António Guterres spoke at the first high-stakes meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Operational Activities for Development segment at UN headquarters in New York, which he described as “an important first step” towards providing accelerated action to achieve the 17 ambitious SDGs, before the 2030 deadline.

“Weak and inadequate”

He said among the “fundamental goals” going in the wrong direction were reducing poverty and hunger. “Progress of another 50 percent is weak and insufficient,” he added.

He described a range of UN initiatives – from the emergency SDG Stimulus measure to scale up funding for countries in need, to the Black Sea Initiative to help countries suffering the effects of the war in Ukraine – which he said all served the broader purpose: getting the SDGs on track again.

Guterres praised the effectiveness of UN country teams around the world, leading the organization’s efforts for sustainable, inclusive development.

“No one could have foreseen, when the development reforms were introduced, that national teams would face such a challenging global environment.

“Nevertheless, four years later, the reforms have succeeded…Resident Coordinators bring together UN entities to support country priorities for the implementation of Agenda 2030“, he said.

“Financing chasm” for poorer nations

But when it comes to funding the agenda, he said investment has fallen short.

“Many developing countries simply cannot afford to invest in the SDGs because they face a funding chasm,” he said.

The financing gap amounted to 2.5 trillion dollars before the covid pandemic, but now stands at 4.2 trillion dollars, according to the OECD.

The UN chief impressed upon member states the need for an SDG stimulus of at least $500 billion a year and also noted that the UN’s own system for residents was “still chronically underfunded”.

Arms vs Development

Noting that the relatively “small investment” of $85 billion would support the stability of the UN development system, he contrasted this with the more than $2 trillion a year spent on military budgets.

“It is simply not credible to promise support for peace, if they are not prepared to invest a small fraction of this amount in sustainable development – the biggest prevention tool we have,” the UN chief said.

In conclusion, he said September’s SDG summit “must be a moment of unity to provide a renewed impetus and accelerated action to achieve the SDGs”, providing concrete progress and “a clear commitment to review the current international financial architecture.”

Saving the SDGs, ‘more important than ever’

ECOSOC Vice-President for Development Albert Chimbindi told the meeting that the key development segment took place “during one of the most challenging times in history”, with COVID 19 “still felt around the world”, amid new conflicts such as the war in Ukraine, which continue to disrupt energy markets, increase food insecurity and malnutrition.

“At the same time, the climate crisis and natural disasters continue to cause enormous economic damage, creates humanitarian crises in many countries“, he added.

Only collective action that addresses the interconnected crises will be effective, he warned, in the form of integrated and well-designed policies “with multiplier effects within and between countries.”

In a world in crisis, save Sustainable Development Goals is more important than ever,” he continued, adding that currently most of the 17 targets were moving backwards.

Saving and turbo-charging them, “must be our highest shared priority”, and the driving force behind the progress of the entire UN development system during the ECOSOC meetings in the coming weeks.