The dramatic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, have laid bare “weaknesses in our systems and societies”, a top official told the UN’s key international forum on sustainable development which began on Tuesday, warning that “a new dynamic” is needed to overcome the negative shocks.
“The COVID-19 pandemic, while primarily a health crisis, also quickly became the worst human and economic crisis in decades”, Mona Juul, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), told the inaugural meeting of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development, which will run until 16 July.
“It has exacerbated the already difficult situation for millions of people living in poverty”, she added.
Under the auspices of ECOSOC, the HLPF aims to chart a clearer path for countries to trigger a better recovery, share experiences and fend off challenges in pursuing the Global Goals, while sharing strategies to tackle the pandemic and help countries meet their commitments by 2030.
In the face of the current crisis, “meaningful progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could not be more urgent”, Ms. Juul said, urging the meeting to be “a springboard for greater solidarity and cooperation”.
Pointing to the “remarkably ambitious” 2030 Agenda, and the “strong global framework for financing its implementation”, the ECOSOC chief called the UN “a powerhouse of world-changing ideas and global coordination”.
In closing, she encouraged the participants to “show the world” that we can rebuild better as we move forward by inspiring actions to improve lives.
“We need all hands on deck to get this work done”, concluded Ms. Juul.
SDG more urgent than ever
Introducing the Secretary-General’s progress report on the SDGs, Liu Zhenmin, UN chief for economic and social affairs, pointed out that the development goals are “all the more urgent” as the world confronts this “crisis of historic proportion”.
“A truly transformative recovery from COVID-19 must be pursued”, he said. “One that reduces the risk of future crises and equips us to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change”, he added.
Against the backdrop of the UN’s 75th anniversary, Mr. Liu maintained that responding to the pandemic requires “a surge in international cooperation, solidarity and multilateralism”.
Long road ahead
While demonstrating the implications of COVID-19 on the SDGs, the progress report reveals that the world is coming up short.
Before the pandemic, some strides and key targets had been achieved, such as the availability of mains electricity to more than a billion more people between 2010 and 2018, as well as a decline in global maternity mortality by 38 per cent.
However these gains were met with stalled or reversed progress in other areas, including a rise in the number of people suffering from food insecurity and inequality, along with the knowledge that climate change is occurring even faster than anticipated – 2019 was the second warmest year on record and concluded the warmest decade since records began.
“Our discussions today aim to firmly place the #2030Agenda at the heart of the recovery from the #COVID19 pandemic, as the guidepost to #BuildBackBetter,” says UN DESA head Liu Zhenmin at the opening of the #HLPF ➡️https://t.co/w6cBdOJaIS #SDGs pic.twitter.com/UeTqli34SA— UN DESA (@UNDESA) July 7, 2020
Amidst COVID-19, the global community finds itself confronting “parallel threats linked to health, economic and social crises [that] have crippled countries and left us at a standstill”, Mr. Liu stated.
“As of the beginning of July, the death toll has reached to over 500,000 and continuing to climb, with almost no country spared”, he added.
The effects of the pandemic have overwhelmed health systems globally; caused businesses and factories to shut down; kept 1.6 billion students out of school; disrupted global value chains and the supply of products; and is expected to push 71 million back into extreme poverty.
The poorest and the most vulnerable, are being affected disproportionately, with women and children bearing the heaviest brunt.
The crisis has significantly affected the livelihoods of 1.6 billion informal sector workers, equaling half of the global workforce, exacerbating the vulnerability of one billion slum dwellers and disrupted lifesaving interventions.
It has also triggered a surge in domestic violence against women and children.
Indicating drops in world trade by 13 to 32 per cent, foreign direct investment by up to 40 per cent, and remittances to low- and middle-income countries by 20 per cent in 2020, Mr. Liu noted that “even developed countries are struggling to cope”.
Required: Global solidarity
The report underscores the urgent need for global solidarity and cooperation.
Mr. Liu supported the Secretary-General’s call for a coordinated, comprehensive multilateral response amounting to at least 10 per cent of the world’s GDP, along with his push for measures that give developing countries the financial firepower needed to weather the storm.
'“Overcoming the crisis and getting back on track to achieve the SDGs will require leadership, foresight, innovation, finance and collaboration among all governments and all stakeholders”, Mr. Liu stressed. “In the coming days, we must fully use the potential of the HLPF to catalyze global action”.