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Recording: Launching Event of the 2020 Spotlight Report

25. September 2020 - 15:12

The virtual launching event of the Spotlight on Susainable Development 2020 took place on Friday, 18 September 2020.

If you missed it, you can watch the recording on youtube now. The details are below.

Roberto Bissio (Coordinator of Social Watch), Ziad Abdel Samad (Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development – ANND)Vanita Mukherjee (Member of the Executive Committee of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era – DAWN) shared brief snapshots.

Policy conclusions were presented by Ignacio Saiz (Executive Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights) and Barbara Adams (President of Global Policy Forum).

The event was moderated by Bodo Ellmers (Director of Sustainable Development Finance, Global Policy Forum Europe) and Elisabeth Bollrich, Global Economy Expert at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung).

The post Recording: Launching Event of the 2020 Spotlight Report appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

Kategorien: english, Ticker

Re-inventing multilateral solidarity: rhetoric, reaction or realignment of power?

20. September 2020 - 15:24

By Barbara Adams
Global Policy Forum

Download pdf version.

Multilateral solidarity is gaining traction as the slogan for mobilizing support for international cooperation and for the UN. Is it replacing or merely renaming cross-border obligations – many of which have been enshrined over decades in UN treaties, conventions and agreements, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility in their implementation?

Why do we seek another name at this time? It seems that reaffirmation is less attractive than invention in this time of innovation, short term thinking and results measurement and messaging via social media and 280 characters. How should it be reinvented?

Solidarity assumes trust and common responsibilities.

In the 1980s Chase Manhattan CEO David Rockefeller said that the economics of international relations drives the politics. Certainly, the politics of international relations has failed to keep pace with globalized economics and has resulted in unfettered hyper – globalization and multi-dimensional inequality and violence.

Decades of structural adjustment, market liberalization and austerity policies, together with financialization and digitalization have propelled the rush to neo-liberal governance. This is characterized by the unwillingness and/or loss of capacity of UN Member States to govern at the national level, and by implication and logic, also at the global level.

The vacuum has been nurtured and “filled” by power centres, public and private. One prominent forum is the World Economic Forum (WEF) that defines itself as “the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation” and asserts: “The Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”1

In June 2019 the UN Secretary-General signed a framework agreement with the WEF, promising multiple areas of cooperation, on activities the WEF describes as “shaped by a unique institutional culture founded on the stakeholder theory, which asserts that an organization is accountable to all parts of society. The institution carefully blends and balances the best of many kinds of organizations, from both the public and private sectors, international organizations and academic institutions.”2

Is this agreement a recognition that stakeholders are replacing public sector representatives and rights holders as the primary “subjects” of multilateralism and the UN?

One of the victims of this (stakeholder) trend is the UN. The pragmatism of Secretaries-General Annan and Ban Ki Moon launched a succession of public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives to keep the UN in the multilateral game. Are these what is meant by multilateral solidarity?

If so, how can it be expected to tackle the most serious global challenges that include climate degradation, ballooning inequalities and systemic discriminations, the COVID-19 pandemic and an unsustainable debt burden for many developing countries?

The record of the International Financial Institutions (IFIs), in particular the Bretton Woods Institutions, is not encouraging. The looming debt crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19 and economic lockdowns, is not a unique phenomenon. The failure of IFIs to assess debt sustainability and related fiscal policy according to rights and social, economic and environmental justice obligations is a long-standing practice, one that treats symptoms at best. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development made a valiant effort to connect the dots, and the COVID-19 tragedy has forced governments back into the driver’s seat, a role many had relinquished willingly or under pressure.

Climate change and COVID-19 are not the only crises that have exposed the abdication of achieving substantive democratic multilateralism but have been of such dimensions that Member States have to step up and govern. Has the preference of many to partner rather than govern met a dead end?

Reinventing multilateral solidarity must start with bending the arc of governance back again – from viewing people as shareholders – to stakeholders – to rights holders.

There are many global standards and benchmarks that could be developed to measure this progression. These should be at the forefront of pursuing substantive, rights-based multilateralism and distinguishing it from multilateralism for rhetoric’s sake. Just a few to get started:

  • Vaccines recognized as global public goods
  • Moratorium on IPRs for health, climate change and indigenous peoples’ rights while going through a review and possible recall process
  • Ratification and adherence to human rights treaties and conventions
  • Ratification and adherence to environmental and sustainability treaties
  • Abdication of nuclear weapons and export of small arms as commitment to peaceful and just societies
  • Global priority positioning of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to support sustainable livelihoods and strategies for conflict prevention, as well as to evaluate debt sustainability and the quality of financial flows
  • National oversight and implementation of agreements on business and human rights
  • New and meaningful commitments to reducing inequalities within and between countries including policies addressing and measuring the concentration of wealth
  • Cross-border solidarity that is not an excuse for interference or market access
  • Demotion of GDP as the primary measure of economic progress and prosperity

Multilateral solidarity relies on trust and requires addressing the trust deficit in the public and private spheres. Solidarity is demonstrated by a commitment to all rights for all and this cannot be achieved or aspired to without an effective duty bearer – government and the public sector. The UN should be the standard bearer at the global level, not a neutral convenor of public and private engagements.

Credible public institutions with commitment and capacity for long-term programming and non-market solutions and responses are essential at all levels.

And this requires predictable and sustainable public resources, currently undermined by tax evasion and illicit financial flows and detoured to servicing undeserved debt burdens.

The necessary but not sufficient condition for multilateral solidarity, the fuel to change direction, is a new funding compact at national level and to finance an impartial, value-based and effective UN system.

Notes:

1 https://www.weforum.org/about/world-economic-forum

2 Ibid.

Source: Spotlight Spotlight on Sustainable Development Report 2020.

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From 2020 HLPF to the first annual “SDG Moment”

18. September 2020 - 4:07

Download UN Monitor #20 (pdf version).

By Elena Marmo

The first annual SDG Moment is set to take place on 18 September 2020, designed to reinvigorate efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Marking the last decade in which to achieve these goals, the moment will: “Set out a vision for a Decade of Action and recovering better from COVID-19; Provide a snapshot on SDG progress; Highlight plans and actions to tackle major implementation gaps; and Demonstrate the power and impact of action and innovation by SDG stakeholders.”

Highlighting this first SDG moment at the close of the HLPF in July, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed stated, “We hope to generate greater momentum, solutions and solidarity to address the massive implementation gaps that we are all so keenly aware of.” At the event on 18 September, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will present his “Vision for Decade of Action”. He gave a preview perhaps at the HLPF, saying:

“The COVID-19 crisis is having devastating impacts because of our past and present failures. Because we have yet to take the SDGs seriously. Because we have put up with inequalities within and between countries that have left billions of people just one crisis away from poverty and financial ruin. Because we haven’t invested adequately in resilience – in universal health coverage; quality education; social protection; safe water and sanitation. Because we have yet to right the power imbalances that leave women and girls to constantly bear the brunt of any crisis. Because we haven’t heeded warnings about the damage that we are inflicting on our natural environment. Because of the shocking risks we are taking with climate disruption. And because we have undervalued effective international cooperation and solidarity.”

The first SDG Moment sets its sights high and needs to address a number of concerns about the future of the 2030 Agenda were raised at the HLPF.

Leave no one behind?

The term, “Leave no one behind” has become an official slogan of the 2030 Agenda. Multiple statements of efforts to be inclusive, while welcome, are selective and neglect many disadvantaged groups, and ignore the dynamics, policies and practices that push many behind. At a HLPF side event on national reporting on the 2030 Agenda, Committee for Development Policy (CDP) member Sakiko Fukuda-Parr said: “most voluntary national reports mention leave no one behind, (45 out of the 47) but it’s the depth of that principle we are concerned about with only seven recognizing what policies might be pushing people behind.”

To push no one behind requires that Member States examine not only their efforts of inclusion, but also policies and practices that may be effectively excluding or pushing groups behind, both within their national borders and in terms of extraterritorial responsibilities. This links to a broader discussion on reducing inequalities between and within countries. The Secretary-General’s 2020 SDG Progress Report noted that “progress had either stalled or been reversed: the number of people suffering from hunger was on the rise; climate change was occurring much faster than anticipated; and inequality continued to increase within and among countries”.

Belgium observed that the commitment to leaving no one behind without detail or an inequality framing would fail as “successfully fighting climate change will require us to ensure that the transition is just, or we risk leaving people behind”. To that point, the European Union also noted: “Building back better is the first task of the Decade of Action. We have to join our forces to accelerate the implementation of the SDGs to achieve a transformative shift by 2030 that leaves no one behind.” How will Member States use the SDG Moment and Decade of Action to promote policies that curtail action pushing populations and countries behind?

Worsening inequalities—change measurement?

COVID-19’s socio-economic effects have raised a myriad of issues related to inequalities. In particular, SDG 10 to reduce inequalities within and among countries permeated discussions from digital technologies to macroeconomic recovery.

At an HLPF session on mobilizing international solidarity, accelerating action and embarking on new pathways to realize the 2030 Agenda and the Samoa Pathway, Barbados called on all Member States to “pay more attention to this notion of vulnerability. It’s not about GDP per capita, [rather] what is our capacity to absorb new technology, composition of our population, levels of education and skills that allows us … to really take advantage of the resources that we have?”

This was echoed by Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Vera Songwe, who noted: “the importance of changing our classification during this crisis…if we stay within our traditional sort of GDP per capita definitions of the crisis we will not be addressing the countries.” How will the SDG Moment and Decade of Action build on these calls and usher in an understanding of vulnerability to the 2030 Agenda?

Multilateralism or Multi-stakeholderism

As the effects of COVID-19 reverse progress made on the SDGs, conversations regarding financing and implementation of the 2030 Agenda have heightened urgency. However, rather than a robust multilateral effort to establish fiscal space for the public sector, Member States have turned once again to the private sector for support. Without clarification on related responsibilities, the unconditional or unqualified inclusion of the private sector and multinational companies shifts multilateralism to multi-stakeholderism, and risks bypassing people-centred and human rights-based multilateralism and related standards of accountability and universality.

Secretary-General Guterres urged Member States:

“We must also reimagine the way nations cooperate. The pandemic has underscored the need for a strengthened and renewed multilateralism: A multilateralism based on the powerful ideals and objectives enshrined in the Charter and in the agreements defined across the decades since…We need a networked multilateralism…And we need an inclusive multilateralism, drawing on the critical contributions of civil society, business, foundations, the research community, local authorities, cities and regional governments.”

At an HLPF session on financing the 2030 Agenda amid COVID-19, Ibrahim Mayaki from NEPAD emphasized that “no man is an island, no country is on its own. Africa as a continent is affected by global imperatives, good or not…Resilience alone without a holistic approach to well-being and broader development needs is counter-productive.”  This recognition of the interdependence of countries reflects a necessary distinction between “shared” responsibilities and the notion of solidarity. The “global imperatives” caused by climate change, cross-border trade, illicit finance and tax cooperation reflect the need for international co-operation and solidarity.

In the 2020 Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development, Barbara Adams notes: “Multilateral solidarity is gaining traction as the slogan for mobilizing support for international cooperation and for the UN. Is it replacing or merely renaming cross-border obligations, many of which have been enshrined over decades in UN treaties, conventions and agreements, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility in their implementation?”

Beyond Building Back Better

The phrase “Build Back Better”, applied by Secretary-General Guterres to the context of climate change, took hold at the HLPF, with many Member States, UN Staff, and civil society organizations calling for development action to make this possible, as well as asking if what is needed is rather to build back differently.

Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD remarked: “I’m tired of hearing building back better. What is better? We need to build back differently, more diversified economies, greener, more inclusive. Who are we building back better for? Big economies, for profit, and big business, or for sustainable development?”

Guyana on behalf the of the G77 and Belize agreed. Belize states that building back better, "for SIDS is not going back to what they had. When we were encouraged to diversify our countries and markets we took what we were really good at and exchanged it for something else, not a true diversification."

However, the United Kingdom was an early proponent of the idea, noting, "we must not be consumed by the challenge alone; we must use this as an opportunity to rebuild better. This is the moment to shape a recovery that delivers cleaner, healthier, more inclusive and more resilient economies and societies.” The European Union echoed this sentiment, stating: “Building back better is the first task of the Decade of Action.”

Germany highlighted concerns regarding the SDGs, noting: “Instead of falling behind in the implementation of the SDGs, we must think about how we restart our economies in a way that will accelerate implementation.” The United Kingdom posed the SDGs as a roadmap for recovery “that puts the 2030 agenda for sustainable development and the goals of the Paris Agreement back within reach as we collectively rise to the challenge of the decade of action”.

Pakistan noted the role COVID-19 can play in rebuilding not only better but differently, saying that COVID-19 “has exacerbated the systemic risks and fragilities in our economic and financial systems and development models. It has also highlighted the cascading impact of disasters crossing economic, social, environmental, dimensions of sustainable development, and affecting all countries, especially developing countries."

The COVID-19 crisis has heightened, not diminished the urgency for action on the SDGs. As stated by the President of ECOSOC: “Our development gains are at risk of being reversed in the very year when we launched a Decade of Action and Delivery to accelerate the implementation the Sustainable Development Goals.” While COVID-19 has massively disrupted economies, health systems and social protection worldwide, Member States continue to invest trust and support in the 2030 Agenda. However ambitious and essential its SDGs may be, it lacks an accountability mechanism to get them back on track.

Secretary-General speaks out

Just two days after the HLPF came to a close, Secretary-General Guterres, delivering the Nelson Mandela lecture, called for major reform to the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, saying:

“COVID-19 has been likened to an x-ray, revealing fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built. It is exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere: The lie that free markets can deliver healthcare for all; the fiction that unpaid care work is not work; the delusion that we live in a post-racist world; the myth that we are all in the same boat. Because while we are all floating on the same sea, it’s clear that some are in super-yachts while others are clinging to drifting debris…. Inequality defines our time.”

He added: "The response to the pandemic, and to the widespread discontent that preceded it, must be based on a New Social Contract and a New Global Deal that create equal opportunities for all and respect the rights and freedoms of all. This is the only way that we will meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda – agreements that address precisely the failures that are being exposed and exploited by the pandemic.”

With eyes focused on the first annual SDG Moment to “set out a vision for a Decade of Action and recovering better from COVID-19”, how will Member States respond to calls to go beyond implementation gaps to tackle systemic failures, the need to do things differently, and to reinvigorate the multilateral system?

The post From 2020 HLPF to the first annual “SDG Moment” appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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PRESS RELEASE: Launch of the global civil society report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2020

17. September 2020 - 15:41

PRESS RELEASE: Launch of the global civil society report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2020.
On the eve of the (virtual) United Nations 75th anniversary event

Pushing the reset button will not change the game

New York, 18 September 2020. The COVID-19 crisis and the worldwide measures to tackle it have deeply affected communities, societies and economies around the globe. The implementation of the United Nations 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been put at high risk in many countries. COVID-19 is a global wake-up call for enhanced international cooperation and solidarity.

But calls for “building back better” by just pushing the reset button will not change the game. We need structural changes in societies and economies that ensure the primacy of human rights, gender justice and sustainability.

This is the key message of the 2020 edition of the Spotlight Report on Sustainable Development “Shifting policies for a systemic change.” It is published by a broad range of civil society organizations today – on the eve of the Global Action Week for the SDGs and three days before UN`s 75th (virtual) anniversary summit.

The Spotlight Report 2020 unpacks various features and amplifiers of the COVID-19 emergency and its inter-linkages with other crises. The report points out that even before COVID-19, many countries – especially in the global South – were in an economic crisis, characterized by contractionary fiscal policy, growing debt and austerity measures that made these countries more vulnerable to future crises. They are results of a dysfunctional system that puts corporate profit above the rights and well-being of people and planet.

Governments and international organizations have responded to the COVID-19 crisis on a massive scale. The announced liquidity measures, rescue packages and recovery programmes total US$ 11 trillion worldwide. But overall, most measures were not sufficient to meet people’s real financial needs and did not take environmental justice into account.

A true alternative: the “8 R”- agenda for transformational recovery

According to the Spotlight Report, it is therefore all the more important that longer-term reforms not only support economic recovery, but also promote necessary structural change which will decisively improve peoples’ lives, such as strengthened public social protection systems, improved remuneration and rights of workers in the care economy, and the transition to circular economies, which seek to decouple growth from consumption of finite planetary resources.

As an alternative to the “Great Reset” initiative launched by the World Economic Forum to supposedly rescue capitalism, the Spotlight Report offers the “8 R”- agenda for transformational recovery. It identifies 8 key political and social areas in which re-thinking and re-structuring is indispensable, including the need for reclaiming truly public services and revaluing the central importance of care in our societies; decisively shifting the balance between local and global value chains; pursuing climate justice; a radical redistribution of economic power and resources and bold regulation of global finance for the common good;  and – underpinning this all – boosting multilateral solidarity and multilateralism by clearly strengthening the UN and its bodies.

“Multiple crises can only be overcome if the massive power asymmetries within and between societies can be reduced”, the authors conclude.

Download the Press Release (pdf version) here.

More details of the “8 R” – agenda can be found here.

The Spotlight Report is published by the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND), the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN), Global Policy Forum (GPF), Public Services International (PSI), Social Watch, Society for International Development (SID), and Third World Network (TWN), supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2020
Shifting policies for systemic change – Lessons from the global COVID-19 crisis
Global Civil Society Report on the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs
Beirut/Bonn/Ferney-Voltaire/Montevideo/New York/Penang/Rome/Suva, September 2020
www.2030spotlight.org
#SpotlightSDGs

For media requests, interviews with the authors or further questions please contact:

Monika Hoegen
Global Policy Forum Europe
Coordinator for Media Relations and Strategic Communication
Phone: +49(0)171-837-3462
Email: monikahoegen@globalpolicy.org

Some quotes from the Spotlight Report 2020:

“Governments and international organizations have responded to COVID-19 on an unprecedented scale. But there are indications that policy responses to the crisis so far ignore its structural causes, favour the vested interests of influential elites in business and society, further accelerate economic concentration processes, fail to break the vicious circle of indebtedness and austerity policies, and in sum, widen socioeconomic disparities within and between countries.”
Jens Martens, Global Policy Forum

“The social and economic consequences of COVID-19 are not an exogenous shock to an otherwise functioning system, but the consequences of a system that has instability and inequality hardwired into its DNA. We must move towards an economy that rests on ensuring human wellbeing and the realisation of rights.”
Carilee Osborne and Pamela Choga, Institute for Economic Justice, South Africa

“International solidarity is needed in the form of a Global Fund for Social Protection to jointly realize the human right to social security for all.”
Nicola Wiebe, Mira Bierbaum, Thomas Gebauer, Global Coalition for Social Protection Floors

“The essence of the change that is needed involves shifting the centre of gravity away from the global and take bold public policy and investment decisions to strengthen the domestic economies.”
Stefano Prato, Society for International Development

“The pandemic is galvanizing an ever-increasing array of actors to imagine how our economies could be reshaped if human rights and human dignity were put at their center, and to work together to make that vision a reality.”
Kate Donald, Ignacio Saiz, Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR)

“The UN has a rich and full envelope of vital and worthy commitments and obligations. Reiteration after 75 years is not enough. A new funding compact is a sine qua non to move these commitments into the reality of people’s lives.”
Barbara Adams, Global Policy Forum

The post PRESS RELEASE: Launch of the global civil society report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2020 appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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UN: Re-inventing multilateral solidarity – rhetoric, or realignment of power?

16. September 2020 - 20:11

By Barbara Adams

New York, 9 Sep (IPS/Barbara Adams) — Multilateral solidarity is gaining traction as the slogan for mobilizing support for international cooperation and for the UN. Is it replacing or merely renaming cross-border obligations, many of which have been enshrined over decades in UN treaties, conventions and agreements, and the principle of common but differentiated responsibility in their implementation?

Why do we seek another name at this time? It seems that reaffirmation is less attractive than invention in this time of innovation, short-term thinking and results measurement and messaging via social media and 280 characters. How should it be reinvented?

Solidarity assumes trust and common responsibilities.

In the 1980s, Chase Manhattan CEO David Rockefeller said that the economics of international relations drives the politics. Certainly, the politics of international relations has failed to keep pace with globalized economics and has resulted in unfettered hyper-globalization and multi-dimensional inequality and violence.

Decades of structural adjustment, market liberalization and austerity policies, together with financialization and digitalization have propelled the rush to neo-liberal governance. This is characterized by the unwillingness and/or loss of capacity of UN Member States to govern at the national level, and by implication and logic, also at the global level.

The vacuum has been nurtured and "filled" by power centres, public and private. One prominent forum is the World Economic Forum (WEF) that defines itself as "the International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation" and asserts: "The Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas."1

In June 2019, the UN Secretary-General signed a framework agreement with the WEF, promising multiple areas of cooperation on activities the WEF describes as "shaped by a unique institutional culture founded on the stakeholder theory, which asserts that an organization is accountable to all parts of society.

"The institution carefully blends and balances the best of many kinds of organizations, from both the public and private sectors, international organizations and academic institutions."2

Is this agreement a recognition that stakeholders are replacing public sector representatives and rights holders as the primary "subjects" of multilateralism and the UN?

One of the victims of this (stakeholder) trend is the UN. The pragmatism of Secretaries-General Annan and Ban Ki Moon launched a succession of public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder initiatives to keep the UN in the multilateral game. Are these what is meant by multilateral solidarity?

If so, how can it be expected to tackle the most serious global challenges that include climate degradation, ballooning inequalities and systemic discriminations, the COVID-19 pandemic and an unsustainable debt burden for many developing countries?

The record of the BWIs/IFIs is not encouraging. The looming debt crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19 and economic lockdowns, is not a unique phenomenon. The failure of IFIs to assess debt sustainability and related fiscal policy according to rights and social, economic and environmental justice obligations is a longstanding practice, one that treats symptoms at best.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development made a valiant effort to connect the dots and the COVID-19 tragedy has forced governments back into the driver’s seat, a role many had relinquished willingly or under pressure.

Climate change and COVID-19 are not the only crises that have exposed the abdication of achieving substantive democratic multilateralism but have been of such dimensions that Member States have to step up and govern. Has the preference of many to partner rather than govern met a dead end?

Re-inventing multilateral solidarity must start with bending the arc of governance back again – from viewing people as shareholders – to stakeholders – to rights holders.

There are many global standards and benchmarks that could be developed to measure this progression. These should be at the forefront of pursuing substantive, rights-based multilateralism and distinguishing it from multilateralism for rhetoric’s sake. Just a few to get started:

  • Vaccines recognized as global public goods.
  • Moratorium on IPRs for health, climate change and indigenous peoples’ rights while going through a review and possible recall process.
  • Ratification and adherence to human rights treaties and conventions.
  • Ratification and adherence to environmental and sustainability treaties.
  • Abdication of nuclear weapons and export of small arms as commitment to peaceful and just societies.
  • Global priority positioning of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to support sustainable livelihoods and strategies for conflict prevention, as well as to evaluate debt sustainability and the quality of financial flows.
  • National oversight and implementation of agreements on business and human rights.
  • New and meaningful commitments to reducing inequalities within and between countries including policies addressing and measuring the concentration of wealth.
  • Cross-border solidarity that is not an excuse for interference or market access.
  • Demotion of GDP as the primary measure of economic progress and prosperity.

Multilateral solidarity relies on trust and requires addressing the trust deficit in the public and private spheres. Solidarity is demonstrated by a commitment to all rights for all and this cannot be achieved or aspired to without an effective duty bearer – government and the public sector. The UN should be the standard bearer at the global level, not a neutral convenor of public and private engagements.

Credible public institutions with commitment and capacity for long-term programming and non-market solutions and responses are essential at all levels.

And this requires predictable and sustainable public resources, currently undermined by tax evasion and illicit financial flows and detoured to servicing undeserved debt burdens.

The necessary but not sufficient condition for multilateral solidarity, the fuel to change direction, is a new funding compact at national level and to finance an impartial, value-based and effective UN system.

By Barbara Adams. Barbara Adams is chair of the board of the Global Policy Forum, was trained as an economist in the UK and served as Executive Director of the Manitoba Council for International Affairs from 1977-1979 in Canada. She also served as Associate Director of the Quaker United Nations Office in New York (1981-1988), and as Deputy Coordinator of the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (NGLS) through the period of the UN global conferences and until 2003. From 2003-2008 she worked as Chief of Strategic Partnerships and Communications for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

This op-ed is a short chapter in the 2030 Spotlight Report to be launched on 18 September 2020.

Source: South-North Development Monitor SUNS – SUNS #9190 Wednesday 16 September 2020.

Notes:

1 https://www.weforum.org/about/world-economic-forum

2 Ibid.

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US Leveraging its money in global and regional fora

11. September 2020 - 11:40

By Barbara Adams and Roberto Bissio

New York and Montevideo (September 11) – There is widespread speculation that if/when US President Trump addresses the UN General Assembly on 22 September — probably the only head of state to do so in person– he may warn of major cuts in financial contributions or even threaten to pull out of the UN.

Since he took office in January 2017, the USA has de-funded, withdrawn from, or denigrated several UN agencies and affiliated institutions. These include the World Health Organization, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Human Rights Council.

The New York Times reported on 4 September the possible US withdrawal from NATO, if Trump wins a second term as president in November elections. Could the UN be next on the list?

A letter circulating from CSOs notes that if this threat materializes, and since the US pays 22 percent of the UN’s budget, it will be a devastating blow to the world body which is commemorating its 75th anniversary later this month.

But how disastrous would this be? Could it trigger a “be careful what you wish for” reaction domestically and among Member States whose multilateralism rhetoric is often not matched by their actions?

Is this the shock needed to demand genuinely democratic global governance? Is this the start of the long overdue transition away from what the UN system has become: a deal-making forum with people and countries represented by the executive branch that does not reflect their diversity and values? Will it push the UN back to its purpose – to lead the way towards sustainable peace, justice and human rights?

Most expressions of concern address fears for the immediate consequences for the UN budget. Are they ignoring the accompanying leverage exercised in the decision-making process?

In 1985 Prime Minister of Sweden Olaf Palme proposed a ceiling of 10 percent on the assessed contribution of any Member State. In addressing the UNGA to commemorate its 40th anniversary he said: “a more even distribution of assessed contributions would better reflect the fact that this Organization is the instrument of all nations”. While this garnered some support, it exposed resistance in many US circles aware that it would reduce US political power and leverage at the UN.

As Ambassador Stephanie Power stated clearly in April 2014:

Our ability to exercise leadership in the UN—to protect our core national security interests—is directly tied to meeting our financial obligations.”

UN decision-making is often compared {favourably} to the weighted voting setup of the IMF and World Bank, having a one country, one vote system as opposed to something closer to one dollar, one vote. This misses the point: there is weighted voting exercised through senior appointments, budgets, threats and self-censorship, and the USA is not the only beneficiary.

In a separate, but not dissimilar situation, the USA is pressuring members of the IADB to choose a US national as president in elections this weekend,12-13 September. Since its creation, the head of the bank has been from the Latin America and Caribbean region.

This pressure is facing a filibustering attempt, led by Argentina, aimed at postponing the appointment until after the US elections in November. The attitude of the EU members in this showdown will be decisive in determining the leadership/future of the largest financial institution for Latin American and the Caribbean, with the US-China dispute in the background. It is also a possible indicator of the seriousness behind their verbal championing of multilateralism.

Both the UN and the IADB are located in the USA, reflecting that country’s dominant role in the aftermath of World War II. The UN was created in 1945 as the premier global organization dedicated to peace, human rights and development worldwide and its headquarters are in the USA – New York City. The IADB, located in Washington, was created in 1959 as a key instrument of US policy in the Western Hemisphere, complementing the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR), a NATO-style military alliance.

In contrast to the UN, where each country holds one vote, the 26 borrowing countries (all of Latin America and the Caribbean, except Cuba) hold an absolute majority (50.015%) of the votes in the IADB’s board and the president of the bank has been from the region since its creation.

Last June US President Trump in a move qualified as “surprising if not stunning” by the specialized press, launched the candidacy of his top Latin American adviser, the Cuban-American lawyer Mauricio Claver-Carone to the IADB presidency. Known for his vocal opposition to the governments of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Claver-Carone is the main author of the “América Crece” (America Grows) initiative, launched last December to promote private investment in infrastructure and thus compete with the growing Chinese presence in the region.

Several Latin American leaders — including former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, Ricardo Lagos of Chile and Julio Maria Sanguinetti of Uruguay — have signed a public letter opposing Claver-Carone, not just as a breach of the “gentlemen’s agreement” committed to by then President Dwight Eisenhower.

Nevertheless, with the support of presidents Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Iván Duque of Colombia and other smaller countries, the Trump candidate is estimated to have gathered the commitments of 54 percent of the votes.

The IADB lends some US$ 18 billion a year to Latin American and Caribbean countries, while the China Development Bank (CBD) and the Import-Export Bank of China (China Exim) lend together some US$ 2 billion a year. However, most of Chinese investment in the region is in the form of direct investment or private-public partnerships (PPPs), amounting to some US$ 12 billion a year in pre-COVID-19 times. “América Crece” would directly compete in that area, presumably with IADB guarantees for American corporations investments in infrastructure.

In order to secure election during the weekend of 12-13 September, the US candidate not only needs an absolute majority, but also a quorum of at least 70 percent of the voting power. This is a rule introduced by the USA, which holds 30.006 percent of the votes, so that it has the possibility of vetoing any resolution by simply walking out. The Argentinian government (11.354% of the votes) is trying to mobilize the opposition to Claver-Carone to play the absence card and thus force a postponement of the vote until after the US elections.

While 46 percent of the votes that are not supporting Claver-Carone could ensure the success of this strategy, some countries, like Mexico, which are committed to vote against the US candidate, may actually do so and, by staying in the room to vote against Claver-Carone ensure the quorum needed for his election. The proposed walkout, while perfectly legal under IADB rules, might be perceived as openly hostile by the White House.

What Europe decides to do could be decisive. The 13 EU members with a seat on the IADB board hold together a 9.2 percent of the vote – not counting the UK (0.96%), which is expected to back the US. Japan has 5% and China and South Korea a symbolic 0.004% each.

The EU is, after the USA and China, the third trade and investment “partner” of Latin America and the Caribbean. Additionally, as explained by the influential Foreign Policy magazine, the IADB election “opens a Pandora’s box for other multilateral institutions: If the United States takes the IADB presidency today, tomorrow it could try to do the same at the IMF, which is traditionally led by a European.”

Is it time to relocate both institutions and also to recognize that the era of gentlemen’s agreements is (or should be) over?

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LAUNCH SPOTLIGHT REPORT 2020

10. September 2020 - 15:57

Shifting policies for systemic change

Lessons from the global COVID-19 crisis

Friday, 18 September 2020, 9:00-10:00am EDT

The COVID-19 pandemic has a massive impact on the implementation of the SDGs and the fulfilment of human rights. The looming global recession will dramatically increase unemployment, poverty and hunger worldwide. Moreover, the crisis threatens to further deepen discrimination and inequalities.

In the Declaration on the Commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, to be adopted on 21 September 2020, Heads of State and Government will promise “to mobilize resources, strengthen our efforts and show unprecedented political will and leadership” in response to the current crisis.

The call to “build back better” has become a leitmotif of intergovernmental responses to the crisis. But does “building back” really lead to the urgently needed systemic change? What kind of policies, strategies and structural changes are necessary to ensure the primacy of human rights, gender justice and sustainability goals in all policy areas?

These questions are discussed in this year’s report Spotlight on Sustainable Development 2020. Its fundamental message is that the multiple crises can only be overcome if the massive power asymmetries within and between societies can be reduced.

With this virtual launching event, we will present key findings of the report.

Brief snapshots by

  • Roberto Bissio, Coordinator of Social Watch
  • Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive Director of the Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)
  • Vanita Mukherjee, Member of the Executive Committee of Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN)

Policy conclusions by

  • Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights
  • Barbara Adams, President of Global Policy Forum

Moderator/Facilitator

  • Bodo Ellmers, Director of Sustainable Development Finance, Global Policy Forum Europe
  • Elisabeth Bollrich, Global Economy Expert at Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung

Please register here: https://www.fes.de/veranstaltungen/?Veranummer=249815 scroll down for English version

Participants will receive the login details for the web conversation one day before the event.

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UN Monitor: COVID-19 Round-Up on UN General Assembly High-level Meetings – 04/09/2020

7. September 2020 - 18:26

Download UN Monitor (pdf version).

The 75th session of the UN General Assembly (GA) will open on 15 September and its first weeks will see a number of high-level meetings: the first annual “SDG Moment” launching the Decade of Action, the High-level meeting to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the UN, the Biodiversity Summit, the High-level meeting on the 25th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing +25) and the High-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons.

The timetable and modalities have been adapted in light of COVID-19 restrictions and are outlined below.

On 22 July, the GA agreed on several measures to adapt to the reality of COVID-19 at its September High-level meetings. The enabling resolution, A/74/L.75, was adopted under silence procedure in order to outline the new format of a mainly virtual GA as well as amend the dates of meetings in order to limit the number of individuals physically present in the UN Headquarters building in New York City.

Modalities

Member States have committed to keeping the modality of the High-level meetings “essentially” the same but with necessary changes to adapt to these “exceptional times”. These changes include a limit of one in-person representative per delegation allowed in the building, a written compilation of all statements to be released following each High-level meeting along with video recordings of each meeting. The resolution notes that meetings will be held with simultaneous interpretation and a speakers’ list will be determined prior to each session.

Perhaps the biggest departure from years prior will be the acceptance of pre-recorded videos for the general debate portion of each of the High-level sessions. Each pre-recorded video will have a time limit of 15 minutes after being introduced by the designated representative physically present in the GA Hall. In an explanation of vote, El Salvador noted that designated representatives “are to be understood as Permanent Representatives or designated officials of Permanent Missions based in New York”. The President of the GA is encouraging video statements be made by Head of State, Vice-President, Crown Prince or Princess, Head of Government, Minister or Vice-Minister.

The resolution specifies that this decision is taken “without setting a precedent for future general debates and mandated High-level meetings planned for future High-level weeks”. As such, it is likely that in-person modalities are expected to return when the global health situation and the health infrastructure of the host country improve.

The President of the GA made a further clarification that for the entirety of each meeting, “the level of representation will be determined by that of the pre-recorded statement”. In this case, priority on the speakers’ list (apart from the general debate) will be given based on the level of representation in the video message.

Meetings

The closing of the 74th Session and opening of the 75th Session of the GA will take place on 15 September. Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria will complete his term as President of the 74th session and Volkan Bozkir of Turkey is the incoming President for the 75th session.

SDG Moment

The first annual SDG Moment will take place on Friday, 18 September as 2020 marks the first year in the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs. It will feature a three-hour meeting at which “the vast majority of the contributions from Heads of State and stakeholders will be made virtually”. 20 speakers will be selected, based on gender and geographic parity considerations, giving priority to countries that have presented multiple Voluntary National Reviews and demonstrate active plans and actions intended to be taken over the course of the Decade of Action.

The UN has also announced three other initiatives as part of the SDG Moment:

“First, a global broadcast event will bring the essence of the SDG Moment to the widest possible global audience.

Second, the UN development system together with partners will hold national and regional dialogues to bring the Decade of Action closer to local decision- makers and communities.

And third, a virtual, interactive SDG action zone during High-level week will provide dedicated space for a full range of stakeholders to delve deeper into what is needed to deliver the Goals by 2030.”

High-level Meetings

The first of the High-level meetings to take place on 21 September will be the High-level meeting to commemorate the UN 75th anniversary at which Member States will formally adopt a Political Declaration. The meeting will also hold a general debate on the theme “The Future We Want, the UN We Need: Reaffirming our Collective Commitment to Multilateralism”. On the following day (22 September) the General Debate will commence. Unlike the opening of the General Debate and the adoption of the Political Declaration, the following meetings have been rescheduled to comply with COVID-19 building restrictions.

The Biodiversity Summit will be held on Wednesday, 30 September under the theme: “Urgent Action on Biodiversity for Sustainable Development”. As per A/74/L.75, statements for the plenary session and leaders dialogues will be pre-recorded. This meeting was originally scheduled 22-23 September but was changed due to COVID-19. The event will consist of an opening session, plenary, two leaders’ conversations, and a closing session.

The High-level meeting of the GA on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing +25) will be held on Thursday, 1 October. Permanent Representative of New Zealand, Craig John Hawke, and Permanent Representative of Qatar, Sheikha Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, were appointed to hold consultations on the organizational matters of this meeting. The theme will be: “Accelerating the realization of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. The virtual and pre-recorded video statement modality will also apply to this meeting. Additional details have been released on the opening, plenary, and closing segments including a list of speakers and thematic discussion questions.

The High-level meeting to commemorate and promote the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons will take place on Friday, 2 October in a “primarily virtual format” with pre-recorded statements. The agenda will include an opening session with statements from the President of the GA and the UN Secretary-General, followed by two sessions of general debate.

The post UN Monitor: COVID-19 Round-Up on UN General Assembly High-level Meetings – 04/09/2020 appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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The Impact of Digital Technologies: a UN75 Priority?

1. September 2020 - 23:56

Download UN Monitor #19 (pdf version)

By Carter Boyd and Elena Marmo

In recent years, the opportunities and challenges presented by rapid digitalization have become a staple on various agendas across the United Nations. Within the past few months, as the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 increase global reliance on digital technology, the relevance of and concerns about digitalization have heightened. Digital technologies have been prominent in a number of UN processes and deliberations such as UN75, human rights reports, the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation and the 2020 High-level Political Forum.

75th Anniversary of the UN

The impact of digitalization has been identified by the office of the Secretary-General’s Special Advisor (for the UN 75th Anniversary–UN75) as one of several key issue areas to be discussed in a series of global dialogues held by Member States, civil society organizations (CSOs), and the private sector.

The UN75 Issue Brief on digital technologies, used to inform global dialogues, states that while rapid digitalization in the past two decades has extended internet connectivity to 50 percent of the world: “those yet to be connected remain cut off from the benefits of this new era and remain further behind…. While this gap narrowed in most regions between 2013 and 2017, it widened in the least developed countries from 30% to 33%.”

The gap in access to advances in digital technology, and concern for its role in exacerbating inequalities, is often described as the “digital divide”. The brief covers topics from the future of social media to the problems of automation and urges members to establish an international standard of engagement to mitigate the potential shortfalls of the new digital era.

Beyond internet connectivity as a driver of the digital divide, the UN75 Issue Brief reports: “800 million people could lose their jobs to automation by 2030, while polls reveal that the majority of all employees worry that they do not have the necessary training or skills to get a well-paid job”.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka has spoken about the gender dimensions of the digital divide: “In low and middle-income countries, 433 million women are unconnected and 165 million fewer women own a mobile phone compared with men…The global internet user gap is 17%, and the digital gender gap exists in all regions of the world”.

On 21 September at the UN General Assembly High-level meeting, Heads of State and Government will adopt the UN75 Political Declaration, negotiated by Member States. This declaration makes reference to digital technologies, noting:

“We will improve digital cooperation. Digital technologies have profoundly transformed society. They offer unprecedented opportunities and new challenges. When improperly or maliciously used, they can fuel divisions within and between countries, increase insecurity, undermine human rights, and exacerbate inequality. Shaping a shared vision on digital cooperation and a digital future that show the full potential for beneficial technology usage, and addressing digital trust and security, must continue to be a priority as our world is now more than ever relying on digital tools for connectivity and social-economic prosperity. Digital technologies have the potential to accelerate the realization of the 2030 Agenda. We must ensure safe and affordable digital access for all” (emphasis added).

The Political Declaration, though recognizing the potential pitfalls of rapid digitalization, on the whole endorses and embraces this technology.

Human Rights

The concerns mentioned in the Political Declaration are reminiscent of tensions among Member States on the topic of digitalization throughout the 74th Session of the General Assembly in 2019. In the Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Phillip Alston, focused his report on the digital welfare state. The Special Rapporteur on the Protection of the Right to Freedom of Expression, David Kaye, addressed online hate speech. They both pointed to the fact that, despite their potential benefits, digital technologies come with considerable risks for entrenching inequalities or undermining rights.

Both of these human rights experts issued strong pleas to Member States to approach digital technologies with caution and to strongly consider multilateral regulation and human rights accountability for the private sector in this field and beyond.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet voiced similar concerns at a Third Committee side event on Human Rights in the Digital Age during the 74th Session of the General Assembly: “The digital revolution is a major global human rights issue. Its unquestionable benefits do not cancel out its unmistakable risks”. More information can be found in GPW UN Monitor #14 “Human Rights in the Digital Age: Challenging Issues on the UN Agenda”.

Roadmap for Digital Cooperation

As much of the world is struggling to adapt to COVID-19, international cooperation on key issues has become even more critical, forcing UN deliberations and meetings to move almost entirely online. To accelerate action on bridging the digital divide the Secretary-General launched the Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. The report calls upon Member States and other stakeholders to: “play a role in advancing a safer, more equitable digital world, one which will lead to a brighter and more prosperous future for all”. The Roadmap, as well as several Member States, urge international cooperation to mitigate the risks and globally standardize the opportunities.

During the Launch of the Digital Roadmap meeting, Special Advisor to the Secretary-General on Frontier Technologies Fabrizio Hochschild noted that “the most pressing issue as pointed out by the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be handling the mute button on virtual platforms.” While perhaps a joke, Hochschild addressed the power dynamics at play in the virtual world and urges an emphasis on digital literacy. While COVID-19 has forced people to rapidly shift their day to day online, some parts of the world still lack the technical capacity and skills to make this shift successfully.

With this swift transition in mind, it is important to note that digital technologies have been developed, deployed and operated at a speed that has outpaced regulation and legislation. At the Digital Roadmap launch, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also raised human rights concerns regarding digital technologies:

“It is crucial that the UN lead by example. Serving as a model for Member States, tech companies, and others to do our human rights due diligence in our own use of digital technologies and in our data protection and privacy policies and procedures. As this call to actions points out, within the UN, human rights must be fully considered in all decision making, operations, and institutional commitments.”

2020 High level Political Forum

Digitalization was also a prominent topic during the 2020 High level Political Forum (HLPF). Issues addressed included the impact of digitalization on recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, the protection of human rights in the digital age, and the improvement of digital infrastructure to support sustainable development progress. An official session on Science, Technology, and Innovation and several side events, including “Accelerating action through digital technologies” and “Data for a Decade of Action”, highlighted questions about the impacts of digital technology.

The limits of technology became dramatically clear at the 2020 HLPF as several statements, questions, and even Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) were interrupted due to technical difficulties. At the culmination of the Barbados VNR presentation on 16 July, the presenter lost connectivity and could not answer questions from Member States and CSOs about the country’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), innovative development financing strategies, and goals for ensuring those already behind were not being pushed further behind. Similarly, Uzbekistan began their VNR presentation with an informational video presented in Turkic which was not supported by the online translation mechanism, prompting the translator to comment that: “This platform does not support Uzbek”.

At an official session on Science, Technology, and Innovation, Elenita C. Daño of ETC Group reiterated concerns regarding the digital divide, in the context of it hindering achievement of the 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals. She noted: “as we join online conversations like this, vulnerable populations are not at the table and unable to participate. To build back better the world must focus on improving digital access, not a digital dream world that excludes those most vulnerable.”

At a side event titled, “Data for a Decade of Action” Francesca Perucci from the UN Statistical Commission cited a practical example of how the digital divide is affecting National Statistical Offices. Due to a shift to virtual data collection reliant on internet connectivity, “96 percent of National Statistical Offices (NSOs) are no longer completing in-person surveys and 9 out of 10 NSOs in low-income countries saw an impact on their ability to meet international reporting requirements.”

Without adequate connectivity, NSOs are unable to collect real-time, disaggregated data to track progress on the SDGs. During a time when COVID-19 is drastically endangering development progress and in some cases causing serious declines, the need for reliable and up-to-date data has never been more important.

2020 HLPF Ministerial Declaration

At the close of the 2020 HLPF, Member States had planned to adopt a Ministerial Declaration on the 2030 Agenda. While consensus was not achieved prior to the end of the HLPF, President of ECOSOC Mona Juul penned a draft declaration for consideration. The draft makes reference to digital technologies and expresses a commitment to ensuring equitable access, committing Member States to:

“… promote inclusive digital economy and build resilience across sectors. In this regard, we thank the Secretary-General for launching the Road Map for Digital Cooperation. We commit to enhancing and promoting capacity-building, infrastructure, connectivity and technical assistance initiatives as well as innovation and technologies towards advancing the Goals and targets, with a special focus on developing countries, and commit to strengthening cooperation to close the digital divide within and among countries.”

While the Declaration reflects these reiterated concerns regarding the digital divide, it lacks policy prescriptions and detail on the systemic changes needed to ensure equity.

Both the draft HLPF Ministerial Declaration and the UN75 Political Declaration raise concerns and possibilities, yet lack practical guidance on the development, use and regulation of digital technologies. What forms of social protection are in place in the event there are increasing job losses that result? How will technology companies be held to human rights standards? While the global community calls for a COVID-19 vaccine to become a global public good, what precedent may be set to consider the internet as such?

The post The Impact of Digital Technologies: a UN75 Priority? appeared first on Global Policy Watch.

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Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

27. August 2020 - 19:17

A snapshot of the ongoing work at the United Nations in times of crisis

by Bodo Ellmers

Download this Briefing (pdf version).

This briefing paper looks at the financing for development (FfD) work at the United Nations in 2020, an exceptional year due to outbreak of the global coronavirus crisis in the spring. Following this shock, FfD became a highly relevant issue on the UN agenda. The FfD process as originally scheduled was redesigned, with the FfD Forum originally scheduled for April cut down from four days of face-to-face meetings to a virtual session that lasted for just one hour. An official outcome document was adopted anyway, however free of concrete commitments that would match the needs of coping with the crisis.

In late May, Canada, Jamaica and the UN Secretary-General took the initiative to convene the High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond, which saw unprecedented participation by heads of states and governments, and eventually led to the foundation of six thematic working groups mandated to develop policy options on pertinent FfD topics – such as debt relief and illicit financial flows – or even wider sustainable development issues such as growth, labor, and the rather abstract concept of recovering better.

This briefing paper is a snapshot that maps, summarizes and briefly analyses the work on FfD at UN level that took place in 2020, until mid-August. In doing so, it aims to create more transparency about this important UN workstream, help to disseminate its preliminary outcomes, and mobilize and enable more actors to participate constructively in this work. A strong and effective multilateral response to the crisis, with the UN at its center, will be crucial to mitigating the impact of the coronavirus crisis and ensuring a speedy recovery.

Contents

Introduction – an extraordinary year for FfD

The crisis’s impact on development finance

The UN’s FfD agenda revamped

The 2020 virtual FfD Forum

The FfD forum outcome document

Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

The six Discussion Groups and their work

Group 1: External Finance and Remittances, Jobs and Inclusive Growth

Group 2: Recovering Better for Sustainability

Group 3: Global liquidity and financial stability

Group 4: Debt Vulnerability

Group 5: Private sector creditors engagement

Group 6: Illicit Financial Flows

Conclusion

Introduction – an extraordinary year for FfD

The coronavirus crisis took the international community by surprise. If the year 2020 had been business as usual at the United Nations, the Inter-agency Task Force on Financing for Development (IATF) would have presented their monitoring report – the Financing for Sustainable Development Report – in draft format in February.1 Eventually, governments and other stakeholders of the informal group “Friends of Monterrey” would have retreated to a conference hotel in Mexico for a few days in March, to discuss what to get out of the 2020 Financing for Development Forum, which was scheduled to take place in April, as it had done each year since 2016.

Diplomats in New York would have started to negotiate a brief outcome document for the annual FfD Forum, and some government negotiators would have insisted to delete most concrete commitments during the process, resulting in a vague and unambitious product whose most elaborate element would have been the new mandate for the researchers working on the following year’s IATF Report. In April, the global FfD community would have gathered at UN headquarters in New York to exchange views for a week. And from May to December, not much would have happened, until the annual FfD-process cycle would have begun again. But then COVID-19 developed into a full-scale global pandemic, and became a game changer for the UN’s financing for development agenda.

The last thing that happened as planned was the publishing of the draft IATF report in early March.2 The monitoring exercise in the draft report identified backsliding in many key FfD areas, and consequently, the report conveyed strong messages around the guiding theme “arrest the backslide”. It fit well for purpose, as the 2020 FfD Forum was supposed to be the first of the “Decade of Action” to accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Even before the coronavirus crisis hit humanity as an unprecedented global triple crisis (health, economic, financial crisis), SDG implementation had not been track. The UN planned to address this by calling on the international community to scale up and speed up their efforts for the remaining ten years of Agenda 2030, including in the key area of financing for development, among other things a cornerstone of the SDG’s “means of implementation”. The draft IATF report pre-corona crisis assessed the state of play in all FfD action areas and established stagnation or even setbacks in many areas. This was the dire state of affairs before the onset of COVID-19.

The crisis’s impact on development finance

The coronavirus crisis then turned out to be a ‘perfect storm’ for development finance3 – an unprecedented event, in which all sources of development finance dried up simultaneously:

  • Domestic tax revenue decreased naturally, as the lockdowns froze almost all economic activity, and some countries even gave tax breaks to relieve pressure on private economic actors.
  • Foreign private capital exited developing countries in record volumes and in record speed in March 2020, with nearly 100bn US-dollars being transferred to ostensibly safer havens in just one month.
  • Export revenue collapsed due to a combination of overall lower trade volumes, and lower prices especially for commodities. One day in late March, the oil price even fell below zero.
  • Workers’ remittances fell due to a massive surge in unemployment, affecting especially workers in more precarious jobs that are often done by migrants.
  • Only official development assistance (ODA) was not showing a clear trend yet. Some donors, such as the UK, announced massive cuts, while others, like Germany, recorded substantial increases.

While revenue collapsed, public spending needs to be increased massively. Both the IMF4 and the UN5 estimated that developing countries (or emerging markets) would need an extra 2.5 trillion US dollars to cope with the crisis. Whereas richer countries are able to respond to such a crisis with gigantic rescue packages, financed by debt-financed fiscal expansion and monetary expansion by central banks, poorer countries are naturally unable able to mobilize domestic resources to the same extent. Alone the fiscal support financed by budgetary measures accounted for 8.3 % of advanced economies’ GDP by June 2020; this is 6.6 percentage points higher than in the global financial crisis. Developing countries in turn could mobilize just 2.0 % of their much smaller GDP.6 It soon became obvious that COVID-19 would not merely cause a humanitarian disaster in poorer countries, it would also sound the death knell for the UN’s fragile Agenda 2030, unless the international community made extraordinary efforts towards a coordinated and effective response leaving no one behind.

The UN’s FfD agenda revamped

Multilateral coordination was hampered when officers up to head of state level moved home to work, and international flights or any physical meetings were now no longer possible. In 2009, to address the last major financial crisis, the UN convened an extraordinary global Summit, the “UN Conference at the Highest Level on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development”, at UN headquarters in New York. A similar response was not possible under the conditions of a global pandemic. Nevertheless, some parties, and especially civil society organizations (CSOs), called early on for an UN Economic Reconstruction and Systemic Reform Summit, aiming to foster multilateral consensus on the immediate crisis response but also to exploit – in the spirit of ‘never miss a good crisis’ – the political window of opportunity to pursue long overdue reforms of the international financial architecture.7

In the early months of the pandemic however, no new opportunities were created. The immediate consequences for the UN-FfD process were:

  • The Friends of Monterrey retreat in Mexico got cancelled.
  • The IATF went back to the drawing board, and revised the 2020 FSD report in a way as to reflect the coronavirus crisis.
  • An FfD Forum outcome document was negotiated and eventually adopted, however in the new style of ‘zoom and whatsapp diplomacy’, avoiding physical meetings.
  • After several weeks of back and forth, it was decided that the FfD forum would, albeit virtually, and in a massively abridged format, with just one hour of speeches, instead of the originally scheduled four days of interactive dialogue.
  • To complement the FfD Forum, the President of ECOSOC announced the addition of an extra informal meeting to the UN’s agenda, to be held on the 2nd of June 2020, “with a focus on needs on the ground and concrete financing options for Member States”.8

The 2020 virtual FfD Forum

The FfD Forum is, in the UN’s own terms, “an intergovernmental process with universal participation mandated to review the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and other financing for development outcomes and the means of implementation of the SDGs.”9 The virtual event, which lasted for just one hour saw speeches by the ECOSOC President (Mona Juul from Norway), by UN Secretary General António Guterres, by the President of the UN General Assembly (PGA) (Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria), and by GAVI’s chairwoman Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former Nigerian Finance Minister. ActionAid International chairwoman Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda spoke for CSOs, while the private sector representative was Jay Collins of Citigroup. No representatives of UN Member State governments spoke or intervened in the event. And as there was no dialogue, it was difficult to sense what positions individual Member States and UN negotiation groups would take towards FfD in the new context of the coronavirus crisis.10

Remarkably, while the outcome document has been weak on ambition and largely free of concrete agreements, the speeches were relatively bold. In particular, ‘debt’ was high on the agenda. The official summary states that “A debt standstill and targeted relief were stressed unanimously as preconditions for recovery in developing countries”.11

In what was probably the highlight of the virtual Forum, for the first time since assuming office, UN Secretary General Guterres explicitly endorsed the creation of “a mechanism to address sovereign debt restructuring in a comprehensive and coordinated manner that takes account of the need for countries to step up their efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals”, thereby backing a long-standing demand for international financial architecture reform by the G77 and CSOs working on debt justice. Guterres also called for the extension of the debt moratorium offered by the G20 to all developing countries that request forbearance, including middle income countries, and stressed the need for actual debt relief. To ensure that governments have sufficient liquidity, he called on the IMF to issue additional Special Drawing Rights.

Mona Juul also stressed the need for action on debt and recalled steps and proposals already made. Moreover, she emphasised the need for action on tackling illicit financial flows, and reminded participants of the gendered impacts of the crisis, as it was often women who were taking strains.

Decisive action on debt featured in the speeches of Okonjo-Iweala and Gumbonzvanda, too. The former also stressed the need to provide vaccines at affordable prices and strengthen health systems, while the latter raised awareness for inequalities in the context of COVID-19 as poverty, race and gender all mattered for the impact of the crisis. She demanded to address the underfunding of public services, curtail illicit flows, promote progressive taxation including a COVID-19 wealth tax, and, for rich countries, deliver a USD 500bn aid package to help poor countries cope with the crisis. The President of the General Assembly (PGA) called for international solidarity, supported the call to honor ODA commitments, and reminded participants to continue implementing the Agenda 2030 under the new conditions of the COVID era. He stressed the need for all creditors to participate in debt relief efforts. Citigroup’s Jay Collins wanted to keep capital markets open and retain private sector participation in debt standstills on a voluntary basis.

Despite their brevity, the speeches at the April virtual FfD Forum gave clear signals for priority areas in which action was needed, and thereby set the pace for the following events, in particular the new FfD process in the era of COVID-19 that emerged. The spaces at the Special Event on “Financing a Sustainable Recovery from COVID-19” on the 2nd of June were primarily used by representatives of international institutions, who presented the work they had been doing to address the crisis.12 Priority areas mentioned in April had been reinstated, but otherwise little news was added.

The FfD forum outcome document

The FfD Forum outcome was supposed to be a “programme of action … the first universally agreed UN set policies to finance COVID-19 response and recovery”, reads the official announcement on the UN website.13 This sounds bold, but with regards to the magnitude of the crisis and the challenges that the international community faced, the outcome was a huge disappointment.

The preamble raises high expectations, and refers to the double challenge to find the resources to finance the existing SDG agenda and the new crisis response needs, stating: “We are determined to advance bold and concerted global action to address the immediate social and economic impacts and achieve a quick, inclusive and resilient recovery, while keeping in sight the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”14 However, a number of powerful governments blocked every action-oriented agreement, so that not a single concrete action is agreed upon.

Thus, the FfD forum outcome document only contains vague declarations of intent, e.g. to develop disaster risk financing strategies and instruments (para 6). On tackling the new debt crisis, the document just welcomes steps taken by IMF and World Bank to provide additional liquidity, and the debt

service suspension initiative (DSSI) agreed earlier by the G20, and vaguely states that the Member States will “continue to address risks of debt vulnerabilities”, without going into any detail. Donors are called upon to honor their ODA commitments, without clear steps or a timetable for how the targets will be met being outlined.15

On taxation, the UN Member States just acknowledge “that any consideration of tax measures in response to the digitalization of the economy should include a thorough analysis of the implications for developing countries”, obviously referring to the parallel process on digital taxation ongoing under the leadership of the exclusive circle of the OECD. On illicit flows, members re-commit to address challenges in combatting them, without getting anywhere near detailed statements (para 14). As regards private finance, the outcome “welcome(s) the growing interest in sustainable investment”, and Member States commit to creating an enabling environment and incentivizing greater sustainable investment in developing countries … to ensure a sustainable recovery from the pandemic” (para 16). Perhaps the most noteworthy, if not only, concrete outcome was that the IATF was mandated to address the impact of the pandemic in the 2021 Financing for Sustainable Development Report.

The negotiations around the FfD outcome were overshadowed by the disputes between China and the USA about many things, but here in particular about the role of the WHO. The first draft had contained a passage that policy action would take place “with the World Health Organization at the forefront”, which got deleted as the negotiations proceeded. US president Trump had criticized the WHO for being too China-friendly.16

Also deleted was an explicit reference to considering capital account management in paragraph 10, despite the obvious fact that effective capital controls could have prevented the massive outflow of capital from developing countries in March. On debt, the passage “through existing channels” was added to the commitment to address debt vulnerabilities. That was counter-productive because it lowered the expectations on governance reforms in a context where it was already obvious that existing channels were no longer up to the task, and that no existing channel can ensure much-needed and widely demanded private creditor participation in debt relief programs.

All in all, the official outcome of the 2020 FfD Forum was a missed opportunity. The opportunity presented by UN Member States having been convened anyway to debate economic and financial affairs could and should have been used to agree on bold and concerted actions to put FfD at work in the coronavirus crisis. But governments did not find a consensus, no such action was finally agreed. The sense of disappointment was obviously shared, not just by CSOs, but also by senior management of the key UN bodies, which might explain the much bolder and concrete policy suggestions the UN Secretary General and PGA made during the virtual FfD Forum on April. The actions mentioned were the actions needed.

It could be argued that the failure was due to the challenging conditions in which negotiations took place – by the uncertainty caused by the rapidly changing external environment and the challenges of moving from face-to-face to virtual negotiations. The delegates could have easily reacted to it by simply agreeing an early date for the Fourth International Conference on Financing for Development at highest political level, the successor to the Monterrey/Doha/Addis Ababa series of FfD conferences, which is overdue to be held. However, there was no consensus on the if and when it would be held, so the decision was deferred for another year.

But, while unanimous consensus on bold actions was not immediately achievable in April, many UN Member States found that loitering for a whole year in the midst of an unprecedented global humanitarian and development disaster was not an option. Contrary to the response to the global financial crisis in 2008/09, political leadership in this situation was not exercised by the traditional great powers, whose governments showed little interest in coordinating the multilateral response.

Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond

The initiative to set up an extraordinary process came from Canada and Jamaica, in cooperation with the UN Secretary-General. Rather spontaneously, they convened the “High-Level Event (HLE) on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond”, scheduled to take place on the 28th of May 2020. Chaired by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, and Andrew Holness, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, the HLE convened a for – FfD standards – record number of political big shots, including many heads of states from larger countries that were usually just represented at ministerial level, even at the International FfD Summits, such as the latest one in Addis Ababa in 2015.17

The impressive participation is evidence of the relevance of having a substantial high-level FfD discussion in the new context of the COVID era. Germany was represented at the event by Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Italy by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. The French President Emmanuel Macron and the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, at least sent video messages. On top of this, all major international organizations participated at the highest level, including the IMF (Georgieva), World Bank (Malpass), OECD (Gurría), the UN (Guterres) of course, and, surprisingly, also the European Union, separately represented by the President of the European Commission (von der Leyen). Furthermore, countries of the South were represented by prominent Heads of States.

South Africa, also holding the presidency of the African Union, was the first to speak. President Ramaphosa picked up from the debates at the FfD Forum. To address the debt crisis, the international community should start with an across-the-board debt standstill, followed by targeted debt relief, and setting up a debt workout mechanism, i.e. developing a comprehensive solution to structural issues in the international debt architecture. The African Union supported the UN Secretary General’s call for a global response package amounting to at least 10 % of the world’s GDP. This would imply more than 200 billion US dollars of support for Africa.

European heads of state were positive about the need for international cooperation, but remained vague and non-committal, procrastinating over concrete steps. Angela Merkel announced that Germany would work for the full realization of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), including for private creditor participation in debt relief, and requested to check the need for further action on debt at the end of the year. She expressed Germany’s support for additional steps at the IMF, namely a Special Drawing Rights (SDR) allocation (knowing that these are currently not possible due to lack of support by the de facto IMF veto power USA).18 She stressed the need to tackle corruption and illicit financial flows, and that the crisis should also be seen as an opportunity and recovery should be in line with the SDGs and the climate treaties.19 The President of the European Commission, von der Leyen, supported the view that the recovery should be green, digital and just. She presented the idea for a Global Recovery Initiative linking investments and debt relief to the SDGs.

France cited scaled up support to health systems and to Africa as priorities (including debt restructuring). Macron also announced that France would host a Summit of Public Development Banks to take place in November this year. Costa Rica gave strong support to the issuance of SDRs and stressed the need for the reform of the global finance order, driven by solidarity. Norway, Japan and Italy emphasised their support for the DSSI. Japan and the UK flagged, among others, their financial support to the IMF’s Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust (CCRT), which enabled the IMF to write off some loans owed to the IMF by its borrower countries.

Norway furthermore emphasized the need to curtail illicit financial flows, and pointed to the work of the new FACTI panel at the UN that had been set up with the strong support of the Norwegian ECOSOC presidency.20 Kazakhstan, as chair of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, stressed that all developing countries should have access to debt-to-health swaps to gain the fiscal space needed to cope with the crisis.

In addition, a bold statement was also made by Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, which also holds the chairmanship of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). Mottley pointed to the urgency of taking decisions, warning that “time is not our friend … we will be asked what we did in the period of COVID”. The HLE should help to ensure that poorer people and smaller countries did not become collateral damage to the larger countries. She pointed out that the international financial architecture created 75 years ago was no longer up to the task, sidelining too many countries when it came to access to concessional finance, or debt relief. Debt instruments needed to ensure that countries affected by disasters could suspend debt payment. Pakistan, which had earlier presented its own proposal for a debt relief initiative, once again made it clear that developing countries didn’t have the fiscal space to respond to the crisis that richer countries enjoyed.

Similar statements on the need for debt relief, SDR issuance, and creating fiscal space were made by other heads of countries speaking at the summit, including Belarus, Colombia, Eswatini, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, St Lucia and Togo – as well as by civil society – including for example society speakers from Oxfam and the International Trade Union Confederation. Oxfam also flagged the need to introduce new solidarity taxes to raise money for crisis response, including a new financial transaction tax, and restated the demand to hold an International Summit on Economic Reconstruction next year that could actually make fundamental decisions.

Interestingly, very few speakers trusted that the private sector could play a significant role in the crisis response going beyond its participation in debt relief initiatives. This was a significant deviation from the hegemonic view in the pre-COVID FfD dialogue in recent years, which had attributed the primary role in development finance to private finance, and had degraded public finance to a supporting role in blended financing instruments leveraging private finance. Only Singapore spoke out in this regard.

Donald Kaberuka, the Special Envoy of the African Union, made it clear that the key criteria of success was whether the international community managed to mobilize additional finance to address the crisis: “At the end of the day, the key issue is additionality: fresh, new financing”. He criticized the current multilateral response, which was mainly frontloading disbursements by the multilateral development banks, as an unsustainable strategy that would backfire in future years.

The 28th of May High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the COVID-Era was a timely and remarkable event which attracted a record number of Heads of States from developed and developing countries alike. In doing so, it proved that the UN can be a highly relevant convening space. A space that has the advantage over the G20 that it is fully inclusive, i.e. that all the world’s nations have a space at the table, and even the non-governmental stakeholders have good access. Moreover, a space that has the advantage over the IMF that the mandate is much broader – including also human rights, and sustainable development in its broadest sense, and that power and voting rights are more equally distributed.

However, one downside of the HLE was that no concrete additional actions or measures had been agreed and announced. Representatives of governments and international institutions welcomed the (insufficient) steps already taken elsewhere, e.g. in the G20, and to some extent showcased the actions that their states and institutions were already taking. Little was achieved to get anywhere near the funding and debt relief targets that the UN had announced earlier: the 2.5 trillion USD package composed of additional aid, debt relief, and special drawing rights.

Intended as such or not, the HLE was not a pledging conference contributing to creating the fiscal space needed in the COVID era. Its value was primarily to kick off a long overdue intergovernmental process about necessary global economic governance reforms at United Nations level. To pursue these reforms, six thematic working groups have been founded, with the mandate to explore reform options along relevant thematic axes or streams.

The six Discussion Groups and their work

The six Discussion Groups (DG) founded after the HLE reflect the priority interventions that came up during the HLE’s debates. Namely

  • the need to find an urgent solution to the new wave of debt crisis (DG4)
  • the challenge to involve private creditors in debt relief efforts (DG5)
  • the need to curtail illicit financial flows and plug a black hole that impedes the recovery (DG6)
  • the urgent need to provide liquidity to countries in need so that necessary imports can be financed (DG3)
  • the more fundamental question how to raise external finance and secure jobs and growth in the COVID era and beyond (DG1)
  • and the cross-cutting affair of how to “recover better” from the devastating crisis, in a way compliant with the Agenda 2030 and the Paris Agreement (DG2)

The six discussion groups of the FfD in the COVID-19 era process

Group 1: External Finance and Remittances, Jobs and Inclusive Growth

Group 2: Recovering Better for Sustainability

Group 3: Global liquidity and financial stability

Group 4: Debt Vulnerability

Group 5: Private sector creditors engagement

Group 6: Illicit Financial Flows

States, head each of the groups and provide political leadership. In most cases, the chair(wo)men are Ambassadors from Permanent Representations at the UN in New York. Some DGs have up to four co-chairs. The UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Financing the 2030 Agenda (Mahmoud Mohieldin) and his office play an overall coordinating role.

The process runs in two phases: In Phase 1 that lasts from June to September, each group is to hold three virtual meetings. The key output of the groups should be an option paper to be presented at the first key milestone, the Ministerial Meeting on the 8th of September. This meeting will kick off the second phase of the working group process, whose modalities are currently undefined. At a new high-level meeting on the 29th of September, on the margin of the 75th UN General Assembly, the heads of states will be reconvened to take “a decision”21 on the menu of options.

The remaining part of this briefing paper gives a rough overview of the working group’s work so far. All documentation that has been officially disclosed can be found in the sub-section of the UN website dedicated to the process, which also contains a subsection for each of the DGs where their information can be found.22

The working modalities

The working modalities were presented at a virtual ‘soft launch’ of the DGs on the 24th of June. They have multi-stakeholder character. Each of the discussion groups is composed of representatives of Member States that have an interest in the issue. Private sector and a limited number of civil society participants have been invited to join the groups. Civil society participation is facilitated zby the CSO FfD group, in some case complemented by outreach of DG members or staff. Secretariat support is provided by UN bodies, mainly UN DESA (here primarily the Financing for Sustainable Development office), UNCTAD, and the UNDP. At least two co-chairs, all representatives of Member

Group 1: External Finance and Remittances, Jobs and Inclusive Growth

Member State Co-Leads: Bangladesh, Egypt, Japan, Spain

Member State Participants: Cabo Verde, China, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Russia, South Africa.23

UN Entity Focal Point: UNCTAD

Discussion Group 1 combines a larger number of development finance flows, or action areas of the traditional Financing for Development process. The first co-leads’ working note released on the 22nd of July indicates that the group discusses

  • Private finance and investment, including foreign direct investment, and financial instruments to mobilize private finance
  • the role of public investment remittances
  • the role of Official Development Assistance and other officially supported resources to the SDGs

  • decent jobs and inclusive growth – this, however, with a strong focus on social protection.

What is remarkable in the working note is the strong focus on and abundant space devoted to private finance – as opposed to public finance – within the complex of external finance that the group is mandated to the discuss. The note suggests that mobilizing private finance is a central necessity for recovery and SDG-financing, calls to “develop scalable pipelines of investment-ready projects” and recommends the use of guarantees and even tax incentives to promote private investments. The latter would further reduce countries’ fiscal space. In doing so, the note follows a discourse that was prevalent at the OECD and EU ahead of the COVID19 era, exactly at a time when OECD and EU Member States had rediscovered the role of the active and developmental state during the crisis. Only some caution is raised, e.g. when the note warns about the need to assess the cost of blending versus other financing mechanisms.

The note also finds that 87 % to 91 % of infrastructure investment is public investment. One recommendation is to (re-)capitalize public development banks (PDBs) appropriately, and to ensure that their governance structures “reflect the current political economy”. The costs of remittances should be reduced through greater competition and through digital technologies. The ODA part calls for honoring of commitments, and for using reverse graduation processes to ensure access to concessional finance. The recommendations on social protection are most remarkable. With regard to the limited coverage of social protection systems caused by the inability to finance them in poorer countries, the note suggests a Global Fund for Universal Social Protection financed through global financial transaction tax and digital tax.

The first virtual meeting of the group took place on the 28th of July and attracted more than 120 participants. Interventions at the meeting contributed complexity, e.g. by adding even more types of flows such as diaspora financing to the DG‘s list. There were strong pushes to honor ODA commitments, and for the state to create better incentives to direct public and private finance to sustainable development. The following meetings are scheduled for the 14th and 27th of August.

Group 2: Recovering Better for Sustainability

Member State Co-Leads: Fiji, Rwanda, United Kingdom and European Union

Member State Participants: Algeria, Bangladesh, Belize, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Mexico, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Saint Lucia, South Africa, Russia, Spain and Sweden

UN Entity Focal Point: UNDP

Discussion group 2 covers the broadest and most abstract theme. It has also amassed the largest number of member state participants, with a disproportionate representation of countries from developed countries, especially Europe, as compared to other groups. The group’s theme leans on the currently fashionable “build back better” theme used across the UN system, which aims to promote recovery policies aligned with the SDGs and Agenda 2030. At the soft launch of the working groups, several speakers flagged that the recovery should be green and resilient, and should help to reduce inequalities.

The group’s level of the ambition is not entirely clear. The official summary from the first meeting first keeps expectations low, stating that “the policy recommendations should be practical and pragmatic proposals that will find the necessary political will and can be easily implemented”. But it goes on to state that “the recovery should bring about structural changes that create decent jobs, and harness technology for a new development model of social inclusion, equity, environmental sustainability and should have a focus on local needs”. The latter obviously implies a more fundamental revamp of the development model pursued in recent decades. In any case, appropriate financing strategies and options should be added to policy recommendations. According to the official summary, the first (virtual) meeting counted 124 total participants, which would make it the largest of the Discussion Groups.

Ahead of the second meeting, which took place virtually on the 5th of August 2020, a “Draft Summary of menu of policy options” was circulated to invitees. The 18-page document was compiled following inputs received by group participants. It contains in total 244 policy recommendations for different financial sources (such as tax or private investment), different sectors (such as agriculture or health), and different actors ranging from the local governments to central banks and international organizations. The compilation is an informative compendium of contemporary thinking on financing for sustainable development – or at least of the thinking of those stakeholders represented in the group.

Due to the strong representation of UN Member States from developed countries, especially from the EU, the options very much reflect the discourse that took place at EU level in Brussels during recent years: sustainable finance strategies centered around more ‘sustainable’ private investment, in which the state plays a reductionist role as a market regulator, i.e. by providing soft-law standards for a “green taxonomy”. The paper indicates that both more thematic focus and more diverse group membership would be useful for the group.

The second meeting of the group on the 5th of August again counted more than a hundred participants. The question of thematic focus remained challenging. Some representatives demanded an even further expansion of the scope to missing areas such as trade, but finally a decision was made to narrow the policy recommendations down to a shortlist of about 20 or so, at the discretion of the co-chairs.

Group 3: Global liquidity and financial stability

Member State Co-Leads: Costa Rica and Maldives

Member State Participants: Antigua and Barbuda, China, Colombia, Haiti, India, Kazakhstan, Malawi

UN Entity Focal Point: ECA in representation of the Regional Economic Commissions

The third discussion group on global liquidity and financial stability has a much narrower thematic focus than the previous two groups. It discusses a matter of key concern for developing countries as they, in March 2020, fell victim to the fastest and largest wave of capital flight that ever happened within such a short timeframe. However, the group faces two challenges. The first one is how to distinguish its discussion topic from those of Discussion Groups 4 (debt vulnerabilities) and V (private creditor participation). To address these challenges, the Groups 3, 4 and 5 held their first meeting jointly on the 16th of July. Only the second meetings were held separately, in the case of Group 3 on the 5th of August.

The second challenge is how to secure good participation. The overall number of participants has not been overwhelming to start with, and initially no single developed country joined the group. Neither did private sector actors. This is unfortunate as it had already been mentioned at the soft launch event that the treatment of developing countries by private rating agencies had been a devastating blow to their governments’ efforts to stabilize their finances during the crisis, so there would be a need to bring them to the table. Canada and Russia participated in the second meeting, though.

The second meeting of the Group discussed the impact and feasibility of a number of options based on a technical input prepared by the Secretariat (i.e. UNCTAD). First and foremost were the issuance and reallocation of Special Drawing Rights, a proposal that featured strongly in HLE statements in May. This proposal is deemed the most useful overall. It is however the one where political feasibility (‘ease of adoption’) is shaky as its implementation implies overcoming the current reluctance of the USA’s veto power in the IMF Executive Board. In this light, alternatives such as capital account management, addressing liquidity shortages through new swap and repo arrangements between central banks, and the role of IMF emergency lending facilities and regional financing arrangements are also on the group’s agenda.

The group also discussed the innovative proposal to establish a Multilateral Development Fund called FACE (Fund Against COVID Economics), managed by the World Bank or several Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) together. FACE would fund concessional long-term loans to developing countries, free of structural conditionalities. It would be financed by contributions of the most powerful economies, and match developing countries’ own resources devoted to post-COVID recovery. FACE should provide financing to the tune of 3 % of a beneficiary country’s GDP, which sounds ambitious but is well below the fiscal stimulus that most richer countries have already spent at home.

Other participants mentioned that IMF gold sales could generate fresh resources. The establishment of a global rating agency could overcome some of the challenges related to dependence on private rating agencies. One participant stressed that the different policy options were not mutually exclusive.

Group 4: Debt Vulnerability

Member State Co-Leads: Netherlands, Pakistan and the African Union

Member State Participants: Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Brazil, Cabo Verde, China, Ethiopia, France, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Saint Lucia, Senegal, Russia and the United States of America

UN Entity Focal Point: DESA and UNCTAD

Group 4 picked up a central topic of the May HLE, the question if and how much debt relief is needed, and for whom. The starting point for the group is the G20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), which was launched in April. The first phase of the DG’s work, until the Ministerial Meeting in September, is mainly to discuss how to expand the DSSI – with expansion being possible in terms of scope (more debt categories included), eligibility (including (some) middle-income countries), and duration (standstill longer than end2020). The second phase from September onwards should be devoted to discussing more fundamental reforms related to lending and borrowing and debt restructuring, including of the international financial architecture.

Already at the soft launch, some players argued that there was a need to go beyond debt suspension – a debt operation that simply frees-up liquidity – towards actual debt cancellation, as only cancellation could address a fundamental state of insolvency that many countries might have entered into due to the COVID shock. One of the co-chairs, Pakistan, had made its own proposal for a debt relief initiative earlier this year, which secures strong political leadership for the group. One of the group’s co-leads has made clear that the key principle to guide the group’s work was that debt could not stand in the way of development. Remarkably, even a major economic power from developed countries announced to join the debt vulnerabilities groups, with the intention to contribute constructively and pursue concrete outcomes, to limit the use of confidentiality clauses in debt contracts so that they become more transparent, and to refrain from collateralized debt contracts which make debt restructurings more difficult.

Group 3, 4 and 5 held their first meeting jointly on the 16th of July. Especially middle income countries such as South Africa supported the expansion of debt standstill agreements to other countries. The need to work with new debt swaps was also mentioned: a share of a country’s foreign debt would be forgiven in exchange for investments in, for example, the Sustainable Development Goals. Many expressed their support for the DSSI, and repeated their call that private creditors should participate in the DSSI. Others found that multilateral creditors should participate, a call which triggered debate as some were arguing that it would have an impact on credit ratings and borrowing costs of the MDBs concerned.

The debate about World Bank participation continued at the second meeting, on the 6th of August. This meeting was mainly a panel discussion, where experts presented policy options. These included among others debt buyback facilities, different versions of debt swaps, and also the idea of enforcing comprehensive debt relief through UN Security Council Resolutions (following the precedent of Iraq in 2005), or a debt restructuring framework building its decisions on the human rights based approach. The experts’ input enriched the discussions. A Member State representatives, however, reminded the group of the need to come to an agreed set of options within a very short timeframe.

Group 5: Private sector creditors engagement

Member State Co-Leads: Antigua and Barbuda and Senegal

Member State Participants: Brazil, China, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Malawi, Morocco, Saint Lucia

UN Entity Focal Point: DESA

The participation of private creditors in coordinated debt relief initiatives was mentioned as a central necessity at the HLE in May. Cancellation or at least suspension of payments, not just to bilateral creditors but also to private creditors, is needed on the one hand to create additional fiscal space, and on the other to ensure fair burden sharing among creditor groups. Countries like China and international institutions like the World Bank called early and explicitly for private creditor participation, including at the discussion groups’ soft launch. The challenge for the group is that, until now, calls for voluntary private sector participation have not yielded any positive results, and enforcing private sector participation is difficult in light of the absence of effective institutions that can tackle sovereign insolvencies.

The group met jointly with Groups 3 and 4 on the 16th of July, and the second meeting on the 6th of August was held back-to-back with Group 4. Private rating agencies (Moody’s) and the major commercial banks’ lobby association (the Institute of International Finance, IIF) had been invited and participated in the group early on. The official summary of the first meeting states that, to facilitate private participation in debt relief in the short or long run, “co-chairs saw room for discussions on legal support mechanisms, debt buyback facilities, debt swaps for investments, and reprofiling of debt, including the use of state-contingent instruments”.

The question of how to ensure private creditor participation remains unanswered until now. A developed country with strong financial industry presence in its economy, advocated voluntary participation. It was also argued that bankers’ and fund managers’ fiduciary responsibilities and the possible reactions by credit rating agencies made private sector participation difficult. When leading academics spoke at the second session, the tendency was to explain that private creditor participation wouldn’t happen voluntarily, which leaves mainly the two policy options to either bail-out or buy-out private creditors with public monies (through debt buy-back facilities or the provision of IMF loans, or to create effective institutions that make comprehensive, speedy and orderly debt workouts possible, i.e. to create a sovereign debt workout mechanism.

The IIF itself has produced a term-sheet for private participation in the DSSI, but to no effect in practice. Concerns about how private creditors might react have so far even stopped a large number of DSSI-eligible countries from requesting the bilateral debt standstill that they could enjoy. Representatives of Member States expressed their discomfort with the fact that non-participation by private creditors essentially implied a de facto bail-out. Savings from the DSSI as well as fresh resources provided by the IMF were financing installments paid to private creditors, instead of creating the fiscal space needed to combat COVID-19.

Group 6: Illicit Financial Flows

Member State Co-Leads: Barbados and Nigeria

Member State Participants: Algeria, Bahamas, China, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Luxembourg, Malawi, Mexico, Mozambique, Norway, Papua New Guinea, Russia and South Africa

UN Entity Focal Point: DESA

Curtailing illicit financial flows (IFFs) has also been identified as a priority area when it comes to creating fiscal space and mobilizing financing to cope with the COVID crisis. Several heads of state referred to it at the HLE, and the Ambassador of Nigeria stressed at the soft launch of the discussion groups that, to be effective, IFFs had to be addressed at both ends, in source countries as well as in their destination countries. Such a comprehensive approach requires international cooperation. Nigeria volunteered to co-chair the group, together with Barbados.

Discussion Group 6 runs parallel to an expert panel on Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity (FACTI), which deals with similar topics. This panel was established at the UN earlier this year and has started its operations. Since then, several consultations have taken place within FACTI’s work, background papers have been commissioned, and the experts had discussions among them. By late September 2020, they are expected to present their interim report. Thus DG6 could build on this work. The relationship between FACTI and DG6 has, however, not been made fully clear so far.

The discussion group met virtually for the first time on the 17th of July 2020. A background document had been circulated earlier to group participants – the group has strong developing country participation. The background paper reminded readers of existing agreements, especially those in the UN’s Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the UN Convention on Corruption (many of which await proper implementation). It also mapped current discourses in areas such as withholding taxes, transparency and integrity, and structural shortcomings that need to be addressed to curtail IFFs. Delegates raised a wide range of options, relating to e.g. tax governance, such as the need to set up an intergovernmental tax body at UN, or develop a UN Tax Convention, anti-corruption and asset-recovery measures, or beneficial ownership transparency and anti-money laundering standards.

The second meeting of DG6 took place on the 10th of August 2020. By that time, a matrix of 35 policy options had been compiled, based on the inputs by Member States and other stakeholders. The matrix distinguished between short-term (implemented this year), mid-term and long-term actions. One topic that remained controversial was to what extent the group should build its recommendations on previous work done by regional UN bodies such as ECLAC and UN ECA, and to what extent on that done by parallel organizations with restricted membership, e.g. the OECD.

Another issue discussed that was relevant to all groups was to what extent the options suggested by the group needed to be consensus positions or simply aggregations. The topic of DG6 is particularly sensitive as neither the definition nor the scope of “IFF” is fully agreed, and IFFs are of substantial economic relevance, both for the countries who ‘lose’ them, as well as for the countries who ‘gain’ them, or for economic actors within these countries. Despite the large number of developing countries in the group, member state interventions only came from developed countries or G20 members, as well as CSOs and UN organizations.

Conclusion

The coronavirus crisis has been a game changer for the UN’s work on financing for development. The need to coordinate a multilateral response boosted the political relevance of FfD on the UN’s agenda, and on the international agenda as a whole. The fact that the steps taken by the G20 as a coalition were unimpressive and insufficient created space for the UN as a forum and platform for multilateral dialogue on FfD topics. The fact that no major power came forward to act as an honest broker in this crisis created space for smaller nations to take leadership roles, using their preferred forum, the United Nations.

The coronavirus crisis first hampered the course of the conventional FfD process a lot, especially the course of the annual ECOSOC FfD Forum in April, whose duration was reduced from four days to one hour, and the related negotiations on its outcome document. However, as the crisis evolved, it generated political awareness for FfD topics and provided an opportunity for an expansion of the FfD process. The High-Level Event “Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond” on 28 May 2020 attracted unprecedented engagement by heads of states. The foundation of six thematic multi-stakeholder working groups realized a long-standing demand by FfD experts, who have argued for having a more continuous engagement and more continuous political dialogue on FfD topics at the UN, rather than just a one-off event once a year in April.

The financing needs of coping with the coronavirus crisis are high, estimated for developing countries at an additional 2.5 trillion US dollar by both IMF and UNCTAD. In terms of concrete mobilization of resources, the UN’s 2020 FfD work has not achieved much so far. It did however create new political momentum for major reforms of the international financial architecture. At the time of writing, the discussion group process was still ongoing. An optimal outcome would be if the process were to contribute to both: on the one hand to creating the fiscal space which governments need immediately to cope with the crisis, and on the other hand to carrying out the overdue reforms of the international financial architecture that can make our societies and economies more crisis-resilient in the long run.

Notes:

1 For more information on the IATF, see: https://developmentfinance.un.org/

2 The draft IATF-Report is usually made publicly available for stakeholder consultation, but is no longer online since the final version has been released.

3 Reliable data for the economic impact is hard to find. International organizations made projections early on, but accuracy was and remains limited due to the uncertainty caused by the crisis. For an early assessment on the impacts (in German), see Ellmers, Bodo and Jens Martens (2020): Die globale Coronakrise. Weltwirtschaftliche Auswirkungen und international Reaktionen – ein Update. For a more recent assessment (in English) see OECD (2020): The impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis on development finance.

4 https://www.imf.org/en/News/Articles/2020/03/27/tr032720-transcript-press-briefing-kristalina-georgieva-following-imfc-conference-call

5 https://unctad.org/en/pages/newsdetails.aspx?OriginalVersionID=2315

6 Alberola, Enrique, Yavuz Arslan, Gong Cheng, Richhild Moessler (2020): The fiscal response to the COVID-19 crisis in advanced and emerging market economies;

7 CSOs continue doing so, cf. https://csoforffd.org/2020/07/14/statement-of-the-civil-society-ffd-group-including-wwg-on-ffd-for-the-general-debate-of-the-2020-hlpf/

8 United Nations (2020): Summary of the President of the Economic and Social Council of the forum on financing for development follow-up (New York 23 April 2020 and 2 June 2020, para 3)

9 https://www.un.org/development/desa/financing/what-we-do/ECOSOC/financing-development-forum/about-the-forum

10 The 2020 FfD Forum has been broadcasted on UN WebTV, a recording is available on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UNWebTV/videos/financing-sustainable-development-in-the-context-of-COVID-19/262387911595287/

11 United Nations (2020), para 2 https://www.un.org/development/desa/financing/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.financing/files/2020-07/A_75_93_E.pdf

12 For documentation of the event, see https://www.un.org/development/desa/financing/events/forum-fi ancing-development-meeting-financing-sustainable-recovery-COVID-19

13 https://www.un.org/development/desa/financing/post-news/2020-ecosoc-forum-fiancing-development-ramps-response-COVID-19

14 Para 3 of the outcome document; https://undocs.org/E/FFDF/2020/3

15 24 of 29 members of the OECD DAC missed the 0.7 % target for official development assistance in 2019

16 https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/04/11/coronavirus-fact-check-donald-trump-vs-world-health-organization/5128799002/

17 The documentation is available at: https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/hle-financing-development

18 SDRs are issued by the IMF and can be changed into hard currencies such as the U.S. dollar. SDR issuance is seen as a key option to increase liquidity for the countries that receive them.

19 Merkel’s statement is one of the few not on the UN website, but a summary is available here: https://www.bundeskanzlerin.de/bkin-de/aktuelles/un-konferenz-COVID-19-1756464

20 https://www.factipanel.org/

21 The term “decision” is used on the website. This term obviously leaves open what political or legal status the outcome of the head of state meeting shall have.

22 https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/financing-development

23 Information on member state participants is taken from the DGs’ official website: https://www.un.org/en/coronavirus/financing-development. While these state that the list is continuously updated, it does not fully reflect the actual participants in DG meetings so far.

Acknowledgements: This briefing paper has been drafted by Bodo Ellmers, Director of the Sustainable Development Finance Program at Global Policy Forum. Sources used include publicly available documents, supporting materials circulated to Discussion Group members, and information shared by Discussion Group members and UN staff. The author would like to thank all those who shared information. The analysis and all remaining errors are the author’s own.

Published by: Bischö fliches Hilfswerk MISEREOR, Global Policy Forum Europe e.V. and Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung e.V., Brot für die Welt.

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Heard at the 2020 UN High-level Political Forum

24. Juli 2020 - 19:54

Download UN Monitor #18 (pdf version).

By Barbara Adams, Carter Boyd and Karen Judd

“The world is going through a public health crisis which is turning into a global economic and social crisis. The HLPF is one of the first major intergovernmental meetings with universal participation and broad stakeholder engagement since the onset of the crisis.

“It is critical that the United Nations send a strong message to all people demonstrating that we can forge consensus and give a multilateral response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that we are committed to rebuilding better after the pandemic, with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as our roadmap. Countries, societies, youth and the media will all be looking to the United Nations for its guidance.”

How did the 2020 HLPF, which met 7-17 July 2020 in virtual format, respond to these words from the ‘presiding officer’, the President of ECOSOC Mona Juul, who said in her concluding remarks: we “cannot revert to the old normal…normal was part of the problem–all of our discussions have underlined recovery presents a rare opportunity to shape the new normal”.

Here are some of the voices heard at the 2020 HLPF, reverberating around the themes of building back better, leave no one behind, COVID-19, inequalities, data and accountability.

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Building back better risks going backwards

  • We cannot go back to normal. Normal is what got us into this mess, but also this financial crisis and climate crisis… [and] weakened state capacity after decades of hollowing it out through … austerity, outsourcing, and privatization. — Mariana Mazzucato, UN CDP
  • The reality is that we have a lot of challenges achieving the world we said we wanted in 2015 and we are actually backtracking. We need solutions that include the informal labor sector, debt relief, and agricultural development. — Alice Kalibata, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
  • I’m tired of hearing building back better. What is better? We need to build back differently, with more diversified economies that are greener, more inclusive. Who are we building back better for? Big economies, for profit, and big business, or for sustainable development? – Isabelle Durant, UNCTAD
  • Building back better for SIDS is not going back to what they had. When we were encouraged to diversify our countries and markets, we took what we were really good at and exchanged it for something else, not a true diversification. — Sharon Lindo, Belize
  • To build back better we need to foster an open and innovative dialogue with a comprehensive and inclusive financing for development system to address the challenges MICs are facing. — Philippines
  • …align the build back better principle in the context of sustainable financing strategies through increased liquidity, concessional financing and debt swaps. — Armida Alisjahbana, UN ESCAP
  • As we join online conversations like this, vulnerable populations are not at the table and are unable to participate. To build back better the world must focus on improving digital access, not a digital dream world that excludes those most vulnerable. —Elenita Dano, ETC Group

Leave No One Behind < Addressing inequalities

Leave no-one behind has become the official slogan of the 2030 Agenda and the HLPF. Multiple statements of efforts to be inclusive, while welcome, are pro forma, selective and neglect many disadvantaged groups – and ignore the dynamics, policies and practices that push many behind.

  • Rich countries and corporations are pushing everyone else behind….’leave no one behind’ is SDG-washing. –Winnie Byanyima, UNAIDS
  • Most voluntary national reports [in 2019] mention leave no one behind (45 of the 47) but it’s the depth of that principle we are concerned about with only 7 recognizing what policies might be pushing people behind. — Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, UN CDP
  • When the system fails, we see that those most vulnerable will suffer most. This is why inequality is at the center of the 2030 Agenda. It’s at the intersection of economic, social and environmental constraints. We risk seeing a new generation of inequalities around digitalization and climate change in the European consensus on development. — EU and EU member states
  • This pandemic will result in millions more cases of gender-based violence. We don’t have to let this happen. — Natalia Kanem, UNFPA
  • Latin America is the most unequal region of the world and the efforts made to decrease poverty are now at risk of receding…. The health crisis has shown us that universal access to healthcare services is only part of the challenge. The lack of jobs, gender inequality, lack of social protection systems, education, environmental problems all have a direct impact of increasing the level of poverty worldwide. We believe acting in silos will return us to the ‘business as usual’ scenario…. For Mexico…our priority is to address the needs of vulnerable groups, with more intersectoral and multilateral responses. …In doing so, the government has partnered with the private sector and out civil society. — Camila Zepeda, Mexico
  • We may end up with more inequality…. Gender equality is a prerequisite to build back better. — Erna Solberg, Norway
  • The VNRs show the main strategy of governments to address leaving no one behind is social protection. They stress violence against women but rarely unpaid work and childcare. — Roberto Bissio, Social Watch
  • Young people pointed to the longstanding inequalities among and within countries, as well as continued gender-based violence, ethnic and racial discrimination, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia and other types of minority targeted policies that contradict values of dignity and human rights. Young people also expressed their need to recognize diversity in languages, cultures, indigenous knowledge and heritages that enrich our humanity. — Jayathma Wickramanayake, S-G’s Envoy on Youth

COVID-19: New crisis or systemic failure?

  • The COVID-19 pandemic actually puts the principles of multilateralism and multi-stakeholderism to the test because the principles, among others talk about the need for a strong public sector, for strong government, and for a strong state. — Geraldine Joslun Fraser-Moleketi, UN CEPA
  • COVID-19 has exacerbated the systemic risks and fragilities in our economic and financial systems and development models. It has also highlighted the cascading impact of disasters crossing economic, social, environmental, dimensions of sustainable development, and affecting all countries, especially developing countries. — Munir Akram, Pakistan
  • Inequality and climate change are driving the agenda backwards – COVID-19 builds on both drivers. – UN CDP Communique
  • The landscape has changed significantly since we last met in 2019, and it is clear that COVID-19 presents a significant challenge to achieving the SDGs. But our message is that we must not be consumed by the challenge alone we must use this as an opportunity to rebuild better. — James Roscoe, UK
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is a global shock that has exacerbated existing challenges and created new vulnerabilities for middle-income countries, setting back progress and development gains made during the past years. Recent data generated by various UN entities and reflected in the S-G Policy Briefs have highlighted that the substantial drop in remittances, loss of full-time employment, loss of employment in the informal sector, debt risks, pressure on health systems and food security due to the pandemic are specifically being felt in, and will acutely impact, middle-income countries. — Philippines
  • COVID-19 comes at a time when we were already off track to deliver on the 2030 Agenda, and at the time when we are backtracking on some issues, including hunger, inequalities, climate change, or biodiversity …. We need to propel our efforts towards first aligning both public and private finance with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Second, to promote sustainable investments and shifting finance away from fossil fuel. Third, to invest in the protection of biodiversity and natural ecosystems. And fourth, to strengthen regional and local supply chains while reducing their climate footprints. — Cyrille Pierre, France
  • If one piece fails, negative consequences are felt elsewhere in the whole system…. This time it has been health. Next time, it could be environmental degradation. We have agreed to a set of interlinked SDGs, and it’s an opportunity to address issues in an integrated manner…. when the system fails, we see that those most vulnerable will suffer the most. This is why inequalities are at the center of the 2030 agenda…. We risk seeing a new generation of inequalities around digitalization and climate change. — EU and EU member states
  • COVID-19 has exposed the hardship of the informal economy, care workers and the need for adequate universal social protection. … Respect for workers’ rights must be at the center of the recovery, and that new transformative agenda for gender equality is urgent. Ratification of the new ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment should be a priority. Involvement of trade unions and not only business is required. — Sweden
  • The 2030 Agenda must not be another victim of the COVID-19. — Camila Zepeda, Mexico

Social protection to the fore

  • To leave no one behind after COVID-19, we must ensure access to the health system and social protection as well as the quality food and nutrition for the poor. We must prevent increased prevalence of undernourishment and stunting. The greatest impact is through economic stimulus policy, a strengthened social safety net programme. — Indonesia
  • Underinvestment in social protection has left many homeless. Countries in conflict are already struggling. Lower income countries need USD 50 billion in addition to the USD 100 billion to cope and overcome COVID-19. There is catastrophic destruction of gains made.
    — Rola Dashti, UN ESCWA
  • COVID-19, has exposed the hardship of the informal economy, care workers and the need for adequate universal social protection…. Respect for workers’ rights must be at the center of the recovery, and a new transformative agenda for gender equality is urgent. Ratification of the new ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment should be a priority. Involvement of trade unions and not only business is required… Maybe some global fund for social protection to ensure that you are leaving no one behind. — Sweden

The pandemic and the SDGs put multiple commitments to the test, not least how we measure progress, how we define poverty and how we underplay or ignore potential existential threats and growing inequalities.

Who measures what? What data counts?

  • [There is] limited attention on a need for disaggregated data, where work on reducing inequalities really begins…Two very important goals are going in the wrong direction: Inequality and Climate Change. When they go backwards, they compromise all the other SDGs. – Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, UN CDP
  • We do not have the right indicators – care work implies health and education, thousands of caregivers are dying but as unpaid household workers, not part of GDP – this presents a huge challenge to measure progress another way…. — Roberto Bissio, Social Watch
  • …the importance of changing our classification … if we stay within our traditional sort of GDP per capita definitions of the crisis we will not be addressing the countries. — Vera Songwe, UN ECA
  • Measures for GDP or human development do not tell our story and path. COVID-19 stopped the economy. Decades of global development and progress have been halted…. pay more attention to this notion of vulnerability. It’s not about GDP per capita. What is our capacity to absorb new technology, composition of our population, levels of education and skills that allows us … to really take advantage of the resources that we have? – Marsha Caddle, Barbados
  • Getting the data right to guide policy responses will have life and death implications in this crisis and will support the SDG acceleration efforts over the coming decade. Therefore, investing into good, timely and disaggregated data and data and innovation at this point is urgently needed. — Stefan Schweinfest, UN DESA
  • [Data gaps] include new and emerging vulnerabilities, along with what we already typify as being risky poverty categories. We have to examine these, including workers who have lost their jobs in this experience, who already were precariously close, and those with low wages and as involuntary returned migrants and migrant workers. –Rochelle Whyte, Jamaica
  • Education and the digital divide. Those without access have no access to schooling, this is a new educational divide. The ‘digital equality paradox’ means more people are more excluded. Digital technology doesn’t give us more equal access but furthers the divide. –Anriette Esterhuysen, Internet Governance Forum, South Africa

Partnerships?

  • The partnerships that we do remain very critical. We need to strengthen the partnerships across governments and between governments, private sector development, foundations. Partnerships are going to need to be very structured. They need to be timely, very purposeful and sustained over the short to the medium term. — Rochelle Whyte, Jamaica
  • Business can and should play a major role in reinvigorating multilateralism through inclusive business models and by demonstrating ethical leadership and good governance. … Never before did so many different stakeholders, including business, have a seat at the table. The resulting SDGs offer companies a powerful blueprint for societal transformation and for business benefit… Growing numbers of companies awakening to the importance of responsible business…. — Sandra Ojiambo, UN Global Compact
  • It is interesting to see that year after year the level of trust in governments and established institutions like church and media, et cetera, is decreasing whereas the expectations they are expressing with respect to companies and NGOs are increasing. …Brands are now confronted with questions that … touch upon very critical topics of living together, of society, of addressing common global challenges, racial injustice, social injustice, black lives matter. …they realize that they don’t have the level of trust and legitimacy to advise on policies and therefore they need partnerships with those entitled to have a view… And this is why partnerships, public-private partnerships are so essential. — Stephan Loerke, World Federation of Advertisers
  • In the post COVID-19 world, opportunistic multilateralism is just not good enough. Holistic and inclusive multilateralism at the UN is a vital component of a people-centric approach whereby international norms in relation to fair trade, sustainable development and human rights are given equal precedence to other global priorities….Civil society plays a key role in making people’s voices count and ensuring no one is left behind. Enabling an environment for civil society where civic freedoms are respected are crucial to realizing the promise of the UN Charter. We look to the UN to protect and promote the rights of civil society, to maximize their contribution to peace, security and development. — Julia Sanchez, Civicus

Policies, reporting and accountability don’t end at the border

  • COVID-19 exposed the limits and risks of the current markets and supply chains; risks of deepening the digital divide; environmental breathing space; momentum for debt forgiveness; and stresses how much we depend on each other and what we can do if we coordinate action. — Isabelle Durant, UNCTAD
  • We need a complete paradigm shift and a transformation…. we need to keep linking climate change, the biodiversity and the land degradation together. That is the heart of the sustainable development goals. — Yasmine Fouad, Egypt
  • No country is on its own. Africa as a continent is affected by global imperatives, good or not … Resilience alone without a holistic approach to well-being and broader development needs is counter-productive. — Ibrahim Mayaki, NEPAD
  • Many countries lack universal health care and social protection systems though it is these situations that lead to a route back to social/economic inclusion…. we need a fundamental post pandemic review of fiscal policy, an international commission on fiscal policy for SDGs to improve progressivity of wealth including taxes and strengthen social health and protection systems. The current system undermines our ability to achieve the SDGs. – Paul Ladd, UNRISD
  • … universal Social Security and service systems and good educational opportunities for all are the key in preventing exclusion and before anybody has even time to think about the cost. Let me underline that this goes hand-in-hand with a broad based and effective tax system. — Sofie Sandström, Finland
  • Young people see the start of the Decade of Action as an opportunity to stop, to rethink or to dismantle systems of oppression, realign our values and enact meaningful structural reforms which will put in place the proper mechanisms to galvanize the UN Member States, private sector and civil society….Our main message across the board was that there must be no going back to normal….Many young people feel that the needs and rights of marginalized groups should be better represented given their unique vulnerabilities.
    — Jayathma Wickramanayake, S-G’s Envoy on Youth

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The HLPF continues to be among the most attended of all UN meetings, with broad participation from civil society and the corporate sector along with Member States. However, the quantity in participation has not been matched by the quality of policy commitments and actions from Member States to ensure the transformation needed.

Most Member States reporting on their progress to achieve the SDGs including in the VNRs focus exclusively on their domestic efforts and ignore their cross-border and global responsibilities. This is misleading in light of climate change, rising inequalities, debt crises, global pandemics, and the drivers of these challenges lie more heavily with the major economic players, public and private, while “those left behind” have little means of protection with the current rules of the multilateral game.

Member States have it in their power to correct these weaknesses by transforming the UN from a stage on which to perform to a political space in which to be held accountable.

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PRESS RELEASE – Vague promises won’t solve global crises

17. Juli 2020 - 0:30

versión en español

On 16 July, this year’s virtual UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on sustainable development came to an end. The HLPF is the premier UN body to monitor the annual progress on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) worldwide. The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated inequalities and further endangered development gains already at risk prior to the global pandemic. Millions of people globally are already suffering from hunger and poverty and now lives and livelihoods are threatened as a result of the vast socio-economic effects of COVID-19. Among the objectives of the 2020 HLPF includes identifying how the international community can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that will support achievement of the SDGs in the remaining “Decade of Action” to go until 2030. But the fact that Member States failed to adopt a strong Ministerial Declaration is extremely disappointing and does not match the enormous challenges ahead.

“The HLPF continues to be among the most attended of all UN meetings, with participation from Member States, civil society and the corporate sector”, says Barbara Adams, President of Global Policy Forum in New York. “However, the quantity in participation and profile is not matched by the quality of actions and policy commitments from Member States to ensure the transformation all agree is needed.” During the HLPF only “a sequence of airy promises” were made “which are no adequate response to the global crisis”, according to Global Policy Forum’s director Jens Martens.

All this is in sharp contrast to the call for coordinated, multilateral action from UN Secretary-General António Guterres. According to him, a minimum of 10 percent of the Global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) – approximately 9 billion USD – would be needed to finance such an effort. Martens: “This is another lost day for global multilateralism – in a situation, where it would be needed more than ever.”

The lack of concrete political action also reflects the limited mandate of the HLPF, which is restricted to a plethora of reports and reviews. Civil society organizations like the Global Policy Forum are therefore demanding to strengthen the HLPF substantially or to replace it by a stronger body with more competencies under the auspices of the UN General Assembly. Member States started a HLPF review process last year, but decisions are postponed to next year. “Member States have it in their power to correct these weaknesses by transforming the UN from a stage on which to perform into a political space in which to be held accountable”, says Barbara Adams, GPF.

For interview requests or further questions please contact:
Barbara Adams at barbaraadams(at)globalpolicy.org

About:

HLPF: The High-level Political Forum is the central UN body for global sustainable development, open to all 193 Member States as well as to civil society organizations. It is mainly in charge of monitoring the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To that aim, Member States present so called Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) to facilitate the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This year, 47 countries submitted their reports.

GPF: Global Policy Forum is an independent policy watchdog that monitors the work of the United Nations and scrutinizes global policymaking. GPF promotes accountability and citizen participation in decisions on peace and security, human rights, social justice and sustainable development. One of its main programmes is Global Policy Watch (GPW), a joint initiative of Social Watch and Global Policy Forum. It aims to keep members of global civil society informed about crucial global negotiations in the areas of financing for development, sustainable development, and UN reform.

More information on: www.globalpolicy.org

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