The UN and the EU: together for a sustainable future beyond the crisis

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The coronavirus an unprecedented wake-up call on the need for global action. The EU and international agencies must work together to shape a better future, writes Barbara Pesce-Monteiro. UNDP

The coronavirus an unprecedented wake-up call on the need for global action. The EU and international agencies must work together to shape a better future, writes Barbara Pesce-Monteiro.

Barbara Pesce-Monteiro is Director of the United Nations and UN Development Programme in Brussels

As multilateral organisations, states, NGOs and medical institutions try to step up efforts to protect lives from the pandemic, it is also fundamental to address its dramatic impact on our societies and economies.  To help shape a better future, sustainable development should be at the core of our action, and the current crisis emphasises the need to do so. Only recovery plans centred on the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, and grounded in human rights, can heal the wounds inflicted by COVID-19, while protecting us from other urgent global challenges. More than ever, we need the EU leading from the front in these efforts.

As underlined by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, in our interconnected world “we are only as strong as the weakest health system”. A truly global response in the short term is fundamental at this stage, and the UN has issued a humanitarian response plan and a call for a global ceasefire to protect the most vulnerable. The UN has reacted swiftly to protect human lives, both by providing WHO guidance and coordination in the medical response, and through the operations of UN humanitarian and development agencies in nearly all countries around the world.

In its external response to the virus, the EU has strongly supported the global response and has readily joined forces with the UN to save lives. For example, in the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood and Western Balkans, where the EU and the UN together provide protective equipment, medical supplies and technical assistance. Or in Libya, where they are jointly providing lifesaving supplies, but also ensuring access to potable drinking water, improving hygiene and prevention.

To succeed in defending lives and dignity, however, we must look beyond the short term. The virus worsens existing inequalities by affecting the most at risk: the poor, the homeless, the displaced, persons with disabilities, women and children who have to cope with the rise of domestic violence due to confinement, and sadly so many others. The climate crisis is still on, as heat records continue to be broken and sea levels rise, with stark consequences on socio-economic development, health, human rights, jobs, migration and displacement, food security and land and marine ecosystems.  Also, COVID-19 proves once again that risk is increasingly systemic, and our response requires systemic and preventive approaches. These challenges, at the heart of the 2030 Agenda and key international commitments signed by world leaders in 2015, are there to stay, and are likely to be worsened by the socio-economic downturn.

The IMF projects global growth to fall to -3% in 2020, a downgrade of 6.3% from January 2020. According to ILO, global working hours in Q2 2020 are expected to be 10.5% lower than in Q4 2019. This is equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs. These are just some of the daunting figures that promise huge impact on poverty and inequality, but also raise questions on whether governments will have the resources and political will to continue to invest in fairer and greener societies. The recovery phase should aim at building inclusive and sustainable economies that are more resilient in facing pandemics, climate change and the many other global challenges, to protect advancement towards the 2030 Agenda. The UN is working in this direction.

The role that the EU will play in the next months and years will be fundamental to ensure that this crisis is managed at the global level with a strong European presence and support, and that it does not impede our goal to achieve more sustainable, peaceful and just societies. The recovery will need green, inclusive, social, risk-informed, and innovative long-term solutions that put people and their rights front and centre, inside and outside Europe. Only a strong and balanced EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) in line with the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction can help countries put in place the building blocks for low-emission, resilient economies and societies. For this reason, the calls of the EU institutions to put the European Green Deal at the heart of the next EU budget need to be heard and supported, and a bigger role for the Sustainable Development Goals should be foreseen. Beyond the short-term health response, the next MFF will be key to support economic recovery through sustainable development and address the climate crisis, both in Europe and through strengthened ODA and humanitarian aid in non-EU countries, whose future is inextricably connected to the EU’s.

This crisis is an unprecedented wake-up call on the need for global action. Only by working together we can turn the recovery into an opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive future.

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