Turning crisis into opportunity: World leaders meet at UN to help drive pandemic recovery
Turning crisis into opportunity: World leaders meet at UN to help drive pandemic recovery

The hybrid (online and in-person) conference, which takes place between 6 and 15 July, will focus on the lessons, successes, shortcomings and plans to emerge from the unprecedented health crisis, and advocate for achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the best way to build more inclusive, resilient and healthier societies.

“Countries will share and reflect the actions they have been taking to overcome the pandemic, to address its impacts and to build back better”, said Munir Akram, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which convenes the Forum. “A core issue would be whether and how they are using the SDGs as the blueprint for their response to COVID-19.” 

Helping the most vulnerable

This year, 43 countries will present actions they have taken to improve people’s standard of living, despite the impact of the pandemic; to date, 168 countries have presented their progress on the SDGs since the first Forum, in 2016. 

In the area of climate action, for example, the island nation of Antigua and Barbuda is implementing a $1.3 million project to improve its civil society access to climate financing. In Norway, measures to combat climate change have led to total greenhouse gas emissions dropping to the the lowest level since 1993, and also, Angola’s decision to enact measures aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on oil. 

For many countries, the response to the pandemic has involved investing in their citizens, enhancing social protection systems and labour markets in order to help the most vulnerable populations. 
Egypt’s “Decent Life” scheme aims to improve the lives of millions of poor in rural areas; Denmark inaugurated its “Children First” project, to ensure better conditions for equal opportunities in childhood; and Cyprus has adopted a support package for employees, the self-employed, vulnerable groups and businesses, worth some 2.6 billion Euros. 

Years of progress erased

Despite these welcome initiatives, ECOSOC warns that the pandemic has erased years of progress on some SDGs, and delegates will identify areas that need more attention, and policies likely to have maximum impacts on achieving the Goals. 

Before the onset of the pandemic, progress was already being described as unsatisfactory, with pervasive inequalities, hunger, climate change, lack of access to education, growing unemployment, and extreme poverty

By highlighting these ongoing issues, it is hoped that countries will chart a recovery path that is people-centered and underpinned by economic reform, digital transformation, vaccine equity and climate action. 

Generation Equality: Alongside COVID lies an ‘equally horrific pandemic’ threatening women
Generation Equality: Alongside COVID lies an ‘equally horrific pandemic’ threatening women
As the world grapples unevenly with the effects of COVID-19, “a parallel and equally horrific pandemic” has threatened half the world’s population, the UN chief said on Tuesday, in the lead up to the Generation Equality Forum in France.
On Wednesday, leaders from around the world will gather in Paris and online, in a massive push for gender equality. 

The Forum is a landmark event convened by UN Women, and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, in partnership with youth and civil society, to accelerate gender equality

In the early months of the pandemic, the UN projected that quarantines and lockdowns could lead to a shocking 15 million additional cases of gender-based violence every three months.  

“Sadly, those predictions appear to be coming true”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in an opinion piece for the UK-based Independent newspaper. 

Violence amidst lockdown 

One-in-three women experience violence in her lifetime, said the World Health Organization (WHO), and according to the Spotlight Initiative Global Annual Report, violence increased 83 per cent from 2019 to 2020, while cases reported to the police grew by 64 per cent. 

“From domestic violence to sexual exploitation, trafficking, child marriage, female genital mutilation and online harassment, violent misogyny has thrived in the shadow of the pandemic”, said the UN chief.  

The COVID pandemic has added to an “existing epidemic of violence against women and girls”, he added.  

The pervasiveness of violence against women and girls has led some to believe that it will continue forever.  

“This is as outrageous and self-defeating as it is plain wrong”, said the UN chief, noting that the Organization supported by its partnerships, have demonstrated that “change is possible”. 

At the Generation Equality Forum, the top UN official said he would call on States, companies and individuals to join in a global initiative “to end the fear and insecurity that threaten the health, rights, dignity and lives of so many women and girls”. 

Revealing data 

The Forum is a global movement convened by UN Women, and co-hosted by the Governments of Mexico and France to accelerate equality between women and men, girls and boys. 

To prepare for the discussions, the organizers shared some statistics highlighting where action is most needed. 

Although women make up half of the population, they hold only 20 per cent of its leadership, according to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).  

This underscores the importance of feminist movements to advance women, including in leadership roles. 

And compared to men, women are 24 per cent more likely to lose their jobs and can expect their income to fall by 50 per cent more – making economic justice and rights imperative. 

At the same time, women are 10 per cent less likely than men to have internet access, leaving 433 million women globally on “mute”.  

Action now 

Action must be taken to ensure their equal access to technology and education so their voices can be heard. 

Turning to the climate crisis, women’s environmental activism receives just three per cent of philanthropic environmental funding – a miniscule sum for an enormous challenge. 

The organizers uphold that gender-equitable climate action must be built and the women who are disproportionally impacted by climate change heard. 

From Governments to corporations and youth-led groups to Foundations, forum participants aim to secure concrete, ambitious, and transformative commitments for gender equality, shaped the Action Coalitions, offer the world a roadmap for gender equality. 

 billion fund for renewables among key energy commitments made during UN ministerial forums
$1 billion fund for renewables among key energy commitments made during UN ministerial forums
The IKEA Foundation and The Rockefeller Foundation have announced plans to launch a $1 billion fund to boost access to renewable energy in developing countries – one of the key commitments made during a series of virtual UN ministerial forums this week.
Some 50 ministers outlined their plans to reduce emissions and ensure that all people have access to electricity and clean cooking fuels, as the world transitions away from fossil fuels, towards renewable energy.

Laying the groundwork

The ministerial gatherings laid the groundwork for the UN High-level Dialogue on Energy that will be held on 20 September to accelerate action on the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, on the energy goal, SDG 7.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres told the Forums: “We are running far behind in the race against time to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 7 by 2030, and net-zero emissions by mid-century.

He called on “every country, city, financial institution and company to raise ambition and submit ‘Energy Compacts’” for the High-level Dialogue.

Globally, nearly 760 million people lack access to electricity and 2.6 billion continue to cook with traditional fuels like wood that not only contribute to carbon emissions but also causes 4 million deaths each year from indoor smoke.

Record pledge

The commitment by the IKEA and Rockefeller Foundations is the largest single philanthropic commitment ever on this issue. A consortium of organizations led by Kenya, Malawi and the Netherlands also advanced a call to action for clean cooking. 

During the Forums, more than 25 commitments were announced as “Energy Compacts” – voluntary actions pledged to achieve clean, affordable energy for all by 2030.

National Energy Compacts were previewed by ministers from Brazil, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Germany, India, Nauru and the Netherlands.

A Compact setting a regional target of 70% renewable energy in the power matrix for Latin America, was signed onto by Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and the Inter-American Development Bank, with other countries in the region invited to join.

Big business buy-in

The ambition of governments was met by strong private sector engagement, with tech giant Google reaffirming its commitment to source carbon-free energy for all of its operations in all places, at all times, by 2030.

Joining them were companies from the hard-to-abate cement sector – Ultratech and JK Cement – which made commitments for increased use of renewables and waste heat recovery systems for greater energy efficiency.  India’s largest power supplier, NTPC, pledged to achieve 60GW of renewable energy capacity by 2032.

GOGLA, a global association for the off-grid solar energy industry, committed to delivering improved electricity access for 1 billion people by 2030.

And the Association for Rural Electricity said it would work with the private sector to deliver sustainable electricity services to at least 500 million additional people.

A number of region and city networks said they will be putting commitments on the table for the September Dialogue, with the Basque region of Spain and the City of Ithaca, New York, announcing forward-looking Energy Compacts this week.

Youth leadership

At the Forums, young activists showed that they continue to lead from the front on energy and climate issues, with several strong keynote statements from youth calling on governments to take action.

Water-related disasters throw up complex challenges, threaten lives and jobs
Water-related disasters throw up complex challenges, threaten lives and jobs
The global climate crisis is “exacerbating and intensifying” water-related disasters, jeopardizing lives and livelihoods, the UN chief said on Friday at a major sustainable development symposium.
“For decades, natural disasters, [which] have been one of the major causes of worsening poverty, forcing some 26 million people into poverty each year and reversing developmental gains…are almost always connected to water, whether through floods, storms, droughts, tsunamis or landslides”, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Fifth UN Special Thematic Session on Water and Disasters.  

Dangerous trends 

Over the past two decades, climate-related disasters nearly doubled compared with the preceding twenty years, affecting more than four billion people, according to the top UN official. 

These disasters have claimed the lives of millions and resulted in over $2.97 trillion in economic losses, he said.  

Climate change is altering rainfall patterns, affecting water availability, prolonging periods of drought and heat, and increasing the intensity of cyclones, which can lead to horrific flooding events.  

“These trends create enormous challenges for our efforts to build more sustainable, resilient communities and societies by implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, the UN chief said, warning that they will accelerate over the course of the Decade of Action.  

And by 2030, projections suggest a staggering 50 per cent jump in humanitarian needs stemming from climate-related disasters.  

Upping commitments 

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – national plans demonstrating commitment to increasingly ambitious climate action – is crucial to achieve a 45 per cent drop in emissions by 2030 and reach ‘net zero’ by 2050. 

However, “we are far off track from meeting these goals”, Mr. Guterres said. 

“Current commitments are insufficient, and emissions continue to rise. Global average temperatures are already 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels”.    

Bearing down on most vulnerable 

At the same time, countries that are most impacted by climate change lack the fiscal space to invest in adaptation and resilience.  

“Last year, cyclones lashed the shores of many countries that were already grappling with serious liquidity crises and debt burdens, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic”, the UN chief said. 

Underscoring that “adaptation cannot be the forgotten piece of the climate equation”, he has been advocating for rich nations to mobilize $100 billion annually to assist developing countries and calling for 50 per cent of climate finance to be used on building resilience and adaptation. 

“We must ensure that this finance goes to those most in need, particularly small island developing States and least developed countries…on the verge of climate crisis now”, he added. 

UNDP India

Rescue efforts after part of a Himalayan glacier broke away in India’s Uttarakhand province in February, unleashing a torrent of water, rock and debris downstream.

Recover, rebuild stronger 

Prevention and preparedness are essential for responding to and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

This means investing in resilience, meeting water management challenges, and providing water and sanitation services to all, according to the Secretary-General. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic was caused by the type of biological hazard foreseen in the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, which emphasizes addressing multiple hazards and interconnected risks”, he recalled, urging everyone to “apply that lens” to policy-making on disaster risk reduction, COVID recovery, and climate adaptation.  

Recovery measures must preserve the environment, ecosystems and biodiversity while reversing the damage that has already been done.    

Invest in the future  

“Investing in resilient infrastructure is an investment in the future”, said the UN chief.  

Although more than 100 States have a disaster risk reduction strategy at least partially aligned to the Sendai Framework, dozens have yet to sign on. 

Noting that “every $1 invested in making infrastructure disaster-resilient saves $4 in reconstruction”, he urged countries and local governments to accelerate implementation. 

In closing, the Secretary-General reminded that disasters derail the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Sendai and the Paris Agreement.  

Describing the UN as a “steadfast partner in tackling water and disaster issues”, he pointed to the Decade for Action and the 2023 Water Conference as opportunities to transform water management and achieve the water-related SDGs. 

Pandemic ‘rolled back’ sustainable development funding for weak economies: UNCTAD
Pandemic ‘rolled back’ sustainable development funding for weak economies: UNCTAD
Financial assistance to the world’s 83 weakest economies fell by 15 per cent in 2020, to $35 billion as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, UN trade and development experts UNCTAD said on Monday.
According to UNCTAD’s World Investment Report 2021, total foreign direct investment also dropped by more than a third globally, to $1 trillion (from $1.5 trillion in 2019), threatening progress on sustainable development.

This level was last seen in 2005 and it is an urgent problem because foreign direct investment is vital to promoting sustainable development in the world’s poorest regions, said Isabelle Durant, Acting Secretary-General of UNCTAD.

“The (COVID-19) crisis has had an immense negative impact on the most productive types of investment, namely, greenfield investment in industrial and infrastructure projects”, she said. “This means that international production, an engine of global economic growth and development, has been seriously affected.”

European fiscal woes

Regionally, Europe saw foreign direct investment fall 80 per cent last year, while flows to North America fell by 42 per cent, which was attributed to a fall in reinvested earnings.

Other developed economies saw an average drop of 20 per cent, UNCTAD said, while the African continent saw a 16 per cent fall in foreign direct investment – to $40 billion – a level last seen 15 years ago.

Significantly, greenfield project announcements in Africa also tumbled 62 per cent, hurting industrialization prospects, and commodity-exporters were the worst-hit.

Resilient Asia

By contrast, foreign direct investment to developing Asia resisted the worst impacts of the pandemic, driven by China, where capital inflows increased by six per cent, to $149 billion.

Southeast Asia saw a 25 per cent decline but investment to India increased, driven in part by mergers and acquisitions.

Sinking investment in Latin America

This contrasts with Latin America and the Caribbean, where foreign direct investment “plummeted” last year, falling by 45 per cent to $88 billion.

“Many economies on the continent, among the worst affected by the pandemic, are dependent on investment in natural resources and tourism, both of which collapsed”, UNCTAD said.

Development shock

Although foreign investment between wealthier nations fell most in 2020 – by 58 per cent – developing nations have borne the brunt of last year’s overall investment downturn, UNCTAD said.

To highlight this, the UN body pointed to the 42 per cent fall in the number of new greenfield projects among fragile economies and a 14 per cent fall in international project finance deals; the latter are significant because they drive infrastructure growth.

By comparison, developed economies saw a 19 per cent decline in greenfield investment and an eight per cent increase in international project finance, UNCTAD said.

Mixed recovery

Looking ahead, Ms. Durant insisted that although governments were rightly focusing on shaking off the impacts of the pandemic, the real challenge is “not only about reigniting the economy, it is about making the recovery more sustainable and more resilient to future shocks”.

UNCTAD director of investment and enterprise, James Zhan, echoed that message, noting that the coronavirus pandemic had amplified the fragilities of structurally weak economies.

“Investment in various sectors relevant for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in food, agriculture, health and education, has been falling”, he said. “SDG-related investment needs to be scaled up in the post-pandemic period.”

According to UNCTAD’s latest report, investment to least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and small island developing states, accounted for only 3.5 per cent of total foreign direct investment in 2020.

Source: UNCTAD

Foreign direct investment inflows, global and by group of economies, 2007–2020 (Billions of dollars and per cent).

It noted that the impact of the pandemic on global foreign direct investment was strongest in the first half of 2020, and that in the second half of the year, “cross-border mergers and acquisitions and international project finance deals largely recovered”.

However, greenfield investment – which UNCTAD insisted is more important for developing countries – “continued its negative trend throughout 2020 and into the first quarter of 2021”.

Looking ahead, UNCTAD said that global foreign direct investment flows were expected to bottom out in 2021 and recover some lost ground, with an increase of about 10 to 15 per cent. But this would still leave levels “some 25 per cent below the 2019 level”.

UN chief: Desertification and drought destabilizing well-being of 3.2 billion people 
UN chief: Desertification and drought destabilizing well-being of 3.2 billion people 

“Humanity is waging a relentless, self-destructive war on nature. Biodiversity is declining, greenhouse gas concentrations are rising, and our pollution can be found from the remotest islands to the highest peaks”, Secretary-General António Guterres said, adding: “We must make peace with nature”. 

Defend ‘greatest ally’ 

The top UN official said that while “land can be our greatest ally”, currently it’s “suffering”. 

Land degradation is harming biodiversity and enabling infectious diseases, such as COVID-19, to emerge, he explained. 

“Restoring degraded land would remove carbon from the atmosphere…help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change…and it could generate an extra $1.4 trillion dollars in agricultural production each year”, Mr. Guterres spelled out. 

And best of all, land restoration is “simple, inexpensive and accessible to all”, he added, calling it “one of the most democratic and pro-poor ways of accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”. 

Reverse land production, save ecosystems 

To meet an ever-growing demand for food, raw materials, roads and homes, humans have altered nearly three quarters of the earth’s surface, beyond land that is permanently frozen. 

Avoiding, slowing and reversing the loss of productive land and natural ecosystems now, is both urgent and important for a swift recovery from the pandemic and for guaranteeing the long-term survival of people and the planet. 

Restoring degraded land brings economic resilience, creates jobs, raises incomes and increases food security, according to the UN.  

Moreover, it helps biodiversity to recover and locks away carbon, while lessening the impacts of climate change and underpinning a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“This year marks the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration”, reminded the Secretary-General, calling on everyone to “make healthy land central to all our planning”. 

Desertification’s severe repercussions  

Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCOpointed to the “dramatic impact” that desertification is having on “our common environmental heritages”, posing a “considerable threat” to the health of communities, global peace and sustainable development.   

Having contributed to the collapse of biodiversity and promoting zoonoses – diseases which jump from animals to humans – she called desertification “another reminder” that human health and that of the environment, are “deeply intertwined”.  

Desertification and drought also increase water scarcity, at a time when two billion people still lack access to safe drinking water, said Ms. Azoulay, adding that “over three billion may have to confront a similar situation by 2050”.  

Citing the Secretariat of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, she said that by 2030, the phenomenon is likely to cause 135 million people to migrate worldwide by 2030. 

“These migrations and deprivations are in turn a source of conflict and instability, demonstrating that desertification is also a fundamental challenge to peace”, she stressed.  

Looking ahead 

Underscoring that “working together is crucial”, the UNESCO chief maintained that sustainable progress cannot be achieved without the participation of everyone, “especially the youngest”.  

“Together, let us build a sustainable future so that the fertile lands of the past do not become deserts emptied of their populations and their biodiversity”, she concluded.

© FAO/Petterik Wiggers

Local farmers are helping to restore degraded land in Rwanda.