UN Secretary-General António Guterres says the world was challenged like never before because of COVID-19 pandemic, calling on the world leaders to get the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) back on track.
Guterres was speaking on Monday, September 20, 2021 at the SDG Moment, a major event marking the start of the General Assembly High Level Week at the UN headquarters, in New York.
Guterres was joined by more than 30 Heads of State in a debate led by top UN officials on COVID-19 and a performance by K-pop sensation BTS, headlined also by the President of the Republic of Korea.
“It would be easy to lose hope. But we are not hopeless or helpless. We have a path to recovery. If we choose to take it,” he said.
For the UN chief, this SDG Moment is all about “coming together to save our planet and each other.”
Earlier in September, Guterres launched “Our Common Agenda”, a plan to strengthen and revitalise the whole multilateral system and rally the world around common objectives.
In the document, the Secretary-General pointed to five areas that, he said, called for urgent action.
First, the world needs to end the pandemic. Noting that the response “has been too slow and too unequal”, Guterres called on the world to mobilise behind a global vaccine plan that doubles production, to reach 70 per cent of the world’s population by the middle of next year.
Secondly, he highlighted the need for a sustainable and equitable recovery for all, so that the world stays on track to end poverty by 2030.
For him, that means bold investments in systems that support human development and also “puts people above profits, including through progressive taxation, and ending tax evasion, money laundering, and illicit financial flows.”
He then pointed to equal rights for women and girls, saying that none of the SDGs could be achieved without gender equality.
“We need bold investments to make sure every girl has a seat in the classroom and the skills she needs to chart her own future,” he said, in the wake of the reopening of high schools in Afghanistan at the weekend, without the Taliban allowing girls to return to study.
“We need to dismantle the power structures that allow discrimination, violence and economic hardship to keep one half of humanity down. And we need to make sure that girls and women have a seat at every table,” he said.
Another priority is to end the war against the planet, by committing to net zero emissions by 2050. Guterres also asked Member States to shelve plans for any new coal-fired power plants after 2021, and mobilise $100 billion a year for climate action.
Lastly, he stressed the importance of an equitable global recovery, asking people everywhere to work with their governments to put people first in their budgets and recovery plans.
“My friends, the pathway is there. The choice is ours. Let’s move forward with hope and conviction,” he said.
Speaking at the event, the new president of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, said that “going forward, the gaps in political will and resource commitment, remain a common fault line”, hampering progress towards reaching the SDGs.
“This must change. Let the setback that the world has seen, strengthen our resolve and reinforce our determination to recover from the pandemic and to build the SDGs. Together it is possible,” he said.
Heading up the 76th General Assembly’s High-Level Week, the SDG Moment is held in advance of major meetings on food systems, climate, energy, jobs and social protection.
The SDG event is designed to build the momentum needed to deliver on the Decade of Action and Keep the Promise of the SDGs.
Besides world leaders, leaders from business, civil society, local authorities, the SDG Advocates and the UN, highlighted the need to scale up solutions.
For the UN, to get the SDGs back on track and prevent the worst impacts of climate change, a profound shift in economies and societies everywhere, was now needed.
In the last 18 months, COVID-19 had disrupted economies and livelihoods, deepened inequalities and risks sending more than 70 million people into extreme poverty.
In the same period, progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions has been too slow and biodiversity loss had continued at an extraordinary pace, compounded by a deeply uneven global response to the pandemic with the world’s poorest countries and people suffering the most.
Recognising this urgency, the UN launched a new campaign last week, “Keeping the Promise”. The digital campaign calls on people around the world to make a promise to take action for a better future for all.
Nigeria is being represented at the event by Mrs Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on the Sustainable Development Goals.
By Cecilia Ologunagba