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Economic and Social Council Must Play Critical Role in Guiding Global Response to Pandemic, Says Incoming President, Opening 2022 Session

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ECOSOC/7064
23 JULY 2021

Organ Also Approves Provisional Agenda, Adopts Working Arrangements

The Economic and Social Council opened its 2022 session today with its incoming President emphasizing the critical role that it must play in guiding the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic and mobilizing international solidarity to achieve the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Stressing that the Council’s mission is no less important than that of the General Assembly or the Security Council, Collen Vixen Kelapile (Botswana) said that the 54-member organ must rise to the occasion and wage a spirited war against disease, poverty, inequality and the impacts of climate change, in addition to mobilizing global action to speed up implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development despite setbacks inflicted by the ongoing pandemic.

The theme of this year’s session — “Building back better from COVID-19 while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda” — is at the heart of the lives of people around the world, yet many developing countries are bearing the brunt and severity of the pandemic, he said. They also face an acute lack of financial resources and urgent access to life-saving vaccines to support their response efforts.

“When we work together, our ability to overcome hardship is unparalleled,” he said as he outline the broad pillars that will underpin his Presidency — a swift recovery from the coronavirus; ensuring fiscal space for COVID-19 response and recovery efforts; reducing inequalities within and between countries; post‑conflict development; scaling up support for science, technology and innovation; tackling the climate crisis and biodiversity loss; encouraging inclusivity and partnerships; and promoting youth participation.

Looking ahead to the next high-level political forum on sustainable development, in July 2022, he said that it will take stock of the pandemic’s ongoing impact on the Goals, with a particular focus on Goal 4 on education, Goal 5 on gender, Goal 14 on oceans, Goal 15 on biodiversity and Goal 17 on means of implementation and partnerships. He expected the forum to adopt, hopefully by consensus, a strong declaration featuring a limited number of recommendations for transformation policy actions while also emphasizing international solidarity and multilateralism, given the challenges facing today’s world.

Munir Akram (Pakistan), the outgoing President of the Economic and Social Council, said his tenure at the helm coincided with the “greatest economic and social crisis that has confronted the world in a century”. Thousands of people were dying daily from COVID-19, hundreds of thousands were infected, trade ground to a halt and the global economy fell into a deep recession. During the same period, the development of a vaccine began to offer a glimmer of hope, and the Council found itself at the centre of the intense international discourse on ways to respond to the pandemic — while at the same time remaining true to the targets of the 2030 Agenda.

“These unprecedented challenges required new, bold and creative responses from the world community,” he said, noting that over the past year the Council made significant contributions to the global response. In particular, it laid out the actions needed to provide “a vaccine for all”. Its deliberations reached agreement on measures for financing recovery from the pandemic and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, while also drawing attention to the special needs of the world’s least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States. It reviewed the systemic causes of inequality and identified concrete ways to utilize science, technology and innovation — especially digitalization — to advance the 2030 Agenda.

Noting that the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) again stated, just this week, that “the world is failing the test of solidarity” in providing vaccines to all, he said the burden of debt is triggering the collapse of weaker economies even as richer countries begin to recover. Meanwhile, action on climate and the environment “hangs in the balance”, and there remains no assurance that developed countries will fulfil their promise to provide $100 billion in climate finance annually. “Unless there are visible steps taken towards international solidarity […] the achievement of the Paris Agreement will be in jeopardy,” he warned, adding that the Council has a responsibility — in line with its United Nations Charter mandate — to mobilize global solidarity and cooperation in that critical arena.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, recalled that the latest high-level political forum on Sustainable Development, held in New York from 6 to 15 July, underscored the urgency of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic while also pushing back against a rising tide of poverty, hunger and inequality. In the current context, the Sustainable Development Goals are more important than ever, as they serve as a compass to build equitable and sustainable societies which can be more resilient in the face of future crises. He added that without universal and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines, “building back better” and “leaving no-one behind” will only be a dream.

In other business today, the Council elected by acclamation the following Vice-Presidents of its 2022 session: Vitivas Srivihok (Thailand), from the Asia‑Pacific States; Diego Pary Rodríguez (Bolivia), from the Latin American and Caribbean States; and Jukka Salovaari (Finland), from the Western European and other States. The election of a Vice-President from the Eastern European States was deferred to a later date.

Mr. Srivihok said that the organ must continue to strengthen its efforts to enhance coordination and coherence within and among its subsidiary bodies. Hopefully, its coordination segment will remove silos in the work of the United Nations system to promote a more integrated workflow, including through formulating common action-oriented policy guidance.

Mr. Pary Rodríquez welcomed the incoming President of the Council and thanked Mr. Akram for his work over the course of a uniquely challenging year. He pledged Bolivia’s commitment to continuing to strengthen the Council’s work and improve the lives of people around the globe.

China’s representative said that, under the leadership of outgoing President Akram, the Council was able to overcome many challenges posed by COVID-19 and helped countries around the globe grapple with the pandemic’s impact. However, the virus is still circulating, and many challenges remain. “We must strengthen solidarity and cooperation in helping [the Council] […] better live up to the expectations of Member States,” he said.

The representatives of Indonesia and the United States also took the floor to congratulate the incoming President and Vice-Presidents and thank the outgoing President for his dedicated work.

The Council also approved the provisional agenda for its 2022 session (document E/2022/1) and adopted the working arrangements for that session, contained in a draft resolution (document E/2022/L.1). In addition, members drew lots to decide the seating arrangements for the session. Germany was selected to take the first seat, with the remaining members continuing in English alphabetical order.