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Amid Mixed Progress, More Diversified Finance, Investment in Data Key for Advancing Sustainable Development, Deputy Secretary-General Tells World Bank Board Meeting

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the World Bank board meeting on progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in New York today:

It is my pleasure to meet with you today in these extraordinary times.  Not since the Second World War have so many people across the world had to deal simultaneously with such disruption and unpredictability.  And not since the same period has multilateralism faced such a stern test — a test of the readiness of States to take global actions commensurate with our global interdependence; and of international organizations to deliver swift, coherent and tailored support to countries to help them respond and recover from this crisis.

The United Nations development system and the World Bank Group are among the main actors in this area.  I look forward to discussing with you today cooperation between our organizations as we accompany governments on their daunting, sustainable development journey.

This year is the first in what is intended to be a dynamic Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.  The Decade was deemed necessary because, even before the COVID-19 crisis, Member States acknowledged that our collective efforts since 2015 were coming up short.

It is true, as you will have seen from the Secretary-General’s SDG Progress Report, that we have made some gains:  maternal and child health continued to improve; the incidence of many communicable diseases was in decline; and access to safe drinking water and reliable energy had improved.  We have also seen high interest and early investments by Governments and stakeholders in meeting the Goals.

But, in many areas, progress has been much too slow.  We were not on track to meet a host of headline targets on eradicating poverty, reducing inequality — particularly gender inequality — or securing universal access to education, sanitation, health, housing, social protection, justice or legal identity.

In some areas, we are even going backwards.  The number of people suffering from food insecurity and hunger has risen, the natural environment continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate, and we have not managed to bend the curve on greenhouse‑gas emissions.  With COVID-19, the imperative of the SDGs is now starkly clear, and the path to fulfil the goals even more challenging.

The latest data leave us with three simple conclusions.  First, the vulnerabilities that have made this crisis so devastating correspond to massive gaps in SDG implementation.  If we had better social protection; more universal health coverage; fewer people constantly on the brink of financial ruin; a development model that was not at war with nature; more effective governance; strong institutions; and more financing and international cooperation, we would have greater resilience and a more effective global response.

Second, the solution to this crisis lies not in reverting to the way things were beforehand, but in fully aligning decision-making during the response and recovery — whether nationally or internationally — with the requirements of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Failure to do so will simply exacerbate our problems.  Our world will become more unstable and more unequal.  Divisions and grievances will grow larger.  And climate impacts and biodiversity loss will reach levels far beyond our capacity to adapt.

Third, the only way to a better recovery and to deliver on the SDGs is through an accelerated, ambitious and focused phase of implementation.  That is the purpose of the Decade of Action.  It calls for a global movement for people and planet that draws on the full range of actors, from media and civil society to business and local government.  That includes strengthened collaboration and action from the United Nations development system and the World Bank Group.

As you know, in 2017, the Secretary-General launched a series of major reforms to make the United Nations more efficient, effective, accountable and transparent.  At the heart of the reform lies a new Resident Coordinator system and a new generation of United Nations country teams.  Since January 2019, development coordination has been a full-time, impartial function, and Resident Coordinators, as the Secretary-General’s representatives in the field, have greater authority, capacities and tools to coordinate a coherent United Nations response to the 2030 Agenda.

This transformation has shifted the United Nations development system to a more integrated working model, making better use of expertise and assets at the global, regional and country levels, with greater accountability for results; making us, at the same time, better partners in development.  COVID-19 has demonstrated the utility of these reforms to fundamentally change the approach of the United Nations at country and regional levels.

And it is precisely through the leadership of Resident Coordinators and tailored United Nations country teams, in which we encourage the full and active engagement of the World Bank, that we believe the United Nations can provide Governments and partners with the kind of support needed for the Decade of Action.

While the United Nations development system has its own unique advantages, it is clear that we also need a solid and synergistic relationship with our other multilateral partners at all levels, for the scale of the response needed to reach the Goals.

Chief among these is the World Bank.  Over the past three years, we have engaged with World Bank leadership around a number of shared priorities.  We have seen a strengthened relationship at the country level.  The Bank’s support for the Goals can make a powerful difference at country level.  But, if developing countries are to eradicate poverty and reduce inequality, then they will need the Bank to fully embrace the paradigm shift at the core of the SDGs.  That requires a different approach to supporting Governments.  I see three areas where our cooperation can and must be further enhanced.

First, financing.  The World Bank is a major institutional stakeholder in the intergovernmental process on financing for sustainable development, and is also engaging in the follow-up of the High-Level Initiative of the Secretary‑General, and the Prime Ministers of Canada and Jamaica, on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.  These collaborations are welcome and should be intensified, especially at the country level.

To achieve the SDGs, we need to help Governments to mobilize and align a wide range of financing sources — public and private, domestic and international — with the country’s sustainable development priorities.  Working with the World Bank Group and other partners, we can help national authorities to increase transparency and identify the means to increase tax revenue, improve spending efficiency, manage debt in a sustainable fashion, create enabling environments that promote SDG‑aligned private sector development, and leverage development cooperation.

The current context also is an opportunity to collaborate in co-designing response measures that reach the most vulnerable and marginalized.  We must meet this demand from countries with cooperation that brings together the expertise, tools and relationships of our organizations and others such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Union, in support of country-led processes, driven by integrated national financing strategies.

Let me turn now to a second area:  data.  The SDG Progress Report demonstrates the immense value of timely and disaggregated data and statistics.  There are a number of areas where we are already collaborating with the World Bank that are ripe for greater ambition.  The World Bank is one of four core partners of the Data4Now training and capacity-building initiative.  The United Nations and World Bank also recently completed a survey that assessed the data needs of countries and national statistics offices for the current crisis and to ensure accelerated actions towards the SDGs.

More investment is needed to strengthen information systems and to close gaps in digital literacy and in soft and hard infrastructure.  The United Nations has started a dialogue, with the World Bank in the lead, to launch a joint data funding facility that can bring together the resources of all multilateral, bilateral and private donors in this area.  Financing will be crucial.  Collaboration is also ongoing on the topic of legal identity, with country assessment missions completed for 3 of the 10 pilot countries.  It is essential that this work move forward more rapidly, given the degree to which access to legal identity shapes so many life opportunities.

A third area that should be a priority in our cooperation is refining our work in countries undergoing transition or experiencing fragility.  Pandemics, like other shocks, tend to exacerbate drivers of fragility and conflict, and we must be especially attentive to the needs of States already working to prevent or emerge from violent conflict.  The United Nations has welcomed the Bank’s Fragility, Conflict and Violence Strategy, which was published in March of this year, as well as the accompanying envelope under the nineteenth replenishment negotiations of the International Development Association.  These tools create an important entry point for closer collaboration with the United Nations.

I hope that in the coming months, we will see the United Nations and World Bank working closely together with Governments to implement the Bank’s new Prevention and Resilience Allocation, for example in Burkina Faso, Mali and elsewhere, as well as other relevant instruments.

We should aim for joint approaches that link nationally owned prevention strategies, World Bank support and United Nations planning, including for transition and drawdown of peace operations.  Risk and resilience assessments should also be done routinely in partnership with the United Nations, in order to determine how best to leverage our respective comparative advantages in the field.

On the United Nations side, we are providing surge support to a growing number of field offices to support their partnership with the World Bank group at this critical time, and to enable planning that is risk-informed and conflict‑sensitive.  Our primary entry point in all countries is the common country analysis and the United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework.  In some countries, the World Bank Group already actively engages in joint analysis and planning to ensure coherence in our investments at the country level.

In Lebanon, for example, we are jointly conducting the common country analysis and the systematic country diagnostic to define a common understanding of how to address the present crisis and engage strategically on the 2030 Agenda.  This is an initial step towards aligning the future Cooperation Framework and the country’s first national development plan in three decades towards strengthening the humanitarian and development response, including in relation to civic space, governance and institutional support.

We look forward to similar strong collaboration in other countries as we invest in strengthening our relationship where it matters most.  I encourage the Bank to focus in particular on strategic engagement between the United Nations Development Coordination Office and the World Bank country support and operations leadership team for a more systematic benchmarked partnership between our teams in the field.

We also look forward to an opportunity before the end of the year for follow up on our discussions and agreements here today.

This year, in which we mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations must also mark a new departure for the Organization towards a more networked and inclusive multilateralism.  Our relationship with the World Bank will be crucial and we look forward to continued engagement and more effective collaboration.  With that new departure lies our chance to make COVID-19 a turning point and catalyst for accelerated action to deliver the SDGs.

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