Far-Reaching Document Provides ‘Beacon of Hope’ amid Monumental Challenges, Economic and Social Council President Says, Noting Global Solidarity on Vaccine Access
The high-level political forum on sustainable development adopted a far‑reaching Ministerial Declaration reflecting Member States’ commitments to gather together in a global push to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and build back better through inclusive, green recovery plans.
The unanimously adopted Ministerial Declaration is a “beacon of hope” at a time when the world faces monumental challenges, the Economic and Social Council President said, as it concluded the high-level segment of its 2021 session.
The political forum, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, is tasked with reviewing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The session, held from 6 to 16 July, is focused on the 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”.
In adopting the 50‑paragraph Ministerial Declaration (document E/2021/L.26-E/HLPF/2021/L.2), the forum committed to a range of ways States and the international community can help to advance pandemic recovery, while, at the same time, boost progress towards realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. By its terms, the forum recognized that the crisis caused by the pandemic has laid bare and exacerbated the world’s vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries, accentuated systemic weaknesses, challenges and risks and threatens to halt or damage progress made in realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.
By the Declaration’s terms, the forum expressed deep concern that the global goal of eradicating poverty by 2030 is slipping from reach and recognized that the multidimensional impact of the pandemic has exacerbated it, increasing the number of poor by up to 124 million, causing the extreme poverty rate to rise for the first time in a generation. It also called on States to commit to a number of actions, including to rapidly scale up and expand vaccine production globally and to promote public engagement and innovative partnerships through a whole-of-Government approach, regional and local mobilization and actions, and meaningful participation and involvement of communities, people, civil society, volunteers, academia and the private sector.
Noting with concern that none of the biodiversity-related targets with a 2020 timeline have been met, the forum, through the Declaration, urged parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity to accelerate action in pursuing the three objectives of the treaty and called for increased ambition and urgency of action to protect wildlife and other living species and reversing the trends in environmental degradation. It pledged to continue to strengthen the science‑policy interface through evidence-based policymaking, support for research and development, particularly harnessing science, technology and innovation, promoting voluntary technology transfer on mutually agreed terms, and leveraging technologies to promote inclusive digital economy and connectivity and build resilience across sectors.
Forum members, by terms of the Declaration, committed to enhancing and promoting digital capacity-building, infrastructure, connectivity and technical assistance initiatives, as well as innovation and technology. They also committed to pursuing multilateral solutions guided by global solidarity in responding to the pandemic and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals, including by enhancing global equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics by all countries and peoples.
In closing remarks, Munir Akram (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, highlighted concerns and messages of hope. While the pandemic continues to have an impact on the world, especially developing countries, he said there was a loud and clear call during the political forum for global solidarity. In addition, broad agreement was reached that ensuring equitable, universal and affordable access to the vaccine is a moral imperative, the only way to overcome the pandemic and a condition for a resilient and sustainable world recovery.
Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, emphasized that there cannot be a recovery from the pandemic without international solidarity and cooperation, including through climate finance and financing for development. “Let us not forget also that, for many developing countries, the pandemic is still raging, people are still dying at unacceptably high levels and economies are in dire straits,” she said, stressing the need to extend support to these countries. “With political leadership, solidarity and unity of purpose, we can end the pandemic, secure major improvements in people’s lives between now and 2030, and keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda.”
The Economic and Social Council will meet again at 10 a.m. on Friday, 16 July, to conclude its high-level segment.
Action on Ministerial Declaration
The high-level political forum first adopted its provisional agenda (document E/HLPF/2021/1) and then turned to the draft “Ministerial declaration of the high-level segment of the 2021 session of the Economic and Social Council and the 2021 high-level political forum on sustainable development”, convened under the auspices of the Council, on the 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” (document E/2021/L.26–E/HLPF/2021/L.2)
The representative of the Russian Federation then introduced three amendments, on paragraphs 20, 25 and 36. Concerned by one-sided attempts to address the pandemic, with top billing given to the fight against climate change. This implies that Member States are ready to address climate issues instead of providing immediate support for their citizens, who remain in a vulnerable situation during the pandemic. The climate agenda is part of general efforts in the recovery, hence the Russian Federation is proposing modest changes, he said, outlining the proposed amendments.
In paragraph 20, he proposed the insertion the words “including climate‑responsive, and” after “We urge countries to institute sustainable” and the deletion of the words “and climate‑responsive” so that the sentence would read: “We urge countries to institute sustainable including climate-responsive, and inclusive and climate‑responsive economic recovery policies from the COVID-19 crisis as an important element of a sustainable growth strategy and an immediate investment into a climate-resilient, inclusive and just transitions while in line with countries' national circumstances needs and priorities”.
Turning to paragraph 25, he said gender mainstreaming must occur alongside national strategies unique to each State. As the paragraph would have the forum reaffirm its commitment to achieving gender equality, the empowerment of all women and girls and the full realization of their human rights, he proposed the deletion of, among other things, the phrase “and the full realization of the human rights of all women and girls”. On paragraph 36, he said conserving biological diversity is for discussions in specialized platforms. As such, he proposed the deletion of the following sentence: “In this regard, we note that incentives, including subsidies, harmful to biodiversity are to be eliminated, phased out or reformed in order to minimize or avoid negative impacts, and positive incentives for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity are to be developed and applied, consistent and in harmony with the Convention and other relevant international obligations, taking into account national socioeconomic conditions.”
Explaining her delegation’s position before the vote, the representative of Slovenia said the amendment proposed for paragraph 20 aims at reducing the importance of a climate-responsive recovery and urged Member States to vote against the proposed amendment.
The representative of Norway, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, regretted to note that, after weeks of discussions, consensus has been broken with proposed amendments. Disappointed at the proposal to remove long-standing agreed language on violence against women and girls, she said the pandemic recovery must respect human rights. As such, she urged all delegations to support the rights of all women and girls and to vote against the proposal to change paragraph 25.
The representative of the United Kingdom, speaking on behalf of the European Union and a group of countries, said proposed amendments to paragraph 36 on biodiversity are not acceptable. As such, he urged Member States to vote against the amendment.
By a recorded vote of 130 against to 7 in favour (Armenia, Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia), with 3 abstentions (Angola, Cambodia, Madagascar), the forum rejected a draft amendment to paragraph 20 (document E/HLPF/2021/CRP.1).
The forum then rejected, by a recorded vote of 130 against to 4 in favour (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia), with 3 abstentions (Angola, Cambodia, Madagascar), a draft amendment to paragraph 25 (document E/HLPF/2021/CRP.2).
By a recorded vote of 131 against to 3 in favour (Belarus, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia), with 4 abstentions (Angola, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Madagascar) abstentions, the forum rejected a draft amendment to paragraph 36 (document E/HLPF/2021/CRP.3).
The representative of Israel, stating that clear distinction must be drawn between promoting development and politics, called for a vote on paragraph 29 and invited delegations to delete the paragraph.
The paragraph was retained by a recorded vote of 98 in favour to 4 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, United States), with 40 abstentions.
The forum then proceeded to adopt the Declaration as a whole without a vote.
The representative of Guinea, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed regret that some delegations broke silence on the text. The Group joined consensus considering the importance of the Ministerial Declaration to developing countries. The international community must address the needs of developing countries, including those in special situations. The Group was disappointed that language on unilateral coercive measures was not included.
The representative of Slovenia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, regretted to note that amendments were proposed on paragraphs that contain agreed language. The European Union remains committed to respect for all human rights, including reproductive health and rights. Raising several other concerns, she said the pandemic demonstrates that the world must build back better, and in this regard, she had hoped to see a more ambitious text that considers all three dimensions of sustainable development. In addition, several issues raised by European Union members during negotiations did not make it into the final text, she said, adding that the language in the text does not reflect existing commitments to health, climate change and biodiversity loss. The Ministerial Declaration should have been a strong, bold statement, she said, but it does not contain strong enough language about, among other things, biodiversity.
The representative of Canada, also speaking for Australia and New Zealand, said now is the time for full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and not the time to be editing the Goals and targets. While voicing support for promoting gender‑responsive national efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic, he expressed disappointment that the Ministerial Declaration fails to acknowledge the widely recognized negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the setbacks on gender equality and sexual and gender-based violence, including harmful practices. He also expressed disappointment that the Declaration does not have a clear mention of the “One Health” approach. It is disheartening that a vote has been called on paragraph 20 on climate change.
An observer for the Holy See welcomed the inclusion of elements, such as poverty eradication, being a global challenge, but raised several reservations. Language on children’s rights should be considered within the context of the family, and their engagement with promoting the 2030 Agenda should be promoted recognizing the role of their parents. The Holy See also has reservations on the following three terms: sexual and reproductive health, of which abortion is not a dimension; family planning; and gender and its derivatives.
The representative of Hungary said her delegation had reservations regarding migration-related language. Migration has no positive impact on inclusive growth and development. Achieving long-lasting sustainable development is only possible if all aspects of the root causes of migration are tackled appropriately. As such, Hungary dissociates itself from paragraph 31 and from the migration-related parts of paragraphs 17, 18 and 24.
The representative of the United States expressed regrets that the “One Health” approach to pandemic preparedness and the elimination of the worst forms of child labor have been omitted. Language on sustainable infrastructure, global supply chains and sustainable water management has been presented in an unbalanced or inaccurate fashion. The Ministerial Declaration fails to recognize the source of some human rights, including the right to food and the right to safe drinking water and sanitation. He also rejected attempts to characterize language concerning: trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights flexibilities under the World Trade Organization (WTO); emergency trade measures; trade finance and trade facilitation measures; intellectual property and the transfer of technology; and debt treatment under the Debt Service Suspension Initiative. His delegation voted against including paragraph 35 of the 2030 Agenda in the Declaration, as it represents an attempt to politicize the Forum’s work.
The representative of Mexico welcomed the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration, but hoped for stronger language on intellectual property towards speedier production and equitable distribution of vaccines as a global public good. His delegation wished to see the inclusion of the “One Health” approach to prevent future pandemics and rejected attempts to weaken commitment to protecting the human rights of vulnerable populations.
The representative of the Russian Federation said his delegation supported the adoption of the Ministerial Declaration, but regretted that proposed amendments were rejected. This showed some delegations were not interested in finding consensus. His delegation therefore disassociates it from paragraphs 20, 25 and 36. Provisions in paragraph 34 are only binding to State parties to the protocols cited.
The representative of the United Kingdom stressed the need to empower peoples and countries in special situations listed in the 2030 Agenda. Breaking silence on the draft text incrementally undermines the 2030 Agenda. He also expressed regret over a lack of transparency to the last-minute change made in paragraph 8. He hopes to see a more action-oriented Ministerial Declaration next year, instead of just an 18-page document with page-long paragraphs adopted.
The representative of Turkey commended provisions recognizing the vital importance of access to such services as vaccines and social protection systems. She underlined the importance of these and other elements in shaping recovery plans to address the pandemic and work towards realizing the 2030 Agenda, which remains the world’s guide.
The representative of Iraq, recalling that negotiations had taken four months, said the Ministerial Declaration and its unanimous adoption reflects a global solidarity towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and recovering from the pandemic.
The representative of Guatemala disassociated his delegation from paragraph 8, as it considers the use of international waters as the subject of the State Parties to international treaties.
The representative of Switzerland said the Ministerial Declaration is a strong statement, but his delegation had several reservations. On paragraph 42, Switzerland seeks action to broaden access to vaccines. On paragraph 44, Switzerland believes that any effort to address fiscal issues must be based on international consensus. He regretted to note the last-minute changes made to paragraph 8 regarding target 6.5 on water resource management, and said that Switzerland also regrets to note that concerns raised about reproductive rights were not included in the final document.
The representative of the Republic of Korea, citing paragraphs 20 and 36 on climate and biodiversity respectively, said his Government firmly believes that a sustainable, inclusive, and climate-responsive recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic is not just an option, but an imperative. On paragraph 25 on gender, he said achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls is not only a goal, but essential to the realization of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals. The reference to Goal 6’s target 5 contained in paragraph 8 is not consistent with the agreed language of the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of Israel disassociated her delegation from paragraph 29.
The representatives of Iran, Ethiopia and Ukraine also made statements.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, summarized activities over the course of the high-level political forum and areas where action is needed most to ensure that the world stays on track to recover from the pandemic and realize the Sustainable Development Goals. Highlighting concerns and messages of hope, he said the pandemic is continuing unabated in too many countries, especially developing countries, which lack fiscal resources for their health and socioeconomic response. The pandemic continues to impact achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. But, there was a loud and clear call for global solidarity, he said, adding that broad agreement was reached that ensuring equitable, universal and affordable access to the vaccine is a moral imperative, the only way to overcome the pandemic and a condition for a resilient and sustainable world recovery. In this regard, he said, the Ministerial Declaration just adopted without a vote is a beacon of hope.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, during the eight solid days of deliberations and reflection, nine Sustainable Development Goals were reviewed in depth. The outcomes of 42 voluntary national reviews were presented and discussed, with a series of side events engaging the full range of partners across the sustainable development ecosystem. Many speakers highlighted the innovation of policymakers and the courage and resilience of communities during the pandemic. One frequent observation was that some of the changes put in place to respond to the pandemic can provide a foundation for progress on the global Goals. “We heard loud and clear that there cannot be a recovery from the pandemic without international solidarity and cooperation, including through climate finance and financing for development,” she said, expressing the commitment of the United Nations development system to fully support these endeavours.
Decisions made over the next six months, at the Food System Summit, the High-Level Dialogue on Energy, the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, can put the world back on track to fulfil the promise of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change. “Let us not forget also, that, for many developing countries, the pandemic is still raging, people are still dying at unacceptably high levels and economies are in dire straits,” she said, stressing the need to extend support to these countries. “With political leadership, solidarity and unity of purpose, we can end the pandemic, secure major improvements in people’s lives between now and 2030, and keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda,” she emphasized.