Latin American and Caribbean countries affirmed their commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to a transformative recovery that would place equality at the center of development in order to build a better world, and they called urgently for reinvigorating the regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially regarding equitable access to vaccines, during today’s inauguration of the fourth meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.
The event, being held virtually for the first time in history, brings together more than 1,200 representatives of government, civil society, international organizations, the private sector and academia, who will be reviewing through Thursday, March 18 the progress and challenges related to the 2030 Agenda’s implementation in Latin America and the Caribbean – the developing region most affected by COVID-19 from a health, economic and social standpoint.
The opening ceremony was led by Carlos Alvarado, President of Costa Rica, which currently holds ECLAC’s presidency pro tempore; Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN); Munir Akram, President of the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); and Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
In his remarks, President Carlos Alvarado emphasized that the global architecture is facing a period of imbalance and tensions, but he expressed his conviction that solidarity and international cooperation are the only real way out of both the health crisis and the climate and financial crisis.
He added that the Forum on Sustainable Development makes sense to the extent that Latin America and the Caribbean, as a region, is able to tackle challenges and seek joint solutions on the basis of unity. “Only by being together can we move forward,” he underscored.
Meanwhile, the UN Deputy Secretary-General, Amina Mohammed, indicated that the region’s people and economies have been hit hard by COVID-19, a pandemic that threatens to prompt another lost decade in terms of progress on development, undermining collective plans to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“The challenges ahead are significant, but Latin America and the Caribbean has the capacity to drive transformative change over the next ten years. The United Nations will remain your steadfast partner at this pivotal moment in building a better future for all,” she affirmed.
Meanwhile, Munir Akram, President of ECOSOC, stated that in order to confront the current crisis, equality in access to the COVID-19 vaccine and in its distribution must be ensured, for the wealthy and the poor, and it must reach people as soon as possible because otherwise, the virus will return.
“The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, and ECLAC, their Organization, have a critical role to play in the task of promoting a transition towards a more egalitarian, dynamic and prosperous world,” he declared.
In her opening speech, Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, stressed that COVID-19 has magnified serious structural problems and has reaffirmed the unsustainability of Latin America and the Caribbean’s development model.
She warned that the discouraging figures on health, economic and social matters recorded in 2020 are a wake-up call for the region and the international community regarding the risk of failing to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s targets in the medium and long term.
ECLAC’s highest authority recalled that the pandemic has prompted the biggest economic contraction in 120 years, with a 7.7% drop in GDP in the region, and while a 3.7% rebound is expected for 2021, we will still be far from recovering the economic activity levels seen in 2019. This scenario has had a sharp impact on the labor market, with an unemployment rate of 10.6% in 2020, affecting 44 million more people, which is tantamount to a lost decade.
In 2020, poverty and extreme poverty reached levels that had not been observed in Latin America for the last 12 and 20 years, respectively. The extreme poverty rate notched 12.5% while the poverty rate encompassed 33.7% of the population, affecting a total of 78 million and 209 million people, respectively.
She specified that in 2020 the income Gini rose 2.9% versus 2019 and added that the pandemic exposed the gaps in digital connectivity: more than 42 million households have no Internet connection.
“Above all, this crisis has the face of a woman. That is why we have called for moving towards a care society, in which we take care of the planet, of people, of those who care for us, and also take care of ourselves. This is the basis of what we call a sustainable transformation with equality. It is an urgent and civilizational change,” Alicia Bárcena emphasized.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary stressed that in this context, and in light of the Decade of Action launched by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, the region must get behind strategic sectors that favor the creation of inclusive employment, technological innovation and that promote a green, low-carbon productive transformation.
She pinpointed that ECLAC has identified 8 priority sectors that could drive progress towards the SDGs and a sustainable recovery in a cross-cutting way: 1) Transformation of the energy matrix towards renewable energy; 2) Sustainable mobility; 3) Inclusion and the digital revolution; 4) The health-care manufacturing industry; 5) The bioeconomy and nature-based solutions; 6) Valuing and expanding the care economy; 7) The circular economy; and 8) Sustainable tourism.
During her presentation, Alicia Bárcena highlighted the region’s commitment to sustainable development and pointed up the relevance of the 35 voluntary reviews that 24 of the region’s countries presented between 2016 and 2020 before the High-level Political Forum, which takes place each July at the United Nations headquarters in New York, to detail their efforts on implementing the agenda.
“In 2021, 11 countries will present their voluntary national reviews for the first time, even in this context of extreme complexity. This shows our region’s enormous commitment to the 2030 Agenda,” she highlighted.
In her speech, ECLAC’s Executive Secretary also underlined the urgency of middle-income countries obtaining international financing under more favorable conditions to respond to the urgent need to have liquidity to face the challenges imposed by COVID-19. In that sense, she recalled the five actions that the Commission has proposed to address financing for development challenges in the short and medium term.
During this first day of the fourth meeting of the Forum, Alicia Bárcena presented the fourth report on regional progress and challenges in relation to the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean, entitled Building forward better: Action to strengthen the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which analyzes trends under way in economies and societies globally, the challenges linked to the health crisis, and which assesses its economic, social and environmental repercussions in the region.
The document recognizes the challenge of vaccination as the central focus of our present situation and reveals that the current inoculation campaign in Latin American and Caribbean countries is advancing at three different speeds, which may lead to herd immunity being delayed until as late as 2023. To avoid this scenario, ECLAC proposes strengthening regional coordination mechanisms in order to acquire vaccines; promoting the full functioning of the COVAX initiative; campaigns to raise awareness for the population that does not want to be vaccinated; negotiations with countries that will have an excess of vaccines; information exchange on best practices in the vaccination process; and making intellectual property regimes more flexible.
The report also notes that previous trends indicating that the comprehensive nature of the 2030 Agenda was in jeopardy have been exacerbated by the pandemic, and nearly two-thirds of its targets will be unattainable if the development model is not substantially changed.
In addition, it links short-term policy proposals with strategic actions for resolving structural problems. Within countries, a key role is granted to public investment, reducing the technological gaps with advanced economies, and building a welfare state. The document identifies the policies and sectors that are capable of leading this transformation. This domestic effort must go hand in hand with a new multilateral order in which financing for development, continued fiscal expansion for sustainable and inclusive growth, and the fight against climate change all support attainment of the 2030 Agenda’s goals.