25 August 2020
COVID-19, SDGs Require New Kind of Multilateralism: High-level Dialogue
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Participants said the “single most important inter-generational challenge” is protecting the planet and fighting biodiversity loss and climate change.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth said young people are focused primarily on three issues for UN75: recovery from COVID-19 and building resilience, maintaining international peace and security, and protecting the environment and reversing climate change.

The Group of LLDCs called for including LLDCs on the HLPF agenda.

In the lead-up to the UN’s 75th anniversary commemoration, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a high-level dialogue on multilateralism after COVID-19. Participants focused on concrete steps to enhance international cooperation and global solidarity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to address long-term challenges like biodiversity loss, climate change, and inequality.

The high-level dialogue titled, ‘Multilateralism after COVID-19: What kind of UN do we need at the 75th anniversary?,’ convened as part of ECOSOC’s High-Level Segment, on 17 July 2020, immediately following the 2020 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF). Participants included UN Member States’ Heads of Government, Ministers, and other representatives, the UN Secretary-General, civil society organizations, youth, and private sector stakeholders. The summary was issued on 22 July 2020 by outgoing ECOSOC President Mona Juul, as a contribution to the upcoming commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the UN (UN75).

Multilateralism must be “networked, inclusive, resilient, and effective.”

Dialogue participants said the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the need for a “renewed and reinvigorated multilateralism and strengthening of the UN.” They stressed that countries, civil society, and the private sector must work together to address the pandemic and long-term challenges like biodiversity loss, climate change, rising equalities, migration, and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Participants underscored the role of a revitalized ECOSOC “at the heart of” a networked, inclusive, resilient and effective multilateralism. They emphasized that multilateralism must become more inclusive and resilient, and better prepared to respond to current and longer-term crises. To achieve this, participants called for incorporating a broader variety of voices and viewpoints, and strengthening the participation of civil society, the scientific community, the private sector, and other non-state actors.

Speakers noted that the private sector can help reinvigorate multilateralism by addressing systemic injustices and inequalities in supply chains. Business also can demonstrate ethical leadership and good governance, and partner with governments and civil society to strengthen institutions, laws, and systems at national and international levels.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ECOSOC should ensure the active engagement of decision-makers critical to financing SDG implementation. It also should strengthen the relationship with its subsidiary bodies and the governing boards of UN development system entities. Guterres highlighted the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in exposing and exacerbating vulnerabilities and inequalities within and among countries, including health and climate systems, access to finance and food security, and international trade.

Speakers said the pandemic has the potential to “severely roll back decades” of development successes and SDG implementation. They called for re-imagining how countries can cooperate.

Participants recognized the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a “blueprint and roadmap for a more resilient, fairer and greener recovery” and for using the Decade of Action and Delivery of the SDGs to leave no one behind. Participants said the “single most important inter-generational challenge” is protecting the planet and fighting biodiversity loss and climate change.

Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, said young people see UN75, which takes place at the outset of the Decade of Action, as “an opportunity to stop, rethink our systems, dismantle those systems of oppression, realign our values and enact structural reforms” to galvanize the UN and stakeholders towards the world we want. She said young people are focusing primarily on three issues:

  • Recovery from COVID-19 and building resilience,
  • Maintaining international peace and security, and
  • Protecting the environment and reversing climate change.

She also stressed that young people believe the needs and rights of marginalized groups need to be better represented, and they support stronger accountability for implementation of internationally agreed frameworks, such as the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Chair of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) highlighted specific areas for improving multilateralism to support the LLDCs, such as including LLDCs in the HLPF’s annual programme, and ensuring effective financing to address the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on financing for development, and the Vienna Programme of Action for the LLDCs. He said partnerships at bilateral, regional, and interregional level are critical for LLDCs to achieve self-sustained and transformative growth, and called for better coordination among UN agencies and ECOSOC structural bodies, and for synergies between the UN Security Council and ECOSOC. The Group of LLDCs supported involving the private sector and civil society in making multilateralism work.

The dialogue also addressed the role of the UN in promoting equity, inclusivity, and transparency, and the need for the UN to become more “agile and responsive to the changing global context.” Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), stressed the “need to restore trust” among people and nations and in governments and institutions.

Participants said the UN should be people-centered, promote and protect human rights, serve the most vulnerable, advance gender equality and women’s empowerment, and support whole-of-society and whole-of-government approaches. The dialogue identified the ongoing UN General Assembly (UNGA) process on the review and strengthening of ECOSOC as an opportunity to enhance the Council’s role and potential within the context of a renewal of multilateralism and global governance. [Summary of ECOSOC High-Level Dialogue] [ECOSOC Event Webpage] [IISD ENB Coverage of HLPF 2020

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