole-of-government approach, which brings together local and regional authorities to participate in the national review process.  “Our message is clear:  cities, towns and regions cannot be ignored if we are serious about working towards a sustainable future,” he said.  “They need to be given the authority to act, the skills to implement and the voice to share their experience.”

When the discussion began, participants raised a range of issues, highlighting examples of best practices along with suggestions on how to build back better.

The representative of Thailand said States must empower and support local communities through measures and the application of data to unlock their potential.  For its part, Thailand’s sustainable development index collects and analyses provincial‑level data on implementing the Goals.  The database then helps to identify key issues and provinces at risk of being left behind, as well as to drive forward context-, area- and community-specific policies.  Governments must also engage provinces and local administrative organizations and encourage them to take the lead, he said.  The Nakhon Sri Thammarat municipality’s voluntary local review will highlight key sustainable development priorities, progress made and remaining challenges while serving as an example of how local communities and authorities can link their implementation to that at the national level.

The representative of the Russian Federation outlined several national efforts, including partnerships with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN‑Habitat) and multiple “smart city” initiatives.  He also cited many achievements regarding the local implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, adding that the Russian Federation has hosted international conferences on urban issues and will continue to work to make cities sustainable and pleasant to live in.

The representative of Indonesia said a multi‑stakeholder approach in his country is employed in a range of sectors, in addition to responding to the pandemic.  Ongoing efforts include the establishment of Sustainable Development Goals Centres to work with local governments on issues that affect them.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of France, Belgium and India, as well as the European Union.

Representatives of stakeholder groups and civil society also participated.

Panel 9

An afternoon panel discussion on the theme “Restoring the conditions for Sustainable Development Goals progress in African countries, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries” was chaired by Pascale Baeriswyl (Switzerland), Vice‑President of Economic and Social Council, and moderated by Courtenay Rattray, United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

It featured the following panellists:  Ali al-Dabbagh, Deputy Director General of planning at the Qatar Fund for Development; Sheila Oparaocha, Executive Director of ENERGIA International Network on Gender and Sustainable Energy; and Pa Ousman Jarju, Director of Green Climate Fund's Country Programming Division.  Serving as lead discussants were Chiagozie Udeh, Global Focal Point SDG7 Youth Constituency, and Basiru Isa, Network of Indigenous and Local Communities for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa, REPALEAC, also speaking for the indigenous peoples major group.

Respondents were Mukhtar Tileuberdi, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan and Chair of the Landlocked Developing Countries Group; Eisenhower Mkaka, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malawi and Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries; Tandi Dorji, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bhutan; Margaret Kobia, Professor and Cabinet Secretary for the Public Service and Gender Affairs of Kenya; and Michael Lodge, Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority.  Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the ESCAP, presented regional dimensions.

Ms. BAERISWYL, opening the panel, said cases of COVID-19 are currently on the rise in African countries, least developed countries and landlocked developing nations, and vaccine roll‑out has been very slow.  Of the 46 countries classified as least developed, 33 are in Africa, and half of the 32 landlocked developing countries are also located in the region.  Many of these countries have been severely affected by the global recession due to the pandemic, and many require debt relief.  Bridging the digital divide is also more important than ever, to ensure a sustainable recovery and restore conditions for progress, she said, welcoming participants to a fruitful discussion.

Ms. ALISJAHBANA, making a presentation highlighting the regions, said that, while the number of COVID-19 cases has been relatively limited in some of these countries, the socioeconomic impacts of the pandemic are significant.  They include considerable reductions in economic growth that has increased rates of poverty and exacerbated existing inequalities.  In the Asia-Pacific region’s least developed countries, an estimated 12 million people had fallen below the poverty line by 2021, earning less than $3.20 per day.  In Africa, up to 40 million people have been pushed below the poverty, earning less than $1.90 per day.  Urgent policy actions are therefore needed so that these countries can build back better and accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Highlighting three focus areas to address such challenges, she said recovery programmes must be scaled-up and support packages expanded to cover informal sector workers.  Policy actions should be directed towards enhancing connectivity, promoting border crossing facilitation, and boosting transport infrastructure expenditure.  She also emphasized the importance of the international community complementing national efforts to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.  The international community should make use of modalities such as the issuance of new special drawing rights, voluntary development cooperation funding, market mechanisms and debt swaps for sustainable development and international carbon-trading schemes to further support these countries.  The United Nations regional commissions are committed to engage with regional and subregional organizations, multilateral development banks and financial institutions, she said, adding that:  “We all must work together in raising our ambitions for realizing the SDGs, particularly for those that are currently not on track.”

Mr. RATTRAY said much has been said about the devastating effects of COVID‑19 on people’s health and livelihoods everywhere, including in Africa, where least developed countries and landlocked developing countries have seen hard-won gains reversed amid rising poverty and hunger.  These disproportionate effects are due to their well-known structural vulnerabilities.  While the global pandemic response is valued at $21 trillion, the amount provided to the least developed, landlocked developing and small island developing States remains low, at just 0.2 per cent of the overall global response.

Concrete solutions are needed, he said, suggesting a range of approaches to stop the spread of COVID-19, broaden access to vaccines and forge partnerships to ensure and maintain the smooth functioning of transit, transport and trade corridors so that faster and easier movement of essential medicines, food and trade can reach the most vulnerable.  Urging participants to focus on solutions and concrete actions, he said these can contribute to preparations ahead of the fifth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries, to be held in January 2022 in Doha, Qatar, where delegates will discuss and adopt an ambitious new programme of action will reverse the losses due to COVID-19 and accelerate reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. AL-DABBAGH said the Qatar Fund for Development can contribute meaningfully in several areas, including focusing on promoting a sustainable, inclusive, and resilient recovery while addressing the root causes of vulnerability is of utmost importance.  Investing in risk management, preparedness and resilience‑building is fundamental to ensure that countries and communities are better able to cope with future shocks.  The Qatar Fund provided sizeable intervention and rapid response assistance to more than 70 countries to prevent the spread and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, with a focus on long-term recovery.

But, it is not only about “more” finance, but also about “better” finance, meaning more effective and innovative financing, he said.  Official development assistance (ODA) is simply not enough; the donor community needs to boost efforts and tap into the potential of new, innovative partnerships that adopt new, innovative financing mechanisms to help fill these financing gaps.  One successful model is the Lives and Livelihood Fund, an innovative blended financing facility with a $2.5 billion budget that the Qatar Fund is a founding member of.  Looking ahead at the fifth Conference on the Least Developed Countries, hosted by Qatar, he anticipated that the new 10-year programme of action to be adopted will be a forward‑looking programme that adopts a holistic framework to pursue sustainable development, which will put these States at the forefront of the global development agenda.

Ms. OPARAOCHA highlighted a range of ways to address challenges facing least developed countries, which remain disproportionately affected by a lack of energy access.  Women have been severely affected as a result of long-standing inequalities.  Energy and gender must be accelerators for progress on all the Sustainable Development Goals, including by deploying efficient appliances that reduce women’s time poverty and increase their productive capacity through targeted subsidies and flexible paying schemes.  Energy access must be targeted towards transforming food systems, since women produce 60 to 80 per cent of food consumed in least developed countries, but often lack energy and equipment for irrigation and processing.  Access to energy also is essential for health‑care facilities and developing renewable sources can add 30 million jobs globally by 2030.  Under climate action, she said supporting sustainable energy in least developed countries can catalyse progress towards global climate targets, with climate finance made more accessible for the energy sector and more responsive to women’s electricity and business needs.

Cutting across all the Goals is the need for peace, justice and strong institutions to provide the foundations for successful sustainable energy programmes that are just and inclusive, she said.  Transformational partnerships will be needed to drive progress on the Goals, and Member States and the international community must come together to increase the investment, funding and innovation that support a just, inclusive energy transition.  As the world is rapidly re-imagining so many new realities in the context of the pandemic and recovery, the moment should not be missed to give new impetus to reset and put in place bold actions to transition to sustainable energy access for all and to open opportunities for women’s and men’s empowerment in the transition.

Mr. JARJU, addressing the issue of partnerships, said the Green Climate Fund recognizes that $140 billion to $300 billion is needed annually to address needs.  Stimulus packages must consider climate action in pandemic responses.  The Green Climate Fund aims at broadening access, efforts to support countries to design projects contributing to recovery and climate adaption and mitigation.  Citing projects and initiatives that are helping these and other countries, he said efforts aim at adopting financial innovations to better address a range of issues, including pandemic recovery plans along with climate-related projects.  Almost half of the 42 participating countries in one initiative are least developed nations, he said, adding that other measures consider the special needs of these States.

Lead discussants then shared their national perspectives on pressing challenges, from access to energy and COVID-19 vaccines to reducing poverty and gender inequalities.

Mr. UDEH recalled that Nigeria, a country of 200 million people, generates 7,000 megawatts of electricity, while Norway, with 6 million people, produces 38,000 megawatts.  As such, he explained that a lack of electricity drastically reduced his productivity and forced him to sleep most nights in the office or school to have electricity to work and power the Internet.  Countries must guarantee energy democracy, as it will give people equal footing in a competitive world.  Governments should not stand in the way of their people providing electricity through clean energy sources.  These unequal playing grounds are putting youth sustainable energy start-ups at risk of collapse and bullying by the big players in the sector, he said.  At the same time, most developing countries are neck-deep in debts, and increasing disasters destroy their existing infrastructure, reducing their adaptive capacity.  It is essential that developed countries offer urgent debt relief to support these countries in their recovery.

Highlighting the imbalance in climate financing of mitigation and adaptation measures, he said developed countries need to step up and meet their commitments to the $100 billion yearly Global Climate Fund.  For most developing countries, climate adaptation is an urgent need in the face of increasing and devastating climate impacts disproportionately affecting women and children, he said, adding that it is an existential threat for some already.  Wondering how the funding gap can be closed, he said climate resilience must include vulnerable people in the most vulnerable communities.  For its part, the United Nations can improve its country-level support, especially in building capacity of relevant institutions, to rapidly address these challenges in a simultaneous and very effective way.  It can also help countries in mobilizing financing and negotiating debt relief while engaging multiple stakeholders, including young people.

Mr. ISA said Africa is not on track to achieve goals set out in the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, given factors that undermine progress, including weak governance, corruption, environmental degradation, human rights violations, lack of economic diversity and humanitarian and conflict situations.  While coping with the pandemic, the African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that only 1.1 per cent of the continent’s population has had the COVID-19 vaccine as of 30 June, and with this, the situation of indigenous peoples is yet to be known.  Providing a range of recommendations to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, he said a global health response must emphasize solidarity towards developing countries and indigenous peoples in particular, guided by the notion of health as a global public good.  There should be no land grabbing and exploitation of indigenous peoples’ lands and territories in the name of economic recovery.

A major obstacle to including and the protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in Africa is that they are not recognized as a people with collective rights, he said, adding that more than 80 per cent of indigenous peoples in the continent live in rural areas.  Turning to peace and security issues, he said silencing the guns and the appeal for a global ceasefire are critical.  The pandemic response must also be conflict-sensitive and avoid generating new tensions.  In addition, an inclusive security approach should also ensure that the spike in domestic violence and harmful practices, such as child marriage and sexual abuse as a result of the pandemic, are fully addressed through preventive measures into all response planning and actions at all levels.

Respondents then shared their observations and suggestions for strategies to tackle challenges facing vulnerable countries.

Mr. TILEUBERDI, in a pre-recorded video message, said the vulnerable countries stand most exposed to the socioeconomic threats of the pandemic´s negative aftermath, with more than 80 per cent of landlocked developing countries being dependent on commodities, which account for more than 60 per cent of their total exports.  The decline in the global demand for commodities has left many in debt distress, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) finding that as global trade recovered and global exports grew by 7 per cent towards the end of 2020, landlocked developing nations’ exports continued to decline by 8 per cent.  These vulnerabilities must be considered in the design of stimulus packages, and plans must be phased out slowly to ensure full and sustainable recovery.  Recovery strategies should include a strong structural component to reduce dependence on external financial flows and global markets.  These countries need to develop more value-added, knowledge-intensive and industrialized economies, underpinned by a more competitive and efficient services sector.

Building the capacity of the private sector is equally important to achieve structural transformation, he said, noting that adequate international financial and technological assistance is instrumental for countries in special situations in building productive capacities, transport, energy and communications infrastructure.  The United Nations and its agencies have a unique set of capacities, expertise, partnering networks and the necessary infrastructure to achieve these goals, he said, pointing to the 2020 Road Map for Accelerated Implementation of the Vienna Programme, comprising more than 130 projects being implemented by more than 60 international agencies.

Mr. MKAKA said collective efforts are urgently needed to reverse the disturbing trend of losing hard-won development gains against the backdrop of the pandemic.  Efforts should promote green, resilient and inclusive development, from poverty eradication to health care.  Great efforts must also ensure that COVID-19 vaccines reach everyone.  More broadly, he said technical and financial support is needed for least developed countries to realize development goals, with strong partnerships among a range of stakeholders.  Many least developed countries were burdened before the pandemic, he said, calling for debt relief and innovative ways to address this chronic problem.  He also called for all partners to urgently fulfil their commitments.

Mr. DORJI, in a pre-recorded video message, said that, as the pandemic continues to rage with more contagious variants of the virus, the situation in the world's most vulnerable pockets — in the least developed countries and landlocked developing countries — has become very grave.  Bhutan faces the threat of a reversal of decades of hard-earned development gains which is only one wave of the pandemic, one glacial-lake outburst or one earthquake away.  This trajectory must change, with the international community committing to redouble efforts.  Priorities areas include that vaccines must become a global public good and shared equitably.  All other recovery efforts will be rendered futile without putting the pandemic to an effective end.

The forthcoming Conference on Least Developed Countries presents an opportune moment for the world to commit to help these States and truly leave no one behind.  The world must also commit to enhancing adaptive capacities and resilience against climate change through increased climate finance.  Partners must ensure that the $100 billion commitment annually for developing countries is met.  The ultimate goal of least developed countries and their people is to overcome their challenges and transit to a higher level of socioeconomic progress.  Graduation is one of the pivotal milestones, he said, warning that pre-pandemic gains are at the brink of being reversed.  Ways to incentivize graduation must be a priority.  Strengthening global partnerships that effectively address the special needs of these nations will only contribute to the cause of peace, prosperity and sustainable development for all.

Ms. KOBIA said African countries and the least developed countries appreciate the United Nations universally accepted, integrated and mutually reinforcing goals that are helpful in tracking development as a global strategy for poverty reduction.  These countries were not on track in realizing the Goals before the pandemic and now are facing a major setback to progress.  Focusing on restoring the conditions necessary for advancing the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals is central to the Governments.  The forum can help in coming up with strategies and models for a better inclusive future.

In pandemic recovery strategies, the role of effective governance is critical to strengthening institutions to deliver public services, he said.  Government systems were on trial in terms of competence, accountability, inclusiveness, participation, subsidiarity with other levels, and intergenerational equity, with citizens raising questions about exactly how inclusive health‑care systems were along with transparency of information and data, accountability for financial resources and the role of oversight especially procurement and value for money.  The use of effective governance tools and country systems hold the promise for restoring the conditions for 2030 Agenda progress in Africa and among least developed countries and landlocked developing countries.

Mr. LODGE said the International Seabed Authority remains committed to redoubling efforts to support least developed nations and landlocked developing countries to participate effectively in all aspects of its work.  The objective is to ensure ownership through informed decision-making processes that can support the development of new opportunities for socioeconomic development.  Pointing to several partnerships and opportunities, he said Norway, African Union and others are working together on the Africa Deep Sea Resources Project, which aims to build capacity and assist the continent’s States.  The Women in Deep-Sea Research Project, including a partnership with more than 10 Governments, private sector entities and regional and international organizations, aims at addressing the critical challenges female scientists face from least developed countries, landlocked developing States and small island developing nations.  The deep sea may seem remote from the immediate and urgent challenges of today, he said, but the reality is that investing today in science and technology, including the empowerment of women, is fundamental to addressing these challenges tomorrow.

In the ensuing dialogue, participants shared progress reports and concerns about challenges that remain and how best to address them.

The representative of South Africa said the pandemic has been a massive setback to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, and right now, vaccine access is critical.  Special consideration must be accorded to countries in special circumstances, as they face additional challenges that need targeted support.  Even before the pandemic, means were constrained, she said, citing areas where South Africa has contributed to efforts across the region, including the adoption of the COVID-19 Action Plan.

The representative of Portugal said innovative strategies can provide targeted support.  For its part, Portugal is working with partners in Africa, including a joint initiative with the African Development Bank on a range of projects.  During its presidency of the European Union, Portugal also led the bloc in undertaking several initiatives with African partners, promoting and reinforcing investment opportunities between both continents, with a focus on the green and digital transitions, supported by a strong human development dimension.

The representative of Morocco said these countries already faced many challenges before the pandemic, characterized by inadequate resources to address a range of issues.  A low level of economic integration and a lack of access to public aid remain barriers, she said, adding that States must help these nations to move towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Morocco prioritized South-South cooperation, which helps to improve livelihoods, and it has taken many steps, cancelling debt, delivering medical supplies and adopting, in 2014, a new migration policy.

A representative of the Stakeholder Group for Persons with Disabilities, explaining that he has albinism and works in Mali, said a human-centred approach is needed, in both recovery strategies and development plans because discrimination, poverty and exclusions persists, as do inequalities.  The Sustainable Development Goals and the Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognize the need for inclusive policies and their full implementation.

The representative of Madagascar said the international community faces a major challenge in getting vulnerable States back on track towards realizing the 2030 Agenda.  Vaccine access is a priority, she said, adding that recovery plans must consider the special needs of least developed nations.  The structural transformation of financial systems must include debt cancellations and mixed financing to support social protection systems and job creation.

The representative of Nepal said universal access to vaccines is key to safety and security for all.  Concessional financing and fulfilling ODA commitments is essential, as is debt cancellation and relief.  Going forward, he said narrowing the global infrastructure gaps must also be addressed.

The representative of the European Union, in his capacity as observer, said the bloc is contributing to the COVAX Facility to ensure vaccines reach those in need.  The European Union also works to ensure efforts reach and benefit the most vulnerable countries, he said, highlighting several ongoing initiatives, including the new European Union Global Sustainable Finance strategy to support structural measures that promote green investments.  Indeed, the potential of sustainability‑related financial instruments, including green bonds, has shown that they are a vital tool to mobilize private investors for sustainable investments, he said.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of France, Indonesia and China.

Representatives of civil society and stakeholder groups also participated.

For information media. Not an official record.