“When I last spoke here, I was just about to enter university…optimistic about what was ahead: university life, making new friends and access to an incredible education”, she told the inaugural SDG Moment event, intended to renew the effort to meet the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the coming decade. “This June, I graduated in the midst of a reeling world — one many of us could not have predicted”.
The young Nobel Laureate recalled that five years ago Member States signed on to the SDGs, but, “so far, you have not kept up with your work”, she declared.
While acknowledging that COVID-19 has been “a striking setback to our collective goals” she stressed, “it cannot be an excuse”.
“On education alone, 20 million more girls may never go back to the classroom when this crisis ends [and] the global education funding gap has already increased to 200 billion dollars per year”, she flagged.
Setting new norms
The young advocate signaled that moving forward, things should not return to the way they were.
“When will you commit the necessary funding to give every child 12 years of quality education? When will you prioritize peace and protect refugees? When will you pass policies to cut carbon emissions?”.
Underlining the need for “a profound commitment to the way the world should be – a place where every girl can learn and lead, a place where we put people and our planet ahead of profits, a place where leaders keep their promises”, Ms. Yousafzai requested that those gathered “set the norms” of a new sustainable, healthy, educated and equitable era.
Set sights high: Guterres
Meanwhile, Secretary-General António Guterres noted that in embarking on a Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs by 2030, we must “strike out for a world of dignity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet”.
“We must look beyond the current crisis and set our sights high…to show that transformation is possible and is happening right now”, he said.
A world ‘shaken to the core’
The UN chief painted a vivid picture of a world “shaken to the core” – by the COVID-19 pandemic “pushing us towards the worst recession in decades”, causing widespread disruption, rising hunger, skyrocketing debt, plunging fiscal resources and threatening children’s education.
Even before the virus, inequalities were growing, he pointed out, noting that globalization benefits had failed to reach “millions upon millions of destitute people” as greenhouse gases soared to record levels.
“We need a path that brings health to all, revives economies, brings people in from the margins of society and builds long-term resilience, sustainability, opportunity and peace”, outlined the UN chief.
The path ahead
He said the pandemic has undercut the very fragilities that the 2030 Agenda was designed to address – to end poverty and leave no one behind.
“The poor have a special claim on our efforts and energies and must be reached first” by expanding social protections, ensuring universal access to essential services, strengthening education, health systems and internet connectivity and placing women at the centre of decision-making, he detailed.
According to Mr. Guterres, the 2030 Agenda additionally demands transitioning to inclusive, low-carbon, resilient economies that deliver more jobs and a cleaner environment, which will not only reduce the risk of future pandemics but also mitigate the worst effects of climate change.
“In short, the 2030 Agenda provides the guiding light we need to end the pandemic, to respond to its socio-economic impacts and to chart a course for a transformative recovery”, he spelled out.
Underscoring that there is “no time to procrastinate”, the UN chief highlighted the three crucial areas of finance, COVID-19 recovery and greater ambition, moving forward.
On finance, he stressed the importance of addressing the immediate, medium and longer-term challenges faced by developing countries and pointed to an upcoming UN financing meeting on 29 September as “an opportunity to get behind the most significant policy options”, such as extending the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to at least the end of 2021.
Turning to COVID-19 recovery, Mr. Guterres asserted that plans must be inclusive and green to help countries transition to a more equitable and sustainable economy, including by using taxpayer’s money for a resilient recovery, ending fossil fuel subsidies and placing women at the centre of building back.
On the third priority, the UN chief argued that the world needs “ambition and solidarity” to provide the billions of dollars needed to deliver COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to everyone; cut carbon emissions in half; and protect biodiversity, achieve gender equality and fulfil the SDGs’ promises.
“When the public appetite for change is matched with political will and smart policy choices, rapid progress is unstoppable”, the Secretary-General said. “This annual SDG Moment is our opportunity to demonstrate that, as one united family of nations, we have what it takes to eradicate poverty and hunger, tackle climate change, deliver gender equality and achieve all 17 global goals”.
President of the General Assembly Volkan Bozkir, noted that the world needs “collaboration, cooperation and dialogue”, saying this was the kind of crux moment, for which the UN was built.
“Halting the spread of COVID-19 and regaining progress against the SDGs must be our collective priority”, he said, arguing that countries in special situations should be prioritized.
“It will not be easy, but the SDGs themselves provide us the very blueprint needed to recover, better”.
At the same time, Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed stood with the UN chief in affirming that “transformation is happening everywhere and must not leave anyone behind”.
“Let this 2020 SDG Moment propel us into a transformative Decade of Action”, she said. "Now is the time to demonstrate the value of multilateralism and deliver hope, opportunities and sustainable development for all".
The head of the UN Development Fund (UNDP), Achim Steiner said that for the first time in 30 years, the march of progress in human development, was expected to go sharply into reverse, maintaining that social protection solutions were key to protect communities worldwide.
“Building people’s resilience against vulnerability, risk and deprivation, and helping them to get on their feet if they falter, defines social protection in the 21st century”, he said.
Munir Akram, President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said that the “global magnitude of the challenge we are facing” as a result of COVID-19, was “the greatest since the creation of the United Nations.”
With nearly a million dead so far, he warned that more than 100 million people will fall back into extreme poverty – a huge challenge for the whole 2030 agenda.
“Therefore, the highest priority, we have is to control the virus”, he said. “We must hope that the vaccine will be available in the very near future and we must commit ourselves to ensure that everyone rich or poor, everywhere, will have equal and affordable access to the vaccine, without discrimination.”