Replacing temporary COVID-19 pandemic responses with lasting social protection measures key for realizing sustainable development, speakers tell high-level political forum.
Long-term social protection measures must replace temporary COVID-19 pandemic responses to help countries regain traction towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, delegates and panel experts said today, as the high-level political forum moved into the second day of its two-week session.
The forum is the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. Providing for the full and effective participation of all Member States of the United Nations and of specialized agencies, the 2021 forum — under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — will review, from 6 to 15 July, progress in implementation.
The forum held three panels today, focusing on issues under the 2021 theme: “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
The morning panel discussion centred on Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 8 and 17, considering the interlinkages among them and the other 13 objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda. During the dialogue, representatives shared progress reports on their own efforts and challenges in realizing Goal 1 on no poverty; Goal 2 on zero hunger; Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth; and Goal 17 on partnerships.
Permanent social protection measures, targeted help for farmers and proposals for new models to shape inclusive, responsive and green growth and planet-friendly food systems were among the issues discussed. Panellists and representatives alike pointed to their own pandemic-triggered temporary cash‑transfer systems, with many showcasing how this currency infusion has buoyed economies and helped citizens avert poverty.
In a keynote address, Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister and Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, shared several pandemic response efforts, describing how the Government implemented a cash‑transfer programme that now reaches 100 million people. While each country has its own way to address welfare and social protection, there are opportunities within reach for all. In fact, COVID-19 has unearthed the opportunity to recast the notion of a “welfare State”, she said, adding that investing in social protection is a critical tool and a solid evidence-based policy choice that has improved lives, especially during the pandemic. New data technologies and leveraging partnerships can further advance such efforts, with a view to making a better world for all.
The panellists shared their own experiences and offered suggestions. Meryame Kitir, Minister for Development Cooperation of Belgium, said that all countries have adopted temporary measures during the pandemic, but more than half of the global population does not benefit from any form of social protection. While many nations do not have the resources to set up social protection systems, she said the idea is not for other countries to endlessly provide these resources. Instead, it is to craft sustainable systems with domestic resource mobilization that stand on their own in the end.
Some speakers said these transfer programmes and related efforts must reach deep into rural areas, especially towards farmers and marginalized groups. From a business perspective, the systems hit hardest during the pandemic were in those countries without social protection measures, said lead discussant Ruramiso Mashumba, Director and Founder of Mnandi Africa, in Zimbabwe, adding that Governments must ensure farmers are not left behind. Noting that female farmers like herself lost work during the pandemic, she said discussions must now become action-based solutions because hunger continues to increase. She suggested a multi‑stakeholder approach to support farmers and businesses, as everyone in the value chain can play an effective role.
Panellists shared their own expertise, with Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), saying that creating sustainable, productive, resilient and inclusive food systems to better tackle poverty requires targeted investments and policies, prioritizing vulnerable groups and ensuring gender equality.
In a similar vein, Katherine Richardson, Professor at the Biological Oceanography Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen, said that, unless efforts aim at reducing the global food system’s environmental impact, it will be impossible to provide nutritious food for all by mid-century and achieve the 2030 Agenda’s climate and biodiversity goals. Outlining requirements for such a transformation, she said efforts must focus on empowering small-scale farmers in developing countries and providing them with safety nets, as they increasingly face climate‑change-related crop losses and failures. “We know what needs to be done and we have the technology to do it,” she declared.
Maximo Torero, Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), serving as a lead discussant, said $50 billion annually would ensure that Goal 2 on ending hunger, is met. A total of 80 per cent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, which must be the focus of growth, investment and financing, he said, suggesting the creation of public, private, bilateral and multilateral funding initiatives and innovative models.
Highlighting some transformational changes already under way, the representative of the European Union said a $700 billion project is supporting a green transition in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The European Fund for Sustainable Development is also helping the private sector step in to help developing countries.
Similarly, Sweden’s delegate said her delegation recognizes the potential to create jobs in a green economy at a time when unsustainable practices among companies must end. Encouraging dialogue on ways to do so, she said companies and countries must also increase ambitions on gender equality, ending corruption and fostering sustainable practices.
Some speakers outlined road maps towards transformational changes required to advance progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Employment levels, wages and social protection coverage are key to fighting poverty and hunger, said lead discussant Eric Manzi, Deputy General Secretary of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation. Calling for a decent work-driven recovery, he said concrete action on the ground would mean investments in climate-friendly jobs and scaling up social safety nets, among other things. Meanwhile, a new model of global governance is needed. Right now, the moral imperative of global governance is to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, he said, calling on Member States to lead the way in making the new social contract a reality.
Many agreed that paper promises must undergo their own transformation into concrete results. A representative of the indigenous peoples major group for sustainable development said that, to get on track to end poverty and hunger, efforts must urgently transform the current unsustainable global economy controlled by corporations and a few elites. In its place, people-centred and care-oriented economies would respect planetary boundaries, she said, adding that this approach requires the recognition and protection of the indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources.
Also delivering presentations during the morning panel were Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Yongyi Min, Chief of the Sustainable Development Goals Monitoring Section in the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Guy Ryder, Director‑General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); and Aloysius Ordu, Head of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and former Vice-President of the African Development Bank.
In the afternoon, the forum held panel discussions on the themes “Looking at the 2020 targets: implementation and review”, and “Sustainable Development Goals in focus: SDGs 12, 13, 17 and interlinkages among those goals and with other SDGs”.
The political forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 8 July, to continue its work.