Against the backdrop of a highly uncertain global outlook, with rising food and fuel prices blunting efforts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Economic and Social Council formally adopted the ministerial declaration of its high-level political forum on sustainable development today, reaffirming that poverty eradication is an “indispensable requirement” for building resilient societies.
The declaration (document E/2022/L.14) — the outcome of six months of negotiations — was endorsed by consensus during the Council’s high-level segment following a decision to retain its paragraph 131 by a recorded vote of 20 in favour to 3 against (Canada, Israel, United States), with 15 abstentions.
“We strongly reaffirm our commitment to the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals,” ministers stressed through the declaration, recognizing the framework as the blueprint for an inclusive and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. The 29-page text reaffirms commitments made in various areas — perhaps most prominently in reiterating the importance of international cooperation, multilateralism and solidarity across the board.
That motif dovetailed with the day’s priority focus on “future proofing multilateralism for a resilient and inclusive recovery”, with ministers and other senior officials from around the world proposing ways to make multilateral arrangements more inclusive, networked and effective.
In a panel discussion devoted to that topic, experts assessed the current condition of multilateralism, noting that the early response to the pandemic did not showcase its best attributes, with the least developed countries finding themselves at the mercy of others that helped themselves first. “There was no global response,” said panelist Apostolos Xyrafis, Secretary General of the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions, who pointed out that civil society was the first to step up in to respond, showing incredible solidarity that at times extended across borders.
The day was equally focused on successes, with panellists and delegates alike shining a spotlight on multilateral arrangements and instruments that already contain well-known solutions. Lending his voice to that view, Pakistan’s representative said the actions needed are well identified in the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development and the political declaration before the Council today. “What we need is international solidarity to implement the objectives and commitments that the Economic and Social Council has adopted in these important declarations,” he said.
Panellist Rania A. Al-Mashat, Egypt’s Minister for International Cooperation, broadly agreed, noting that many multilateral frameworks have helped countries move beyond the COVID-19 crisis, despite the cloud still hanging over the recovery. “It would be a mistake to paint a picture where everything is flawed,” she said. “We need to identify what has worked and try to push it further.”
Also today, Liu Zhenmin, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s reports on the theme, “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. José Antonio Ocampo, Chair of the Committee for Development Policy, presented the highlights of the report of the Committee (document E/2022/33).
In closing remarks, Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), President of the Economic and Social Council, thanked delegates for the day’s rich discussions and consensus adoption of the political declaration, which provides good political guidance and a solid basis for overcoming the pandemic. Noting that the high-level segment culminates the Council’s work throughout the year, during which time its members have endeavored to address the pandemic’s diverse negative impacts on all aspects of lives and livelihoods, he said the past two years have taught many lessons. “International solidarity is the only way to keep the promise to achieve the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals,” he said. A new multilateralism could ensure that global rules are calibrated towards social and economic stability, shared prosperity and environmental sustainability.
Introduction of Reports
LIU ZHENMIN, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, presented the Secretary-General’s reports on the annual theme of the session of the Council and the 2022 high-level political forum, “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (document E/2022/57) and on future trends and scenarios and the long-term impact of current trends on the realization of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (document E/2022/58).
The first report stresses that the COVID-19 pandemic has been a human tragedy, having caused more than 6 million deaths globally — as well as a major step back for progress in sustainable development and realization of the 2030 Agenda, he said. Building back better will require countries’ determination to adopt and invest in policies that strengthen human, social, economic and planetary resilience, as well as pursue a strong focus on resource allocations.
A key message is that the COVID-19 outbreak has shown that the global system is only as strong as its weakest link, requiring further strengthening of multilateral cooperation and partnership, including revitalizing the international institutions that sustain them, he said. The report stresses that vaccine equity for all countries is essential, with production capacities boosted in developing countries. States must avoid returning to the “business as usual” investment patterns and activities of the past and opt to make their economies more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable, he said, adding that transformative changes are needed, led by Governments.
Some 53 per cent of the global population still has no access to any type of social protection, he said. The global economy is consuming annually more than 100 billion tons of the Earth’s resources, requiring a shift towards less resource-intensive technologies and an economic model that involves sharing, repairing and recycling materials and products as long as possible. The recovery will also require countries to invest in digital transition and bridge the digital gaps among and within countries.
Turning to the second report, he said the focus is on supporting policymakers in looking beyond today’s crises and emergencies and reflecting on scenarios on how the world can reach the Sustainable Development Goals and its climate change objectives. The world’s actions in the past year have not been in line with a global “best-case scenario” of low energy demand, which was presented in the Secretary-General’s report last year.
In particular, he noted the key elements of the alternative sustainable development pathway scenario include: preserving planetary integrity by reducing greenhouse gas emissions; optimizing and providing material needs and sustainable resources; reducing extreme poverty; achieving economic prosperity and ensuring decent living standards for all; and strengthening institutions and partnerships. He noted these measures would require investing in a range of emerging carbon dioxide removal technologies, as well as nature-based solutions. While the Sustainable Development Goals and the global climate targets are still within reach, the world must adopt the right policies and increase investments, research and technology sharing. The report also shows that supporting the energy transition is a powerful enabler, with digital consumer technologies offering potential to greatly reduce primary energy demand. In all areas, political will, focus, continuing research and development, and international cooperation and solidarity are needed.
JOSÉ ANTONIO OCAMPO, Chair of the Committee for Development Policy, presented the highlights of the report of the Committee (document E/2022/33) — noting it had met from 21 to 25 February, the very week in which the war in Ukraine impacted least developed and other developing countries. The crisis aggravates the already severe issues generated by COVID-19, climate change and multidimensional structural challenges. Post-pandemic industrial policies will need to take into account new realities, challenges and opportunities, including the green and blue economies, digitalization, and the need to adapt to climate change. He noted that production networks are moving away from the boundaries of the large corporation or conglomerate towards firms cooperating across borders under diverse legal arrangements. Integrating micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises into broader productive networks requires building their capabilities, and financing frameworks need to be agile and inclusive.
In analysis of the voluntary national reviews, he welcomed improvements in 2021 — but noted the reports can do better in terms of sharing meaningful experiences and lessons learned. He cited significant progress made towards graduation from the least developed countries category and the development progress of recently graduated Vanuatu, as well as Angola, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Nepal, Sao Tome and Principe and Solomon Islands — all of which have their graduation dates already established by the General Assembly.
However, he expressed concern at the limited capacity of these countries to address the diverse challenges they face. The Committee has started to pilot iGrad (the Sustainable Graduation Support Facility), a country-led and partnership-based global platform of dedicated capacity development support for countries moving out of the least developed country category. He further voiced alarm that a significant number of countries, particularly those in Africa, remain far behind on several issues, including vaccinations, and will struggle to achieve graduation. The external debt of many remains unsustainable and the Common Framework for Debt Treatments beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative is not delivering on its promises.
Fireside Chat — Opening Remarks
COLLEN VIXEN KELAPILE, President of the Economic and Social Council, introduced the “fireside chat” on “Future proofing multilateralism for a resilient and inclusive recovery”, noting that the response to COVID-19 — especially in its early phases — showed grave shortcomings in multilateralism and international solidarity. However, time and time again, the impact of an effective and inclusive multilateralism and global solidarity have averted wars, advanced technology innovations and creativity, eradicated diseases, reversed the trend towards the extinction of species and repaired the damage to the ozone layer. If the highest levels of global, regional and national actors are sincere in their calls to strengthen those levers, then “we are on the right path”, he stressed.
DANILO TÜRK, former President of Slovenia and President of the Club de Madrid — an organization assembling over 100 democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — said the expected problems of recovery are compounded as the world is at the foothills of a new cold war. Without peace, there will be no resilient and inclusive recovery. He called for a set of serious political efforts towards détente to relax tensions among the major world powers. The confluence of the food, energy and threatening debt crises may push up to 1.7 billion people into poverty, destitution and hunger on a scale not seen in decades — requiring major countries to release grain stock reserves onto international markets. In addition, immediate action must address the growing unsustainable debt of developing countries, including making the Debt Service Suspension Initiative of 2021 and the Common Framework for Debt Treatment more effective.
Citing the climate crisis, he called for greater investment in global public goods — noting that public-private collaboration must reach unprecedented levels — and a public sector that is proactive in designing new frameworks of risk-sharing with the private sector. There must be new mandates to create a global financial safety net, ideally through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and global public goods must be placed at the core of World Bank development financing and development banks in general. He stressed that leaving no one behind is not an empty slogan, but a vital condition for the survival of humankind — and the proposed second World Social Summit in 2025 should be a turning point. Noting that “the current prevalence of competition and confrontation does not help”, he said “cooperation must become the order of the day”.
Panel 1: Future-Proofing Multilateralism for a Resilient, Inclusive Recovery
Moderated by Rajesh Mirchandani, Chief Communications Officer at the United Nations Foundation, the panel featured presentations by: Rania A. Al-Mashat, Minister for International Cooperation of Egypt; Gabriel Ferrero, Ambassador at Large for Global Food Security at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation of Spain, and Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security; Chido Mpemba, Special Envoy on Youth of the African Union; Apostolos Xyrafis, Secretary General of the International Association of Economic and Social Councils and Similar Institutions; and Shyam Bishen, Head of Health and Healthcare and Member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum, who joined virtually from Geneva.
Ms. AL-MASHAT, underscoring that “we share more commonalities than differences”, pointed out that multilateral frameworks are not linear. Many multilateral frameworks have helped countries move beyond the COVID-19 crisis, despite the cloud still hanging above full recovery. International cooperation with various bilateral partners and multilateral institutions during the pandemic has showcased their importance. As an example, she pointed to the Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, which pushes for inclusive partnerships and monitoring and evaluation through results-based modalities. From a country ownership point of view, by trying to push the principles of the Global Partnership, countries will be able to refresh the look of multilateralism. “It would be a mistake to paint a picture where everything is flawed,” she said. “We need to identify what has worked and try to push it further.” Noting that many countries have put “a lot” of effort into pushing their reform agendas, she said the key threat is the loss of hope in the ability to advance reforms even further.
Mr. FERRERO said the global food crisis is the most serious in decades, with the potential for becoming a disaster in 2023, unless urgent action is taken at global, national and local levels. He underscored the need for the “urgently proficient performance of multilateralism” and for both identifying and elevating successes in the multilateral system, particularly in the development sphere. The pandemic and the 2008-2009 food crisis offer some lessons learned, he explained. Good responses involve flexibility and an ability to rapidly respond to shocks. “The current reality does not allow us to wait for slow bureaucracies to work and multilateral fora to react,” he stressed. Ideally, stakeholders must act in a coordinated, joint manner, with adequate connection to multilateral bodies such as the IMF, World Bank, Economic and Social Council and World Health Organization (WHO). They must also work with science and evidence. United Nations specialized agencies have an interface between policies and science, including the High-Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition, he said, noting that structured coordination with the groups most impacted is also needed.
Ms. MPEMBA said young people face the same employment and opportunity challenges as other vulnerable groups. Pointing out that young people are self-mobilizing, driving dialogue and change, she said they work together and propose joint solutions. “We need to make sure they also have room on the platforms when we are making decisions and speaking about integration and cooperation.” During the pandemic, many young people were involved in driving innovation. However, there is a shortage of resources to help them build their capacities, she said, pointing out that many young people are now in competition, rather than collaboration, with each other. Young people, particularly in Africa, must have more access to funding, she asserted.
Mr. XYRAFIS said multilateralism needs a new impetus to rediscover its fundamental principles. He defined multilateralism as a process in which countries work together to reach a common objective through a set of constant principles, noting that COVID-19 laid bare the limits of such a system, as countries took a “let me save myself” approach. He described the “triumphant recourse” of the citizen going to the State for help when the pandemic hit. Then, vaccines arrived on the scene, with civil society coming to the fore and showing incredible solidarity, sometimes cross-border. Countries then offered assistance. “There was no global response,” he clarified. “That is what was missing.” He worried about the relationship of force between States that weighs on their interactions within multilateral arrangements, stressing that the absence of “a converging interest” will determine the extent to which multilateral arrangements can succeed. The participation of civil society and social partners, expressed institutionally through the Economic and Social Council and similar national institutions, is important. “Organized civil society can provide an additional impetus to multilateralism,” he said, within a process of creating arrangements. “It is the voice of compassion, wisdom and solidarity.”
Mr. BISHEN described the unprecedented global collaboration between public and private sectors in the early days of the pandemic in terms of diagnostics and vaccine development, noting that a vaccine was produced in record time as soon as the sequence was shared. “We must cheer this,” he said. As the pandemic progressed, nationalism kicked in and multilateralism eroded in many areas, most visibly in the inequitable roll-out and distribution of vaccines to low- and middle-income countries. The global response has shown the ability of multilateralism to urgently respond to pressing issues and highlighted the need for Governments to work with civil society and the private sector to meet evolving challenges. “Any solution must be rooted in the needs of those communities most affected by health inequities,” he insisted, calling on Governments to come together to help push the private sector move forward on this issue. He pointed to the European Union’s upcoming mandatory environmental, social and governance reporting standards in this context, stressing: “There is a lot that multilateralism can do here.” Also, there are major underlying drivers of global health inequities that present tremendous opportunities for multilateral action, in partnership with other sectors, and he pointed to the 2 billion people who lack access to vaccines and medical diagnostics. Key stakeholders must address this issue, he concluded.
In the ensuing “fireside chat”, Ms. AL-MASHAT, responding to a question on how countries can use existing multilateral frameworks to ease liquidity and financing issues, said efforts are anchored in a national vision. The Sustainable Development Goals have been agreed upon as a common denominator. In designing Egypt’s country frameworks with institutions such as the World Bank, the United Nations or African Development Bank, the national vision becomes part of the future engagement. Noting that financing is a key issue globally today, she said the global context is challenged by the prospect of looming recession.
“We should not give up on how we can use the development finance,” she said in order to crowd in private sector. If countries are going to “blend” or help de-risk the private sector’s involvement in various countries, this becomes a priority. She linked it to the climate agenda, noting that a key element in the twenty-seventh Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) centres around private-sector financing. The financing pledges made at COP26 will never be realized unless it is blended with development finance. She pointed out that most private-sector financing has gone to mitigation, rather than adaptation, an area which requires action. Countries must address how to de-risk private sector involvement, which requires Governments, the private sector and civil society to engage holistically. Official development assistance (ODA), which fosters international cooperation and multilateralism, has been used to implement Egypt’s vision in various projects that address the global Sustainable Development Goals. This should be scaled and repeated, “despite the very dire circumstance we are in today”.
Mr. FERRERO, to a question on whether the multilateral system can exercise the flexibility and speed needed to address food and other crises, said those qualities “are not a characteristic for which the multilateral system was designed”. While it is possible to react, this requires a rethinking of “how the system works”. He highlighted the priority need for connection among the various multilateral forums, through a systems thinking approach, which involves making connections among the disparate elements underpinning a complex reality. “It does not make sense to work in a disconnected manner, with various agencies dealing with different aspects of the response,” he said. As to how to address food and energy crises, he described the need for interaction, first and foremost among organizations within the United Nations family — including the Bretton Woods institutions and the Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance. At intergovernmental forums, there are also systems of connection, and he pointed to a high-level event held by the Committee on World Food Security and the General Assembly to promote these connections. He proposed an annual meeting for the presidents of all intergovernmental organizations so they can coordinate an agenda and share a holistic view of the solutions.
As to how to bring in younger voices in an equitable manner, Ms. MPEMBA said stakeholders must examine governance frameworks to ensure they are inclusive, stressing: “This would go a long way.” She also suggested taking a bottom-up approach by including the views of people “on the ground” in the pivotal decisions being made, as well as exploring whether information is really reaching everyone. If not, discussions must centre on building infrastructure to this end. Institutional reforms are also needed, notably for self-financing and related tools. “When we put resources on the table, there is a sense of accountability for how we coordinate the efforts,” she observed. More must be done to ensure young voices are better resourced and represented at the table, whether at the national, regional or continental level.
Mr. XYRAFIS pointed to the importance of social dialogue to ensure discussions arrive at a common denominator position. “If you have that, then public policy is made that much easier,” he said, “and you contribute to social cohesion on major issues”. Global structural change requires resources and time to ensure that technology is able to transition from outdated to modern iterations, and that new investment is targeted in the right areas. It would be “utopian” to ask the weakest developing countries to make this transition without helping them. As to the lack of trust between developed and developing countries, which has led to an impasse, the needs of developing countries must be met if the multilateral system is to remain intact and effective.
Mr. BISHEN said it is important not simply to talk about “Governments collaborating together” but also about involving civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders in the discussions. In addressing a crisis like the pandemic, it is clear, for example, that countries must work with global health entities, such as the WHO and development banks — whether the World Bank, IMF or regional development banks. It is also essential to change the way development banks work, moving away from simply lending money and moving towards investing in infrastructure.
Following another round of rapid-fire queries to the panellists, ministers and other senior officials from around the world engaged in an interactive dialogue, amid resounding calls for a more democratic and transparent form of multilateralism that yields better results for all countries as they tackle climate change, COVID-19 and the geopolitical tensions which have led to spikes in food, fuel and fertilizer prices. Inevitably, many said, the priority questions hinge on access to finance.
Against that backdrop, Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister for Health of Malawi, speaking for the least developed countries, agreed on the need for multilateralism that is more robust, effective and inclusive. Most people living in extreme poverty are in least developed countries and are unable to access concessional finance. The future multilateralism should assist the poor with grants and concessional finance “when they need it”.
Francis Mustapha Kai-Kai, Minister for Planning and Economic Development of Sierra Leone, similarly said the devastating effects of these crises continue to threaten peace, stability and economic governance, especially in the least developed countries. “For national efforts to take root, stronger collaboration is needed,” he stressed. “We need an effective inclusive approach to protect the weakest countries and their populations.”
Several delegates focused on solutions. Jean Victor Geneus, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Haiti, underscored the importance of the political declaration approved last week by the Council’s high-level political forum and cited the launch of a national integrated framework in Haiti for the financing of sustainable development, a new institution that brings together the banking sector, international partners, civil society and other stakeholders.
At the global level, Angola’s representative called for full implementation of the 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda, which establishes a strong foundation for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, while the representative of Türkiye, speaking also for Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and Australia, called for defending international norms, frameworks and institutions. He pointed to the need for a stronger General Assembly and an Economic and Social Council that has improved its effectiveness and reasserted its central role in responding to crises. He also welcomed the Assembly’s passage of resolution 76/262 by which it has the mandate to address a situation when a Security Council veto is cast.
China’s representative meanwhile confirmed that “there is only one order: the international order, based on international law.” Adopting a beggar-thy-neighbour economic policy, creating small cliques and imposing rules made by blocs is not true multilateralism. The true spirit of multilateralism must be reflected in actions to protect world peace and pursue common development. Coordination must be strengthened, with developed countries shouldering their due responsibilities to avoid the negative spill-over effects of their macroeconomic policy adjustments. The global North and South must work together, he affirmed.
Bolivia’s representative, pointing out that many countries have been unable to achieve 70 per cent vaccination of their populations to avoid the emergence of new variants, said States must be able to coordinate their actions in line with the common good in times of crisis. To reverse the lack of trust, individual and collective commitments must be met. He called for far-reaching transformations in the global financial architecture. “We need solid, inclusive resilient multilateralism, based on solidarity, reciprocity and mutual trust,” he said.
Pakistan’s representative said developing countries are the principal victims of supply chain shocks and runaway inflation. They now also will pay for the rise in global interest rates. Multilateralism cannot be “proofed” if it is unable to respond to the current existential crisis confronting the global South. The actions needed are well identified in the Financing for Development Declaration and outcome adopted last week by the high-level political forum. “What we need is international solidarity to implement the objectives and commitments that the Economic and Social Council has adopted in these important declarations,” he said.
“What are we trying to future proof against,” Thailand’s delegate similarly asked. “That is the challenge before us.” He pointed to the Council’s newly launched coordination segment as one small step in the right direction, calling for greater United Nations system-wide coherence. He also proposed a meeting among the Group of 20 (G20) nations, international financial institutions and the United Nations. “We will need all hands on deck” to rescue the Goals, he said. On that issue, the speaker from the Council of Europe noted that mayors in particular implement many of the Goals at the local level.
Offering solutions through a historical lens, Kenya’s representative said that before looking forward, “we need to be clear about the foundations of today’s multilateral system”. Noting that Kenya joined the United Nations in 1963, he said that “for us, protecting our independence and meeting our aspirations as a free people meant embracing multilateralism.” The endorsement of colonialism by the League of Nations, however, signals the need to protect “the right kind of multilateralism” — one that fiercely protects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of its members, and advances development, human rights and peace and security without deemphasizing any of these pillars.
“Let us challenge the hierarchies that distort our conversations and debates,” he said, calling for reform of the Security Council before it becomes obsolete, with regional organizations taking its place in practical terms, or worse — its failings threatening, rather than protecting, international peace and security. Countries must recommit to implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, a priority that should be supported by every multilateral platform. Investment must be de-risked, agricultural productivity transformed, and climate commitments met and exceeded at COP27.
Also speaking were ministers and other senior officials from Italy, Viet Nam and the Russian Federation.
Presentation by Under-Secretary-General
In the afternoon, the Council resumed consideration of its agenda item on the “High-level segment on building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: High-level policy dialogue, including future trends and scenarios related to the Council theme and the long-term impact of current trends”.
Mr. ZHEMIN, taking the floor to make a presentation on demographic and other scenarios and future trends, said there can be no doubt that foresight and preparedness are essential. The world is deeply interconnected at many different levels and through many channels, some natural and some man-made, with shocks rapidly communicated and amplified from one area of the world to another. Population and climate change interact with sudden shocks including pandemics or wars to produce unexpected outcomes. Making sense of that complexity is challenging, but it is urgent that the international community does not face the future blind. The greater the investment in credible forecasting scenarios, he stressed, the better prepared the world will be. The world lives in a time of vast amounts of data and improved analytical capacities, he noted, citing the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs and its role in that domain. Besides providing information on global progress, the database is also the basis for scenario analysis by different stakeholders — but is just the tip of iceberg.
Through the World Data Forum, the Department is working to provide better data for sustainable development. Despite improvements, however, data gaps still exist in all Sustainable Development Goal areas, requiring strengthened capacities in developing countries. The Department also provides data and analysis that is the bedrock of all human-centred scenario building. He estimated that the global population will reach 8 billion by the end of the year and peak towards the end of the century. States must plan for changes in future trends, he said, with the forthcoming World Social Report taking just such an approach to examine the implications of population ageing. The Department also produces the annual World Economic Situation Prospects report on macroeconomic international prospects. Strategical forecasts must have strong technical skills but also engage with all stakeholders, as that is the only way to bring about change.
Panel 2: Looking ahead: Acting today to secure a better future
In the afternoon, the Council held an interactive discussion on “Looking ahead: Acting today to secure a better future”, presenting different perspectives and experiences and engaging participants in a dialogue on forward-looking policy approaches to building back better and investing in sustainable development — applying a forward-looking lens to analyze the long-term policies and multilateral collaboration needed to build back better, implement the 2030 Agenda, and achieve and maintain sustainable development in the future beyond the year 2030.
Moderated by Adil Najam, Dean Emeritus and Professor of International Relations and Earth and Environment at the Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, it featured resource persons: Narasimha Rao, Associate Professor of Energy Systems at the School of the Environment, Yale University; Tomoko Hasegawa, Associate Professor at the College of Science and Engineering, Ritsumeikan University; and Jaana Tapanainen-Thiess, Secretary-General of the Government Report on the Future and Government Foresight Group at the Ministerial Foresight Panel, Office of the Prime Minister of Finland.
Lead discussants were: Kristel Vander Elst, Director-General of Policy Horizons Canada, Government of Canada (virtually); Laurel Patterson, Director of SDG Integration at the Global Policy Network, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Michael Shank, Director of Engagement at the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance; and Alfredo González Reyes, Director of the National Council for Agenda 2030, Mexico (virtually). It also featured ministerial respondents: Dato’ Sri Saifuddin Abdullah, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia (virtually); Philda Kereng, Minister for Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism of Botswana; and Ossian Smyth, Minister of State for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Public Procurement, eGovernment with special responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy of Ireland.
Mr. ADIL NAJAM said there are two reasons to look ahead: to see if the international community is prepared, with the right tools, and also to think about a future that can be different. He noted that 2030 is going to arrive much more quickly than anticipated.
Mr. RAO said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that despite COVID-19, emissions are bouncing right back to pre-pandemic levels — a trajectory that will far exceed the temperature threshold the international community agreed to in the Paris Agreement for Climate Change. Though income poverty has reduced significantly, regarding people’s living standards, progress is much slower, with most of the growth in the last few decades in increasing affluence more than improving basic well-being. Climate change mitigation and poverty eradication are compatible, he said, with the energy growth needed to provide decent living standards to all today being a fraction of global energy demand in just one year. Most of this growth will be in new and emerging cities; policies focused on improving basic services, and health and education, would reduce emissions growth. The Ukraine war is a crisis, he noted — but also a wakeup call for energy security. The least risky way to reduce foreign dependence is to reduce energy demand, by improved building conditions and other initiatives, including telecommuting for work, using public transit, and building smaller cars with different materials. The Sustainable Development Goals are, in their essence, about improving people’s well-being, he stressed.
Ms. HASEGAWA said the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that current emission trends are beyond pathways to meet long-term climate targets. The total impact of stringent climate mitigation on food security is much larger than that of climate change alone, particularly in lower-income countries, and if implemented across all sectors and regions, with those measures potentially having a worse effect on hunger. The international community must consider the effects and implement complementary measures to reduce those impacts. The trend of decreasing hunger ended in 2014 and has been increasing due to economic downturn, the pandemic and conflict. While increasing food production is a common approach to meeting needs, it can pose environmental risks due to deforestation and fertilizer use. If current unequal food distribution is not improved and food consumption increases to the level of developed countries, she warned that food production will increase by 20 per cent. However, if intensive food support targets only poor countries, food production will decrease by 9 per cent. She estimated that an additional 11 to 36 per cent of the global population may face hunger by 2050 due to extreme climate events, citing the example of South Asia, where the amount of food required to offset such an eventuality is triple the current reserve.
Ms. TAPANAINEN-THIESS posed questions about the complexity of the issues, challenges and drivers of changed involved in making decisions, contingency plans and responses in addressing the future. Finland has been engaged in a dialogue on the future for almost 30 years, with the Government delivering a report in each electoral term, contributing to building the country of next generations. All 12 ministries participated in the Government report on the future, which is a scenario work looking towards 2040, featuring input from civil servants and 50 citizens groups around the country, creating a shared understanding of the big picture. The scenario work is based on morphological analysis and presents possible paths of development — they are not forecasts — as using scenarios “is like rehearsing for the future,” she said. By recognizing warning signs, the country can avoid surprises. She questioned how to create an operating environment that generates sustainable growth, mitigates climate change and advances diversity in a way that is fair. The result is an ongoing strategic conversation about the future.
Ms. VANDER ELST said the work of Policy Horizons Canada is similar to the initiative in Finland but does not necessarily represent the views of the entire Canadian Government. Achieving the 2030 Agenda implies a high level of international solidarity, multilateralism and global action. It also seems to imply that the Goals can only by achieved through a vast level of technological development and implementation in an open world. From a foresight perspective, it is crucial to prepare for all possible futures — one of which involves great geo-technological competition, and so it is no surprise to witness an increasing race between nations, with technological competition driving competition for global power, which will certainly influence the world order to come. The group’s foresight report reflected on how actions might develop a certain zeitgeist for the future, reflecting on the possibilities for a future of paralysis, or of social Darwinist characteristics. Citing the potential of unintended consequences in achieving the Sustainable Development Goal agenda, and reliance on technology, she said that as infrastructure is increasingly digital and critical, the more the potential for breakdown in the system. States must be prepared for all scenarios.
Initiating the interactive dialogue, lead discussant LAUREL PATTERSON, Director of the Sustainable Development Goal Integration, Global Policy Network, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the need to accelerate progress on the Goals is well-known. However, “acceleration is not a direction” and collective strengths must be brought to bear in building “pathways of possibility”. To this end, investments must be made, notably in infrastructure, and she described three models of COVID-19 impact scenarios created by policy experts. A COVID-19 baseline was created, with the impact played out on various economic, social and other issues through to 2050. She described a “high-damage” scenario, which featured the high costs of inaction. In an “SDG push” scenario, however, not only did countries make process across the board; they outperformed progress they would have made prior to the pandemic’s onset. She advocated for viewing overlapping crises through one lens, stressing that “this is what gives us the best chance of taking meaningful, purposeful actions in the future.”
Mr. SHANK, Director of Engagement, Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, said people in the United States are armed and angry. “Distrust is high,” he said, noting that 6 out of 10 people have distrust as a default. The alliance of cities working to decarbonize their urban areas face populations who reject the decarbonization agenda, which is understandable as people have been disenfranchised and discriminated against for various reasons. To address these problems, there must be disinvestment from past precedent in dealing with people “because it has not worked”. Instead, he called for embracing the discomfort and disrupting the status quo.
Mr. GONZÁLEZ REYES, Director of the National Council for Agenda 2030 of Mexico, said indiscriminate deregulation and a weakening of the State offer ripe conditions for poverty to persist. In times of crisis, Governments lose the capacity to help the most vulnerable. Mexico understood that fact. The Government proposed that, for the good of all, “the poor would come first”. To generate additional resources, it eliminated any excessive operating costs, and started controlling public resources used for private objectives, and through dialogue, it ensured, for example, that companies paid their fair share. It was able to increase investment in public infrastructure and cash transfers. Noting that Mexico is working to achieve the global Goals, he said that through science, technology and innovation, it is able to envision the future. “The biggest challenge is ideological,” he said, calling for recovering the capacity of States to support their populations.
Respondent SAIFUDDIN ABDULLAH, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia, said the international architecture is neither inclusive nor fair, as it has resulted in imbalances throughout the world. It must be reformed. He described technology as the greatest “game changer” that will prompt Government and laws to evolve. “Having more than one job is going to be the new norm,” he predicted, and employers must come up with new kinds of pay slips and labour laws must be amended. The Sustainable Development Goals are embedded in the twelfth “Malaysia Plan” and will be embedded in the thirteenth iteration.
Respondent PHILDA KERENG, Minister for Environment and Tourism of Botswana, focused on the way forward in building resilience and economic growth. It is important to build resilience into all Government policies and plans, she said, stressing that Governments are obliged to ensure that national laws can drive the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Countries must “look within” before talking about leveraging other resources. She described Botswana’s enactment of institutional reforms, economic recovery plans, and efforts to rationalize ministries, harmonize sectors and reorient policies, stressing: “We need Government that is inclusive, able to engage, has integrity, and can be accountable to people”.
Respondent OSSIAN SMYTH, Minister for State, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Public Procurement, eGovernment with special responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy, Ireland, pointed to the increase in single-use packaging during the pandemic as a negative trend that must be stopped. He described Ireland’s circular economy law, allowing the Government to ban or tax single-use products. “Progress is a series of small steps,” he said, encouraging countries to find the courage to make those changes, as there are huge opportunities for improvements in innovation, durable economic growth and social inclusion. In addition, there is a problem when the global North relies on products derived from mines in the global South that struggle with human rights concerns — and discard their products, which then wind up on the shores of the global South.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, Nepal’s delegate asked panelists whether the crops produced in the global South would be used by countries in the global North. Thailand’s delegate, meanwhile, welcomed the focus on strategic foresight, asking panelists how countries can take the next critical step towards “early warning”, which has political and economic implications. He asked panelists how countries in the multilateral system can engage in early warning in a way that galvanizes action.
The speaker from the International Anti-Corruption Academy said significant loss of life could have been avoided during the pandemic had there been better anti-corruption measures in place, recalling that bribes take several forms. In education, for example, mothers may need to pay to have their children in school. Corruption deepens gender inequalities and has a larger negative impact overall on women than on men.
In response, Ms. TAPANAINEN-THIESS agreed on the importance of a focus on early warning. One way to structure the thinking on this issue is to start with an understanding of the megatrends at play. “That is the minimum we all should be doing to have a basic understanding,” she said. Also, it is critical to analyze the uncertainties when deciding upon alternative pathways. Foresight should be integrated and institutionalized to deal with the “unknown knowns”.
Mr. SHANK added that the data he cited earlier is from the Edelman 2022 Trust Barometer. He asked whether societies today are willing to take the time necessary to rebuild trust, noting it will require using different language.
The Council then turned its attention to paragraph 131 of the draft Ministerial Declaration, deciding to retain the paragraph by a recorded vote of 20 in favour, to 3 against (Canada, Israel, United States), with 15 abstentions.
The representative of Israel said his delegation disassociates itself from paragraph 131 and referred to its full statement on 15 July.
The Council then adopted the draft ministerial declaration (document E/2022/L.14) by consensus.
The representative of the United States, in a statement after adoption, welcomed the commitment and creativity that Italy and Nauru brought to bear in efforts to reach consensus. The United States strongly supports the 2030 Agenda and its commitment to full implementation, he said, referring the Council to his delegation’s 15 July statement.
The representative of Indonesia said two key words emerged from the day’s discussions: “multilateralism” and “action”. The most urgent action to take is a reversal of the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine on food security.
Mr. ZHENMIN noted that after two years of hybrid meetings, many speakers had returned to United Nations Headquarters for eight days brimming with ideas and anticipation, and that “it is clear that the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals have kept their power to inspire, unite and mobilize.” The Forum “gave us the sense that we can turn the tide,” he stated. He recalled that the morning session looked at ideas on how to improve multilateralism, at the public health response to the pandemic, finance and debt relief, and climate change and social protection. In the afternoon, the Council studied future scenarios to ensure sustainable development and what the international community can do now to make the future better. While the Goals need a rescue plan, “it is not too late,” he stressed, with progress made even during the pandemic. Citing 44 voluntary national reviews, the ministerial round table yesterday, and all panels and dialogues, he expressed confidence that, alongside other urgent actions to address the crises, the scenario presented in the Secretary-General’s report on future trends and scenarios proves that progress is possible.
“Today we have demonstrated that if we are well informed of demographic, social and environmental changes that are coming our way in the years ahead, we can anticipate them and make the needed policy changes now,” he stated. Expressing pride that the Ministerial Declaration was adopted by consensus, he cited its clear guidance on how to address future challenges. “Of course, we have differences in insights, experiences and approaches — but our unity is laid out in great detail,” he stressed. Noting this was the last time he would address the Council, leaving the United Nations at the end of the month to take another position in his home country, China, he thanked all parties for five years of “exhilarating” professionalism, expertise and dedication.
* The 30th Meeting was covered in Press Release ECOSOC/7098 of 13 July 2022.