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More Debt Relief, Energy Transition Key for Combating Food, Climate, Finance Crises, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Economic Cooperation and Development Organization

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the meeting of the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Council on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in New York and held virtually today:

Thank you for the invitation to open this important meeting of the OECD Council on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The COVID-19 pandemic, now in its third year, presents one of the greatest global challenges in the history of the United Nations.  Over 6 million people have lost their lives, and still the pandemic continues to violently derail progress made in achieving the 2030 Agenda, while over 100 million additional people were pushed into extreme poverty in 2020, dramatically reversing a two‑decade‑long decreasing trend.

Slow progress towards gender equality has been pushed back as women take on disproportionately large shares of the added burden of unpaid care that comes from families forced to stay at home.

The war in Ukraine is now having a severe impact on a world economy already battered by the pandemic, and the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.  It is creating a perfect storm of crisis on three fronts simultaneously:  food, energy and finance.  Developing countries are set to suffer most, and I will speak more about this later.

The COVID-19 pandemic was an x-ray that highlighted gaps and inequalities in our social and economic systems.  Unless we tackle these, we can only expect future challenges and shocks to have even worse impacts.  I would like to set out four key lessons.

First, the pandemic underscored just how deep and intertwined the inequalities in our societies are, and how much these damage our preparedness and resilience.  Resilience requires equity.  Yet, social protection systems that are essential to help families and communities get through the pandemic cover less than half the world’s population.  Less than half the world has access to the Internet — an important tool to communicate life‑saving information.  In both cases, women and girls are the majority of those left behind.

Unequal access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments are undoubtedly prolonging the pandemic.  We are still short of some $15 billion in funding for the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator, the global mechanism to ensure equitable access to vaccines, tests and treatment for those most at risk in developing countries.  Greater equity in health, social protection and Internet access are essential tools for a more resilient world.  As part of the recovery, all countries must accelerate the universal provision of quality essential services, including health care, education and basic income security.

The second lesson of the pandemic is that we must reverse course on the degradation of nature.  COVID-19, a zoonotic disease, is emblematic of our broken relationship with the planet.  And the global pandemic is just a foretaste of the disruption to the global economy set to be caused by the climate crisis.  There is no time to lose.  Commitments to carbon neutrality must translate into concrete actions — now.  A just energy transition will help keep global warming within the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5°C, create green jobs and put national economies on a safer path towards energy security.

Agriculture and food systems must be part of this transition — as was demonstrated at the United Nations Food Systems Summit last year.  There can no longer be separate conversations about food systems, climate, health and nutrition, energy, oceans and biodiversity.  These issues are intrinsically linked and framed within the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The third lesson is that we must address our broken financial system, which is failing to support developing countries in the recovery from the pandemic.  Many developing countries face far higher borrowing costs than developed economies.  In 2020, 59 developing countries spent more on external debt payments than on public health care.  To rescue the SDGs, we will need to accelerate implementation on all fronts, including by massively scaling up financing.  Although official development assistance (ODA) rose to its highest level in 2021, it is not enough to make up for skyrocketing food and energy prices, and debt‑servicing payments.

To prevent a large-scale debt crisis, the Secretary-General and I are calling for the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to be extended for at least two years, and for the Common Framework for Debt Treatment to be dramatically improved, among other deep reforms.

The fourth lesson I would like to highlight is that we must leverage science and technology to innovate our way out of the pandemic.  We need to address gaps in capacity and skills across countries and populations and share the fruits of innovation so that all can benefit.  This will be at the centre of discussions at the seventh Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation to be held at the United Nations next month.

All these lessons are essential to a strong recovery that gets countries back on track towards the SDGs.  But, many developing economies are now facing a new and devastating body blow, as a result of the war in Ukraine.  The United Nations Global Crisis Response Group has found that at least 107 developing economies, home to 1.7 billion people, are exposed to at least one of the three crises:  food, energy and finance.  Sixty-nine countries, or 1.2 billion people, are severely exposed to all three.

The Global Crisis Response Group has set out recommendations to help millions of people to weather the looming crisis, and I urge you to give them your consideration.

It is vital to ensure a steady flow of food and energy through open markets, by lifting unnecessary export restrictions and directing surpluses and strategic reserves to those in need.  The disruption to energy markets makes it even more important to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.

On finance, we must pull developing countries back from the brink of default and disaster.  Developed countries and international financial institutions must mobilize existing instruments and use them with flexibility to increase liquidity and fiscal space that is much needed.  Exposed countries should not be forced to choose between investing in their people and servicing their debt.

Our shared fragility has never been more visible or more acute.  Unless urgent action is taken to accelerate the achievement of the SDGs, we could face decades of growing inequality and economic turmoil, with serious consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable in all countries.  The COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of the war in Ukraine are global crises that require unity, solidarity and renewed multilateral cooperation.  The high-level political forum on sustainable development, to be held in New York in July, will be an important moment to demonstrate commitment to these values.

We must seize the opportunity to rescue the SDGs and save developing economies from decades of underinvestment and stagnation.  I urge all OECD countries to act now in solidarity with a sense of a scale of the investments that need to be made and the urgency so that we may have justice for the most vulnerable in countries around the world.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.