8 October 2020
UNGA’s Second Committee Sets Out Priority Issues for 75th Session
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The general debate of the UNGA's Second Committee is underway on the theme, ‘Building back better after COVID-19: Ensuring a more equitable global economy, inclusive societies and sustainable recovery’.

This year's work includes negotiating the 2020 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of the UN's operational activities for development (QCPR).

Action on draft resolutions is expected to take place in November.

The UN General Assembly’s Second Committee (Economic and Financial) – which is responsible for most of the Assembly’s work related to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs – has begun deliberations for the 75th session (2020-2021). This year’s work will include negotiating the 2020 Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of the UN’s operational activities for development (QCPR). 

On 5 October 2020, the Committee, chaired by the Permanent Representative of Nepal, held an in-person session to adopt its programme of work for the year. The Committee also began its general debate on the theme of ‘Building back better after COVID-19: Ensuring a more equitable global economy, inclusive societies and sustainable recovery.’

We must take full advantage of the improvements we have made to the UN development system, to help countries recover better from COVID-19.

The Chair said the Committee will focus on issues affecting groups of countries in special situations, including the least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing States (SIDS), and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs). He also highlighted:

  • the Food Systems Summit being planned for 2021,
  • the Committee will discuss the modalities for the midterm review of the Water Action Decade 2018-2028, through a high-level event convening from 22-24 March 2023, in New York, and
  • it is time to conduct the QCPR, which takes place every four years and was last conducted in 2016.

In a keynote address to the Second Committee, Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University, said the international community cannot squeeze water from a stone: developing economies and emerging markets cannot find financial resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic without significant debt restructuring. He expressed support for the issuance of special drawing rights.

Stiglitz also called for multinational corporations pay their fair share of taxes, such as by creating a minimum global corporate income tax at the level of 2%. He added that greening economies can be timely, targeted, labor-intensive, and provide good stimulus.

Liu Zhenmin, head of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), said COVID-19 stimulus packages will be most effective if they prioritize public investments that contribute to achieving the SDGs, including climate change mitigation and adaptation, and digital infrastructure. 

Member States speaking during the debate emphasized the need for stronger international cooperation to face the “seemingly endless cycles” of COVID-19, especially in States that lack recovery financing. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) urged “vaccine multilateralism” to ensure equitable, universal, and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines. Another delegate suggested considering vaccines and therapeutic treatments as global public goods. 

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) noted some government’s “retreat” from the development agenda and climate change commitments. She also noted the inability of SIDS to access available climate finance because of “cumbersome processes and competition with other better capacitated countries.”

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (CANZ) said “there should be no rollback of existing commitments,” and it is vital to promote full participation of people with disabilities, women and children, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. He supported new approaches to addressing the debt crisis and maintain jobs, particularly in the LDCs. The general debate continues until 9 October 2020 in a virtual format.

Also during the Second Committee’s in-person meeting on 5 October, UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s provided a briefing on the 2020 QCPR, noting that it takes place at the outset of the Decade of Action for sustainable development.

Recalling that the previous QCPR in 2016 “paved the way for the deepest transformation in the history” of the UN development system, Mohammed reported that the UN has since established a new coordination system to better respond to the 2030 Agenda, including a funding compact with Member States. In May 2020, during the UN Economic and Social Council’s (ECOSOC) Operational Activities Segment, she said governments decided to move forward on other mandates set out in the 2016 QCPR, including to operationalize a new regional architecture, strengthen support to multi‑country offices (MCOs), and bolster independent system‑wide evaluations for accountability. 

Mohammed said that now, to help countries recover better from COVID-19, “we must take full advantage of the improvements we have made” to the UN development system. She called on Member States to give strategic direction to this process through the 2020 QCPR, particularly in the following ways:

  • Additional resources are needed in priority policy areas, including climate change, economic transformation and employment, women’s empowerment, and digitalization;
  • At the country level, the UN is introducing integrated national financing frameworks for the SDGs, and the QCPR can provide clarity on expectations;
  • Coherence between the UN’s pillars;
  • On leaving no one behind, the QCPR “can give visibility to those excluded and on the margins,” including persons with disabilities and women and girls. She said the process can also clarify Member States’ expectations for a recovery from COVID‑19 that is anchored in inclusive and green economies, and noted that greater investment is needed in data for evidence‑based decision‑making; and
  • Completing the “unfinished business” of the 2016 QCPR, such as meeting the targets of the funding compact.

In addition to deliberations on its official agenda items, the Committee will hold three other events. A joint meeting with ECOSOC will address ‘Developing sustainable infrastructure and utilizing science and technology in response to COVID-19,’ on 14 October. A virtual side event on ‘Disaster risk-informed and resilient COVID-19 recovery’ will take place on 15 October. An annual dialogue with the executive secretaries of the UN regional commissions is scheduled for 19 October.

Action on draft resolutions is expected to take place in November. [Second Committee meeting summaries] [Second Committee documents] [SDG Knowledge Hub story on 2020 QCPR process] [QCPR documents]

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