Economic and Social Council: 15th Plenary Meeting, 2022 Session
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Rescuing sustainable development goals more vital than ever, says Secretary-General, as Economic and Social Council opens operational activities segment.

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Facing multiple, cascading global crises, the United Nations development system stands committed to “rescuing the Sustainable Development Goals” as the only viable way forward, Secretary-General António Guterres said today, as the Economic and Social Council opened its annual operational activities for development session.

“We are facing a development emergency of global proportions,” said Mr. Guterres, delivering a keynote address.  Outlining the findings of his latest report on the implementation of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review — the mechanism by which countries evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and impact of the United Nations development work around the globe — he said that, in the past three years, the Organization’s development system has been transformed to better respond to countries’ needs and priorities.  That includes helping them to overcome today’s multiple crises, such as a pandemic that led to more than 15 million deaths and pushed 100 million people into poverty in 2020 alone.

Stressing the lopsided nature of the global recovery, he said many developing countries remain unvaccinated and have been left to fend for themselves in the aftermath of COVID-19 amid a global financial system “that favours the rich and punishes the poor”.  Those challenges are compounded by the effects of the climate crisis and shocks to food, fuel and markets caused by the war in Ukraine.  Noting that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains the clearest path forward, he reported positive findings about the work of the reformed United Nations development system, pointing out that over 92 per cent of Governments said the Organization responded effectively to COVID-19.  However, he also cautioned against complacency and called for the benefits of reform to be urgently scaled up, declaring:  “The world is on fire, and so far, international cooperation has not delivered for those who need it most.”

Collen Vixen Kelapile of Botswana, President of the Economic and Social Council, also drew attention to the striking inequalities that continue to characterize how the global community is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Meanwhile, inequality remains extensive, poverty is on the rise, and the climate crisis as well as protracted conflicts are generating all-time-high humanitarian needs.  Against that backdrop, the multilateral system is facing a major “stress test” and the global community has a responsibility to decide how it will move forward.  For its part, the United Nations development system — guided by the 2020 quadrennial comprehensive policy review — is demonstrating its value in supporting countries as they work to recover from COVID-19 and achieve sustainable development, he said.

Miia Rainne of Finland, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said the segment’s main objective is to ascertain how well the United Nations development system is meeting the demand to “build back better from COVID-19” and get on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  In that work, participants must focus on countries in special situations, including those transitioning from conflicts and crises and the many reeling from record-high food prices and assaults on human rights.  “We need bold steps to steer the world onto a more sustainable path, and a recovery that leads to greener, more inclusive economies and stronger, more resilient societies,” she said.

Echoing some of those points, General Assembly President Abdulla Shahid of Maldives emphasized that the goal is not to “rebuild the world as it was before 2020”.  Instead, the international community must use the process of recovering from the pandemic to adopt the structural reforms and transformative policies that will achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  In that context, he recalled that the latest quadrennial comprehensive policy review — adopted by the General Assembly in 2020 — contains, for the first time, explicit calls for the United Nations development system to support social protection, universal health coverage and education.

The Council held two interactive sessions throughout the day, including one in which representatives of Member States were able to make comments about the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review and pose direct questions.  Many speakers welcomed the positive findings set out in the report, while spotlighting remaining challenges.  Some delegates called for more attention to the needs of least developed countries, middle-income States and those in special situations, while voicing deep concern over the growing trend of developed nations cutting back on their official development assistance (ODA) just when it is needed most.

During the second interactive session, delegates considered the annual report of the Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group on the Development Coordination Office and the resident coordinator system.  They made comments and posed questions to Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Robert Piper, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the Development Coordination Office, who jointly presented that report.

The Council will reconvene in a formal session at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 18 May, to continue its operational activities for development segment.