United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC): Urgent attention needed for the Caribbean to achieve the 2030 agenda and the SDGs during COVID-19 crisis and beyond

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The implementation of the 2030 Agenda is at stake and decades of progress in human development are at risk of being reversed if more attention is not given to supporting Caribbean countries in their pursuit of sustainable development, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) stressed on Tuesday, 12 May.

The COVID-19 pandemic is occurring at a time when Caribbean countries are already facing tremendous challenges in implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) given their unique vulnerability to external shocks, their high levels of indebtedness, limited access to concessional funding due to their middle-income status, their inability to counter blacklisting, compounded by the need for fiscal adjustments and debt restructuring, all within the context of their high exposure to climate change and extreme weather events, with a new hurricane season starting in two weeks’ time, Bárcena added.

The Executive Secretary of ECLAC chaired a virtual extraordinary meeting of the Community of Practice to offer support to those Caribbean countries that are preparing to present their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) to the 2020 session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), scheduled to be held in July. The event was moderated by the Director of ECLAC’s sub regional headquarters for the Caribbean, Diane Quarless, and included the participation of high-level authorities and national focal points for the 2030 Agenda of Barbados, Jamaica (as observer), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. The United Nations Resident Coordinators covering these countries, as well as experts from ECLAC’s Caribbean sub regional office and headquarters in Santiago participated, as did other representatives of the United Nations system.

In her remarks, the Executive Secretary recognized the commendable efforts being made by Caribbean countries to present their VNRs this year in such challenging times, this effort demonstrating the sub region’s unequivocal commitment to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“The process of inter-ministerial coordination, multi-stakeholder consultation and multi-dimensional analysis to account for the progress made in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which is already a complex task, becomes even more challenging in the context of a COVID-19 crisis, which is characterized by limited contact, competing priorities and huge economic, social, technological and human challenges”, she stressed.

In her presentation, the Executive Secretary noted that only 10 years remain for countries to meet the objectives of the 2030 Agenda, and that there are already warning signs regarding the achievement of the SDGs. In this regard, she informed that ECLAC had analyzed progress on implementation of the 17 SDGs in the region, by reviewing 72 statistical series of indicators. These showed that 4 targets have already been reached; 15 are likely to be reached given current trends; 8 need more public policy intervention; 13 need significant public policy intervention; 27 are at a standstill; and 5 are suffering setbacks.

She concluded that, in light of its impact on economic, social and environmental matters in the short and medium term, the COVID-19 pandemic represents the greatest challenge that the sub region has faced since the financial crisis of 2008 and a real threat to the region’s sustainable development path in the context of the 2030 Agenda.

In her intervention, the Honorable Marsha Caddle, Minister of Economic Affairs and Investment in the Ministry of Finance, Economic Affairs and Investment of Barbados, underscored that despite the very challenging prospect of contemplating the submission of a VNR in the current circumstances, the occasion presented an important opportunity to highlight how the pandemic is affecting the achievement of specific SDGs and to scale up investments needed for the country, particularly in social protection, fiscal and financial inclusion policies, and debt restructuring schemes to enable transition to carbon neutrality. “It is not a business as usual kind of discussion or moment, we are proposing to really focus on the SDGs impacted by COVID-19 and present opportunities to fast track achievements on the SDGs and on renewed partnerships (Goal 17)”.

Giselle Myers, Senior Economist, in the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning, Sustainable Development and Information Technology of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines highlighted the vision of her country to put people at the center of development, reiterating her government’s commitment to leave no one behind through the staging of a series of consultative processes for the VNR and through their continued effort to align their National Economic and Social Development Plan (2013 – 2025) with the 2030 Agenda.

Joanne Deoraj, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Planning and Development of Trinidad and Tobago, highlighted inextricable linkages between the SDGs and the National Development Strategy- Vision 2030, emphasizing a”whole of government” and”whole of society” approach, which has underscored the importance of collaboration and partnerships across the public sector, private sector, and civil society, including for the recovery plan post-COVID-19. Considering the pandemic and related challenges facing the country’s oil and gas sector, she also stressed the importance of ensuring that SDG progress is maintained, and every effort made to build resilience.

The Executive Secretary of ECLAC called on countries to incorporate in their VNRs any pre-existing or new challenges that might have emerged from the current situation. She reiterated the continuing, committed, and innovative support being offered by ECLAC and the United Nations system as a whole in assisting the countries in this process, as well as in building resilience and recovery post-COVID-19 and beyond, and in helping them to advocate for a new global economic architecture that will consider the restructuring of domestic and external debt of Caribbean small islands developing States (SIDS).

In this process, ECLAC has developed the COVID-19 Observatory with the support of the United Nations Resident Coordinators, which aims at offering analysis of the economic and social impacts of the pandemic and at monitoring the measures taken by the countries of the region to respond to the crisis. This is in addition to other tools and proposals, such as the SDG Gateway, a platform providing comprehensive information and data on the implementation and follow-up of the 2030 Agenda, and the ECLAC Debt for Climate Adaptation Swap Initiative, which is a response to the two most urgent development needs facing the Caribbean: debt and vulnerability.

“We must urgently move towards new development patterns that are oriented towards greater well-being, resilience, environmental sustainability, and inclusive and sustainable international governance based on the 2030 Agenda and other SIDS agenda as well as foster solidarity with Caribbean countries”, Bárcena concluded.