Rescuing Sustainable Development Goals More Important Than Ever, Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council, Stressing ‘This Is No Time for Complacency’

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Economic and Social Council segment on operational activities for development, in New York today:

In a world in crisis, rescuing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is more important than ever.  And I mean what I said.  When we see most of the SDGs moving backwards by the accumulation of crises we are facing, to rescue them must be our highest common priority.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the loss of some 15 million lives.  It pushed about 100 million people into poverty in 2020 alone.  And it has set back human development, especially women’s rights, by a full generation.  The pandemic demanded a united response based on solidarity between developed and developing countries — but that did not happen.

Developed countries invested trillions in their own recovery.  Developing countries have been left to fend for themselves, in a global financial system that favours the richest and punishes the poorest.  It is no wonder, therefore, that whereas 72 per cent of people in high-income countries received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, just 17 per cent of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated.

Many developing countries are now dealing with the health and socioeconomic impact of the pandemic, the unequal recovery, the effects of the climate crisis and the economic shock to food, fuel and financial markets caused by the war in Ukraine.  We are facing a development emergency of global proportions.  Governments and people are looking to the United Nations for support through these difficult times.

At the same time, we have hope.  The 2030 Agenda remains our clearest pathway forward.  Over the past three years, thanks to your support, the United Nations development system has been transformed and is better prepared to respond to countries’ needs and priorities, including helping them to overcome these multiple crises.

Independent sources and evaluations in my report on the [quadrennial comprehensive policy review] point to the same conclusion:  the new generation of United Nations country teams is already greater than the sum of its parts.  Over 95 per cent of Governments in countries where we have programmes said United Nations country teams are more integrated and collaborative — up from 80 per cent in 2019.

Nearly 90 per cent of Governments recognize resident coordinators’ leadership in delivering strategic support to national plans and priorities.  Over 92 per cent of Governments confirmed that the United Nations responded effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.  More than 80 per cent of Governments said they had benefitted from policy advice on climate action.  UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] supported 120 countries to formulate and revise their nationally determined contributions and national adaptation plans ahead of COP26 [twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Glasgow.

Our efforts to strengthen multi-country offices and provide more tailored support to small island developing States have achieved encouraging results.  Nearly 85 per cent of [small island developing States’] Governments consider United Nations country teams to be aligned with their national needs.  Over $195 million in efficiency gains were generated in 2021 — an increase of 53 per cent since 2020.  We are also strengthening transparency and accountability, making more systematic use of data and independent evaluations in our reports.

These are just a few examples that demonstrate palpable progress.  I am grateful for your trust and positive feedback on our reforms.  But, this is no time for complacency.  The world is on fire, and so far, international cooperation has not delivered for those who need it most.  We have no alternative but to keep pushing our limits and stepping up our efforts.

The benefits of the development reforms must turn into results, at an unprecedented scale, to rescue the Sustainable Development Goals.  Scaling up will require a shift in our approach — because no agency can deliver this alone.  We can only mobilize the required level of investments if we combine our United Nations assets to support the transitions needed in food systems, energy and digital connectivity and others.

Resident coordinators will play a key role in enabling the United Nations development system to contribute to these transitions, while expanding access to social protection and decent jobs for all.  These transitions are our entry points for wide-ranging solutions across the entire 2030 Agenda.

Rescuing the SDGs means rescuing developing economies around the world.  International financial institutions and multilateral development banks should increase the provision of immediate liquidity to these countries and expand fiscal space by allocating more financing in the form of grants and concessional loans.  Over the long term, we need a complete overhaul of our global financial system.

The recommendations in my report on Our Common Agenda include a New Global Deal to ensure power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly, so countries can invest in their people.  Proposed biennial summits, convening United Nations Member States with the G20 and international financial institutions, will be a forum for more inclusive governance of the global economy, essential reforms to end the systemic inequalities of the global financial system, and accelerated financing [of] the SDGs.

The modalities that determine country credit ratings and access to financing often put developing countries at a disadvantage relative to developed countries, and this must change.  Our Common Agenda calls for all forms of public and private finance to be aligned with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement.

The Food Systems Summit and the Food Systems Coordination Hub in Rome are steps towards preventing major increases in global hunger and achieving SDG 2.  The Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection is aimed at a massive expansion of social protection and the creation of decent jobs in the care, digital and green economies and others.

Within United Nations country teams, I see five areas for urgent attention if we are to deliver on these high expectations.

First, we need to ensure our teams have the specific skills, expertise and configuration to support countries’ transitions in energy, food systems and digital connectivity, and other strategic areas.  Through the reform, we have already seen how specialized expertise — from the regional economic commissions and specialized agencies alike — can lift our contributions to jointly agreed priorities.

Second, we need to make the most of the resident coordinator’s convening role by helping Governments to expand and improve partnerships, know-how, financing and development solutions.

Third, we must change our approach to collaboration where humanitarian, development and security challenges interact if we are to achieve the SDGs.  After 20 years of discussion, this is still not happening on the ground at the scale that is needed.  It is not about blurring mandates or resources; it is about ensuring that our assets are deployed coherently to support countries on their sustainable development priorities.

Fourth, we must continue to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our business operations, to make every dollar count.

Finally, we need to strengthen collaboration at the regional level to bring the full breadth of regional expertise to support resident coordinators and country teams — one of the most complex elements of development system reform.

None of this can be achieved without adequate, predictable and sustainable funding to the United Nations development system.  This is indispensable to build incentives for collective work and integration.

Member States and entities have made progress in achieving the Funding Compact.  But, this is not sufficient for the fundamental changes that are required.  We need full delivery on the Funding Compact commitments.  In order to achieve this, we need all partners to align their funding so that we can provide integrated support to advance the Sustainable Development Goals.

This includes pooling humanitarian and development funding.  I was encouraged by your commitment to ensure that the $281 million budget for the resident coordinator system would be fully funded.  However, at $215 million, funding continues to fall short.

I will continue to take all measures within my power to ensure a fully funded coordination system for development and will monitor the funding model for the next year.  If necessary, I will revert with my previous recommendations for the consideration of Member States.

I welcome the General Assembly’s recent reconfirmation of the [Economic and Social Council] operational activities segment as the accountability platform for the United Nations development system, the resident coordinator system and United Nations system-wide performance.

Our Common Agenda also calls for Member States to consider bringing the governance bodies and funding of development agencies into closer alignment, and I encourage further discussions on this.  I am pleased to see that Governments are increasingly satisfied with the support offered by the United Nations development system.

We are now much closer to our shared reform objectives.  But, the multiple crises facing the world raise the bar even higher.  We know the solutions, and we are ready to scale up to meet the expectations of Member States.

The years ahead will demand much stronger leadership and ambition at all levels.  We must rise higher to rescue the SDGs — and stay true to our promise of a world of peace, dignity and prosperity on a healthy planet.

For information media. Not an official record.