Warning Over Half of World Is Being Left Behind, Secretary-General Urges Greater Action to End Extreme Poverty, at Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report Launch

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the launch of the special edition of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Progress Report, in New York today:

Halfway to the deadline for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we are leaving more than half the world behind.  The SDG Progress Report shows that just 12 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track.  Progress on 50 per cent is weak and insufficient.  Worst of all, we have stalled or gone into reverse on more than 30 per cent of the SDGs.  Unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda will become an epitaph for a world that might have been.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the triple crisis of climate, biodiversity and pollution are having a devastating impact, amplified by the Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine.  The number of people living in extreme poverty today is higher than it was four years ago.  On current trends, only 30 per cent of all countries will achieve SDG 1 on poverty by 2030.  Hunger has also increased and is back at 2005 levels.  Gender equality is some 300 years away.  At the same time, inequalities are at a record high, and growing.  Just 26 people have the same wealth as half of the world’s population.

And our war on nature is accelerating.  Emissions continue to rise — unbelievably.  Concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest level in 2 million years.  The extinction risk has increased by 3 per cent since 2015.  More than one species in five is now threatened with extinction.

Many developing countries cannot invest in the SDGs because they face a financing black hole.  Before the pandemic, the annual SDG funding gap was $2.5 trillion.  According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), that figure is now at least $4.2 trillion. And many developing countries are buried under a mountain of debt.  One in three countries around the world is at high risk of a fiscal crisis.

Developed countries recovered from the pandemic by adopting expansionary fiscal and monetary policies and have largely returned to pre-pandemic growth paths.  But, developing countries were unable to do so, in part because their currencies would collapse.

Vulnerable middle-income countries are denied debt relief and concessional financing.  And the Common Framework for Debt Treatment is simply not working.  Turning to the financial markets, they face interest rates up to 8 times higher than developed countries.  Flows of official development assistance (ODA) are far below the long-standing commitment of 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) allocated $650 billion in special drawing rights — the main global mechanism to boost liquidity during crises.  Based on current quotas, the countries of the European Union, including my own country, received a total of $160 billion in special drawing rights, while African countries with three times the population received $34 billion — and that was money created out of nothing.  Redistribution has been minimal.  Something is fundamentally wrong with the rules and governance of the system that produce such an outcome.

Climate finance is also far below commitments.  Developed countries have still not delivered the $100 billion that was promised annually from 2020.  Despite the commitment made in Glasgow to double adaptation finance by 2025, we are far from parity in funding for adaptation and mitigation.

The agreements reached in 2015 in New York, Addis Ababa and Paris stand for peace and prosperity, people and planet.  That promise is now in peril.  The litany of lost opportunities has many causes.  Chief among them is the fundamental inequality and injustice in international relations that runs from global institutions, including the United Nations, through the international financial architecture to private banks and credit ratings agencies.

These institutions reflect the global reality of 78 years ago.  They are out of date — and out of time.  Because developing countries have had enough.  Enough of this two-track world.  Enough of paying for a climate crisis they did nothing to cause.  Enough of sky-high interest rates and debt defaults.  And enough of life-and-death decisions about their people that are taken beyond their borders, without their views and their voices.

The 2030 Agenda is an agenda of justice and equality, of inclusive, sustainable development and human rights and dignity for all.  It requires fundamental changes to the way the global economy is organized.  The SDGs are the path to bridge both economic and geopolitical divides; to restore trust and rebuild solidarity.  Let’s be clear:  no country can afford to see them fail.

This is the background to our call for an SDG Stimulus, and for deep reforms to the international financial architecture — key recommendations in today’s report.  The SDG Stimulus aims to scale up affordable long-term financing for all countries in need, by at least $500 billion a year.

It has three main areas for action.  First, a massive surge in finance.  Multilateral development banks should transform their business models and accept a new approach to risk.  This includes leveraging their funds to attract trillions of dollars of private finance into developing countries that everyone talks about but nobody sees.  Multilateral development banks should also broaden their eligibility criteria for concessional finance, giving access to vulnerable middle-income countries in need.

Second, the SDG Stimulus tackles the high cost of debt through a new initiative to enable countries in distress to exchange short-term debt for longer-term instruments, at lower interest rates.

Third, contingency financing must be expanded.  Special drawing rights should be better channelled to countries that need them, including through multilateral development banks.  I welcome the African Development Bank’s proposal on this.  If special drawing rights are relocated through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it’s a one-to-one operation.  If they are through a multilateral development bank, they can borrow based on debt increase of reserves, it is a one-to-five operation.

These three measures can be taken immediately within the current system, to turn the situation around.  But, they will not solve the fundamental issue of our unjust and dysfunctional global financial system.  That will require deep reforms.

I repeat my call for a new Bretton Woods moment.  Developing countries must have a far greater voice in global financial institutions.  We need a financial system that ensures the benefits of globalization flow to all, by putting the needs of developing countries at the centre of all its decisions.

The report includes five other important recommendations. First, it calls for all Member States to recommit to action to achieve the SDGs at national and international levels between now and 2030, by strengthening the social contract and reorienting their economies towards low-carbon, resilient pathways aligned with the Paris Agreement.

Second, it urges Governments to set and deliver on ambitious national benchmarks to reduce poverty and inequality by 2027 and by 2030. This calls for a focus on areas that hold the key to progress:  from expanding social protection and jobs to tackling the crisis in education; from gender equality to digital inclusion.  Third, the report calls for a commitment from all countries to end the war on nature.  Among other measures, it urges them to support the Acceleration Agenda for climate action and to deliver on the new Global Biodiversity Framework.

Fourth, it calls on Governments to strengthen national institutions and accountability.  This will require new regulatory frameworks and stronger public digital infrastructure and data capacity.  And fifth, it calls for greater multilateral support for the United Nations development system and decisive action at the 2024 Summit of the Future.  I urge you to study the report and implement its proposals.

World leaders will gather here in September for the SDG Summit. This will be a moment of truth, and of reckoning.  It must also be a moment of hope — when we unite to turn the tide and kick-start a new drive for SDG achievement.

Because SDG progress is not about lines on a graph.  It is about healthy mothers and babies; children learning the skills to fulfil their potential; parents who can feed their families.  It is about renewable energy and clean air.  It is about a world in which everyone enjoys human rights and human dignity.

The road ahead is steep.  Today’s report shows us just how steep.  But, it is one we can and must travel — together — for the people we serve.

For information media. Not an official record.