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With proposed reforms, UN closer than ever to a development system that is ‘fit for purpose’

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There are serious threats to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the United Nations, especially its development system, must be effectively reformed in order to be able to limit the impact of those threats Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday.

In his address to the opening of the annual operational segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Mr. Guterres warned that the world is facing a crisis of legitimacy, confidence and trust, rooted in legitimate fears

And while the benefits of globalization should be clear to all, “too many are being left behind.”

“Women are still far less likely to participate in the labour market – and gender pay gaps remain a global concern. Youth unemployment is at alarming levels. And inequalities are rampant – stretching the fabric of societies to the breaking point and undermining the social compact,” he stated, pointing out that “a handful of men hold the same wealth as half of humanity.”

Mr. Guterres underscored that exclusion resulted in frustration, alienation and instability.
“All of this compels us to do all we can to achieve inclusive and sustainable development – a goal in its own right, but also our best form of prevention against all kind of risks,” Mr. Guterres stressed.

An economic and social model that drives exclusion and environmental destruction cause deaths, missed opportunities, division and future conflicts.

“We need a global economy that works for all and creates opportunities for all,” he asserted.

According to the UN chief, the 2030 Agenda is crucial to rebuild the trust needed for fair globalization.

The Secretary-General flagged poverty eradication as the UN’s top priority, with the 2030 Agenda acting as its roadmap and the goals and targets its tools to get there.

He saw the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as outlining the Organization’s commitment to expand dignity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet by empowering women, meaningfully including young people, reducing climate risk, creating decent jobs and mobilizing clean investments for inclusive growth.

“Finance is pivotal,” espoused Mr. Guterres, pointing to the Addis Ababa Action Agenda as stressing the importance of upholding Official Development Assistance commitments.

He underscored the need to support countries’ efforts to mobilize domestic resources, which must be accompanied by the international community’s commitment to fight tax evasion, money laundering and illicit financial flows, which threaten development.

“We are focused on building a system that is demand-driven, oriented around achieving results at scale, and accountable in providing support to achieve the 2030 Agenda,” Mr. Guterres said, mentioning a proposed a set of global adjustments to make operations on the ground “more cohesive, effective and efficient.”

He encouraged all present to take inspiration from the 2030 Agenda to forge the future we want.

“We are now closer than ever to repositioning sustainable development at the heart of the organization and to having a development system that is an even stronger partner as we seek to deliver for people,” said the UN chief.

“Together, let us make good on our shared promise to humanity – a future of prosperity, peace and dignity for all,” he concluded.

Development system ‘fit for purpose’

Opening the meeting, Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations and Vice-President of ECOSOSC said that repositioning the UN’s development system would be a unique opportunity to create a more integrated, effective, efficient and accountable system that matches the world’s commitments.

In short, he said, a development system that is “fit for purpose.”

He referred to the 2030 Agenda as demonstrating the commitment of Member States to promote peaceful, just and inclusive societies based on human rights, gender equality, empowerment of all women and girls, and free from poverty and fear and violence.

Mr. Pecsteen recalled the Secretary-General’s vision and concrete proposals to realign and reinvigorate the UN development system, which is necessary for the adequate and timely response Member States expect from the UN in the 21st century to help deliver on the 2030 Agenda promises.

He thanked Mr. Guterres for his leadership, vision and determination “to take on a challenge that is not easy,” adding that it was now up to the Member States to be “as bold in their desire to transform the system.”

He detailed that the ECOSOC Segment for Development will lay the groundwork for the consensus that will be forged in the coming weeks.

Panelists include senior government representatives from capitals, board chairs, UN leaders and key partners in the system.

Also addressing the meeting, Amina Mohammed, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, reiterated the importance of utilizing the opportunities offered by the  2030 Agenda to address the myriad challenges facing the world as well as to seize the momentum offered by it to ensure that the Organization is “fit to support” national efforts to realize the global goals.

In that context, she highlighted the important role that UN Resident Coordinators have to play.

“We know that if we want to strengthen our ability to support the 2030 Agenda in a cohesive, effective, accountable and efficient manner – then we must strengthen the Resident Coordinator system,” underscored the deputy UN chief, noting that a “reinvigorated” Resident Coordinator system is at the core of the proposals to reposition the UN development system.

“And it is at the centre of the mandate of the quadrennial comprehensive policy review,” she added.

The Policy Review is the mechanism through which UN Member States assess the effectiveness, efficiency, coherence and impact of UN development work. It also provides policy orientations for development cooperation at country level.

In her remarks, Ms. Mohammed also stated that strengthened Resident Coordinator system would ensuring a more accountable UN development system on the ground, one that is more responsive to national needs and more capable to deliver meaningful results.

“A system that can draw on the expertise across all entities – including non-resident entities, DESA [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs] and the regional economic commissions – to respond to country priorities,” she added.

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Environment

Millions affected as devastating typhoon strikes Viet Nam

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An aerial photograph showing houses destroyed and submerged in flood waters caused by the typhoon in Le Thuy district, Quang Binh province, central Viet Nam. UNICEF/Pham/AFP-Services

A major typhoon has struck central Viet Nam, affecting millions of people – including about 2.5 million children – in a region already reeling from the effects of severe floods, according to UN agencies in the country. 

There are also reports that 174 people have died or are missing. 

Storm Molave, which made landfall at around 11 am local time on Wednesday, is one of the strongest storms to hit the southeast Asian nation in 20 years.

The resulting “extreme rainfall” could continue over the coming days, worsening the already precarious situation faced by many families, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in a statement

 “For the affected populations, their homes remain severely damaged, their food stocks have been lost, they have no access to clean water for drinking, washing and cooking; and water and sanitation systems have been damaged,” said the agency. 

Evacuation centres flooded

Thousands have been moved to evacuation centres, which are themselves flooded, resulting in difficult health and hygiene conditions for the displaced people, primarily women, children and elderly. Health centres have also been damaged, leaving without to access basic health care services. 

“Added to this is the trauma of the violent storms and rushing waters, that for a population where many cannot swim, creates fear and impacts mental wellbeing,” UNICEF added. 

The storm has also damaged vital infrastructure, including electricity and roads, leaving many communities cut off from assistance and protection. 

Affected populations 

An estimated 7.7 million people live in the affected areas, including as many as 1.5 million who have been “directly affected”, the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam said in a humanitarian  update late Wednesday. 

Of these, some 177,000 people considered vulnerable (poor or near-poor), should be prioritized for urgent humanitarian assistance, it added. 

Response 

According to the Resident Coordinator’s Office, UN agencies and partners are developing and will release a multi-sector response plan, within the coming days, to support emergency relief efforts. 

In the immediate term, UNICEF has mobilized to provide emergency water, nutrition, sanitation, education and protection support, it said in the statement. It is also coordinating with Government agencies and humanitarian actors to reach the most vulnerable and those most affected. 

The Vietnamese army has also deployed troops and vehicles for search and rescue missions. 

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Human Rights

Poland ‘slammed the door shut’ on legal and safe abortions

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A group of UN independent human rights experts have denounced a court ruling in Poland that bans abortions on the grounds of fatal or severe foetal impairment, effectively “slamming the door shut” on safe and legal pregnancy terminations.  

In a statement on Tuesday, the rights experts also called on the Polish authorities to safeguard the rights of men and women protesting against the ruling. 

Across the country, thousands have taken to the streets in protest over last Thursday’s ruling by the country’s Constitutional Court. 

According to the experts, with the court verdict, Poland has “effectively slammed the door shut” on legal abortion for women in the country. It is estimated that currently 98 per cent of all legal abortions in the country are performed on the grounds of severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus. 

“Poland has decided to sacrifice women’s human right to safe and legal health services for termination of pregnancy, on account of protection of the right to life of the unborn, in violation of its international human rights obligations,” they said. 

‘Devastating consequences’ for women and girls 

The ruling will have “devastating consequences for women and adolescent girls” in need of such terminations, especially those who are socio-economically disadvantaged and migrant women who are undocumented, who do not have the the means to go abroad for abortion services, they said. 

Before the ruling, Poland had already one of Europe’s most restrictive abortion laws, made even more restrictive in practice with serious barriers and stigma, according to the rights experts.

Termination of pregnancy was permitted in three circumstances only: risk to the life or health of the pregnant woman; severe and irreversible impairment of the foetus; or pregnancy as a result of a prohibited act. 

Decision ‘clearly against’ human rights standards 

The experts highlighted that international human rights mechanisms have clearly recognized women’s right to abortion in cases of fatal foetal impairment and that States have to provide for termination of pregnancy in such cases as the lack of access constitutes, inter alia, a violation of the right to be free from inhuman treatment. 

As a State Party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (since 1977) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (since 1980), Poland has legal obligation to uphold these international human rights standards, stressed the experts.  

International human rights mechanisms recognize women’s right to access safe and legal abortion as necessary for the protection of women’s dignity and equality and implicit in the right to equality, right to private life, right to be free from inhuman treatment and the right to the highest attainable standards, they said, adding that the decision of the Constitution Court “clearly goes against these standards.” 

“It cannot be justified by invoking the protection of the right to life, as the right to life and all other human rights under international human rights law are accorded to those who have been born,” the experts said. 

“Those who believe that personhood commences at the time of conception have the freedom to act in accordance with their beliefs but not to impose their beliefs on others through the legal system.” 

‘Politicization’ leads to discrimination 

The rights experts also pointed out that the “instrumentalization” and “politicization” of women’s bodies and health leads to discrimination against them, particularly in relation to their right to access health services and the resulting preventable ill health, including maternal mortality and morbidity. 

The experts voicing their concern included the Special Rapporteurs on violence against women; the right to physical and mental health; and cultural rights, as well as the members of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. The experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.   

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Environment

2020 Climate Action Award winners shine ray of hope

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Cycling avenues aim to shift urban infrastructure to sustainable, zero-emission transport. Image: C40 Cities Finance Facility

In a year that has cast darkness upon many, the 2020 UN Global Climate Action Awards, announced on Tuesday, shone a light on the positive action that many across the globe are taking, to combat climate change.

While COVID-19 is the world’s most clear and present danger, climate change is a menace that threatens all future generations, according to the head of the UN climate change convention.

“The last eight months have been a nightmare for many throughout the world”, said UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, pointing out that the pandemic has “altered lives, economies and the nature of business on every continent—from the largest cities to the smallest villages”. 

And while it is “the most urgent threat facing humanity today”, she quickly added, “we cannot forget that climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity over the long term.”

Building sustainably

The UNFCCC chief attested that the convergence of these two crises has “opened a window of opportunity to build forward – to build cities and communities that are safe, healthy, green and sustainable”. 

“Nothing exemplifies this better than the efforts of our 2020 award-winning activities to address climate change”, she upheld.

This year’s award-winning projects demonstrate leadership on climate change by nations, businesses, investors, cities, regions and civil society as a whole. 

They range from the Caribbean’s only carbon-neutral hotel, to the world’s inaugural green bonds platform and the first all-women solar team in Lebanon.

Secretary-General António Guterres congratulated the winners, saying that they “provide tangible proof that climate action is under way around the world”.

“It is exciting to see these climate solutions, which reinforce my call for decisive leadership on climate change by Governments, businesses and cities, and for a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic”, stated the UN chief. “Let us keep pressing ahead to build a more sustainable and equitable future for all”.

Spearheading momentum

As Governments work toward implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the awards are part of a wider effort to mobilize climate action and ambition. 

They also set the stage for two upcoming climate change events. The Race To Zero Dialogues, from 9 to19 November, will serve as critical input to the UNFCCC Climate Dialogues to advance work governing the rules of the Paris Agreement, which runs from 23 November to 4 December.

The UN Global Climate Action Awards are spearheaded by the Momentum for Change initiative at UN Climate Change and each project presents an innovative solution that both addresses climate change and helps drive progress on other SDGs. 

“It is crucial we celebrate all actors who are leading the way,” said Gabrielle Ginér, Chair of the Advisory Panel

“The recipients of the UN Global Climate Action Awards send a strong political signal to all nations – and through their leadership and creativity, we see essential change”. The 2020 winning activities, selected by an international Advisory Panel, can be found here

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