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2022 Voluntary National Reviews Provide ‘Stark Illustration of Setbacks Wrought’ by COVID-19, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Forum on Sustainable Development

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, on key messages from the voluntary national reviews at the Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum on sustainable development, in New York today:

This year marks the seventh year of voluntary national review presentations.  The 44 countries presenting this year will bring the total number that have presented to 187 — meaning that we have achieved almost universal reporting.  I commend everyone involved on this achievement.

This year’s reviews provide a stark illustration of the setbacks wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic; the outbreak and continuation of conflicts; and the ongoing triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.  They speak to the serious impact of the pandemic on education, health care, gender equality and the economy.

For many countries, the pandemic exacerbated issues of poverty, unemployment, unsustainable debt, widening inequalities and inflation.  At the household level, many families saw their incomes reduced.  Countries with large service sectors and those that depend heavily on tourism or oil exports suffered most.

Voluntary national reviews also highlight the pressing challenges of food insecurity and climate change.  Some countries reported an increase in droughts and floods, a reduction in biodiversity, erratic rainfall trends, and locust swarms that have decimated crop yields and affected the livelihoods of rural communities.

Across all countries, women, young people and children were the most vulnerable.  Some countries reported a rise in early marriage and dramatic increases in gender-based violence.  Many women, especially mothers, left the labour market during the pandemic as the care burden escalated.  Many young people the world over now face even greater challenges in accessing education, training and jobs, with increasing levels of anxiety and related mental health issues.

But, the voluntary national reviews this year also offer hope.  Countries implemented innovative solutions and policies to “build back better”.  Cash‑transfer programmes, debt moratoriums for businesses, national resilience plans and Government stimulus packages have brought critical relief.

In partnership with the private sector, countries invested in domestic vaccine production, and provided vaccines to refugees both within and outside their borders.

The voluntary national reviews report successful advances and examples of progress in areas including agriculture, diversified education services, social protection programmes, expansion of the digital economy, tax-base optimization and legislation to counter domestic violence.

Above all, the voluntary national reviews demonstrate the incredible value of the Sustainable Development Goals in holding Governments, development partners, United Nations agencies, and other stakeholders — all of us — accountable for achieving sustainable development.  They signal countries’ unwavering commitment to sustainable development in the face of ongoing and new crises.

With most countries reporting this year for the second time, the voluntary national reviews reflect on the progress and steps taken to close gaps identified in the first review.

Sustainable Development Goal targets are increasingly integrated into national policies and plans for a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  This will help to propel the structural transformations and climate related transitions needed in energy, food systems and digital connectivity, and to strengthen institutions and governance to deliver sustainable development.

The voluntary national review process in itself deepens and reinforces the value of convening stakeholders in shaping countries’ road maps towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

The formation of committees and councils to monitor policies aimed at achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and national reporting platforms to track targets and indicators, for example, have improved the accessibility of data and increased engagement.  With some countries conducting voluntary local reviews linked to their voluntary national reviews, the vital role of subnational action in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals is also becoming better understood and nurtured.  Mayors, governors and practitioners are fully engaged.

We are near the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda.  We have made progress.  But, I think it is fair to say that this is not the “halfway there” world that we imagined in 2015.

The multiple crises we are experiencing are a wake-up call for the much‑needed, often‑absent solidarity.  I believe we can turn them into an opportunity.  The key lies in the required transitions in renewable energy, food systems and digital connectivity — and in investment in human capital, financing the opportunities.

These transitions must be purposefully designed to increase economic growth, employment and equality, open in order to keep our 2030 Agenda promise to leave no one behind.

The Sustainable Development Goals Moment during the General Assembly in September this year will be an opportunity to focus on these deep transitions, and on the work needed to get us back on track.  It will also be an important milestone on the way to the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit.

We look forward with great anticipation to hearing the voluntary national review presentations next week in an in-person format — for the first time in three years.  I am deeply grateful to all who have made the journey to be here today and to our teams in countries and here in New York.  On behalf of us all, I am pleased to say to everyone in the United Nations family:  “Welcome home.”  Let’s get to work.

For information media. Not an official record.