UN chief says race to reach SDGs ‘can and must’ be turned around 

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The COVID pandemic has taken four million lives, devastated the global economy, pushed a further 124 million people into extreme poverty and continues to inflict profound suffering – dramatically impacting progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the UN chief said on Tuesday at a key international forum. 

“Nearly one person in three around the world could not access adequate food in 2020 – an increase of nearly 320 million people in one year”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Opening of the Ministerial Segment of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the UN’s core review platform of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 SDGs. 

Devastating repercussions 

He painted a grim picture of an estimated 4.6 per cent drop in the global GDP during last year; the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs lost in working hours.  

He said two-in-three students were still affected by school closures – with many, particularly girls, who may never return, contributing to a surge in child marriage and increased child labour.   

“Violence against women has risen to shocking levels, with reports doubling and tripling in some places”, he added, while pointing to the added burden of unpaid domestic and care work that is “squeezing women out of the labour force”.  

Climate, inequality 

Meanwhile, the climate crisis and growing inequality, have become even more dangerous as carbon dioxide concentrations have soared to the highest level in three million years, some “148 per cent above pre-industrial levels”, said Mr. Guterres. 

Biodiversity is declining at an “unprecedented and alarming rate”, with one million species risking extinction and 10 million hectares of forests lost annually. 

And inequality is at unsustainable levels as the net worth of some 2,500 billionaires increased by over $5.2 billion per day during the pandemic, while four billion are still without any form of basic social protection. 

“All the while, conflicts and crises have left one per cent of the world’s population forcibly displaced”, the UN chief said. 

Still hope 

Noting that “we are moving farther away from our goals”, the Secretary-General highlighted that those living in poverty is expected to represent seven per cent by 2030 – only marginally below 2015 levels - while temperature increases have put us “on the verge of the abyss”. 

However, he maintained that the situation “can and must” be turned around.  

"We have the knowledge, the science, the technology and the resources”, said the UN chief. “What we need is unity of purpose, effective leadership from all sectors, and urgent, ambitious action”. 

Call to action 

The Secretary-General emphasized that the Forum can “help turn the tide” during this “pivotal time”. 

To end the pandemic and get the SDGs back on track, he called for decisive action in four key areas, beginning with global access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests, treatments and support. 

He stressed the need for “urgent, ambitious climate action, including on finance”, and thirdly, for investing in more equal and inclusive societies. 

Finally, he said development finance would underpin the cost of decisive action: “Let us renew our determination to build a strong, sustainable and inclusive recovery from the pandemic, and to take decisive action together to defeat the climate crisis and keep the promise of the 2030 Agenda.” 

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) High-level political forum on sustainable development.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) High-level political forum on sustainable development.

Bold solutions needed 

The President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Munir Akram, urged the world to rally around the SDGs to prevent the next pandemic.  

“Critical times call for bold solutions”, he said. Mr. Akram hailed the HLPF as an opportunity to demonstrate the solidarity and cooperation needed for a global recovery strategy. 

“At the HLPF, we set course towards the Global Goals and a greener, safer, more just future. Join us”. 

Meanwhile, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir, called the future of sustainable development “inclusive, resilient and green” and encouraged the participants to “seize this moment” and build back better.

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