Goals of 2030 Agenda Hang in Balance as Ukraine War Causes Massive Suffering, Deputy Secretary-General Tells United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Following is the text of UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s video message to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Regional Forum for Sustainable Development 2022, in Geneva today:

His Excellency the Chair, Mr. Edil Baysalov, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Kyrgyz Republic, my colleague Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of UN Economic Commission for Europe, Excellencies,

The Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for Europe and Central Asia meets at a crucial time, when our ability to achieve the Goals we set ourselves in the 2030 Agenda hangs in the balance.  The war in Ukraine is causing human suffering on a massive scale.  Over 4 million refugees from Ukraine have fled to neighbouring countries and more than 6 million are internally displaced, with figures rising every day.

This is the worst refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.  It is affecting this region at its heart, but the ramifications are global.  Across the world, supply chains have been disrupted.  The prices of food, energy, transport and other essential supplies have skyrocketed.  We now face the real risk of growing hunger on an unprecedented scale.  The scale of the challenges is enormous.  But we cannot give up on our vision of a better future for all.  At this moment, the world will be looking at the discussions at this Forum, hoping for solutions.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was never going to be easy.  It is even more difficult now.  But it is still possible.  Implementing the SDGs will require policy choices aligned with the 2030 Agenda, a priority focus on keeping 1.5°C alive, and a clear emphasis on leaving no one behind.  In these challenging times, the Secretary-General’s report on Our Common Agenda provides focus and opportunities to chart an ambitious path forward.  I want to highlight four priorities to help inform our discussions this week.

First, we must protect our sustainable development agenda as the region seeks a pathway for peace.  If anything, the ongoing crisis demands even more focus on super-charging just and sustainable energy, food and digital transitions to advance the SDGs.  The energy transition was well under way in the region before the conflict.  We need to keep our focus, to ensure we keep the pace and raise our ambition.  Instead of the required 45 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, emissions are projected to increase by almost 14 per cent this decade.

The current energy shock resulting from the conflict must be an accelerator of the energy transition in Europe and elsewhere — pushing us to ramp up renewable energy production.  Building on the progress achieved in Glasgow, major economies must do much more to lead the way.  And the next climate conference — COP27 in Egypt — is the moment for countries across this region to deliver on their commitments.

Building a just transition includes more sustainable and resilient food systems.  This is even more urgent in light of the global impact of the conflict on food security.  All nations should cease unjustified trade restrictions and export bans, provide safety nets to the poorest and most vulnerable people, and ensure that farmers, especially smallholders, have access to fertilizers.

We must build on the momentum created by the UN Food Systems Summit to support National Food Systems Transformation Pathways.  We must also advance digital connectivity.  We have seen great advances across the region in harnessing the potential of digital tools in education, work and health.  But here, too, there are large gaps within and between countries.  For instance, in the Balkans, nearly half of all households lack computer access at home, whilst about one third lack fixed broadband internet connections.  If not addressed, these inequalities risk compounding existing inequality, pushing countries in the region further behind and deepening the digital divide.  In this regard, the European Digital Strategy is an important initiative to drive greater digitalization, reduce the cost of access and to ensure no one is left behind.

Second, we must build resilience against the pandemic.  Vaccination campaigns have helped contain the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region.  Yet the average 62 per cent vaccination rate masks high regional disparities; in Kyrgyzstan, for example, only 17 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, well below the regional average.  Vaccine inequity is a moral outrage — and a danger to us all.  But even if the targets are met, vaccines alone are not enough.  The pandemic must mark a watershed moment to ensure universal health coverage and build more resilient public health and surveillance systems.

Third, we need to tackle inequality across the region and invest in people.  Investing in women, young people, people with disabilities, as well as refugees and migrants is an imperative.  One in five individuals in the region experience multidimensional poverty.  And with historic numbers of refugees, we need urgent action to move away from an exaggerated focus on GDP (gross domestic product).

Last week, the High-Level Panel on the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index started its work, with a view to finalizing it by August 2022.  The multidimensional vulnerability index will be a crucial input to rethink criteria for concessional financing.  Moreover, our proposal for a Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection can provide critical support to these efforts.

I encourage all Member States in the region to join the High Ambition Coalition and support the work of the Accelerator.  These actions need to go hand in hand with actions to achieve progress towards gender equality, in line with the transformative recommendations the Secretary-General set out in Our Common Agenda.

Fourth, and finally, we must recover the huge learning losses of the pandemic and reinvent the future of education.  Today, education systems across the world are being challenged.  The region has well-equipped schools and qualified teachers.  But achievement gaps between disadvantaged and wealthy students are significant — and differences across countries remain profound.

Conventional education systems are struggling to prepare learners for our rapidly changing world.  That is why the Secretary-General is convening a summit on transforming education this September.  We count on the active participation of Governments and leaders of the Europe and Central Asia region in the preparation of the Summit.

Excellencies, yesterday, I participated in the meeting of the Regional Collaborative Platform — our mechanism bringing together all UN regional directors in the Europe and Central Asia region.  We adopted an ambitious workplan and concrete deliverables to support countries across the region.

By working together and with greater transparency, UN entities at the regional level have marshalled UN assets in an unprecedented way, providing more integrated support to countries pursuing their sustainable development objectives.

Excellencies, at this pivotal moment, we need your engagement in support of the Sustainable Development Goals and your leadership to keep our 1.5°C goal alive.  We are aware that challenges at this point look insurmountable.  The future may look gloomy.  But I know that working together we can — and we will — continue to build a future of peace, dignity and prosperity for all.

Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.