This General Assembly marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations in a time of vast and unprecedented stress on people and planet. For the first time in 30 years, human development progress is in reverse. Millions of people are falling into extreme poverty. Nations are grappling with eroding public trust and skyrocketing financial instability, and inequalities are deepening.
As we reach five years of the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, we are also contending with the warmest five years on record, extreme weather events and rising sea levels. For many, efforts to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius have taken a back seat.
The virus that sparked this pandemic demonstrates that as we inch towards greater destruction of animal habitats, people will be exposed more and more to deadly animal-borne pathogens. More than 60 percent of new infectious diseases and almost all recent pandemics originate in animals; most coming from wildlife.
But the pandemic is more than a health crisis. More than 265 million people are facing acute food insecurity in 2020 due to COVID-19, according to WFP. The pandemic is expected to trigger a 60 percent decline in earnings for the world’s 1.6 billion informal workers (ILO), while half of the world is trying to survive without any form of social protection.
Foreign direct investment levels are projected to drop by up to 40 percent, while remittances, a significant source of development finance, are estimated to drop by 20 percent this year. These financial flows are squeezing the world in ways that force governments, development partners, and the private sector to rethink where finance comes from and how to invest in ways that promote growth and stability.
However, within this devastating crisis also lies an opportunity. The world needs to take immediate bold action to stem the socio-economic crisis, ensure that recovery efforts are sustainable and that countries move towards a green economy, taking a different path from the previous global development trajectory. Together, we have a chance to take a bold leap forward to a sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and resilient future, with the Sustainable Development Goals as our roadmap.
We are at the tipping point that requires cohesive, collective and immediate action. This includes social safety nets for the most vulnerable people, such as cash transfers and temporary basic income, particularly for women who are falling faster into poverty than men.
UNDP is working to ensure that a green recovery is equitable and protects the most vulnerable individuals, communities and countries and is offering a comprehensive set of solutions to build forward better. Ensuring a just transition to a sustainable economy for all is critical to the future of both people and planet.
This is our chance to build forward better for people and planet and seize the opportunity to centre the recovery on reducing inequalities, taking dramatic climate action, modernizing the world with digital transformation, and reinforcing the social contract between government and people.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed a host of inequalities and vulnerabilities which are erasing human development gains and progress. We are now at a tipping point for people and planet that requires bold steps to build forward better.
- As we enter a Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to aim for transformation; a redesign of our systems that will fully realize the vision of Agenda 2030.
- UNDP’s COVID-19 crisis response is designed to help decision-makers look beyond recovery, towards 2030, to make the right choices in four main areas: governance, social protection, green economy, and digital disruption.
- As governments determine how to invest their limited resources in their responses to the impacts of COVID-19, they must take the opportunity to build forward better, which means building green and inclusive. The COVID-19 crisis proves that transformational change is possible and that a smart recovery can put in place the building blocks for long-term impact. Several countries are capitalizing on what has been referred to as ‘the COVID innovation dividend’. For example, the Great Green Wall initiative stretching from Senegal to Djibouti is an integrated climate solution that is expected to create 10 million green and decent jobs, empower women with new opportunities, provide greater food security and sequester 250 million tons of carbon dioxide.
- Governments must choose to invest in a green economy, powered by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, to avoid a collision with nature and decelerate the devastating effects of climate change. UNDP is working with UNEP and other partners to accelerate green energy, including helping countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, and to ensure a fair and equitable transition.
- Countries must transition away from fossil fuels. This is a huge challenge that will not happen overnight. But periods of low prices of oil, as the world is seeing now, are the best time to introduce reforms that re-price energy. Ambitious clean energy projects can take advantage of all-time low-interest rates to create the energy systems, industries, and labour skills of the future. Decarbonization is not a painless prospect; oil-exporting countries in Africa, for example, depend on hydrocarbon proceeds to balance their books, while oil-importing countries may experience a short-term benefit from lower oil prices, but a COVID-19-induced recession will damage their social and economic prospects and threatens to push millions of people back into poverty.
- A green recovery makes business sense. In April, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimated that decarbonization of the world economy by 2050 would require investment of up to US$130 trillion. But it would boost cumulative global GDP gains by US$98 trillion between now and 2050, quadrupling renewable energy jobs to 42 million.
- Investors must focus on building a green economy aligned with countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement. NDCs offer a ready-made framework of solutions to help countries to build forward better – with international partners and financing already committed to supporting. Through its Climate Promise initiative, UNDP is supporting over a hundred countries to develop more ambitious national climate action plans, translating their NDCs and adaptation plans into urban planning, agriculture, and land-use climate solutions.
- UNDP’s ‘Mission 1.5’ climate action campaign is amplifying citizen voices for the next generation of national climate pledges. The aim is to bring citizens’ priorities on climate to policymakers to boost the political will and leadership needed to achieve urgent and ambitious action. We are providing a bridge between citizens and governments to ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard on climate issues.
- The COVID-19 pandemic is a wake-up call for humanity. The degradation of ecosystems, the loss of biodiversity and its unsustainable use have increased the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to livestock and from animals to people.
- Epidemics are about more than pathogens. They are about inequalities that force poor and vulnerable people to live on the edges of degraded natural habitats, within which pathogens move easily between wildlife, livestock, and people. Even if we defeat the current pandemic but do nothing about its source – that is, the way humans interact with nature – it is only a matter of time before the next novel pathogen emerges.
- UNDP supports governments to slow deforestation, increase sustainable farming, and halt the illegal trade of endangered wildlife – contributing to the prevention of future pandemics. More than 60 percent of new infectious diseases and almost all recent pandemics originate in animals; most coming from wildlife (71.8%), such as Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), HIV – and now COVID-19.
- Biodiversity provides multiple essential services and benefits for all people. These include nutritious food, clean water, jobs, prevention and cure for diseases, and protection from extreme events and disasters. Loss and degradation of biodiversity jeopardize progress towards multiple Sustainable Development Goals.
- Biodiversity offers many solutions to today’s societal and economic challenges, including for a more resilient and sustainable post-COVID-19 recovery. Conservation, sustainable use and restoration of biodiversity on land, and in the ocean and freshwater ecosystems could: provide one-third of greenhouse gas reductions needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement; contribute to sustainable and regenerative agriculture and food systems to underpin food security, and reduce the risk of future pandemics caused by animal-to-human virus transmissions.
- UNDP will incorporate special measures in project activities to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities that are the custodians of biodiversity conservation against shocks such as future pandemics and climate impact. For example, as part of our COVID-19 response, we called for proposals for new Lion’s Share small grants that focus on supporting communities dependent on wildlife-based economies.
- In order to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 so that the world will be able to achieve SDGs, a set of global systemic changes are required. These are:
- Place nature at the very heart of development and fiscal planning
- Redirect financial flows away from nature negative to nature positive
- Transform global production and consumption systems, decoupling them from biodiversity loss and deforestation
- Strengthen governance, the rule of law and a human rights approach to increase liability for nature destruction
- Mobilize mass demand for behavioural change for safeguarding nature
- The COVID-19 crisis is a health, humanitarian and socio-economic crisis that has had and continues to have a devastating impact on the most vulnerable and the marginalized while exacerbating existing inequalities, both within and between countries. This crisis could reverse much of the development gains achieved over recent decades.
- UNDP is focusing on the response to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, helping governments protect the disadvantaged and marginalized groups. UNDP encourages governments to take unprecedented steps and ensure that social protection measures leave no one behind.
- UNDP will continue to help and ensure that the responses of countries are not just comprehensive, but equitable and inclusive so that countries can continue to make progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
- While we address the socio-economic impact of the virus, UNDP will also draw on its work on human rights, stigma and discrimination, to support governments, civil society, UN entities and other stakeholders to highlight gaps in laws, policies and practices that hinder a human rights-based COVID-19 response.
- The COVID-19 pandemic is having the most devastating impact on the billions of poor and vulnerable people who live in low- and medium-income countries and are not currently covered by any social welfare programmes
- Even before COVID‐19, four billion people – more than half of the world’s population – did not have access to social protection. It is even more essential now to combat the inequalities that are being exacerbated due to COVID-19.
- One of the ways societies can be more resilient to shocks is by having comprehensive social protection that helps the most vulnerable, such as cash transfers, universal health coverage and access to other basic services.
- Social protection is a strategic investment that promotes growth as it reduces poverty and supports growth through increased productivity, labour market participation, and entrepreneurial activity.
- A Temporary Basic Income is one way to address the immediate financial needs of billions of people not covered by social protection programmes, such as informal workers, the low-waged, women and young people, refugees and migrants, and people with disabilities.
- UNDP has estimated that it would cost from $199 billion per month to provide a time-bound, guaranteed basic income to 2.8 billion people living below or just above the poverty line in 132 countries – 44 percent of the population of those countries.
Sustainable Development Goals
- Our socio-economic assessments, based on findings from more than 70 countries and five regional reports, have shown that while countries are at different stages of the pandemic, they are all dealing with enormous social and economic impacts including:
- Rising poverty and inequality: The poorest are the least able to cope with the effects of the pandemic. In 2020, 100 million people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty (WB) including 47 million women and girls (UNDP/UN Women) while 500 million may fall into poverty (Oxfam) because of the pandemic. This includes millions of migrants who have already lost their jobs – reducing their contributions back home.
- Food insecurity: Countries, such as small island developing states, that are net-food importers are suffering from global value chain disruption. More than 265 million people are facing acute food insecurity in 2020 due to COVID-19 (WFP).
- Tattered or absent safety nets, especially for the world’s 1.6 billion informal workers: Workers in the informal sector earn low wages, have little savings, and have little to no access to social protection. The pandemic is expected to trigger a 60 percent decline in earnings for informal workers (ILO).
- Digital divide: The digital future is here, but not for everyone. This lack of universal digital access leaves people behind and further exacerbates inequalities. In education, with schools closed and stark divides in access to online learning, UNDP estimates show that 86 percent of children in primary education are now effectively out-of-school in countries with low human development—compared with just 20 percent in countries with very high human development.
- UNDP, as part of its role as SDG Integrator, pulls together the expertise of the entire UN System to produce practical and locally relevant recommendations and solutions that are built on the experience gained through decades of support to countries at the local and national level.
- COVID-19 response efforts are disrupting and transforming governance by putting a severe strain on governance systems, processes, state-society relations, and undermining human rights. The models of governance we rely upon are over 100 years old and were not built with current complexities in mind. Governments and institutions must modernize by providing online services for citizens and reimagining a new way of working in the digital age to usher in a new social contract. For example, the Djibouti government, with help from UNDP, has transformed an online commodities tracking dashboard to track food supplies nationwide during the pandemic.
- The pandemic has had a profound impact on the social contract between people and their governments. For example, 85% of respondents surveyed by Edelman stated that they need to hear more from scientists than politicians.
- Responses to COVID-19 have tilted balances of power towards the executive branch through emergency powers and laws, and curtailment of civic and political freedoms. In some instances, such measures may be necessary, but they must be rooted in effective governance and human rights principles and meet international norms and standards. They must be proportionate, applied in a non-discriminatory manner and have an end-date.
- COVID-19 disruptions and uncertainty may present opportunities for corrupt actors to take advantage of the crisis, particularly in countries with weak institutions and rule of law. UNDP helps countries to strengthen national and local institutions and integrate anti-corruption measures by leveraging technology and innovation to promote transparency, accountability, and integrity, supporting social accountability measures, and promoting business integrity and collective action.
- The crisis has seen an enormous rise in the spread of misinformation and disinformation and inflammatory and discriminatory narratives by both by state and non-state actors. This makes it challenging to find trustworthy sources of reliable guidance, while dehumanizing language is increasing the risk of exclusion and violence towards minorities and vulnerable groups.
- COVID-19 will widen the gender gap of those living in extreme poverty. As many as 47 million women and girls will fall into extreme poverty by 2021 due to the pandemic, bringing the total number to 435 million and reversing trends of poverty eradication progress. By 2021, for every 100 men aged 25 to 34 living in extreme poverty (living on 1.90 USD a day or less), there will be 118 women, a gap that is expected to increase to 121 women per 100 men by 2030 (UNDP, UN Women, University of Denver).
- The burden of unpaid care work for many women is increasing due to school closures and other stay-at-home measures. UNDP supports policy makers and partners to adopt economic and social policies to help close gender gaps, redistribute unpaid care and domestic work and increase women’s economic participation and livelihood opportunities.
- Women are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 response, including as healthcare and service industry workers, and are playing a key role in ensuring the well-being and resilience of their families and communities. Women make up 70 percent of health and social sector workers, increasing their exposure to the virus. In many parts of the world, they make up over 85 percent of nurses and almost half of the medical doctors (UNDP).
- Women and girls are facing disproportionate social, economic, and health risks from COVID-19, exacerbating existing gender inequalities. Women face greater economic vulnerability as their labour participation is often highly informal and without social protection. Low-income women and women migrant workers are especially vulnerable to economic risks.
- The home is becoming a more dangerous place for many women as gender-based violence cases rise worldwide during the COVID-19 crisis. UNDP works closely with governments and national and local institutions to address and prevent all forms of gender-based violence.
Financing for Development
- The unprecedented fiscal response to the pandemic has already reached nearly $11 trillion globally. We must leverage this record fiscal and monetary response by ensuring investments lay a path towards achieving a global green economy.
- COVID-19 has severely impacted the global economy. Foreign direct investment levels are projected to drop by up to 40 percent. Remittances, a significant source of development finance, are estimated to drop by 20 percent this year.
- Public and private sectors must have equal accountability for their policies, decisions, and investments to create a global sustainable financial system capable of delivering on collective needs. UNDP’s work on integrated National Financing Frameworks aims to support governments to create financing strategies for COVID-19 recovery plans and the SDGs. We work with the OECD to develop a framework for SDG aligned finance through a mandate of the G7 under the French Government Presidency
- The report by the UN Secretary-General’s Task Force on Digital Financing for the SDGs provides a roadmap for how we can harness digitization to permanently close equity gaps by expanding access to healthcare, finance, education, and clean energy.
Digital disruption and innovation
- Digital governance and technologies have been crucial in enabling rapid responses to the pandemic. While digital technologies provide modern governance solutions, access to information, and innovation, they also could further exacerbate inequalities for those who do not have internet access. Digital solutions must be inclusive.
- Eighty percent of the population in developed countries have access to the Internet, but only 45 percent in developing and 20 percent in the least developed countries. With widespread lockdown, the digital divide has become more significant than ever.
- UNDP is mobilizing new technologies and supporting government institutions, community leaders, media, and civil society to ensure equitable access to factual COVID-19 information to debunk rumours and to promote tolerance and solidarity.
- Identifying, tracking, and tracing can put the privacy of individuals and vulnerable communities at risk, particularly where privacy and data protection laws are weak or absent. UNDP is working closely with Member States to protect privacy and data protection.
- The UNDP Accelerator Labs, co-built as a joint venture with the Qatar Fund for Development and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany, is set out to become the world’s largest and fastest learning network on sustainable development challenges.
- UNDP has established 60 Accelerator Labs covering 78 countries around the world to accelerate learning on what works and what doesn’t and create new capabilities for decision-makers to explore, experiment, and grow portfolios of mutually reinforcing solutions to tackle today’s challenges.
- The Accelerator Labs are the engine for a rapid response within UNDP’s infrastructure and help make sense of COVID-19 complexities by, for example, developing digital tools for impacted informal workers and small and medium-size businesses, and providing a clear picture of the pandemic through data. By providing access to real-time and new sources of data and behavioral insights, the UNDP Accelerator Labs aid governments with policy decisions and rapid response.
For further messaging on COVID-19 and different themes, see the UNDP Master Communications Brief.