21 May 2019
UNGA Debates Areas of Progress, Difficulty in Reducing Global Inequality
UN Photo/Ariana Lindquist
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The High-level Thematic Debate on Addressing Inequality took place as one of three mandated UNGA events on prosperity in May.

Participants highlighted the need for disaggregated data and political will to ensure no one is left behind, in order to achieve SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).

SDG 10 is among the Goals being reviewed during the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

14 May 2019: A high-level debate addressed progress made in reducing inequalities within and among countries, and shared best practices in inclusive development. Participants highlighted the need for disaggregated data and political will to ensure no one is left behind, in order to achieve SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), which will be reviewed during the July 2019 session of the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

The High-level Thematic Debate on Addressing Inequality took place on 14 May 2019, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. It was one of the three UN General Assembly (UNGA) mandated meetings that the UNGA President organized under the theme ‘Prosperity Week,’ with the other two addressing commodity markets (on 15 May) and international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows (on 16 May).

Opening the meeting, UNGA President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces observed that, alongside climate change, inequality is the greatest challenge of our generation. She reported that, in 2018, 26 people owned as much wealth as the poorest 3.8 billion people. She said the gap between rich and poor continues to grow, causing exclusion and injustice, and undermining the social fabric; if we do not reduce inequalities, we will not achieve the SDGs, she said.

Espinosa underscored the need to create structural conditions for the fulfillment of basic rights in both developed and developing countries. In order to do that, she called for broadening access to services, opportunities and resources, and promoting universal access to foodstuffs, land, consumable goods, healthcare coverage, and quality primary and secondary education. She also cautioned that safeguarding the environment through SDGs 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water), and 15 (life on land) “critically depends” on reducing inequalities.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said collective experience has shown that development is not sustainable unless it is fair and inclusive. When considered alongside the broader impacts of globalization and rapid technological change, the growing concentration of income and wealth has led to economic anxiety, exclusion, and a decline in trust in governments and public institutions, Mohammed explained. She said that essential to addressing inequality is investment in: building strong data ecosystems and capacities at the national level to ensure no one is left behind; human capital, which can “correct generations of injustice and inequality;” and infrastructure to promote access to opportunities, technology and innovation.

Ghada Waly, Minister of Social Solidarity, Egypt, spoke for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China). She said reducing inequality is essential to poverty eradication, social cohesion and sustaining peace. She underlined the need for sound policies rooted in national realities.

“Inequality, at the end of the day, is a political choice.”

Mahmoud Mohieldin, World Bank, cited challenges to reducing inequality such as changes in the labor market and other disruptions caused by the fourth industrial revolution, forced migration because of conflict and fragility, and climate chance. He said, however, that SDG 10 is still possible if all stakeholders “mobilize swiftly” and act in tandem. He said that the “center of economic gravity” is moving east, as developing countries like China and India grow economically.

The 2030 Agenda’s imperative to leave no one behind is unlikely to be achieved in the current global policy context, he said, and proposed: legal reforms to remove barriers to opportunities; tax reforms associated with effective public spending; and formalizing the informal economy. He also stressed the need for political will and leadership, saying, “Inequality, at the end of the day, is a political choice.”

Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, UN Development Programme (UNDP), highlighted the challenge of addressing structural causes of inequality, especially as societies become more “extreme.” He said UNDP makes sure to use “leave no one behind” markers in all its programmes. He added that only solutions rooted in nature will reduce inequality, and drew attention to nature-based solutions for reducing poverty, hunger and gender disparity, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Dereje Wordofa, UN Population Fund (UNFPA), said two types of inequality – gender inequality and inequality in exercising sexual and reproductive health and rights – need to be addressed and corrected in order to leave no one behind. Aparna Mehrotra, UN Women, said that ensuring gender inequality cannot be achieved only “for women by women.” He invited reflection on “deprivation” rather than “inequality,” explaining that the former is much easier to relate to, and empathy can spur action.

Vladimir Cuk, Executive Director, International Disability Alliance (IDA), emphasized the need for data to be disaggregated by disability in order to address marginalization and discrimination, and called for funding for disability to be integrated in national budgeting. He said people with disabilities are among the groups most left behind, and invited participation in the follow-up summit to the Global Disability Summit, taking place in June 2019 in Buenos Aires.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised issues related to: the impact of climate change in exacerbating inequality; the need to focus on youth when addressing inequality, including through scholarships; and the importance of participatory budgeting in tackling inequality. Closing the event, Espinosa observed agreement among participants that while there is no single recipe for reducing inequalities, two ingredients are key: greater political will on behalf of governments; and more multilateralism. [UNGA President’s Opening Remarks] [UNGA President’s Closing Remarks] [Remarks of UN Deputy Secretary-General][Event Programme] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources] [Meeting Webcast, Part 1] [Meeting Webcast, Part 2]

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