At the conclusion of the fourth meeting of the Forum of the Countries on Sustainable Development, government representatives reaffirmed the dire urgency of building fair, sustainable societies that would tackle inequality and guarantee citizenship and rights, and of acting together as a region to ensure access to vaccines for the entire population.
Representatives from the governments of the 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, from 20 United Nations agencies, funds and programs, intergovernmental organizations, financial institutions in the region, and the academic and private sectors reaffirmed today their commitment to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to confronting the difficulties arising from the crisis unleashed by the COVID-19 pandemic with the aim of building forward better, at the conclusion of the fourth meeting of the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development.
In addition to governments and UN system agencies, the participants in the high-level meeting – which took place virtually on March 15-18 under the presidency of Costa Rica – included 24 intergovernmental organizations, 21 financial institutions from the region, 118 people from the academic sector and 38 from the private sector, as well as more than 440 representatives of civil society in the region, parliaments and local authorities. In total, 9,608 people connected to the event: 3,400 via zoom and 6,200 on social media.
The meeting came to an end with a closing roundtable entitled “Building an inclusive and effective pathway to achieve the 2030 Agenda within the context of the decade of action and post-pandemic recovery from COVID-19”, which was moderated by Christian Guillermet-Fernández, Deputy Minister for Multilateral Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship of Costa Rica, and featured the participation of Juan Sandoval Mendiolea, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations and Chair of the Group of Friends on Voluntary National Reviews; María José Lubertino, focal point of the Southern Cone regional group of the Mechanism for Civil Society Participation in the Sustainable Development Agenda and in the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development; Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA); Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (via video); and Luis Felipe López-Calva, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Alicia Bárcena, who served as the meeting’s host, was in charge of concluding the debates. In her closing remarks, the senior UN official highlighted that the Forum of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean on Sustainable Development is the space that allows the region to speak with its own identity about its realities, its specificities, recognizing its rich diversity while at the same time encouraging shared aspirations and making them converge.
“Once again, our region has given evidence of its enormous commitment to unity, cooperation, multilateralism and to a transformative recovery, which is a key requisite for implementation of the 2030 Agenda. We leave with the responsibility bestowed on us by the regional consensus reached here, which reaffirms the dire urgency of building fair, sustainable societies that would tackle inequality and guarantee citizenship and rights,” she declared.
ECLAC’s Executive Secretary also stressed the undeniable urgency of acting together as a region to ensure access to vaccines and to share capacities and experiences so that the vaccination against COVID-19 reaches the entire population. “This is a necessary and indispensable precondition for a transformative recovery with equality and sustainability,” she indicated.
“We have heard it in this meeting and I reaffirm it today: there is nowhere to return to. We have to move towards a different future. Latin America and the Caribbean cannot continue to tolerate the structural injustice that distinguishes the region. It is time to put an end to the culture of privilege, inequalities and to eradicate poverty in all its forms. The priority must be on employment with rights and on building a future with full rights to universal social protection,” Bárcena underscored.
In his remarks, Ambassador Juan Sandoval Mendiolea recognized that this Forum has been a very fruitful and positive space in the context of the crisis we are living through. “The pandemic gives us the opportunity to implement policies that progressively lead us towards greater social equality,” he indicated. “Multilateralism is the proper route for seeking solutions to shared problems and the 2030 Agenda is our common path, and we should take advantage of it.”
María José Lubertino stressed the importance of having governments in the region consider utilizing civic participation mechanisms to address the problems that have afflicted Latin American societies, even before the pandemic emerged. “We want to request a paradigm shift. We seek to have a common voice in our diversity. This change must be based on more democracy, human rights, equality, and harmony with nature. Our voice must be heard,” she declared.
Elliot Harris, meanwhile, explained that the difficulties in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not only due to a lack of resources, but also to policy failures. This should be a priority for the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, he indicated. In this area, efforts in terms of national financing should be aimed at aligning public policy with the SDGs, job creation, collaboration with the private sector, and social protection. “We must have a social security system for all. In the latest major crises, the countries that implemented robust social protection systems suffered a much less severe deterioration in their citizens’ lives and income. This is critical… Governments must preserve the emergency measures for COVID-19 and transform them into permanent systems,” he emphasized.
In a message sent to the Forum, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, made an emphatic call for prioritizing human rights in all areas. “It has been very hard to see the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and groups who are marginalized and discriminated against… The socioeconomic and humanitarian crisis that is developing due to the pandemic runs the risk of further deepening the social discontent that already existed in various countries of the region,” she indicated.
“Millions of people are being left behind. If we are really going to build back better, we have just one path: we need to anchor our efforts in human rights, building a new social contract with opportunities for all, women and men alike, as the UN Secretary-General encourages us to do. This is precisely the message that this regional Forum should send to the High-level Political Forum of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC),” Bachelet stated.
In his remarks, Luis Felipe López-Calva noted that the recovery in the region is a huge challenge and is uncertain. For it to come about in a sustainable way, it is necessary to ensure equitable access to universal vaccination campaigns. “There will be no recovery until everyone is immunized,” he stressed. He added that it is important to support governments of the region on their financing needs, mitigate the impact on the productive fabric and support microenterprises, above all, move towards an inclusive digitalization, and restart educational systems as soon as possible to recuperate social cohesion mechanisms for the recovery.
During an earlier session on the third and final day of the Forum on Sustainable Development 2021, Alicia Bárcena and Luis Felipe López-Calva also presented the Regional Knowledge Platform on the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean (SDG Gateway) and the issue-based coalitions and work groups. This is a joint effort by the 22 UN agencies, funds and programs in the region, coordinated by ECLAC, which contains clear references to Latin America and the Caribbean’s institutional architecture for implementation of the 2030 Agenda at a regional level and coordination mechanisms, and which allows countries – and United Nations country teams – to obtain specialized knowledge to respond to national needs arising in relation to this roadmap.
At the end of the fourth meeting of the Forum, the participating delegates approved a document with 94 conclusions and recommendations that will be taken to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2021, which is held under the auspices of ECOSOC. They include calling upon the international community to reinforce measures aimed at addressing specific challenges that hindered achievement of some SDG targets by the year 2020, such as those to protect biodiversity, develop disaster risk reduction strategies, increase the availability of timely, quality and disaggregated data, foster youth participation, and enhance financial resources, capacity-building and technology transfer to developing countries.
Furthermore, the countries express their solidarity with all people and countries affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and offer their condolences and sympathy to the families of victims of the pandemic and to those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by it.
In addition, they reaffirm their support for international cooperation, multilateralism and solidarity in the global response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences, and emphasize that multilateralism is not an option but rather a necessity for our task of recovering and building back better to achieve a more equal, more resilient and more sustainable world.
Similarly, they reaffirm their renewed commitment to end poverty in all its forms and dimensions and to end hunger everywhere; to continue promoting sustainable development, including inclusive economic growth, protecting the environment and promoting social inclusion; to combat inequalities within and among countries; as well as to respect and promote all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.
They also described the role of ECLAC as an essential component of the United Nations development system and welcomed the Regional Knowledge Platform on the 2030 Agenda in Latin America and the Caribbean (SDG Gateway) along with the fourth report on regional progress and challenges in relation to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Latin America and the Caribbean, entitled Building forward better: Action to strengthen the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which the Commission presented at this Forum.