Replacing Temporary COVID-19 Pandemic Responses with Lasting Social Protection Measures Key for Realizing Sustainable Development, Speakers Tell High-Level Political Forum
Long-term social protection measures must replace temporary COVID-19 pandemic responses to help countries regain traction towards realizing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, delegates and panel experts said today, as the high-level political forum moved into the second day of its two-week session.
The forum is the United Nations central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in 2015. Providing for the full and effective participation of all Member States of the United Nations and of specialized agencies, the 2021 forum — under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — will review, from 6 to 15 July, progress in implementation.
The forum held three panels today, focusing on issues under the 2021 theme: “Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”.
The morning panel discussion centred on Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 8 and 17, considering the interlinkages among them and the other 13 objectives set out in the 2030 Agenda. During the dialogue, representatives shared progress reports on their own efforts and challenges in realizing Goal 1 on no poverty; Goal 2 on zero hunger; Goal 8 on decent work and economic growth; and Goal 17 on partnerships.
Permanent social protection measures, targeted help for farmers and proposals for new models to shape inclusive, responsive and green growth and planet-friendly food systems were among the issues discussed. Panellists and representatives alike pointed to their own pandemic-triggered temporary cash‑transfer systems, with many showcasing how this currency infusion has buoyed economies and helped citizens avert poverty.
In a keynote address, Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister and Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, shared several pandemic response efforts, describing how the Government implemented a cash‑transfer programme that now reaches 100 million people. While each country has its own way to address welfare and social protection, there are opportunities within reach for all. In fact, COVID-19 has unearthed the opportunity to recast the notion of a “welfare State”, she said, adding that investing in social protection is a critical tool and a solid evidence-based policy choice that has improved lives, especially during the pandemic. New data technologies and leveraging partnerships can further advance such efforts, with a view to making a better world for all.
The panellists shared their own experiences and offered suggestions. Meryame Kitir, Minister for Development Cooperation of Belgium, said that all countries have adopted temporary measures during the pandemic, but more than half of the global population does not benefit from any form of social protection. While many nations do not have the resources to set up social protection systems, she said the idea is not for other countries to endlessly provide these resources. Instead, it is to craft sustainable systems with domestic resource mobilization that stand on their own in the end.
Some speakers said these transfer programmes and related efforts must reach deep into rural areas, especially towards farmers and marginalized groups. From a business perspective, the systems hit hardest during the pandemic were in those countries without social protection measures, said lead discussant Ruramiso Mashumba, Director and Founder of Mnandi Africa, in Zimbabwe, adding that Governments must ensure farmers are not left behind. Noting that female farmers like herself lost work during the pandemic, she said discussions must now become action-based solutions because hunger continues to increase. She suggested a multi‑stakeholder approach to support farmers and businesses, as everyone in the value chain can play an effective role.
Panellists shared their own expertise, with Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), saying that creating sustainable, productive, resilient and inclusive food systems to better tackle poverty requires targeted investments and policies, prioritizing vulnerable groups and ensuring gender equality.
In a similar vein, Katherine Richardson, Professor at the Biological Oceanography Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen, said that, unless efforts aim at reducing the global food system’s environmental impact, it will be impossible to provide nutritious food for all by mid-century and achieve the 2030 Agenda’s climate and biodiversity goals. Outlining requirements for such a transformation, she said efforts must focus on empowering small-scale farmers in developing countries and providing them with safety nets, as they increasingly face climate‑change-related crop losses and failures. “We know what needs to be done and we have the technology to do it,” she declared.
Maximo Torero, Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), serving as a lead discussant, said $50 billion annually would ensure that Goal 2 on ending hunger, is met. A total of 80 per cent of the world’s poorest people live in rural areas, which must be the focus of growth, investment and financing, he said, suggesting the creation of public, private, bilateral and multilateral funding initiatives and innovative models.
Highlighting some transformational changes already under way, the representative of the European Union said a $700 billion project is supporting a green transition in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The European Fund for Sustainable Development is also helping the private sector step in to help developing countries.
Similarly, Sweden’s delegate said her delegation recognizes the potential to create jobs in a green economy at a time when unsustainable practices among companies must end. Encouraging dialogue on ways to do so, she said companies and countries must also increase ambitions on gender equality, ending corruption and fostering sustainable practices.
Some speakers outlined road maps towards transformational changes required to advance progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Employment levels, wages and social protection coverage are key to fighting poverty and hunger, said lead discussant Eric Manzi, Deputy General Secretary of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation. Calling for a decent work-driven recovery, he said concrete action on the ground would mean investments in climate-friendly jobs and scaling up social safety nets, among other things. Meanwhile, a new model of global governance is needed. Right now, the moral imperative of global governance is to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, he said, calling on Member States to lead the way in making the new social contract a reality.
Many agreed that paper promises must undergo their own transformation into concrete results. A representative of the indigenous peoples major group for sustainable development said that, to get on track to end poverty and hunger, efforts must urgently transform the current unsustainable global economy controlled by corporations and a few elites. In its place, people-centred and care-oriented economies would respect planetary boundaries, she said, adding that this approach requires the recognizing and protecting the indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands, territories and resources.
Also delivering presentations during the morning panel were Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Yongyi Min, Chief of the Sustainable Development Goals Monitoring Section in the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Guy Ryder, Director‑General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); and Aloysius Ordu, Head of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and former Vice-President of the African Development Bank.
In the afternoon, the forum held panel discussions on the themes “Looking at the 2020 targets: implementation and review”, and “Sustainable Development Goals in focus: SDGs 12, 13, 17 and interlinkages among those goals and with other SDGs”.
The political forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Thursday, 8 July, to continue its work.
The forum began its second day with a discussion on the theme “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in focus: SDGs 1, 2, 8, 17 and interlinkages among those Goals and with other SDGs”.
Chaired by Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, the panel featured a keynote address by Sania Nishtar, Federal Minister and Special Assistant on Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety to the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and presentations by Maria-Francesca Spatolisano, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, and Yongyi Min, Chief of the Sustainable Development Goals Monitoring Section in the Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
Moderated by Gerda Verburg, Coordinator at Scaling-Up Nutrition Movement, the discussion featured the following panellists: Guy Ryder, Director‑General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Aloysius Ordu, Head of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution and former Vice-President of the African Development Bank; Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD); and Katherine Richardson, Professor at the Biological Oceanography Globe Institute at the University of Copenhagen.
Lead discussants were Olivier De Schutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Ruramiso Mashumba, Director and Founder of Mnandi Africa, Zimbabwe (business and industry major group); Maximo Torero, Chief Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); and Eric Manzi, Deputy General Secretary of the African Regional Organisation of the International Trade Union Confederation-Africa, Rwanda (workers and trade union major group).
Serving as respondents were Meryame Kitir, Minister for Development Cooperation of Belgium; Silvana Eugenia Vargas Winstanley, Minister for Development and Social Inclusion of Peru; Lassané Kabore, Minister for Economy, Finances and Development of Burkina Faso; and Thanawat Tiensin, Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security.
Mr. KELAPILE said poverty and hunger are on the rise amid the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when many people do not have social protection and inequalities continue to grow. Introducing the panellists, he wished participants a fruitful dialogue on efforts and suggestions on how best to advance progress on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Ms. NISHTAR, delivering the keynote address, said the pandemic-related impact has seen millions fall into poverty as inequities have broadened and jobs have been lost. Countries like Pakistan adopted and fast-tracked social protection measures to respond, such as cash grants that have reached 100 million people. The world’s third largest, the programme contains a range of measures to ensure inclusion and effectiveness. Pakistan also scaled up efforts to protect human capital, food security and health services. To address gender gaps and related needs, from health to education, girls are given a higher amount in the cash transfer system, she said.
While each country has its own way to address welfare and social protection, there are opportunities within reach for all, she said. Indeed, the pandemic has unearthed the opportunity to recast the notion of a “welfare State”, as investing in social protection is a critical tool and a solid evidence-based policy choice that has improved people’s lives, especially during the pandemic. Using new data technologies and leveraging partnerships can further advance such efforts, with a view to improving the world.
Ms. SPATOLISANO, providing highlights of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs report “Sustainable Development Goals Good Practices, Success Stories and Lessons Learned”, said that approximately 460 practices were identified as examples drawn from 740 submissions from all types of stakeholders and all regions. All results are now available on the Department’s website at https://sdgs.un.org/partnerships/good-practices, she said, offering several examples. In terms of tackling pandemic-related challenges, she said the Impact Investing project by Merck pharmaceutical company aims at bridging gaps in access to care for a sustainable and resilient global health ecosystem. Already helping more than 9 million people worldwide annually, the project’s $40 million investment in organizations is bringing urgently needed health solutions across different underserved communities, including millions of doses of vaccines delivered with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Bridge Fund.
“As we advance in the Decade of Action on the Sustainable Development Goals, it is time to move from words to action and speed up our ambition if we are to avert the worst outcomes of the pandemic and ensure a fairer, more sustainable world for everyone,” she said, inviting everyone to share information about acceleration actions, such as Pakistan’s Ehsaas emergency cash programme, launched to mitigate pandemic-related economic hardship among vulnerable groups.
Ms. MIN, presenting a slideshow on the Secretary-General’s latest progress report on Sustainable Development Goals 1, 2, 8 and 17, said the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had collaborated with 50 international and regional organizations and gathered information based on data from national statistical systems to capture the current landscape. Noting that COVID-19 is set to increase the number of extreme poor in 2020 by between 119 and 124 million, she said this caused the extreme poverty rate to rise for the first time in a generation, from 8.4 per cent in 2019 to 9.5 per cent a year later. Based on current projections, the global poverty rate is expected to be 7 per cent in 2030, which represents approximately 600 million people. The poverty eradication target will not be achieved unless immediate, substantial policy actions are taken.
Turning to social protection measures, she said they are fundamental to preventing and reducing poverty across the life cycle. However, by 2020, only 47 per cent of the global population were covered by at least one social protection cash benefit, leaving as many as 4 billion people without a social safety net. Highlighting that the pandemic has demonstrated the importance of social protection systems to guard people’s health, jobs and incomes, she said that between 1 February and 31 December 2020, Governments worldwide announced more than 1,600 new measures in response to the crisis, but almost all — some 95 per cent — were short-term. Highlighting other elements of the report, she said that with the roll‑out of vaccines and continued fiscal and monetary support, a global economic recovery is under way, led by China and the United States. Global gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is projected to increase by 4.3 per cent in 2021 and 3.1 per cent in 2022. However, for many countries, economic growth is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022 or 2023.
Ms. VERBURG, opening the panel discussion, highlighted the importance of partnerships in realizing all the Sustainable Development Goals. As this is the Decade of Action to deliver on the Goals, she said such approaches are key, as are concrete proposals and efforts on how to foster progress and growth.
Mr. RYDER said the International Labour Organization (ILO) World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2021 projects global unemployment to stand at 205 million people in 2022, greatly surpassing the 2019 level of 187 million, with an unemployment rate of 5.7 per cent. Excluding the COVID-19 crisis period, such a rate was last seen in 2013. Highlighting the economic impact and labour market crisis triggered by the pandemic, he said collective efforts can indeed address these worrying analyses. Unanimously adopting a Global Call to Action at the ILO International Labour Conference held in June, participants voiced support for measures to foster a human-centred inclusive, sustainable and resilient recovery.
The Call to Action also encourages Governments and social partners to work towards a job-rich recovery that strengthens worker and social protection and supports sustainable enterprises, with specific attention focusing on inequalities, he continued. As many countries will not be able to do this alone, the Call to Action demands urgent, coordinated efforts in such areas as international solidarity to ensure global and equal access to vaccines, treatments and preventive measures.
Mr. ORDU said that, amid current challenges of poverty, hunger and job loss, the world must work to overcome them together. In Africa alone, 520 million people have fallen into poverty during the pandemic. The global priority now is tackling COVID-19, with robust international cooperation. This is no longer a time for words, but a time to act, he said, stressing that it is well known that 11 billion vaccines are needed to reach everyone. Now, efforts must meet that need, he continued, emphasizing that effective initiatives must reach people in the South. Noting that only 2 per cent of Africa’s population has been vaccinated, he said multilateralism must guide efforts to tackle grave problems, especially for those in developing States.
Lead discussants then presented experiences from their perspectives, from farmers in Africa to ministerial efforts in Europe.
Mr. DE SCHUTTER, outlining his work as Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, emphasized that social protection is an essential component of a new much-needed effective development model for growth. Moving beyond narrowly targeted schemes, efforts must formalize all workers using a rights-based approach. In addition, fiscal space must expand so Governments can work towards measures that aim at social protection. A proposal for global social protection fund was considered at the Human Rights Council in June, he said, encouraging States to support this approach.
Ms. MASHUMBA said that from a business perspective, the systems hit hardest during the pandemic were in countries without social protection measures. In this vein, she said farmers and businesses must be supported, and a multi-stakeholder approach is needed, as everyone in the value chain can play an effective role. Governments must ensure farmers are not left behind. Noting that female farmers like herself lost work during the pandemic, she emphasized that discussions must now result in action-based solutions because hunger continues to increase.
Ms. KITIR, highlighting a range of good practices, said social protection is necessary to provide safety nets for all and to bounce back faster economically. While all countries have adopted some form of temporary measures during the pandemic, more than half of the global population does not benefit from any form of social protection, meaning that, if they lose their jobs, they have no income. Asking participants to imagine what it feels like to be unable to feed one’s children or pay for their schooling, she said this is the moment when the cycle of poverty starts, once people lose the power to make their own choices.
Providing social protection is about empowering people, she said, adding that Belgium partners with such agencies as UNICEF and ILO to support a range of efforts, including creating decent work, strengthening labour laws, formalizing employment and establishing a system of child benefits. But, all these efforts are not enough, and more cooperation is needed. While many nations do not have the resources to set up social protection systems, she said the idea is not for other countries to endlessly provide these resources, but instead hinges on crafting sustainable systems with domestic resource mobilization that stand on their own in the end.
Ms. VARGAS WINSTANLEY, serving as a respondent, said poverty can only be reversed if investments are made in human development. Outlining several initiatives under way in Peru, she said poverty reduction efforts were affected by the pandemic. As a result, Peru is implementing new measures, including a $900 million initiative that, among other things, allocates cash transfers. Poverty is multidimensional and must be tackled using a multipronged approach. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer applicable, she said, adding that the Government adopted social protection measures that, among other things, recognize the multidimensional elements of measuring poverty.
In the ensuing discussion, participants shared their experiences and offered ways to improve results. Representatives of stakeholder groups voiced their concerns, with some drawing attention to the need to ensure vulnerable communities are not left behind in the race to realize the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of Indonesia, providing examples of national efforts, said strengthening food security has become a development priority. Initiatives includes protecting farmers and land alongside cash assistance, training and tuition aid programmes to reach those who lost jobs during the pandemic. In addition, job‑creation efforts are under way to reduce unemployment.
The representative of Thailand said national action includes poverty‑reduction efforts, as well as agricultural initiatives to increase land use for sustainable farming. Thailand has also developed online services to reach vulnerable groups and is working to ensure that all policies are inclusive.
A representative of the major group for women said they were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, from employment losses to rising violence against them. Such effects are the result of policy decisions, which now must address structural inequalities affecting women and girls, who continue to face barriers to justice and other services. A holistic approach is needed, she said, calling on States to adopt comprehensive social protection systems and expand rights for workers.
The representative of the European Union, in his capacity as observer, said recovery plans must focus on social inclusion to leave no one behind. Having just adopted such a policy to address related issues, from homelessness to poverty, the European Union has taken many actions, including adopting a $700 billion budget to support a green transition in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Among other efforts, he said the European Fund for Sustainable Development is helping the private sector step in to help developing countries.
The representative of Sweden, speaking also as part of the private sector, said addressing pandemic-related increases in inequalities must recognize the potential for change in approaches to sustainable development. Sweden recognizes the potential to create jobs in a green economy. Unsustainable practices among companies must end, she said, encouraging dialogue on ways to do so. Companies and countries must also be more ambitious about achieving gender equality, ending corruption and creating sustainable practices.
A second round of the discussion began with presentations by panellists.
Mr. HOUNGBO said IFAD focuses on addressing the needs of vulnerable groups in rural areas, as many small-scale producers suffer from poverty and hunger, with the pandemic underscoring the need to make their voices heard. Food systems must become more sustainable, productive, resilient and inclusive to better tackle poverty. This requires targeted investments and policies, prioritizing vulnerable groups and ensuring gender equality. Tools to help with this include measuring food security combined with real-time monitoring and gender disaggregated data. Governments, development organizations and civil society need such information to better invest in areas requiring assistance. Partnerships and cooperation are also essential in reaching these common goals, he said.
Ms. RICHARDSON said that, for too long, efforts aimed at solving poverty and hunger were carried out separate from those tackling environmental challenges when it is precisely these ecological resources that are the true currency. Goal 2 on hunger recognizes this. The 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report found that, unless efforts aim at reducing the global food system’s environmental impact, it will be impossible to provide nutritious food for all by mid-century and achieve climate and biodiversity goals. Outlining requirements for such a transformation, she said efforts include focusing on empowering small-scale farmers in developing countries and providing them with safety nets, as they increasingly face climate change-related crop losses and failures. It also includes changing global trade agreements to ensure equal market access and promoting agroforestry and agroecology. Today’s food system comes with enormous environmental costs and cannot nutritionally feed the global population of today, much less tomorrow, she said, adding that: “We know what needs to be done and we have the technology to do it.”
Lead discussants then shared their views.
Mr. TORERO said 80 per cent of the world’s extremely poor people live in rural areas, which must be the focus of growth, investment and financing, both public and private. A food system approach is also required, he said, emphasizing that a total of $50 billion annually would ensure that Goal 2 is met. To address these issues, public, private, bilateral and multilateral funding initiatives are necessary along with the development of innovative models. Policies also must change, reflecting efforts to address market support, research and infrastructure, among other areas.
Mr. MANZI said that, given the dramatic impact of the pandemic, the Sustainable Development Goals are more relevant today than ever before to build a human-centred recovery. Goal 8 has a strong leverage effect on other objectives through its targets on workers’ protection, decent work, social protection, inclusive growth and environmental preservation. Employment levels, wages and social protection coverage are key to fight poverty and hunger, he said, also noting that Goal 8 aims at decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, thus fighting climate change.
Calling for a Goal 8-driven recovery, he said concrete action on the ground would mean investments in climate-friendly jobs, scaling up social protection and equality through the promotion of employment opportunities for women and youth, investments in the care sector, equal pay for work of equal value, minimum living wages and eliminating gender-based violence in the world of work. Financing these policies requires strengthened development cooperation, debt relief, progressive taxation and ending tax evasion and illicit financial flows. A new model of global governance is needed, one that will pave the way to global resilience. Right now, the moral imperative of global governance is to ensure universal access to COVID-19 vaccines, he said, calling on Member States to lead the way in making the new social contract a reality.
Mr. KABORE, serving as a respondent, highlighted Burkina Faso’s development strategies and pandemic response plan, both of which are based on the principles of inclusive, sustainable growth in line with the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. Sharing several examples of lessons learned and good practices, he said efforts have resulted in a 5.5 per cent economic growth rate between 2016 and 2020, which reduced the prevalence of poverty to 36.2 per cent in 2018 from 40 per cent in 2014. A recession and the pandemic have led to Burkina Faso carrying an $8.5 billion debt with an 18 per cent interest rate, which remains difficult to repay at a time of fragile security across the region. Despite Burkina Faso’s bold development plan, he said realizing the 2030 Agenda will be extremely difficult without adequate funding for targeted efforts. Success hinges on finding innovative solutions to such common challenges as security and climate change facing Burkina Faso and other nations in the Group of Five for the Sahel.