The UN General Assembly held a plenary meeting on priorities for 2021. The UN Secretary-General told governments that after the “tragedy and peril” of 2020, the SDGs are more important than ever to put the world on track in 2021. He outlined ten urgent priorities for the year ahead.

UN Secretary-General’s Ten Priorities for 2021 are:

  1. Respond to COVID-19
  2. Start an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery
  3. Make peace with nature
  4. Tackle poverty and inequality
  5. Reverse the assault on human rights
  6. Gender equality, the greatest human rights challenge
  7. Heal geopolitical rifts
  8. Reverse the erosion of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime
  9. Seize the opportunities of digital technologies while protecting against their growing dangers
  10. Launch a reset for the 21st century

Guterres said the first priority is responding to COVID-19, and the “first great moral test” of the year is to make vaccines available and affordable to all, treating them as a global public good. He called for prioritizing vaccine distribution to the most vulnerable in order to prevent mutations from spreading and becoming more deadly, and for more resources for the COVAX facility led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

On economic recovery, Guterres said “the 2030 Agenda points the way.” He stressed the need for investments in health systems, universal health coverage, mental health care, social protection, and safe returns to school. To avoid making developing countries choose between providing basic services and servicing their debts, he called for a “quantum leap in financial support,” including debt relief and an expansion of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative. He also called for embracing renewable energy and green and resilient infrastructure.

On making peace with nature, Guterres highlighted key milestones for climate and biodiversity scheduled for 2021. Ahead of the UNFCCC COP in Glasgow, UK in November, he called on countries to: declare national climate emergencies; submit nationally determined contributions (NDCs) on reducing emissions; phase out fossil fuels; increase support for adaptation; and help build the coalition for a carbon-neutral world – which entails every country, city, company, and financial institutions having a clear road map to carbon neutrality by 2050. He said this coalition already represents 65% of global CO2 emissions, and it must reach 90% of emissions within 2021. In addition, he said:

  • Developed countries must mobilize USD 100 billion each year for climate action in developing countries;
  • Development banks must – by 2024 – align their portfolios with the Paris Agreement and the SDGs; and
  • Governments must adopt transformational policies, including to: put a price on carbon; stop building new coal power plants; phase out coal; phase out fossil fuel finance and end fossil fuel subsidies; shift the tax burden from income to carbon, from taxpayers to polluters; and make climate-related financial risk disclosures mandatory.

Guterres highlighted that the territories of small island developing States (SIDS) could disappear within our lifetimes due to rising sea levels, which is unacceptable while the problem is within our power to fix.

On biodiversity, the Secretary-General pointed to the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15). This meeting can “halt the extinction crisis” with the post-2020 biodiversity framework governments are expected to adopt, he said, which will help to address the threat of zoonotic diseases. Other key moments for making peace with nature include the high-level dialogue on energy, the second UN ocean conference, the food systems summit, and the global conference on sustainable transport.

On tackling poverty and inequality, the Secretary-General described a New Social Contract supported by education and digital technology. On gender equality, he called for changing the structures by which the formal economy “only functions because it is subsidized by women’s unpaid care work.” Investing in the care economy could stimulate growth and recovery and ensure women’s rights. On human rights more generally, Guterres highlighted that women, girls, minorities, and LGBTI people confront chronic discrimination and violence, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the rise of human rights threats around the world.

Guterres also cited the need for ceasefires in major conflicts and in cyberspace. On nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, he noted the recent entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and urged support for its goal. He also highlighted priorities in the area of digital technologies, including to ensure that people everywhere to have affordable, meaningful and safe access to the Internet by 2030, and all schools online as quickly as possible. He said there is a need to address the digital spread of hatred, exploitation and disinformation, and to address the use of our data, finding a way forward that does not infringe on privacy or dignity. In 2021 he will work to implement the UN’s roadmap for digital cooperation launched in 2020.

Finally, Guterres said governments have called on him to submit recommendations for advancing the vision laid out in their declaration on the UN’s 75th anniversary, which was adopted in September 2020. The Secretary-General has has begun a reflection process building on the global public consultation that took place throughout 2020. He said the report he will submit in September 2021 should be seen as the beginning of a “reset for the 21st century,” and indicated a focus on “strengthening global governance to deliver global public goods.” He said the challenges ahead require: a more inclusive and networked multilateralism; a New Global Deal to share power, benefits, and opportunities more fairly among countries; a larger voice for developing countries in global decision making; and a role for young people in designing their own future. 

These priorities were presented to UN Member States at a UNGA plenary meeting that took place from 28-29 January 2021, in New York, US. [Remarks of UN Secretary-General] [UN Meeting Summary] [Publication: Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization]