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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the global sustainability agenda

The COVID-19 pandemic and the policies with which governments have responded to it have had a serious impact on the global sustainability agenda. While the full extent of the pandemic and its impacts cannot yet be assessed, there is an evident risk that the pandemic will jeopardize the achievement of the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in their entirety.

The UN has released a three phase plan for re-opening the United Nations, releasing information on what the “new normal” will look like for Member States, UN Staff and other stakeholders. The plan indicates:

A new phrase has gained traction in inter-governmental deliberations at the UN in the virtual world ushered in by COVID-19: “All protocols observed”. Many Member States begin their statements with this phrase that replaces the formality of recognizing lists of colleagues and Member States.

Additionally, COVID-19 has given momentum to the development of an “omnibus” UN General Assembly resolution titled: Comprehensive and Coordinated Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This has the potential to advance initiatives and new approaches and thinking. It also has the potential to overtake, bypass, reverse or replace the outcomes of policy deliberations separately negotiated and/or not housed explicitly in the COVID-19 Pandemic track.

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Across the UN System, all hands are on deck to address the impact of COVID-19 from immediate humanitarian and health needs, to medium and longer-term socio-economic policy. Various initiatives are circling one another, raising issues of governance, reporting and accountability. Member States in the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment explored some of these questions as they related to the UN Development System (UNDS), while in the 28 May and 2 June meetings on Financing for Development they also explored policy ideas, with an emphasis on accounting for vulnerability in macroeconomic analysis.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Secretary-General, António Guterres, has initiated a "global conversation" on the future of the UN. The ongoing pandemic of Covid-19 has made physical meetings impossible and overwhelms us all with new responsibilities and demands in the face of its enormous health, social and economic impact.

In this difficult context, a document was submitted to the UN as the result of a dialogue of "the Americas". Concerned that this is the only view from our region reaching the UN, and worried about the very biased opinions it contains, which undervalue the role of women and social movements, among other questionable recommendations, such as the promotion of a closer alliance between the Un and the OAS, a joint letter was sent to the UN, ECLAC, CARICOM, GRULAC and the co-sponsors of the document.

The year 2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations as well as the beginning of the final 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the wider 2030 Agenda. The Secretary-General, UN leadership and various Member States have been highlighting the importance of the 75th Anniversary as the opportunity to address challenges to global governance and reinvigorate the UN System with what is needed to deliver meaningful change to people’s lives worldwide.

Across the UN development system, Member States, the UN Secretariat and UN leadership are exploring the profound socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 and what macroeconomic policy changes are needed to “build back better”. From UN-led programme activity responses to COVID-19 to needed policy responses both by the Financing for Development process and Member State-led initiatives, there are several opportunities to monitor these developments in the coming weeks.

“The UNDS is better positioned and ready to accompany countries as they seek to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and accelerate SDG implementation. The reinvigorated Resident Coordinator system is now firmly in place ensuring stronger and independent leadership of the UNDS at country level. A new generation of UN Country Teams, more cohesive and responsive to national needs and priorities, is taking shape. Solid foundations have been built to nurture a culture of results and learning; and to improve efficiencies in business operations. Challenges remain however and continued effort is needed to ensure further consolidation through ongoing leadership from all involved, sustained funding of the RC system, strengthened capacity on system-wide evaluations; and improved implementation of the funding compact.”

The COVID-19 health crisis added to the multidimensional crises in the Arab region and their manifestation in conflicts, wars, economic and social inequalities, and the increasing number of refugees and migrants. It could lead to severe repercussions at the economic, social, and political levels. According to an ESCWA preliminary estimate, the region will lose at least USD42 billion in 2020 due to the Corona pandemic. ESCWA also considered that the global spread of the virus and the growing impact of low oil prices could aggravate income losses. Unemployment is expected to increase by 1.2 percentage points, meaning the loss of around 1.7 million jobs. The Arab region registers some of the highest rates of inequality around the world, and informal employment accounts for 50% of jobs. It also lacks universal social protection systems and is thus unable to protect workers and ensure their dignity during work stoppages.

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