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As COVID-19 Reveals Widespread Inequality, Joint Action Is Key to Preserve Development Gains, Secretary-General Warns at Economic and Social Council Integration Segment

All stakeholders must work together to prevent a reversal of decades of progress on development goals during these unprecedented times that require deep reflection and strong action, the Secretary-General said at the Economic and Social Council’s integration segment, held on 7 July via videoconference due to restrictions at United Nations Headquarters related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

António Guterres, delivering the keynote address in a video, said that six months since the onset of the novel coronavirus, the pandemic is laying bare widespread and pervasive structural inequalities, reversing decades of progress on poverty and hunger and placing even greater obstacles on the pathway to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Indeed, the impact often affects the most vulnerable.  For its part, the United Nations has mobilized on all fronts to protect lives and ease the economic fallout, starting with the World Health Organization’s coordination of the health response.

Citing achievements ranging from shipping medical goods and personal protective equipment to over 130 countries to helping more than 150 million children access education, he said the United Nations has also called for massive global support for the most vulnerable people and countries.  In addition, it has supported research and development for an affordable, accessible people’s vaccine and convened the biggest gathering of world leaders since the start of the pandemic to sharpen and expedite global action.

Looking forward, he said, the Organization is leading efforts towards more resilient, inclusive and sustainable economies and societies.  Returning to the frameworks and systems that gave rise to this crisis is unthinkable, he stressed, adding that in the face of fragility, leaders of all kinds need to be humble and recognize the vital importance of unity and solidarity, within and beyond the United Nations family.  The new structures and capacities established as part of the reform of the United Nations development system are strengthening the Organization’s coordination and its ability to act quickly with greater unity and impact.

He said the Economic and Social Council and its subsidiary bodies have also responded quickly, including with this segment, and can play a key role in ensuring that the response to COVID-19 stays true to the promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  As Chair of the United Nations Chief Executives Board, he expressed his determination that the United Nations system will be the focus of a coherent, people-centred recovery shaped by human rights.

“We must work together more closely than ever before,” he said, “in a networked, inclusive and effective multilateralism that links the whole United Nations system with regional organizations, international financial institutions, civil society, businesses, cities, regions and others.”  As the world faces enormously complex and interdependent challenges, all stakeholders — Governments, civil society, the private sector and development partners — must expedite joint global action to ensure everyone recovers better from the crisis and delivers on the promise of the 2030 Agenda.

Chaired by Mher Margaryan (Armenia), Council Vice-President, the 2020 integration segment’s theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways:  realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”, focused on shared responsibility to recover better from COVID-19.  Touching on these issues, the segment included two sessions, on “Getting back on track for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” and on ““Leaving no one behind in the context of COVID-19 and the decade of action and delivery”.

Mr. Margaryan, in his opening remarks, said the integration segment programme was scaled down to reflect current realities and brings together the expertise and analysis of the Council and the broader United Nations systems.  The pandemic’s implications have already gone beyond the health sector, affecting all Sustainable Development Goals.  Realizing the Decade of Action, as envisioned in the Political Declaration of the 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Summit, will depend on policy choices made today and the resolve to act in solidarity, he said, adding that:  “We need immediate collective action to respond to the devastating socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic.”

Using the 2030 Agenda and its 17 goals as a guide to recovery, he recalled the priority areas identified in the 2019 Political Declaration and underlined the importance of exploring ways to unleash the transformative potential of the Agenda through the six entry points identified in the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report.  They are:  human well-being and capabilities; sustainable and just economies; food systems and nutrition patterns; energy decarbonization with universal access; urban and peri-urban development; and global environmental commons.

On this basis, he said, the integration segment will explore integrated solutions and actions for preparedness, response and recovery in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Discussions will also help to prepare the thematic reviews of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, to be held 7 to 16 July, and provide messages from the Economic and Social Council that will help to increase the coherence and coordination of its subsidiary bodies and the United Nations system.

Simona Petrova, Secretary of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, shared its recent activities to address the COVID-19 crisis and presented its annual overview report.  Recognizing that the extraordinary global challenges brought by the pandemic call for extraordinary unity in purpose and action, the United Nations family has come together to support Member States in saving lives, controlling transmission of the virus and easing the economic fallout.  The Board, as a unique high-level forum, a strategic policy space and a driver of integration and coherence, is playing a catalytic role in mobilizing the capacities, political will and resources required to respond decisively to this crisis, while remaining committed to the steadfast implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Summarizing the Board’s 2019 activities, she said its agenda focused on several forward-looking initiatives that have taken on added significance in light of the need to support a sustainable post-pandemic recovery.  Among them are interconnected frontier issues aimed at providing analysis of future awareness and enhancing the United Nations family’s ability to proactively address complex, rapidly changing and unpredictable challenges.  Results included an integrated set of system-wide approaches and reflections on the future of work, food, education and learning alongside support to capacity development in the field of artificial intelligence.  But, due to the pandemic, in many ways, “the future of” has become “the reality of”, she said, noting that in just over 100 days, the world has witnessed accelerated trends in almost all aspects of life, advancing profound impacts on employment, education and digitization that otherwise might have taken years to materialize.

She said the “future of” approaches, developed through the Board’s High-Level Committee on Programmes, have laid a solid foundation for joint action to build back better and accelerate action to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.  To fulfil these objectives, the United Nations system must make a cohesive, impactful contribution towards reducing inequalities, even more so as the pandemic has revealed and exacerbated pre-existing vulnerabilities.  The High-Level Committee on Programmes set up an inequalities task team, and the Board adopted a road map for innovating United Nations data and statistics and a set of standards for reporting financial data — the “system-wide data cube”.  At a 14 May virtual meeting, she said, the Secretary-General called on Board members to support countries by extending sound policy advice, ensuring policy coherence and setting clear parameters for an employment-led and people-centred recovery, while he also highlighted the benefits of inclusive multilateralism, drawing on the indispensable contributions of civil society, business, academia, cities, regions and, in particular, giving greater weight to the voices of youth.

The pandemic has also challenged the United Nations system itself to fast-track new ways of working, she said.  As the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, the High-Level Committee on Management mobilized its networks on human resources, technology, procurement, finance and budget to support business continuity across the United Nations system, and it is now leading a coordinated return to its offices.  Its task force on the future of the United Nations system workforce is rethinking how leadership, work culture and technology can better serve as enablers for more agility and adaptability.  The Committee on Management is also engaged in a series of discussions on fostering innovation in the United Nations system’s operational and management practices and on enhancing entities’ innovation capacities to better support Member States.  These efforts are guided by the Secretary-General’s encouragement to think “outside of the box”, lean forward and look at innovative solutions that address immediate needs and resilience, inclusivity and sustainability.

The Council also held a session on “Getting back on track for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals”, which featured the following panelists:  Christian Braun, Chair of the Commission on Population and Development and Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations; Guy Ryder, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Qu Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and Achim Steiner, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Lead discussants were Kairat Umarov, Chair of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries and Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, and Kira Christianne Danganan Azucena, Chair of the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries and Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations.

The session on “Leaving no one behind in the context of COVID-19 and the decade of action and delivery” featured the following panelists:  Khojesta Fana Ebrahimkhel, Vice-Chair of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice and Permanent Representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations and other International and Regional Organizations in Vienna; José Antonio Ocampo, Chairperson of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy; Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa; and Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director for Resource Management, Sustainability and Partnerships and Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women).

Lead discussants were Lois Michele Young, Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States and Permanent Representative of Belize to the United Nations, and Perks Master Clemency Ligoya, Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries and Permanent Representative of Malawi to the United Nations.

Delivering closing remarks for the integration segment, Mr. Margaryan thanked participants for their invaluable recommendations and solutions for integrated policies that can help countries recover better from COVID-19 and get back on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Encouraged and inspired by their vision for “new and better normal” post-COVID-19 era, he said he would share the recommendations at the forthcoming High-Level Political Forum on sustainable development.

While countries are at different stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and are facing specific challenges and priorities in recovering and getting back on track, he said, the message is clear:  the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change must remain the world’s guiding frameworks.  Emphasizing that the integration segment continued to be an important platform for amplifying key messages and solutions from the Council’s functional commissions, expert bodies and the broader United Nations system, he said:  “We must strengthen and guide their collaboration and coordination to realize the Decade of Action and delivery for sustainable development.”

Also delivering closing remarks was Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

For information media. Not an official record.