World backsliding on Sustainable Development Goals, Secretary-General tells ECOSOC, lamenting ‘fundamental lack of solidarity’ – World

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SG/SM/21196
MARCH 22, 2022

Here are the remarks of the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) as part of the follow-up to the report entitled Our common programin New York today:

I thank the President of ECOSOC for convening this discussion on the follow-up to my report on Our common program. Indeed, as has been demonstrated by your speech, Mr President, there are many Our common program directly related to the work of this House.

And my thanks to Member States for the rich and substantial engagement with the ideas in the report, during the General Assembly and the five thematic consultations, and in meetings since then.

Our world is suffering from the impact of unprecedented emergencies caused by the climate crisis, pollution, desertification and biodiversity loss, the COVID-19 pandemic, by new and ongoing conflicts, and by the uncontrolled development of new technologies.

The COVID-19 crisis has shone a spotlight on international cooperation and exposed huge gaps, ranging from vaccine inequality to lack of financial solidarity. Developing countries are struggling to recover – with record inflation, rising interest rates, looming debt burdens and exponential increases in the cost of financing.

The war in Ukraine is now driving up the prices of food, fuel and fertilizers, and our UN agencies are warning of hunger on an unprecedented scale. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) world food price index is at its highest level ever recorded. And according to the World Food Program (WFP), in the past three years, the number of people on the brink of starvation has increased by 17 million.

Clearly, we are going in the wrong direction. The report on Our common program aims to tackle these interrelated crises head-on, so that we can salvage the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), and I think salvage is the right word. We are falling behind on the majority of the Sustainable Development Goals because of the circumstances I have mentioned and because of a fundamental lack of solidarity in the world today and in the mechanisms relevant to the global economy and the global financial system. We need to save the SDGs and get them back on track.

Your contribution through the consultations organized by the President of the General Assembly has provided important information to shape the way forward. There are several areas where I gained strong support from the discussions, able to consider moving forward with more detailed discussions. Let me give you an overview.

First, my report on Our common program calls for a New Global Deal to ensure a wider sharing of power, wealth and opportunity, so that countries can invest in their people. This is fundamental to enable the creation of a renewed social contract, based on rights and opportunities for all, which is essential to fight poverty and hunger and to rebuild trust and social cohesion.

I welcome the recognition by Member States that more than ever, developing countries need to invest in poverty reduction, digital connectivity, the fight against hunger, the provision of quality education, the expansion of social protection, job creation and the transition to renewable energies. But they are currently blocked, by a global financial system designed by the rich and powerful, for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

Your support for the ideas of Our common program means that we can now move forward, in full transparency and in consultation with the Member States. The report proposes biennial summits that will bring together UN Member States with the G20 and international financial institutions under the auspices of the United Nations, to accelerate ways to finance the implementation of the SDGs and improve governance global economy.

We heard broad support during the consultation for an inclusive process and we will work towards the first summit before the end of this year. These summits will provide a forum to consider reforms aimed at ending systemic injustices and inequalities in the global financial system. Reforms should include a thorough review of credit rating agencies and the issuance of special drawing rights, as well as the creation of an operational framework for debt relief and restructuring.

Many Member States reaffirmed the importance and urgency of this programme. We also heard broad support to move forward on the proposal to develop new measures to complement gross domestic product, an area of ​​great interest to ECOSOC, which takes into account our climate, our environment and huge swaths of economic activity that are currently invisible. Work is ongoing in the Chief Executives Board and we aim to present a concrete proposal in due course. We are aware of your belief that new measures should build on existing indices, including the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index.

Secondly, my report on Our common program is a booster shot to achieve the SDGs, despite the ground lost during the pandemic. Member States have recognized that the pandemic has left already vulnerable people even further behind. Some 100 million more people have been pushed into extreme poverty. More than 160 million people have been added to those suffering from hunger.

We are experiencing the worst jobs crisis since the Great Depression, with hundreds of millions of people unemployed or underemployed, mostly in developing countries. With a failing global financial system for the countries of the South, the growing divergence between developed and developing countries becomes systemic. The overwhelming message from our consultations was that it is time to change course; and that Our common program offers a way to tackle this crisis head on and boost the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

I am pleased to report that we have already taken some steps to implement the recommendations within our jurisdiction. The Food Systems Summit and the creation of the Food Systems Coordination Center in Rome are the first steps towards preventing the major increases in global hunger that have been projected and achieving SDG 2 and the zero hunger goal. The Global Jobs and Social Protection Accelerator aims for a massive expansion of social protection and the creation of decent jobs in the care, digital and green economies.

Taken together, these proposals can advance SDGs 1, 3 and 8. I welcome the strong support expressed in this regard during the consultations and invite all Member States to join the proposed High Level Coalition of Member States to ensure the achievement of this objective.

We are moving forward with the Transforming Education Summit, encouraged by your support during the consultations and your strong participation in the recent briefings organized by the Deputy Secretary-General. We launched the Paris Summit preparatory process at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) last week, and I welcome the continued engagement of Member States. In particular, I encourage your support for national dialogues to move us forward towards inclusive, equitable and quality education for all, in line with SDG 4. The Under-Secretary-General and my Special Adviser for the Transforming Education Summit will be at your service.

The proposed World Social Summit in 2025 would be an intergovernmental process to build momentum and coordinate action towards the achievement of the SDGs and take stock of efforts to renew the social contract. The United Nations system has recorded your support for this process. We are ready to prepare a proposal on the potential scope and modalities of the Summit for further consideration and decision by Member States.

Third — my report on Our common program accelerates work on gender equality and youth inclusion, to put the world on track to achieve SDG 5 by 2030. Thirty years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, we need a radical change in our approach. The support for this emerged very clearly from the consultations, as well as your commitment to the five transformative recommendations for achieving gender equality set out in Our common program.

Going forward, I have asked the Deputy Secretary-General to take the lead in reviewing the capacity of the United Nations system on gender equality, and with the support of UN-Women and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), and to ensure that gender equality is at the heart of everything we do, with clear indicators of success.

Among the many recommendations on young people, Our common program proposes the creation of a Youth Office within the United Nations Secretariat. I welcome the statement of Member States’ support for this proposal. Creating a specialized youth-focused capacity would make the entire United Nations system much more accountable for delivering services to young people and would give the work of my Envoy on Youth a stronger financial footing. I am ready to work with Member States to bring this proposal to life as soon as possible. I have also taken note of the call of the General Assembly to take into account the needs of the elderly in addition to the needs of the young.

Many of the proposals contained in my report, including the new agenda for peace, the global digital pact, the protocols around an emergency platform, a declaration on future generations and a proposed code of conduct for integrity of public information, could end up at the level proposed intergovernmental summit of the future in 2023. One of the outcomes of this summit could be a pact for the future agreed by member states, energizing the 2030 agenda, l Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Ultimately, the modalities and outcomes of the Summit are in the hands of Member States. We stand ready to support the President of the General Assembly and all Member States in the weeks ahead as you determine the best way forward.

Our common program is now in your hands. It goes without saying that the United Nations — at all levels — remains an organization of Member States. The inclusive and networked multilateralism we need is precisely aimed at providing Member States with the expertise, knowledge and ambition of civil society, the private sector, local and regional authorities, etc.

Broadening the concept of multilateralism is essential to enrich our discussions and decision-making processes. As an intergovernmental platform to advance sustainable development and the SDGs, ECOSOC is uniquely placed to advise on how best to take Our common program cheeky. I look forward to our discussions, your ideas, your suggestions and your proposals today. I am convinced that once again we will take the necessary decisions to move forward together.

Thank you for your continued trust and leadership.

For news media. Not an official record.

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