Invest in people, Secretary-General António Guterres told delegates and leaders at the Economic and Social Council today, underscoring the importance of universal social protection as well as equitable and high-quality education.
In opening remarks at the high-level segment of the 2022 session of the Economic and Social Council, which will include a three-day ministerial meeting of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, the Organization’s top official advocated for a system that works for the vulnerable, and not just the powerful.
The global financial system is failing the developing world, he said, noting however, that since it was not designed to protect developing countries, perhaps it is more accurate to say the system is working as intended. Calling for flexibility and understanding from international financial institutions, he said they must consider raising access limits and suspending debt. A perfect storm is brewing, he cautioned, noting the combination of rising food and energy prices and lack of access to finance.
Also calling for urgent climate action to reach the 1.5°C goal, he noted that current pledges for reduction of emissions will still result in a 14 per cent increase in emissions by 2030. Describing this as “collective suicide”, he called on developed countries to make good on their $100 billion climate finance commitment. The international community has the knowledge, technologies and financial resources to reverse these trajectories, he said, reminding delegates, “we are far from powerless”.
“We can indeed right the ship”, Abdulla Shahid, President of the General Assembly, stressed in his opening remarks as he called for investments in innovation, technology and behavioural change. He stressed the importance of empowering youth as agents of a sustainable transformation, while making a case for social protection, poverty reduction and climate action, on an urgent basis.
He also urged world leaders to learn lessons from COVID-19, particularly where systems and policies proved dysfunctional. The international community must ask itself if current recovery policies will lead to the transformative change needed for a sustainable future. Calling for reforms to the international financial system, including debt relief and a multidimensional vulnerability index to help middle-income countries access financing, he stressed the importance of support for the sustainable development of Africa.
The Council also heard from Mokgweetsi Masisi, President of Botswana, who noted that in the Southern African region, there has been an unusual mix of extreme events. Torrential rains, floods, volcanic eruptions and pestilence, among others, have resulted in loss of life and property, he said, calling for the fast-tracking of the establishment of a humanitarian centre in Mozambique.
Similarly, Portugal’s President, Marcelo Rebelo De Sousa, speaking via videoconference, drew attention to the forest fires ravaging his country, a reminder of the overwhelming force of climate change. Highlighting his country’s commitment to ocean action, he said it will protect 30 per cent of its seas by 2030, and drive the transformation to sustainable blue economies.
Huang Runqiu, Minister of Ecology and Environment of China as well as President of the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, said his country aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Recalling the session held in Kunming, China in 2021, he highlighted the establishment of the biodiversity fund and other initiatives that will provide a political impetus to global biodiversity governance.
Spotlighting the interlinkages between climate, energy and national security, Alok Sharma, Minister of State at the Cabinet Office of the United Kingdom as well as President of the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, pointed out that relying on the Russian Federation’s hydrocarbons has left countries vulnerable. Urging the international community to fulfil the Glasgow Climate Pact, he said it is vital to quicken the pace lest the 1.5°C goal move out of reach.
The Council also heard from Sima Sami Bahous, Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), who highlighted the gendered impact of COVID-19, from increased domestic violence to diminished public services. While acknowledging some impressive achievements towards Goal 5 (gender equality), such as an increase of women in the workforce, she noted that globally only one indicator under that Goal is close to target: the proportion of seats held by women in local government. Goal 5 is not just a goal in its own right, it is the key and the bedrock to all the other Goals, she underscored.
Drawing attention to the plight of youth around the world, Anja Fortuna, Vice-President of the European Youth Forum, said that pandemic recovery must be guided by a vision of a fairer, greener economy in which youth are empowered. She called on Member States to adopt a legally binding international convention on the rights of young people, while another youth delegate, Khaled Emam, representing the Major Group for Children and Youth, pointed out that young people were and are at the frontline of the pandemic, overworked, poorly compensated, and undervalued, but showing an incredible amount of solidarity.
Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, echoed the calls for solidarity, noting that despite the grim times, there is a continued air of optimism at the high-level political forum. One of its key messages is that this unsettled period has potential for the transformation of health, agriculture and food systems, as well as achieving sustainable access to water, energy and closing the digital divide. Citing one of the panellists at the forum, he said: “we must not waste a crisis.”
After the conclusion of the opening segment, the Economic and Social Council heard presentations of voluntary national reviews by El Salvador, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia, Dominica, Djibouti, Suriname, Tuvalu and Equatorial Guinea.
The Council will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 14 July, to continue with the ministerial segment of the high-level political forum on sustainable development.