The UN headquarters in New York City on September 14 (XINHUA)
The importance of the development of societies gained global attention in the aftermath of World War II. The need for economic recovery and the birth of many nations as a result of decolonization emerged as cornerstone issues that would guide succeeding deliberations at the United Nations.
As early as the 1960s, with the first UN Development Decade (1961-70), and currently with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UN has made promoting development a central pillar of its work.
This prevailing development agenda has evolved in close connection with the need for international cooperation. As early as the late 1950s, the UN argued that development required a sustainable approach to policy formulation, and that policy decisions had to help bring about the structural and institutional changes needed to advance socioeconomic development.
Rather than merely identifying and adopting certain policies, the coordination of policies is a central challenge for policymakers. For this reason, international cooperation is considered the foundation for development, and progress requires political will and policy coherence at national and international levels.
The connection between international cooperation and development thus embodies how the UN has approached development challenges throughout the last 75 years.
The European Recovery Program (better known as the Marshall Plan) implemented after the end of World War II helped Western European countries reconstruct their economies and recover financial stability. The solidarity shown under the first UN Development Decade and under the Millennium Development Goals (2000-15) led to success in reaching key development outcomes, including poverty reduction. And today, the global coordinated effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 is integral to country efforts to address their social, economic and environmental challenges.
Even as the UN reflects and inspires international cooperation and development, the economic turbulence of the last decade is evidence that global mechanisms must be continually strengthened if they are to protect the most vulnerable countries and populations from the effects of crises.
The global financial crisis in 2008-09 and subsequent global economic turbulence in financial and economic markets ushered in an era of low growth, low investment, low inflation and low interest rates in developed countries. Anemic growth continues to challenge countries and the international community to achieve sustained and robust growth and an enabling environment for implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The macroeconomic concerns are compounded by large-scale trends such as population growth and population ageing, urbanization, technological change, inequality and climate change.
COVID-19 control materials donated by the United Nations Children's Fund are ready in Shanghai to be sent to Hubei, the hardest-hit province in China, on March 1 (XINHUA)
UN response to COVID-19
As the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic spread rapidly across countries, the UN mobilized a system-wide response, which is documented in its report, the UN Comprehensive Response to COVID-19.
The UN continues to provide support to countries around the world in tackling the compounding challenges emerging from the pandemic. The response has been motivated by the overriding objectives to reduce vulnerabilities to future pandemics; build resilience to future shocks including climate change; address systemic inequalities that have been exposed by the pandemic; and leave no one behind.
In pursuing these objectives, the UN's strategy is based on three pillars. The first pillar entails the delivery of a large-scale, coordinated and comprehensive health response. Guided by the World Health Organization, the UN is supporting measures to address the global health crisis, including accelerating efforts toward a COVID-19 vaccine, and expanding access to affordable diagnosis and treatment.
The second pillar involves the adoption of supportive policies to address the devastating impact of the crisis on socioeconomic, humanitarian and human rights conditions in many countries. The UN's humanitarian response to the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable countries has helped to save many lives.
In addition, the UN has called upon the Group of 20 members and the international financial institutions for debt relief and restructuring for the most vulnerable countries, particularly the least developed countries. It has also emphasized the need to prevent and respond to the increased violence against women and girls during this period.
The third pillar seeks a process that recovers better from the pandemic. Instead of returning to unsustainable practices, the world needs to step up efforts toward promoting more equal, inclusive and resilient economies as envisaged in the 2030 Agenda.
To achieve this, the UN is renewing calls for addressing key sustainable development issues, including the transition to renewable energy, sustainable food systems, gender equality, stronger social safety nets, and better preparedness for health emergencies.
The UN continues to stress the importance of creating an international cooperation architecture that can effectively address the problems and challenges of today.
Leveraging its experience and expertise, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has made significant contributions to the UN COVID-19 response, providing real-time assessment of the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic and identifying policy options for the member states to enhance resilience, manage the fallout of the crisis and recover better.
UN role after COVID-19
In the post-COVID-19 world, the UN will continue to play its central role in implementing the SDGs, facilitating dialogues and decision-making and supporting countries to translate intergovernmental consensus on sustainable development into actions on the ground.
The UN must also remain instrumental in facilitating the collection and sharing of development knowledge and data, which is critical in guiding the policy responses to the pandemic at every step, from response to recovery.
Yet, for the world to truly recover better, the international community must reexamine many longstanding assumptions about development and recalibrate the development paths that are not fully compatible with sustainable development. The UN can work with countries to pursue the development approaches that best fit the post-COVID-19 world.
For example, one key lesson from the COVID-19 crisis is that establishing robust universal healthcare and social protection systems must no longer be treated as objectives to be achieved in distant future, but rather as immediate goals.
We are at a historical juncture where there are immense opportunities to advocate policies that put people and the planet at the center. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the UN has been mobilized to conduct an impressive range of policy work. Not only has the UN system acted in a concerted manner, but we also act with a great sense of urgency. Indeed, policy actions taken now will determine how the world can transition to a fair and sustainable one that is capable of effectively managing future crises.
The UN also needs to work with the international community to reimagine the way countries cooperate. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of multilateral cooperation, as diseases know no boundaries. As the pandemic continues to inflict significant damages globally, the world needs a more inclusive and effective multilateralism—one that is based on the ideals and objectives enshrined in the UN Charter and other intergovernmental agreements, and built on trust that is based on international law.
It is critical that the UN system spearheads the efforts to build and maintain partnerships through a networked multilateral system, in which multilateral and regional organizations, civil society, businesses, academics, scientists and governments of all levels work together. The multilateral system must respond to the hopes, fears and insecurities of the people we serve. And only with that, the future we want can be secured.
The author is Under Secretary General, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
(Print Edition Title: Recovering Better, Rising Stronger)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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