COVID-19 could set us back years and even decades, leaving countries with massive fiscal and growth challenges at a time when a “leap ahead” is desperately needed, UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the opening of the High-level Segment of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the Ministerial Segment of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Tuesday.
He attributed the severe impact of the pandemic to “past and present failures” to: take the SDGs seriously; address inequalities; invest in resilience; empower women and girls; heed warnings about the damage to the natural environment; address climate change; and value international cooperation and solidarity. The awakening provided by the current crisis can be a chance to create inclusive, networked, and effective multilateralism, he told participants. The Secretary-General’s warning was a cold reminder of why the HLPF is taking place virtually despite a global pandemic, and the urgency of its mission.
The session was also addressed by UN General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, who noted that the “decade of action” has become a “decade of recovery.” The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing systemic and structural inequalities in all countries, so responses must focus on the two-thirds of the world’s population at risk of being left behind, he said.
Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, also highlighted the importance of equality and sustainability. “We do well because our society is highly equal,” she said, noting that Finland is often ranked among the most sustainable economies and happiest nations in the world.
Sveinung Rotevatn, President of the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 5), delivered 13 key messages from UNEA to the HLPF in the afternoon, while stressing that 2020 and 2021 are crucial years for the environment and the world cannot afford any delays. He called for ambition in multilateral environmental negotiations, particularly for the post-2020 biodiversity framework and the sound management of chemicals and waste.
In the Latin America and Caribbean region, the pandemic has led to the biggest drop in regional GDP in a century and pushed 16 million people into conditions of extreme poverty, Trevor Prescod, President of the Forum of Ministers from the region, and Minister of Environment and National Beautification, Barbados, said in his message.
The presentation of voluntary national reviews (VNRs), which resumed after the opening of the Ministerial Segment in the morning and continued through the day, faced technical issues in the morning due to connectivity problems. As a result, the usually rushed VNRs were even more chaotic. One country was unable to present its VNR in the morning as scheduled due to audio failure, presenting instead in the afternoon, and the Q&A sessions of other VNRs were interrupted, resulting in an impromptu “technical break.” Audio was eventually restored, but the quality kept fading and disrupting interpretation for other VNRs.
Eight countries presented their VNRs. Finland presented a VNR for the second time, while Bulgaria, the Russian Federation, Burundi, the Gambia, Brunei Darussalam, the Federated States of Micronesia, and North Macedonia presented VNRs for the first time.