SG/SM/21375

The following are the remarks of United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at the opening of the 2022 High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council Ministerial Segment of the High-Level Political Forum, in New York today:

Our world is in deep trouble, and so are the Sustainable Development Goals.

Hurry up. But there is still hope because we know what we must do: end now the senseless and disastrous wars; spark a renewable energy revolution now; invest in people and build a new social contract now; and propose a New Global Deal to rebalance power and financial resources and enable all developing countries to invest in the Sustainable Development Goals. Let’s come together, today, with ambition, determination and solidarity, to save the Sustainable Development Goals before it’s too late.

We meet at a time of great uncertainty. The world is facing cascading crises that cause deep suffering today and carry the seeds of dangerous inequality, instability and climate chaos tomorrow. The ripple effects of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine have been felt amid a fragile and uneven recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, as the climate emergency gathers pace.

Some countries are investing in recovery through a transition to renewable energy and sustainable development. But others are unable to do so, due to deep-rooted structural challenges and inequalities, globally and nationally. Some 94 countries, home to 1.6 billion people, are facing a perfect storm: dramatic increases in food and energy prices, and lack of access to finance. And so, there is a real risk of multiple famines this year. Next year could be even worse, if fertilizer shortages affect harvests of staple crops, including rice.

The UN Global Crisis Response Group on Food, Energy and Finance has warned of the impacts of the current cost of living crisis and future risks for next year: 60% of workers today have lower real incomes than before the pandemic; developing countries are missing $1.2 trillion a year just to close the social protection gap; and 60% of developing economies are currently in or at risk of debt distress.

Meanwhile, the number of people forced from their homes has risen to 100 million – the highest number since the founding of the United Nations. The largest ecosystems on the planet – oceans and forests – are in danger. Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate.

Discrimination against women and girls continues in all sectors and societies, while gender-based violence is reaching emergency levels. Attacks on women’s reproductive rights reverberate around the world.

Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals will require $4.3 trillion a year – more money than ever before – because the international community is simply not keeping pace with the commitments it has made.

In the face of these cascading crises, we are far from powerless. We can do a lot and take many concrete steps to change things. I see four areas for immediate action.

First, post-pandemic recovery in every country: we must ensure equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines, therapies and tests. And now it is very important to make serious efforts to increase the number of countries capable of producing vaccines, diagnostics and other health technologies.

Governments must work with the pharmaceutical industry and other stakeholders to share licenses and provide technical and financial support to enable many more countries to produce vaccines and other important medical products. Second, we must redouble our efforts to better manage future epidemics by strengthening health systems and ensuring universal health coverage.

Second, we must tackle the food, energy and financial crisis. Ukraine’s food production, as well as food and fertilizers produced by the Russian Federation, must be brought back to world markets, despite the war. We have been working hard on a plan to enable the safe and secure export of food produced by Ukraine via the Black Sea and Russian food and fertilizers to world markets.

I thank the governments concerned for their continued cooperation. But there can be no solution to today’s crises without a solution to the crisis of economic inequality in the developing world. We need to make resources and fiscal space available to countries and communities, including middle-income countries, who have an even more limited financial toolkit than three years ago.

This requires global financial institutions to use all the instruments at their disposal, with flexibility and understanding. Among other measures, they should consider raising access limits, redirecting all unused special drawing rights to countries in need, and reviving the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to provide immediate support to over-indebted people.

Let us not forget that the majority of the poor do not live in the poorest countries; they live in middle-income countries. If they do not receive the support they need, the development prospects of heavily indebted middle-income countries will be seriously damaged.

Looking ahead, we need a New Global Deal so that developing countries have a fair chance to build their own future. My report on Our Common Agenda calls for concerted efforts to rebalance power and resources through an operational debt relief and restructuring framework; lower borrowing costs for developing countries; and investing in long-term resilience rather than short-term profit.

The global financial system is failing the developing world. Although, since it was not designed to protect developing countries, it is perhaps more accurate to say that the system works as intended. So we need reform. We need a system that works for the vulnerable, not just the powerful.

Third, we must invest in people. The pandemic has shown the devastating effects of inequalities within and between countries. Time and time again, it is the most vulnerable and marginalized who suffer the most when crises strike. It’s time to prioritize investing in people; building a new social contract, based on universal social protection; and to overhaul the welfare systems put in place after the Second World War.

Education is a critical example. Any hope of solving global challenges begins with education. But education today is in the throes of a crisis of equity, quality and relevance. The Education Transformation Summit I will be hosting in September is a platform for world leaders to renew their commitment to education as a global public good; charting a new vision for education systems fit for the future; and mobilize support to move from vision to reality, especially in developing countries.

The Global Accelerator on Employment and Social Protection for Just Transitions provides another essential entry point. I urge all countries to take full advantage of this tool to retrain and re-equip their workforce for the economies of tomorrow: powered by renewable energy and based on digital connectivity.

Fourth, we cannot delay ambitious climate action. The battle to maintain the 1.5°C target will be won or lost in this decade. Although meeting this target requires a 45% reduction in global emissions from 2010 levels by 2030, current commitments would result in a 14% increase in emissions by that date.

It is collective suicide. We have to change course. Ending the world’s reliance on fossil fuels through a renewable energy revolution is the number one priority. I called for no more new coal-fired power plants and no more fossil fuel subsidies, because funding fossil fuels is illusory and funding renewables is rational.

Developed countries must honor their $100 billion climate finance pledge to developing countries, starting this year. Developing economies must have access to the resources and technology they need. Half of all climate finance should go to adaptation. Everyone in high climate risk areas should be covered by early warning systems within the next five years.

And we need to review frameworks for accessing and qualifying for concessional finance, so that developing countries, including middle-income countries, can get the finance they need, when they need it. The World Bank and other international financial institutions must provide much more concessional financing, especially for climate adaptation.

The high-level political forum is where the world comes together around solutions for sustainable development; to rebuild differently and better; to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. We have the knowledge, the science and technology, and the financial resources to reverse the trajectories that have derailed us.

We have inspiring examples of transformative change. In just over a year, we will gather here for the 2023 Sustainable Development Goals Summit which will mark the midpoint between the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and its target date. Let’s do everything in our power to change course and build solid progress until then. I wish you a successful meeting.

For news media. Not an official record.

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