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Secretary-General, at Economic and Social Council Forum, Spells Out Priority Areas for Urgent Action in Response to, Recovery from COVID-19

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the opening of the 2021 Economic and Social Council Forum on Financing for Development, in New York today:

Financing for Development in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic means an unprecedented effort to mobilize resources and political will.  Since the pandemic began one year ago, no element of our multilateral response has gone as it should.

More than 3 million people have lost their lives.  Some 120 million people have fallen back into extreme poverty, while the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs have been lost.  We have seen the worst recession in 90 years.  And the crisis is far from over.  Indeed, the speed of infections is now even increasing.

We need to heed the lessons now if we are to reverse these dangerous trends, prevent successive waves of infection, avoid a lengthy global recession and get back on track to fulfil the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  Unity and solidarity will save lives and prevent communities and economies from falling into catastrophic debt and dysfunction.

Advancing an equitable global response and recovery from the pandemic is putting multilateralism to the test.  So far, it is a test we have failed.  The vaccination effort is one example.  Just 10 countries across the world account for around 75 per cent of global vaccinations.  Many countries have yet to start vaccinating their health-care workers and most vulnerable citizens.  A global vaccine gap threatens everyone’s health and well-being.  The virus is dangerous everywhere if it spreads unchecked anywhere.  And global value chains do not function if one link is broken.

Some estimates put the global cost of unequal access and vaccine hoarding at more than $9 trillion.  The same lack of solidarity means that some countries have mobilized relief packages worth trillions of dollars, while many developing countries face insurmountable debt burdens that will put the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) completely out of reach if not corrected.

Even in 2019, before the pandemic, 25 countries spent more on debt service than on education, health, and social protection combined.  Now, many Governments face an impossible choice between servicing debt or saving lives.  But in reality, there is just one choice:  to take action to avert a global debt crisis.

Inequalities are also growing within countries, as women and girls and the most vulnerable groups have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.  Nearly 170 million children around the world have been out of school for a year.  We face a global education crisis with a devastating long-term impact on individuals and their communities, which could contribute to inequality across the generations.

We are here today to set the course for an equitable, sustainable and resilient response and recovery from COVID-19.  I call for urgent action in six areas.

First, vaccines must be available to all countries in need.  We must close the funding gap of the COVAX facility.  To end the pandemic for good, we need equitable access to vaccines for everyone, everywhere.

Second, we must reverse the fall in concessional financing, including in middle-income countries.  Development assistance is needed more than ever, and I urge donors and international institutions to step up.  I welcome recent calls, including from the International Monetary and Finance Committee (IMFC) last week, for a large issuance of special drawing rights (SDRs) and a reallocation to countries in need.  And that must indeed be a fact.

Third, we must make sure funds go where they are needed most.  Latest reports indicate that there has been a $5 trillion surge in the wealth of the world’s richest in the past year.  I urge Governments to consider a solidarity or wealth tax on those who have profited during the pandemic, to reduce extreme inequalities.

Fourth, we must address the debt crisis with debt suspension, relief, and liquidity provided for countries that need it.  The G20’s support for an extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI) to the end of this year is welcome; but I urge a further extension into 2022.

Both the DSSI and the G20’s Common Framework should be expanded to include all countries in need and also including middle-income countries.  I am greatly encouraged by the IMFC’s call to support also middle-income countries that are in need and that are home to more than 60 per cent of the world’s poor.

New mechanisms can make use of debt swaps, buy-backs and cancellations.  But we need to go beyond debt relief.  The meeting of Heads of State and Government on the international debt architecture and liquidity we hosted with the Prime Ministers of Jamaica and Canada two weeks ago showed strong support for much bolder measures.

We urgently need to strengthen the international debt architecture to end the deadly cycles of debt waves, global debt crises and lost decades.  This starts with a time-bound, open dialogue with all stakeholders to build trust and transparency.  We need an inclusive approach that encompasses private creditors and tackles long-standing weaknesses and gaps.

Fifth, we must invest in people.  We need a new social contract, based on solidarity and investments in education, decent and green jobs, social protection, and health systems.  This is the foundation for sustainable and inclusive development.

Sixth, we need to relaunch economies in a sustainable and equitable manner, consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.  The latest report by the United Nations Environment Programme showed that just 2.5 per cent of recovery spending has positive, green characteristics.

We are missing a once-in-a-generation opportunity for bold, creative solutions that will strengthen the response and recovery, while accelerating progress across the entire 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.  The COVID-19 pandemic is our most immediate challenge.  But we cannot ignore the other significant fragilities it has highlighted.

Climate change increasingly threatens the future of people and planet.  We urgently need to implement policies and set targets and timelines to cut greenhouse gases to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 — including mandatory climate disclosures and switching fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy.

We face a major finance gap, and I repeat my call for the $100 billion commitment made a decade ago to be delivered each year and from now, immediately.  At the same time, we need a just transition that supports communities affected by this change.

For many countries across the globe, particularly small island developing States and least developed countries, the effects of climate change are a deadly reality already.  I urge all developed countries to increase their share of climate finance allocated to adaptation and resilience to 50 per cent of the total and the same to international financial institutions and national development banks.

Consumers and investors are demanding sustainable business and investment.  We need a paradigm shift that aligns the private sector with the SDGs.  To address the challenges of the future, including those revealed by COVID-19, we need an enormous push at the highest political level.

I urge everyone here today to participate.  This Forum must provide ambition and momentum, to finance a resilient, inclusive, equitable and sustainable future for all.

Thank you and I wish you the best success in the Forum.

For information media. Not an official record.