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The perspectives of Africa, Asia-Pacific, Western Asia, Europe, and Latin America and the Caribbean are critical in the collective push to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and bring countries “back on track” in efforts to measurably improve well-being across their societies by 2030, speakers in the high-level political forum on sustainable development stressed today, as they discussed recommendations emerging from a series of regional dialogues to that end.

Offering a bird’s-eye view of the landscape, Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and Coordinator of the Regional Commissions, said COVID-19 has rippled through the world’s economies to devastating effect.  And the war in Ukraine has rattled already volatile food, energy and financial systems, amplifying structural challenges, such as poverty.  “All of this has left a dent in our trajectory to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said.

In a morning panel moderated by Rosa Malango, Director of the Regional Commissions New York Office, ministerial chairs of the five Regional Forums on Sustainable Development delivered messages about the measures needed for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals under the forum’s review:  Goals 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 14 (life below water), 15 (life on land) and 17 (partnerships).

“Policy coherence is essential to address trade-offs and synergies at all levels,” said Edil Baisalov, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, reporting on the outcomes from the ECE Regional Forum, held on 6-7 April.  Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand, said participants in the Asia-Pacific Forum, held on 31 March, said developing countries require support, especially amid the competing priorities laid bare by the COVID-19 crisis.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, said Arnoldo André Tinoco, Costa Rica’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship, “we need to strengthen the united voice of our region in re-establishing the world order.”  He pointed to the issue of recovery financing from regional and international development banks, while Uzziel Ndagijimana, Minister for Finance and Economic Planning of Rwanda, said that in Africa, efforts must focus on the $88 billion in illicit financial flows hampering progress, and the gender inequalities costing African countries $60 billion a year.

Nasser Shraideh, Minister for Planning and International Cooperation of Jordan, said the Regional Forum organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) focused on recovery and resilience.  “The Arab region needs to consolidate its development goals and guarantee better opportunities for our youth,” he affirmed.

During the ensuing interactive dialogue, speakers representing major stakeholder groups and delegates from various countries took the floor to highlight the importance of tailor-made regional solutions to sustainable development challenges and to make recommendations on how to accelerate action before the 2030 deadline.  In response, the Executive Secretaries from the five United Nations Regional Commissions spotlighted ways they are helping countries reverse negative trends, notably in terms of financing to tackle entrenched structural issues.

Also today, the forum held a ministerial roundtable on the theme, “Accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030:  addressing ongoing crises and overcoming challenges”, in which 42 ministers and other senior officials outlined priorities, including to harness the resources of the private sector private sector and innovative financing instruments to support sustainable development.

Gabon, Guinea-Bissau and the Netherlands also presented their voluntary national reviews of progress in attaining the 17 Goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with a view to accelerating action.

Leila Benali, President of the United Nations Environment Assembly and Minister for Energy Transition and Sustainable Development of Morocco, presented the outcome of the Assembly’s recent sessions.

The high-level political forum on sustainable development will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Friday, 15 July to conclude its 2022 session.

Panel — Ministerial Chairs of Regional Forums on Sustainable Development

In opening remarks, OLGA ALGAYEROVA, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) and Coordinator of the Regional Commissions, said the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating health and socioeconomic effects, while the war in Ukraine is leading to human suffering, and destabilized food, energy and financial systems are setting back development efforts worldwide.  At the same time, structural challenges such as poverty, inequalities, climate change and biodiversity loss persist.  “All of this has left a dent in our trajectory to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” she said, noting that trends related to many targets under review must be either accelerated or reversed.  The regions are “an important part” of the solution to the challenges hampering progress, she said, and closely linked with efforts at the local, national, subregional and global levels.  The five Regional Forums on Sustainable Development, held by the Commissions, are key platforms for Governments and United Nations partners alike to identify bottlenecks, discuss innovative policies and find practical solutions.

Moderated by Rosa Malango, Director of the Regional Commissions New York Office, the panel featured presentations by:  Don Pramudwinai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Thailand; Edil Baisalov, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan; Arnoldo André Tinoco, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Worship of Costa Rica; Uzziel Ndagijimana, Minister for Finance and Economic Planning of Rwanda; and Nasser Shraideh, Minister for Planning and International Cooperation of Jordan.

Mr. PRAMDWINAI, in a pre-recorded video, described messages that emerged from the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development, held from 28-31 March 2022 in Bangkok, where Member States, intergovernmental bodies and other stakeholders noted that countries, supported by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), are engaging in a regional effort to build back better from the pandemic.  With competing priorities arising from COVID-19, participants stressed that developing countries require support to “get back on track”.  The Forum aimed to advance priority issues, such as social protections, gender equality, the transition to green economies and climate change mitigation.  Participants recognized the importance of greater investment in green pathways, including through bio-circular economies, he said, pointing also to a round table discussion focused on Goals 4 (quality education), 5 (gender equality), 15 (life on land) and 17 (partnerships), which considered ways to coordinate efforts in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Speakers highlighted United Nations capacity-building efforts to advance COVID-19 recovery, pointing as well to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue in this context.  Participants also addressed voluntary national reviews and discussed ways to better integrate policies.

Mr. BAISALOV said regional Governments affirmed their commitment to the 2030 Agenda, during the Regional Forum held in Geneva on 6-7 April, where participants also called for accelerated progress.  Systematic approaches and integrated policy responses should be deployed.  “Policy coherence is essential to address trade-offs and synergies at all levels,” he said.  Describing messages related to the Sustainable Development Goals under in-depth review, namely Goal 4, he said education systems must become more resilient, including through digital learning for all.  On Goal 5, participants agreed that COVID-19 has amplified gender inequalities and called for developing gender-responsive standards that inform policies and legislation.  On Goal 14 (life below water), they said the between the ocean and human behaviour should be considered in national curricula, while on Goal 15, they agreed that land degradation, overfishing and deforestation harm food security.  Regional and national legally binding instruments are tools for effective ecosystem protection when they include time-bound targets and strong enforcement mechanisms.  As for Goal 17, they called for cooperation among data producers, and for improving communication between them and data users, which is crucial for ensuring informed decisions, transparency and accountability.

Mr. TINOCO highlighted his country’s chairmanship of the Commission since August 2020, noting that Costa Rica has worked to enhance political discussions in Latin America and the Caribbean to ensure sustainable recovery from the pandemic.  “We need to strengthen the united voice of our region in re-establishing the world order”, he said.  During the Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Forum, held from 7-9 March in San José, Governments reaffirmed their commitment to the 2030 Agenda and noted the need to reach all those in situations of vulnerability and isolation.  He cited the participation of the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, intergovernmental organizations and more than 300 representatives from civil society, academia and the private sector in the Forum.  They discussed how to enhance multilateralism, notably through financing for development, as well as ways to improve national productive and environmental policies, bolster the resilience of national institutions and overcome conflicts.  They also highlighted challenges to implementing the 2030 Agenda, he said, noting that Costa Rica emphasized the particular issue of recovery financing from the perspective of regional and international development banks.  He said participants highlighted asymmetries in the ability of countries to enact environmental, financial and other policies in the face of crises, which in turn, requires efforts to tackle their particular structural vulnerabilities.

Mr. NDAGIJIMANA said the African Regional Forum, held from 3-5 March in Kigali, was opened by the President of Rwanda and attended by 1,800 participants from Government, the private sector and civil society.  Among the issues that emerged, he pointed first to the pandemic’s impact on poverty reduction, noting that efforts to recover are being hampered by a shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, financial resources and inadequate investment in green sectors.  He cited the importance of addressing the $88 billion in illicit financial flows and gender inequalities that cost African countries $60 billion a year.  Africa is disproportionately impacted by climate change, participants said, while also underscoring the need to improve the quality of teaching, invest in early childhood education and address the skills mismatch between education and market needs.  Science, technology and innovation are vital to accelerating implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Participants called for international cooperation to increase vaccine availability, so that countries can vaccinate their entire populations.  Governments must implement budgetary policies that support climate action, he said, citing the broader need to tackle the gender inequalities at the heart of climate change and disaster risk.  Development institutions in Africa meanwhile should issue green and blue bonds and debt swaps for biodiversity.  Participants called for setting a reasonable price for carbon, and pressed developed States to deliver $100 billion annually to help developing countries address the impact of climate change, as agreed.  Investment is also required to help countries develop data needed to realize the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. SHRAIDEH said the Arab Forum, held 15-17 March in Beirut, was chaired by Jordan and organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) in collaboration with League of Arab States, under the theme “Recovery and Resilience”.  Participants noted that the pandemic elevated poverty and unemployment, and widened inequality, exacerbating challenges related to climate change, water scarcity, food security and forced migration.  Participants called for “serious and bold” measures in the areas of good governance, building resilient societies, achieving growth, creating jobs, and guaranteeing both socioeconomic justice and environmental sustainability.  “The Arab region needs to consolidate its development goals and guarantee better opportunities for our youth, so they can live in a region where peace, security and prosperity prevail,” he affirmed.  Participants said resilient and sustainable recovery requires a comprehensive assessment of the “education deficit”, providing quality digital education through infrastructure investment and bridging the gender gap, and updating curricula to reflect labour market needs.  They highlighted the importance of promoting women’s role in political and economic life, he said, stressing that “we need to correct negative concepts about women’s liberation.”  Participants also highlighted the need for transparency in protecting fisheries and biological diversity.  Recovery requires smart spending to improve the management of public resources, they agreed, while also encouraging countries to undertake voluntary national reviews at the local level, and to link them to accountability.

Opening the interactive dialogue, lead discussant APRIL PORTERIA of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (representing Major Groups and Other Stakeholders), highlighted the systemic challenges exposed by the pandemic, noting that in her region, the latest progress reports show that the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved until 2065.  The high-level political forum must discuss how best to unpack systemic barriers in international economic governance, she said, adding that many global South countries face debt crisis and collapsing economies.  The voluntary national review process should go beyond capitals, she said, calling for enhanced civil society participation and stronger regional follow-up mechanisms.

Delegates from various countries took the floor to highlight the importance of tailor-made regional solutions to sustainable development.  Lebanon’s delegate called for long-term development assistance and concessional financing in addition to short-term humanitarian aid for countries such as his.  He pointed to the importance of engaging men and boys in regional efforts to tackle gender inequality and called for food import financing to assist countries that are facing severe food insecurity.  On that note, Ukraine’s delegate called on the international community to exert pressure on the Russian Federation to stop its war, noting the grain shortages caused by the conflict.  However, the representative of the Russian Federation said that such accusations are baseless, and that the armed forces of Ukraine were shelling peaceful civilians in Donbass for eight years.  His country actively participates in the work of ECE and ESCAP, he said.

The representative of Guatemala, expressing appreciation for the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) as a regional centre for dialogue and capacity-building, noted that the Commission selected her State as “a priority country” for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals.  China’s delegate said his State has shared development opportunities with countries in its region.  Its regional economic partnerships are giving strong impetus to the development of the Asian Pacific region, he said, also noting his Government’s commitment to provide 1 billion vaccines to Africa.

A speaker from the Council of Europe said local bodies and their practical experience must have a central role in policymaking.  “If something does not work locally, it will never work nationally,” he stressed, adding that giving territorial authorities resources and responsibilities is crucial to building resilient societies.

A speaker from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Stakeholder Group, noting that Central Asia has been hard hit by the pandemic, drew attention to the discrimination faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the region, including the high barriers they face in accessing services.  Violations of trans people’s right to reproductive care leads to long-term negative health outcomes while the lack of matching legal documentation hinders access to food or services.  Further, the current gender quota in political affairs in Kazakhstan must be raised from 30 per cent to 50.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Iraq, France, Morocco, Belarus, Egypt and the Dominican Republic.

The forum then heard from the Executive Secretaries of the United Nations Regional Commissions.

Ministerial Roundtable

In the afternoon, the Forum held a ministerial roundtable on “Accelerating achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030:  addressing ongoing crises and overcoming challenges.”

CARLOS EDUARDO CORREA ESCAF, Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia, stressing that the urgent need for climate action was an overarching theme, called on the international community to be carbon-neutral and nature-positive.  Noting his country’s ambitious climate action, which includes the launch of a heritage plan for protection of 32 million hectares, planting of 40 million trees and the commitment to conserve 30 per cent of its maritime areas, he said:  “Colombia is doing what it promised to do.”  HUANG RUNQIU, Minister for Ecology and Environment of China, urged countries to adopt a holistic approach to maintaining steady growth while also transitioning to green and low-carbon economy.  Countries are like passengers in the same boat, he said highlighting the shared destiny of all Member States.

However, many speakers pointed to the lack of adequate climate finance, among them AHSAN IQBAL, Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives of Pakistan, who called for a level playing field for developing countries. Despite producing miniscule emissions, his country is among the most climate-vulnerable, which has caused a massive increase in its development costs.  He also pointed to the unsustainable debt burdens many developing countries face.

Along similar lines, HALA EL-SAEED, Minister for Planning and Economic Development of Egypt, highlighted the shortcomings in the international financial structure, adding that fair financial instruments are a key element in unlocking developing countries’ ability to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.  FRANCIS M. KAI-KAI, Minister for Planning and Economic Development of Sierra Leone, highlighted the plight of conflict-affected, fragile countries such as his, noting that least developed countries are bearing the macroeconomic brunt of this era of compounded crises.

ANITA MUIŽNIECE, Minister for Education and Science of Latvia, stressing that there can be no sustainable development without peace, said that the most vulnerable people in the world have been affected by the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine, which has created inflationary pressures on food and energy everywhere.  She stressed the importance of high-quality education, noting her country’s focus on reforming its education system to ensure development of competencies and skills forecasting.  Mr. BAISALOV, Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers of Kyrgyzstan, also pointed to his Government’s investments in education, including special educational resources and distance education technologies.

MONDLI GUNGUBELE, Minister in the Presidency of South Africa, noted that his country’s labour market was hit hard by the pandemic, with job losses disproportionately concentrated in low-income sectors.  He stressed the need to future-proof the global public health system and called for courage and resilience as the international community builds back from the devastation of COVID-19.  To that end, KAROLINE EDTSTADLER, Federal Minister for the European Union and Constitution at the Federal Chancellery of Austria, said the empowerment of women builds the foundation for resilient societies.

Throughout, financing issues dominated the discussion.

LUIS RENÉ RUANO, Presidential Commissioner for Municipal Affairs of Guatemala, underscoring that COVID-19 compounded existing vulnerabilities, emphasized that adverse climate events only increased the risks of food insecurity, migration and ecosystem deterioration.  “We have to focus on implementation,” he said, particularly in terms of access to funding.  He called on multilateral financial institutions to consider vulnerability criteria in the allocation of financial resources and pressed developed countries to fulfil their pledge to allocate 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to official development assistance (ODA).

That call was echoed by PHOXAY KHAYKHAMPHTHOUNE, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, who pointed to the critical importance of doing so in order for his landlocked country to build productive capacities.  BISWO NATH POUDEL, Vice-Chairman of the National Planning Commission of Nepal, likewise said his country is making every effort to graduate from least developed country status, and thus called for fulfilling the pledge to allocate 0.7 per cent of gross national income to ODA.

On that point, PILAR CANCELA RODRÍGUEZ, Secretary of State for International Cooperation of Spain, cited the urgent need to release funding for development, notably to prevent debt crises, which are also being experienced by middle-income countries.  To alleviate these pressures, Spain crated a multidimensional vulnerability index, allowing countries to access various sources of funding, and is committed to disbursing 20 per cent of International Monetary Fund (IMF) special drawing rights to vulnerable countries.

High inflation, climate change, ballooning public debt, food insecurity and supply chain disruptions also took centre stage.

KORNEY SAMUEL, Secretary of National Planning and Monitoring of Papua New Guinea, pointed to the pandemic’s severe impact on his country’s trade, transport, tourism industries, prompting gross domestic product to tumble from 2.5 per cent to 1.3 per cent.  It has been difficult for Papua New Guinea to be resilient and the Government resorted to debt financing to keep the economy afloat, he reported.

On food security, BJØRG SANDKJAER, State Secretary for International Development of Norway, blamed the Russian Federation’s attack on Ukraine for worsening debt and inflation pressures.  “Ukraine needs support,” she said, calling broadly for “immediate and greater” action to alleviate hunger, as the world is “far” from reaching Goal 2 (zero hunger).  She urged countries to make global food systems green, sustainable and climate-based, stressing:  “we must get the 2030 Agenda back on track.”

Addressing those issues head-on, SERGEY VERSHININ, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, said his country, before the onset of COVID-19, warned that efforts to fulfil the Goals would not succeed unless the causes of price volatility were addressed, namely:  instability in the global economic order.  He blamed Western countries for creating the conditions that led to instability in raw materials markets, long before the events in Ukraine.  Sanctions have only worsened inflation in those countries, provoking risks of a global recession.  The Russian Federation has increased its food and fertilizer exports, notably to African countries, he said.

On the climate front, BETTINA HOFFMANN, Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection of Germany said her country will invest €4 billion in ecosystem restitution by 2026.  KHALIFA ALI ASSA AL HARTHY, Undersecretary for Diplomatic Affairs in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Oman, outlining national efforts to tackle climate change, including through the creation of a committee dedicated to that pursuit, stressed the importance of “pooling our efforts” to achieve sustainable development.

BRIGITTE MARIE SUZANNE COMPAORE-YONI, Minister Delegate to the Minister for Economy, Finance and Forecasting, in charge of the Budget of Burkina Faso, equally described the fallout from COVID-19 as “significant”.  In 2022, global inflation led to unprecedented prices rises, compounding trends in her country over the last 20 years.  As of 30 April, the figures were “dreadful”:  1.9 million people — 9.2 per cent of the population — are displaced, while more than 4,000 schools are closed — 16 per cent of educational facilities — and 160 health centres are shuttered.  Despite the budgetary constraints, the Government is working to ensure the provision of agricultural equipment to avoid a food crisis.  While Burkina Faso is committed to carrying out the recommendations in the road map to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, without technical and financial support, “we will not achieve these objectives,” she said.

Signalling a brighter future, CARLA ALEXANDRA ORESTE DO ROSARIO FERNANDES LOVEIRA, Deputy Minister for Economy and Finance of Mozambique, said her country presented its first voluntary national review report in 2020, with progress seen in access to safe water — especially for those living in rural areas — expanded access to electricity and improved access to justice.  Mozambique also vaccinated 88 per cent of its target population.

Also speaking were ministers from Kiribati, Iraq, Romania, Kazakhstan, Malta, Sudan, Morocco, Costa Rica, Malawi, Jamaica, Netherlands, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Liberia, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Georgia, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Chad and India.

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