Transformative Policies Key to Advancing COVID-19 Recovery, Sustainable Development, Experts Stress as Economic and Social Council Coordination Segment Begins
Amid Reversal of Hard-Won Development Gains, Business as Usual Not an Option, Council Vice President Warns, Urging Bolstered Action to Protect People, Planet
Convening its second-ever Coordination Segment, the Economic and Social Council today heard from experts and delegates alike on recovering from the COVID‑19 pandemic and realizing the Sustainable Development Goals as it identified several transformative policy recommendations to that end.
Held under the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the COVID‑19 pandemic and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”, the Coordination Segment was created in 2021 by the General Assembly to serve as a key platform for the Council to deliver on its Charter mandate to coordinate the United Nations system on economic, social, health, environmental and related areas. Replacing the Council’s Integration Segment and informal meeting with the chairs of its subsidiary bodies, the Coordination Segment enables the Council to provide forward-looking policy guidance which inspires and directs that organ’s work.
Arrmanatha Christiawan Nasir (Indonesia), Council Vice-President and Chair of the Coordination Segment, pointed out that this year’s segment is occurring during a watershed moment against the backdrop of unprecedented circumstances and multiple crises in a world weakened by a pandemic of historic proportion. Protracted conflicts and the war in Ukraine have worsened looming food, energy, financial and economic crises; years of hard-won development gains and progress have been reversed; and poverty and hunger have increased. For the first time on record, the global Human Development Index has declined two years in a row, reversing hard-won development gains, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected global growth to fall from 3.4 per cent in 2022 to 2.9 per cent in 2023.
Yet the Council cannot be pessimistic and carry on with business as usual in the face of such challenges, he said. The situation’s gravity demands it to revitalize, energize and galvanize the international community. As implementing the Global Goals must be the utmost priority, the Council must turn the tide and deliver on making a real difference in the lives of people on the ground and around the world. The Sustainable Development Goal Summit in September 2023 is the judgement day for this commitment to global development, he asserted, underlining the Council’s capacity to create transformative action and urging all to make the most of this segment for the good of humanity.
2023 will be a demanding and significant year, Council President Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria) echoed as she reported on that organ’s Partnership Forum, which was held on 31 January. Strong political commitment and international cooperation are needed, especially since the Sustainable Development Goals are at a real risk of failure, she noted. As such, the current uncertain, crises-ridden world calls for more broad-based, transparent, inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships that effectively engage a diversity of stakeholders beyond national Governments and leave no one behind. Among other things, she urged the international community to close capital, capacity, data and development opportunity gaps through a revitalized global partnership.
As the Coordination Segment has demonstrated the Council’s ability to deliver on its key role as a central coordination mechanism, she encouraged all to identify transformative policies and actions which advance the 2030 Agenda and leave no one behind.
“Let us work together to make 2023 the year we truly unleash the power of multilateralism towards a sustainable future for all”, added Guy Ryder, Under-Secretary-General for Policy. Speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, he spotlighted the Organization’s efforts to protect people and their livelihoods, such as initiatives to scale up COVID‑19 recovery and the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance working to protect the most vulnerable from the impacts of the war in Ukraine.
Throughout the day, the Council hosted four panel discussions which highlighted the Council’s work, addressed key interlinkages between the Global Goals and was followed by interactive exchanges with Member States calling attention to certain concerns, elaborating on experiences and sharing suggestions. A panel on the theme “Addressing the crises, building resilience and achieving the SDGs through risk-informed policies” explored how the Council’s subsidiary bodies and United Nations entities are supporting such efforts as Member States stressed the importance of ensuring that vaccines are a global public good, of addressing debt relief and the root causes of crises and of enhancing assistance to the most vulnerable.
A second panel on the theme “Transformative policies for accelerating progress towards SDG6 on clean water and sanitation” focused on gender equality, resources management, water mainstreaming and early warning systems, with two Member States notably calling for the establishment of a United Nations Special Envoy on water in the ensuing interactive dialogue.
Delegates and experts continued exchanging experiences and suggestions during the afternoon’s two panels, which were respectively titled “Energy access and energy transition” and “Digital transformation for health and food security”.
The Economic and Social Council will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 2 February, to continue its Coordination Segment, featuring presentations by its regional commissions, functional commissions and expert bodies as well as a panel discussion on “The Way Forward: Transformative Policies and Actions”.
ARRMANATHA CHRISTIAWAN NASIR (Indonesia), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council and Chair of the Coordination Segment, pointed out this year’s segment is taking place at a watershed moment against the backdrop of unprecedented circumstances and multiple crises affecting a world already weakened by a pandemic of historic proportion. Protracted conflicts and the war in Ukraine have worsened looming food, energy, financial and economic crises; years of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals have been reversed; and poverty and hunger have increased, he detailed. For the first time on record, the global Human Development Index has declined two years in a row, reversing hard won development gains, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected global growth to fall from 3.4 per cent in 2022 to 2.9 per cent in 2023. Despite these challenges, the Council cannot be pessimistic. It must be ready to leave its comfort zone and carry out its work beyond business as usual, he emphasized, underscoring that the situation’s gravity requires it to revitalize, energize and galvanize the international community, to work in solidarity and take concrete action.
The Council’s efforts to realize the vision of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and implement the Global Goals must be its utmost priority, he continued. As the Sustainable Development Goal Summit in September 2023 is a judgement day for this commitment to global development, the Council must help make that moment into one which turns the tide and shifts the world onto a path to overcome crises and achieve the Global Goals. There must be concrete actions that make a real difference to the life of people on the ground around the world, he emphasized, calling for funding for development and the Global Goals to supersede funding for conflict. “The ECOSOC system’s work is a critical instrument at the disposal of Member States to create transformative action towards the Goals,” he said.
Turning to today’s meetings, he shared that the Council will hear from the Chairs of its functional commissions and expert bodies, Executive Secretaries of the regional commissions and heads of United Nations system entities on their respective work in implementing the 2030 Agenda. They will share proposals for transformative policies and initiatives to accelerate implementation as well as examples when they worked together to build on synergies among the Global Goals and overcome trade-offs. He then voiced his hope that the transformative policies and initiatives identified will be presented to the high-level political forum in an annex to the President’s summary and will contribute to the Summit in September as well as other major events in 2023. Encouraging all to take a critical look at the findings and recommendations before the Council, learn from national policies and ask the system to explore new areas or strengthen cooperation, he urged all to make the most of this segment for the good of humanity.
LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, emphasized that 2023 will be a demanding and significant year for that organ as it continues to be challenged by multiple and interlocking crises around the world with its work, segments and forums paving the way to the high-level political forum on sustainable development in July and the Sustainable Development Goal Summit in September. The Council’s Partnership Forum, which was held on 31 January, was an important first steppingstone to rally stakeholders and other actors in this journey, she said.
Reporting on that Forum, she pointed out the repeated calls for stronger political commitment and international cooperation given that the Sustainable Development Goals are at a real risk of failure. The current uncertain, crises-ridden world calls for more broad-based, transparent, inclusive multi-stakeholder partnerships that effectively engage a diversity of stakeholders beyond national Governments and leave no one behind. Many, she continued, called for robust, goal-responsive global partnerships to drive sustainable recovery and development. With civil society as key allies in advocating for those left furthest behind, there must be full engagement with all stakeholders, including local and regional governments as front-line responders; academia and the scientific community through effective policy interfaces; and a broader range of businesses through business models responsive to the Global Goals. Youth should also be meaningfully engaged in decision-making processes.
To that end, the international community must close capital, capacity, data and development opportunity gaps through a revitalized global partnership, she said, while noting the renewed sense of urgency for more capacity-building support to enable meaningful participation, especially for least developing countries. Those who are left the furthest behind are often the ones with the weakest capacities to engage and partner effectively, she underscored. As an enabling environment which provides ample civic spaces for all stakeholders and promotes tailored approaches to partnerships is a prerequisite for such participation, the litmus test for a successful Summit will be effective and inclusive multi-stakeholder engagement that builds lasting momentum in support of sustainable development.
The Coordination Segment has demonstrated the Council’s ability to deliver on its key role as a central mechanism for the coordination of the Organization’s development system to ensure coherence in implementing the 2030 Agenda, she praised. She encouraged all to work together to identify transformative policies and actions to advance that Agenda with a focus on leaving no one behind.
GUY RYDER, Under-Secretary-General for Policy, speaking on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and addressing the Council in his new capacity for the first time, pointed to the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance that protects the most vulnerable from the impacts of the war in Ukraine. To scale up the recovery from COVID-19, several initiatives are now in full implementation mode: the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions, the Transforming Education Summit and the Youth Office. The Secretary-General has called for early warning systems to protect people and livelihoods from hazards, especially those resulting from climate change. This year, the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September will be a key moment to refocus the transformative plan for action. Other high-level events in 2023 will offer opportunities to harness the interlinkages among the Global Goals, optimize approaches and reinforce cooperation at all levels to accelerate key transitions at the half-way mark of the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals Summit will open pathways to the 2024 Summit of the Future, which are complementary to the “Our Common Agenda” proposal. “Let us work together to make 2023 the year we truly unleash the power of multilateralism towards a sustainable future for all,” he declared.
Panel Discussion I
The Council then held a panel discussion on the theme “Addressing the crises, building resilience and achieving the SDGs through risk-informed policies”, featuring the following speakers: Paloma Merodio Gomez, Vice-President of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico and Co-Chair of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management at its twelfth session; Gilbert F. Houngbo, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO); Ed Mountfield, Vice President for Operations Policy and Country Services, World Bank Group; Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and Coordinator of United Nations Regional Commissions; and Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Ms. MERODIO GOMEZ cited the importance of geospatial information in the fight and recovery from COVID-19. She noted that the Council adopted resolution 2022/24 in July, reiterating the importance of strengthening and enhancing the effectiveness of the Committee of Experts, particularly for the achievement of its operations focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Integrated Geospatial Information Framework to ensure its continued benefits to all Member States. That multi-dimensional Framework assists countries in improving their informed Government decision-making processes to address poverty reduction, food security, climate change, disasters, energy sources, secure land and property rights, the blue economy, resilient supply chains, sustainable health, human rights, education and biodiversity loss. All those crucial fields of attention, she said, have a common key element: location.
She affirmed that the Roadmap is a key communication tool providing practical actions for countries to use geospatial information, Earth observations, and other geospatially integrated data sources to produce, measure, monitor and disseminate the Global Goals. The Committee of Experts has continued to support the Statistical Commission in promoting the Geospatial Roadmap through recent capacity-development workshops in Burundi, Kyrgyzstan and Rwanda. She stressed that geospatial information is needed to get the 2030 Agenda back on track and build resilience to crises yet to come. Geospatial information is at the heart of informing sustainable local, national, and global decisions, and Member States must ensure that the Committee is adequately resourced, so it can enhance active support for Council mandates by bridging the geospatial digital divide to build a more sustainable, resilient future that leaves no one behind.
Mr. HOUNGBO, speaking via videoconference, cited the COVID-19 pandemic’s far-reaching global impacts, which hit particularly hard for the 4 billion people worldwide with no access to social protection. In the wake of the pandemic, the cost of guaranteeing at least basic income security and health care access for all has increased by at least 30 per cent, all against the backdrop of falling revenue due to lower trade and growth. “These compounding challenges are putting in jeopardy the achievement of the [Sustainable Development Goals] and threaten to erase years of progress,” he stressed, noting that the International Labour Organization (ILO) is responding alongside United Nations partners by, among other things, launching the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions in September 2021. That bold initiative aims to help countries create 400 million decent jobs and extend social protection coverage to those currently excluded. In addition, he said, momentum is growing in the social solidarity economy, through which enterprises and organizations engage in economic, social and environmental activities — based on the principles of voluntary cooperation and mutual aid — to serve the collective interest.
Mr. MOUNTFIELD, pointing out that crisis response and long-term development are increasingly inseparable, said the World Bank Group is balancing its focus through a holistic approach to address short- and long-term needs. This approach, he noted, is anchored on the Bank’s Global Crisis Response Framework, its emergency programme to navigate multiple overlapping crises with scale, speed and impact. In the 15-month period up to June 2023, the Bank is deploying $170 billion in financing — 70 per cent of which has already been committed and is on track to be delivered in full — to support countries in addressing food insecurity, social protection, refugee flows, health preparedness and climate crises. Spotlighting the Bank’s work, he shared that its framework consists of four interrelated pillars: responding to food insecurity through immediate crisis response to provide urgent support and avoid long-term derailments of development prospects; protecting people and preserving jobs to help mitigate medium- to long-term impacts of compounding crises; strengthening resilience and enhancing crisis preparedness; and strengthening policies, institutions and investments to improve long-term development outcomes. None of these efforts are enough as the world must do more, he said, noting that the Bank is asking its shareholders to support its efforts to further scale up its work and is developing a road map to further address challenges. On collaboration with the Organization, he highlighted a number of partnerships with United Nations agencies, its specialized technical expertise to them and the joint work in fragile countries and high-risk environments.
Ms. ALISJAHBANA shared that the five regional commissions have proposed innovative policy operations, provided platforms for dialogue and promoted regional partnerships to support Member States on the development of national and regional solutions to current crises. She spotlighted their efforts to build resilience through the development of risk-informed policies with regional cooperation as the building block of global solutions, which included a joint policy brief on food security launched by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). As accelerated industrialization and economic diversification are key to addressing the crises in Africa, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) supported regional frameworks through the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), as the co-Chair of the issue-based coalition on the environment and climate change, has provided extensive country-level advisory services on minimizing air pollution, improving water management, preventing industrial accidents and assessing environmental impacts, she continued. The Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) facilitated interregional cooperation on transboundary issues by working with ECE, the League of Arab States, the World Bank Group and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on water governance and shared water resources management. For its part, ESCAP has provided technical assistance to countries to build their resilience to future risks, enhanced preparedness for future crises and accelerated decarbonization. Building resilience against climate shocks is also a key priority across all regions, she added, highlighted the regional forums that were organized on catalysing investment in climate change mitigation, adaptation and resilience in the lead up to the twenty-seventh Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Ms. MIZUTORI warned that “disasters wipe away decades of development gains in an instant”. However, the international community has the option to reduce disaster risks by taking risk-informed decisions and building resilience. To build resilience to both current and future shocks, disaster risk reduction must be at the core of policies to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. In this context, she pointed to the high-level meeting of the General Assembly — convened on 18 and 19 May — on the midterm review on the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.
Outlining examples of initiatives for reducing risks that can be examined during the midterm review process of the Sendai Framework and showcased during the Sustainable Development Goals Summit, she highlighted enhanced coordination through the United Nations Plan of Action and the Senior Leadership Group on Disaster Risk Reduction for Resilience. This mechanism is at the core of the United Nations system’s efforts supporting Member States to implement the Sendai Framework. She further drew attention to the Secretary-General’s “Executive Action Plan for the Early Warnings for All Initiative”, which aims to ensure every person is protected by early warning systems by 2027. Early warning systems are the most effective systems for saving lives and reducing economic losses. Yet only half the world has them. She also spotlighted both the “Making Cities Resilient 2030” initiative, which aims to help local governments build their disaster resilience through partnerships and technical assistance, and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure, which seeks to promote the resilience of new and existing infrastructure systems to climate and disaster risks.
When the floor opened for an interactive dialogue, delegates noted that the international community is facing multi-dimensional crises which threaten progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. The representative of Morocco, speaking on behalf of the Like-Minded Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries, said the repercussions of the pandemic, as well as food and energy crises, complicate development worldwide. Vaccines must be treated as a global public good without discrimination, he stressed, and middle-income countries insist that it is crucial to look beyond gross domestic product (GDP) and enhance access to concessional and non-concessional finance.
The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, said war, conflict, the pandemic and the climate crisis have hindered progress on the Global Goals, but there is a silver lining: he cited significant acceleration in green energy, with double capacity growth worldwide, overtaking coal, adding that use of solar power in Europe has increased by 82 per cent over the past decade. Stressing that 2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean water and 2.3 billion lack adequate hygiene, he called for good international governance, citing the Global Gateway Initiative launched in 2021, which facilitates key investments in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
China’s delegate stressed the importance of addressing the root causes of the crises, which are found in supply chains, calling on the international community to engage in the fight to curb global inflation. Citing the number of countries in debt distress, he further urged international financial institutions to get involved in debt relief. China is an active participant in global development and is ready to exchange policies and experience in key areas to create a bright future for common development, he said.
The representative of Indonesia underscored the Council’s pivotal role in assisting States in their earthquake-resistant building capacity. The Council and the United Nations entities must work in synergy, she stressed, adding that funding is key in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The representative of Zimbabwe, elaborating on disaster-risk reduction, asked about the state of progress on the Early Warning for All Initiative.
The representative of Lao People's Democratic Republic, addressing the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasized that enhancing assistance to the most vulnerable countries is of a particular importance. While many economies have begun to show signs of recovery, some countries are still struggling to overcome the multifaceted challenges. Climate crisis combined with food insecurity and energy crisis requires further efforts, he said, noting that building resilience and preparedness for future shocks remains critical.
Also speaking was the representative of India.
Panellists responded to inquiries and shared their perspectives on some of the issues highlighted.
Ms. GOMEZ said she is committed to delivering information for science and evidence-based decision-making and echoed the need for high-quality and integrated information.
Mr. HOUNGBO, highlighting the interlinkages between crises and key Sustainable Development Goals, underscored the importance of keeping the nexus between the economic, social and environmental dimensions in mind. In this regard, he shared that the ILO is in the process of launching a global coalition for improved social justice next June to better address issues concerning social economy, child protection, inequalities and decent jobs, among others.
Mr. MOUNTFIELD clarified that the Bank’s evolution will focus on three issues: redefining its mission and vision to better articulate its focus on poverty and shared prosperity as well as sustainability and resilience; examining its operating model, business practices, country engagement approaches, instruments and resource allocation; and looking at its financial model, including capital adequacy frameworks and ways to expand concessional financing. He underscored that the Bank gives the highest priority on financing to the poorest countries and has a strong emphasis on Africa and fragile States. While more can be done to make the international financial system more equitable, this will require stepped-up partnership, global solidarity and fair burden-sharing.
Ms. ALISJAHBANA noted that the regional commissions take into account different contexts, challenges and opportunities across the five regions and leverage their role in convening intergovernmental processes in undertaking analytical work to support Member States. The regional commissions, she pointed out, are increasingly working as one United Nations through the Regional Collaborative Platform to address regional development challenges and scale up support at the country level.
Ms. MIZUTORI, stressing that the early warning system must be effective for all, said that it will be composed of four main factors: very good risk information, a pillar led by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction; great forecasting and monitoring, led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO); effective distribution, led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); and inclusive, early action by all, led by International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). These four organizations, along with other agencies, are currently coordinating to establish the foundation for such an ambitious initiative and map what is out there in terms of where countries are, what gaps exist and what funding is available. Underlining the need to also examine governance, she said she hopes to brief Member States soon, provide a comprehensive analysis and issue a call for support.
Panel Discussion II
The Council then held a panel discussion on the theme “Transformative policies for accelerating progress towards SDG6 on clean water and sanitation”, featuring the following speakers: Mathu Joyini, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations and Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women at its sixty-seventh session; Mansour AlQurashi, General Manager for International Affairs of the Communications and Information Technology Commission of Saudi Arabia and Acting Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development at its twenty-sixth session; Gilbert F. Houngbo, Director-General, ILO and Chair of UN-Water; and Wenjian Zhang, Assistant Secretary-General, WMO.
Ms. JOYINI, emphasizing the Commission on the Status of Women’s commitment to supporting the gender-responsive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, said the importance of water and sanitation to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls cannot be overstated. When safe drinking water is not available, the burden of water collection and treatment falls largely on the shoulders of women and girls. Meanwhile, the lack of safe sanitation and hygiene facilities at home may expose women and girls to illness, harassment and violence. Nevertheless, women are not equally represented in decision-making related to water and sanitation. Spotlighting several interlinkages between Goals 5 and 6, she said water collection constitutes unpaid labour, while access to sexual and reproductive health includes the management of menstrual and perimenopausal hygiene, as well as sanitary childbirth. In that vein, she detailed several recommendations, urging stakeholders to promote women’s full, effective and equal participation in decision-making; take measures to reduce the time spent by women and girls on collecting household water; and protect women and girls from threats, assaults and sexual and gender-based violence while collecting household water, among others.
Mr. ALQURASHI stressed that safe water and sanitation scarcity require dramatic improvement in efficiently managing water resources. Frontier technologies like artificial intelligence and big data can be catalysts in monitoring water infrastructure and towards achieving Global Goal 6. Better forecasting and early warning systems are crucial in addressing and preparing for floods that have become more frequent due to climate change, and predictive models also enable disaster-risk reduction. He called for technological innovation to be implemented in tandem with policy and Government innovation, which must all be responsive to people and their genuine needs, as “inaccessible technology is often no better than no technology”. Noting it is further crucial to implement policies that support concrete solutions, he called on the international community to assemble stakeholders from different sectors and backgrounds to support solutions and knowledge-sharing to scale up good practices domestically and internationally.
Mr. HOUNGBO said the upcoming United Nations Water Conference is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to unite the world around the global water and sanitation crisis. Urging the Economic and Social Council to encourage its affiliated bodies to consider making voluntary commitments to water and sanitation goals, either individually or collectively, he said the conference’s outcome — the “Water Action Agenda” — will serve as a blueprint for acceleration. He underscored that water and sanitation should be integrated into the broader 2030 Agenda, including Goal 6 on governance, and that they should be mainstreamed into climate, environment, disaster risk reduction, food security, gender, social justice and education efforts. “This is currently, unfortunately, not the case, and it is a strong brake holding back progress on the 2030 Agenda,” he observed. Recalling that recent reports on repositioning the United Nations development system found “significant gaps in our collective support to water and sanitation”, he called on Member States to consider creating an Economic and Social Council global platform on water in order to enable transformative change on the ground.
Mr. ZHANG observed that 97.5 per cent of total water on the Earth is salt water, while the global fresh water accessible for use is only 0.26 per cent — mainly in rivers and lakes. Factors like climate change — which lead to more frequent water-related extremes like flood and drought — and unsustainable human activities and poor environmental management — which lead to water pollution - have aggravated the situation, affecting the availability, quality and quantity of water. Against this backdrop, less than half of countries worldwide have operational flood and drought early warning systems, he cautioned. Advocating for the early warning system for all, he called for a serious commitment to Sustainable Development Goal 6. To this end, collaboration with all United Nations agencies is critical, he stressed.
During the interactive dialogue, Member States highlighted a number of related concerns as they offered prescriptions and suggestions which included the creation of a United Nations Special Envoy on water.
The representative of Egypt, stressing that the collective focus should be on the achievement of all water-related goals and targets in the 2030 Agenda, pointed out that water scarcity remains a challenge. The international community must urgently address this to sustain life with the United Nations providing special support to affected countries, he said, noting that challenges facing water resources are not simply from water consumption but rather the impact of policies. In that regard, the water-food-energy-ecosystem nexus presents an inclusive approach to secure sustainable supplies of water. Policies must be guided by the best available science, he emphasized before spotlighting his country’s efforts. He also called for the United Nations to establish a Special Envoy on water.
Colombia’s delegate, spotlighting her country’s focus on gender responsiveness and human rights to guarantee water for its people, encouraged Goal 6 to be visualized more clearly in terms of its synergies with other Global Goals. To achieve Goal 6, there must be a real commitment to climate action, especially on behalf of the greatest polluters. Developing countries must have access to financing; inequality between rural areas and cities must be addressed; and a transformative model which focuses on life and not capital must be developed. Gender equality, women’s and girls’ empowerment and the full participation and inclusion of all must be promoted in the design and implementation of public policies. In achieving this Global Goal, international financial institutions, multilateral banks and the United Nations development system have a key role in supporting developing nations, she stressed.
The representative of Slovenia underscored the need to keep in mind that the right to water and sanitation are basic human rights. Governments should make good water stewardship by businesses and within investor portfolios mandatory, he said, suggesting that the international community should set global water and sanitation standards in business and trade as it did for child labour. He called for the strengthening of UN-Water’s role in inter-agency coordination; the nomination of a United Nations Special Envoy on water; and the mainstreaming of water in the reports of the Council and all its relevant commissions.
India’s delegate, emphasizing the necessity of political will, stressed that policies are only one part of the picture. He then spotlighted his country’s more organic approach, sharing its national experiences on encouraging clean sanitation habits in rural areas and providing safe and adequate drinking water through individual household tap connections, to name a few. Community-based, grassroots approaches and the role of women as leaders and drivers of initiatives have been crucial, he pointed out.
The representative of the United States noted his country is one of the world’s largest donors in the water sector, investing in capacity-building, infrastructure, technology, private-sector engagement and innovative financial instruments. The United States is also active as a development partner in addressing transboundary water basins including in the Nile and the Himalaya Plateau. He cited the United States Agency for International Development’s $1.2 billion three-year commitment to foster sustainable water security and sanitation, further noting that his Government’s initiatives at home include replacing lead pipes to deliver safe drinking water to families and children.
Zimbabwe’s delegate called on the presenters to address pollution and waste-water management as they affect Global Goal 6 targets, and for focus on climate change. He cited the Sharm El-Sheikh mechanism for loss and damage, establishing the link between water and climate change, further pointing to the over-exploitation and wastage of available water as crucial issues to be raised.
Responding to questions and comments, Ms. JOYINI underscored the importance of technology in increasing access to water and sanitation services. “How do we leverage digital technology as an inclusion tool for access to services?” she asked, stressing the importance of engineering and science in water management. Describing water as a catalyst for other Sustainable Development Goals, she stressed that water issues should be mainstreamed into other areas, including gender equality. To ensure impactful change in water sanitation, women must be at the forefront, as drivers of change, she asserted.
Mr. ALQURASHI highlighted synergies between the United Nations agencies to ensure water availability for rich and poor, developed and developing countries, encouraging more youth and women to work in this field. He also called for utilizing technologies to have more data on water.
Mr. HOUNGBO, elaborating on water risk management, said 80 per cent of wastewater is discharged and untreated. Highlighting the nexus between water and environmental issues, he advocated for the use of technology to have smarter agriculture practices and to contribute to better climate change management.
Mr. ZHANG, pointing to the significant progress in water forecasting, reiterated his confidence in science and technology.
Panel Discussion III
The Council subsequently held a panel discussion on the theme “Energy access and energy transition”, featuring the following speakers: Ciyong Zou, Managing Director for Technical Cooperation and Deputy to the Director-General, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Professor of International Affairs, The New School, and Vice-Chair of the Committee for Development Policy at its twenty-fifth session; Ligia Noronha, Assistant Secretary-General and Head of the UNEP New York Office; Robert Powell, Special Representative of the IMF to the United Nations; Liselott Kana, Head of Department of International Taxation, Internal Revenue Service of Chile and Co-Chair of the Committee of Experts on International Cooperation in Tax Matters at its Ttwenty-fifth and twenty-sixth sessions; and Damilola Ogunbiyi, Chief Executive Officer and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All and Co-Chair of UN-Energy.
Mr. ZOU, speaking via video teleconference, emphasized that industrialization — which is key for creating jobs and lifting millions out of poverty — must follow a low-carbon emissions path to avoid a catastrophe. While industry is a major consumer of energy at almost a third of final energy consumption, it is also a provider of innovation and solutions for energy transition especially in terms of energy savings and technologies to reduce emissions. UNIDO, he noted, will be coordinating key activities in the run-up to the review of Sustainable Development Goal 9 during the high-level political forum in July 2023 and is currently supporting countries in decoupling industrialization from growing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental externalities. Such decoupling, however, cannot be achieved without addressing upstream linkages in energy systems, materials and manufacturing processes. Energy efficient approaches are therefore key to UNIDO’s policy engagement and technical cooperation initiatives in developing countries and economies in transition. Spotlighting key takeaways from his Organization’s work, he stressed that energy efficiency is the least costly option for countries and businesses to reduce their emissions. To facilitate adoption at the scale and speed with which the world needs, Governments must create conducive environments to encourage investment, he said, before offering several best practices and recommendations. UNIDO will continue to provide comprehensive support to enable countries to put the right policy packages in place and make this decoupling possible for all, he pledged.
Ms. FUKUDA-PARR, highlighting the concept of a just transition, said that while it grew out of a concern for job losses arising from environmental regulations, it is increasingly conceptualized as a framework that addresses a more complex set of distributional concerns. It includes eliminating existing and historical injustices, avoiding creating new ones and ensuring elements of procedural justice such as inclusive decision-making. Stressing that just transitions need to be context-specific, she added that while least developed countries and middle-income countries face challenging circumstances, such as limited fiscal space and greater vulnerability to external shocks, global policy debates continue to be dominated by priorities more relevant to the Global North. Securing safe and affordable energy will be as important for developing countries as moving away from fossil fuel energy sources, she said, adding that the low carbon transition needs to be combined with the imperatives of broader human development goals. Least developed countries have only contributed about 4 per cent to historical greenhouse gas emissions, but over the last 50 years, some 70 per cent of the deaths related to climate-related disasters were in those countries. Green transition strategies worldwide should be formulated in ways that do not push other countries — particularly the least developed — further behind, she underscored, calling for multilateral mechanisms of support, including targeted financing and technology transfer.
Ms. NORONHA asked to address the interlinkages between Global Goal 7 and the other Goals, and how to harness them to create transformative energy solutions, stating that the current crises reveal both challenges and opportunities. Global Goal 7 clearly reveals that energy is central to enhancing well-being and the need for both social and physical infrastructure as included in Goals 8, 9 and 11. Transformative energy solutions include initiatives that result in multiple benefits, she noted, addressing the need for cooling in a warmed-up world and to help reduce food waste, alongside the need for heating. Increased mobility is further required to address increased welfare needs and energy access. She stressed the need to get to tipping point to bring consumers — especially aspirational ones — into the debate. As new technologies are mineral intensive, the international community must focus on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as collaborating with finance sources to transform energy markets, aligning strategic and moral objectives with market forces.
Mr. POWELL, highlighting the latest update to the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, said the global economy is in a broad-based slowdown, and while risks are becoming more balanced, domestic policies need to remain tight to restore price stability. Climate financing needs are large but achievable, he said, adding that it will require yearly global energy-related investments of about 3.3 per cent of global GDP until 2030 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Carbon pricing provides critical price signals for redirecting private investment to clean technologies, while also mobilizing revenue, he said. Further, strengthening the climate information architecture, including by closing data gaps, is essential. The public sector, multilateral development banks and the private sector need to collectively explore avenues for public-private risk-sharing, investment tools and financing structures, he added. Spotlighting the Fund’s new Resilience and Sustainability Trust, he noted that it helps low-income and vulnerable middle-income countries build resilience to balance-of-payments shocks and confront longer-term structural challenges like climate change.
Ms. KANA, speaking via pre-recorded message, said the Committee is working on energy transition from two angles: from the energy supply side and from the energy demand and consumption side. It looks at the role of taxation as a policy instrument to help countries achieve their goals on clean energy. Regarding the energy supply side, she described the main issues as the cost of energy transition, energy access and proper funding for developing countries. Further, she continued, it is important to consider whether particular design features are especially relevant for energy transition and whether that would trigger any challenging administrative issues for developing countries. The Committee looks forward to engaging with the Council and its subsidiary bodies on these important issues, she said, pointing to the Council’s upcoming meeting on international cooperation in tax matters on 31 March.
Ms. OGUNBIYI, speaking via a pre-recorded video message, recalled that, at the 2021 High-level Dialogue on Energy, the “Global Roadmap for Accelerated SDG7 Action” was developed. That roadmap called for action to close the energy access gap; rapidly transition to decarbonized energy systems; mobilize adequate and predictable finance; leave no one behind on the path to a “net-zero” future; and harness innovation, technology and data. Over 185 energy compact commitments currently exist, which resulted in $46 billion in investments in 2021-2022 alone. Those compacts have extended electricity access to some 6 million people and have improved access to clean cooking for 14 million more. Urging stakeholders to embrace both the roadmap and the related compacts to guide their efforts moving forward, she welcomed such innovative new ideas as the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative. “We must be bold and come up with solutions that will accelerate the energy transition towards net-zero emissions by 2050,” she stressed, noting that time is short and dramatically accelerated efforts are needed.
During the interactive dialogue, several Member States spotlighted their respective Government’s efforts as some flagged concerns over the politicization of energy transitions and others requested more information.
The representative of the United States, reaffirming his country’s commitment to the clean energy transition and the promotion of reliable and affordable energy access, spotlighted a number of his Government’s initiatives in that regard. This transition requires new, resilient, secure and diversified supply chains, he underscored, as he reiterated his country’s commitment to continuing its global leadership on clean energy transition and increasing energy access through a variety of technological, regulatory and market-based tools.
China’s delegate showcased his Government’s unswerving promotion of the transition to green and low-carbon energy, active engagement in international energy cooperation and vigorous support for developing countries, among other areas. Noting that the international energy transition is faced with complex political and economic situations at present, he called for coordination between the short-term and long-term and between economic development, energy security and environmental protection. All factors must be balanced to ensure that the transition process does not affect economies and livelihoods, he stressed. He then pointed out that his Government remains firmly opposed to unilateral sanctions and the politicization, instrumentalization and weaponization of energy issues. Developed countries should demonstrate greater ambition and action in taking the lead in drastically cutting emissions, refraining from policy swings and providing developing countries with adequate support to achieve a fair, inclusive, accessible and affordable energy transition.
The representative of Colombia, highlighting the urgent need for an energy policy, said there is a close link between Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13 which must be recognized and addressed. On strengthening a regional energy market in Latin America and the Caribbean, she encouraged ECLAC to create networks and assess needs. Despite challenges for countries’ economies, the energy transition can bring great opportunities and create good, decent work if it is planned appropriately, she underlined. To that end, it must be implemented on a gradual basis with social participation in a manner that closes gaps between cities and country sides and make access to clean energy more democratic for populations.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, stressing that talk should not be about leadership but rather mutually beneficial cooperation, voiced his concern that the issue is being politicized. This, he warned, could lead to energy deficits, create supply issues and make access more difficult. Price limitations on energy flows and unilateral sanctions are counterproductive measures that only reduce investment and supply, he pointed out. He then asked the panellists to provide additional details on what the United Nations is planning to do to ensure progress on Sustainable Development Goal 7.
The representative of Madagascar asked Mr. POWELL of the IMF to address developing countries’ access to the Green Climate Fund, as development projects are necessary to energy transition.
India’s representative stressed that transitioning to renewables is crucial, but that developmental needs of States must be kept in mind, especially in Africa, requiring mechanisms to enhance investment — otherwise, energy transition will be delayed. He stressed that the onus is on developed States to step up their investment in technology.
Mr. ZOU responded that energy management is crucial, and UNIDO supports Governments and enterprises in such systems, and anticipates an increase in the production and consumption of commodities including steel, cement and fertilizers. Noting that the technology for decarbonizing is still in the early stages of development, he called on the international community to coordinate efforts to speed up that development.
Ms. FUKUDA-PARR agreed with India’s delegate, proposing the establishment of multilateral mechanisms to ensure investment in clean energy and energy security, as well as de-risking investment in the developing world. She cautioned that initiatives require not only positive actions but resisting negative ones that may harm other countries.
Ms. NORONHA described collaboration as crucial to taking forward the green energy transition, not only due to the difficulties that countries face but also to enable a greater conversation and create something different. Highlighting the connection between Governments, business and the United Nations, she underlined the importance of leadership, without which no progress is possible.
Mr. POWELL said that the public sector, multilateral development banks and the private sector need to collectively explore avenues for better public-private risk sharing and investment tools.
Panel Discussion IV
The Council’s next panel discussion focused on the theme “Digital transformation for health and food security” and featured the following panellists: Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO); Gabriella Vukovich, President of the Central Statistical Office of Hungary and Chair of the Statistical Commission at its fifty-third session; Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Chancellor of the Nelson Mandela University and Chair of the Committee of Experts on Public Administration at its twenty-first session; Amandeep Singh Gill, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology; and Beth Bechdol, Deputy Director-General of FAO.
Mr. GHEBREYESUS, speaking via a pre-recorded video message, highlighted the enormous potential of digital technologies for health and food security, namely through on-the-spot diagnostics and testing; supplying remote areas with blood and vaccines through the use of drones; and improving food safety through mobile food-labelling applications and blockchain technology, to name a few. However, the international community must ensure that digital technologies help narrow inequalities and not widen them, he insisted, noting that gender inequalities in accessing such technologies and the lack of connectivity or electricity could leave some people even further behind. Digital tools can also be used for harm — through bullying and hate speech, mis- and disinformation and the marketing of unhealthy products and behaviours — with children and people in marginalized communities at particular risk, he added. To that end, the WHO has been working to support countries around the world to maximize the benefits of these digital tools while mitigating risks by putting in place digital guidelines, data governance frameworks and policies to protect privacy and data security. It is also committed to supporting the development of laws, regulations and policies that promote public trust and restrict the use of digital marketing to children and adolescents.
Ms. VUKOVICH addressed the progress made in relation to quality and timely data to monitor progress on Global Goal targets, particularly for Goal 3 on healthy lives and Goal 2 on food security. The challenges of the twenty-first century call for high-quality, timely and accessible data to support global sustainable development — and while official statistics are not the only source of information, she noted they are the most reliable. The policy and data landscape has undergone change driven by digitalization, she affirmed, and by the need for fast policy responses to address challenges at all levels. Policymakers need high-quality data to address crises and form policy. The Global Indicative Framework for the Sustainable Development Goals, with its 231 indicators, was agreed upon at the forty-eighth United Nations Statistical Commission in March 2017 and adopted that July, she said. Fourteen of those indicators address food security and nutrition, while 28 address healthy lives. However, she admitted that for some targets, the granularity of the data requires improvement in most countries, while noting the importance of data in addressing the pandemic. “The Commission can contribute to better lives through better data,” she said.
Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI, highlighting the irreversibility of accelerated governmental digitalization engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic, said that digitalization can strengthen trust, integrity and inclusion in government. She underlined, however, the need to ensure that digital transformation strengthens trust in Governments and, in the case of social media, addresses the risks of disinformation and polarization. She went on to say that, while the rapid development of science and technology promises to potentially reduce socioeconomic inequalities, some 2.7 billion people are not connected to the Internet. Further, in some communities — especially in developing countries — basic challenges persist in terms of energy availability and electricity access. Therefore, hybrid models of public-service delivery should be the default so as to leave no one behind. Turning to the role digital innovations can play in preventing and deterring corruption, she said that the impact of digitalization on public integrity is contingent on policy choices and political will. Digitalization can enhance transparency, but she pointed out that the extent of such transparency is a political decision. Adding that Governments must strengthen their digital capabilities and expertise, she urged that investment in human capital in the technology fields be given greater weight in national human-resource strategies and budgets.
Mr. GILL, urging all to think outside the box and to be bold, innovative and ambitious in catching up on the 2030 Agenda, called for digital technologies — and by extension science, technology and innovation — to be leveraged in a different way. The evidence is already out there as countries and organizations around the globe are doing just this, he said, but there needs to be political will and innovative thinking to bring that experience to life within the Council’s coordination, political reflections and related work. Noting that the world is in a different digital age, he pointed out that the United Nations Global Digital Compact, to be agreed upon at the Summit of the Future in September 2024, has a 360-degree vision of this new world and provides the opportunity to update thinking, refresh the Organization’s normative approach and agree on an action framework that simultaneously addresses the potential for misuse while maximizing on the potential to contribute to sustainable development. The “digital”, he continued, allows for a systems approach, lowers barriers to innovation by accelerating research, enables inclusivity and allows policymakers to be more responsive by fine-tuning policies in real time. What is needed however, is the right governance and regulatory frameworks, infrastructure in terms of physical connectivity and digital public goods and structures and capacity-development through a trained workforce which operates at the junction between digital and other areas. The fruits of digital transformation must be brought to life in specific areas through concrete programmes and projects, he encouraged before suggesting that health, agriculture, food security, governance, education and green transition were the most amenable areas to leveraging the opportunity before the international community. He then highlighted the need to scale up initiatives which address data in silos and encouraged aligning data with specific Sustainable Development Goals.
Ms. BECHDOL warned that the distance to reach many of the Sustainable Development Goals — in particular Goal 2 on zero hunger — is growing wider each year. “Urgent action is needed to get back on track,” she asserted, noting that data, digitalization and innovation are key accelerators for this. Digital technologies, in particular, can have a transformational effect on economies and societies, including on agriculture, agrifood systems, health systems and rural development. Furthermore, digital technologies can play a key role in improving food security. For instance, precision agriculture helps farmers optimize crop yields and improve water and fertilizer management, producing more with less inputs and less environmental impact. Digital tools and big data can also improve access to knowledge to support transformative policy interventions in agrifood systems.
However, she continued, there is a huge risk if and when this digital transformation is not accessible to all. The lack of access to digital technologies can increase already existing gaps and work against United Nations efforts to leave no one behind. Against this background, it is crucial to ensure that small-scale and family farmers and rural communities have access to technologies that are applicable to their specific contexts. Spotlighting the Organization’s initiatives, she pointed to the 1000 Digital Villages Initiative that fosters local and community-led development to accelerate the digital transformation of rural areas. She further highlighted the Hand-in-Hand Initiative which uses geospatial, biophysical and socioeconomic data to enable Governments, the private sector and multilateral development banks to target agricultural investments more precisely. The Farmer Field Schools initiative trains farmers and gives them the tools to cope with current and emerging challenges. “Digital transformation is a driving force of the future, towards the transformation of agrifood systems,” she stressed.
The representative of Guatemala, citing the importance of digital transformation in achieving recovery and resilience in the face of multinational crises, said States must develop capacities to create safe and trustworthy digital environments and reduce digital illiteracy. She noted her country has witnessed how an increase in connectivity helps small scale farmers with more jobs, financial security and better access to markets. Guatemala is also developing schools to train women and young people and implementing agricultural insurance to deal with climate change damage.
Sweden’s delegate noted her delegation is helping to facilitate Global Digital Compact discussions, citing consultations held on Monday, with a roadmap produced suggesting several thematic deep-dive meetings scheduled for the spring. She suggested the proposed thematic issues be taken from the Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda report and the Sustainable Development Goals review, with the understanding that this was widely supported. Calling for universal, affordable and meaningful access to the Internet and addressing the digital divide, she asked panellists to comment on what they hope emerges from the process.
The representative of Colombia stressed the importance of providing citizens with access to food and the crucial role digital transformation plays in achieving such goals, as well as assisting local and traditional farming, speeding up the post-pandemic recovery and eradicating extreme poverty. The United Nations can help through the Global Digital Compact, given the need for universal connectivity, especially in rural areas, as well as enhancing funding.
Mexico’s delegate affirmed that digitalization can help create vaccines for future diseases, and it generates benefits and opportunities for small-scale producers in rural areas, which can be an important developmental sector. She emphasized the importance of inclusive digital policies to develop literacy and provide food at accessible prices, requiring quality universal connectivity. However, digital transformation is not possible without coordination within the Council and among its subsidiary bodies. Noting that the Global Digital Compact will be a step forward, she asked Mr. Gill what progress his organization is making on technology and food security.
The representative of India, calling on all to embrace digital transformation in an expedited manner, spotlighted his country’s efforts in that regard, especially on health and food security, which have been deeply appreciated by countries in the Global South. As digital technology must be leveraged to harness growth and development, he urged the Council and the United Nations to share knowledge and experiences to the mutual benefit of States. Development and digital technology are now inseparable, he underscored, encouraging the discussions on the Global Digital Compact to pave the way for collective goodwill and close the gaps that exist in societies.
China’s delegate similarly urged the international community to step up exchanges and cooperation to jointly tackle global health and food security challenges. “We need to let the UN play a central coordinating role to enhance digital policy coordination globally and work together to build an open, fair and non-discriminatory digital development environment, leveraging new digital drivers to promote new development,” he said. The international community must vigorously promote connectivity to accelerate the bridging of digital divides. To that end, the Organization’s agencies and developed countries should provide more support to developing countries on funding, technology and capacity-building and help those countries improve their digital infrastructure, enhance digital development capacity and ensure no one is left behind. Among other things, he called for a competency-based, people-centred health-care system, joint participation in global health cooperation and governance to build a shared community of health for all and increased investment in agro-technology, before spotlighting his Government’s commitment to advancing global digital transformation and food security, including through assistance to developing countries.
The representative of Indonesia stressed the need for global digital cooperation to prioritize closing gaps between developed and developing countries. Technology, as an enabler, should be accessible and affordable for everyone, she said, emphasizing her Government’s efforts in that regard. Addressing the gaps in technology infrastructure is key to empowering people, promoting innovation and enabling inclusive pandemic recovery, she continued. She then asked the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology about ensuring that the development aspect takes the lead within the intergovernmental process on the Global Digital Compact.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, asking a “broad question”, underscored that digital transformation is a necessary step to ensure the development of public administration. Spotlighting his Government’s efforts in providing online services for its people while preserving the option to receive such services in person, he shared several innovations from his country’s national experience. Moving towards digital transformation entails ensuring digital sovereignty in the development of national and local technology as well as software, he pointed out.
Responding to questions and comments, Ms. VUKOVICH said digitalization and access to Internet and mobile devices is a great improvement and can be widely utilized in data collection. She stressed that digitalization allows the wider population to have access to digital information, including statistical information, which is also a tool of democracy. Furthermore, modernization of official statistics is greatly advanced by digitalization, she said.
Ms. MOLEKETI drew attention to Sustainable Development Goal 16, which looks at the issue of institution-building. To ensure the realization of digital transformation, it is essential to take into account the importance of institution-building, public administration and the centrality of Governments. She also stressed the need to ensure appropriate training within Governments as well as regulatory frameworks. On inclusivity, she emphasized that digital infrastructure must be accessible to girls and boys.
Mr. GILL said “digital is an amplifier, not magic”. If trained doctors and nurses and acute health centres don’t exist, digitalization will not be able to provide that acceleration. He further underscored that the Global Digital Compact must be comprehensive across the three pillars.
Ms. BECHDOL said the issue of connectivity for small-scale farmers is of a paramount importance. The international community must ensure that connectivity is affordable and that it comes with associated suitable services. She described the publishing of crop calendars — seasonal cyclical tools and information — as a digital public good. The world is “running close to having a whole generation of farmers lost”, she cautioned, highlighting the opportunity to utilize digital applications to bring the career selection of farming to the next generation. Promoting digital knowledge is crucial to ensure that young people are excited about being a part of the agricultural economy.