UN chief calls for investments in decent jobs, social protection for fair recovery from COVID-19

Published September 29, 2021, 8:42 AM

by Xinhua

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday called for investments in decent jobs and social protection, and a just transition to net-zero emissions in order to allow fair recovery from COVID-19.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres JOHN THYS / AFP / POOL

The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a global economic and social crisis because of widespread failure to invest in social protection and basic services. A renewed social contract should be central to the recovery, he told a high-level event on jobs and social protection for poverty eradication.

“To break cycles of deprivation, we must invest strategically in decent jobs and climate action, underpinned by robust social protection systems. A just transition to sustainable energy has enormous potential to create employment and reduce inequalities of all kinds,” he said. “We need universal social protection by 2030, including universal health care, income protection, education and skills training, particularly for women and girls.” All stimulus packages and national budgets should be based on, or at least aligned with, the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change, said Guterres.

He called for much greater international solidarity in this regard.

“As part of our own efforts to support countries in all these areas, I am pleased to announce the creation of a new Global Accelerator for Jobs and Social Protection, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization,” he said.

The goal of the accelerator is to create at least 400 million jobs by 2030, primarily in the green and care economies, and to ensure that 50 percent of those who still lack minimum social protection are covered by 2025, he said.

Almost two years into the COVID-19 crisis, a huge divergence in the recovery is undermining global trust and solidarity. The pandemic has not only confirmed but deepened existing inequalities, he said.

In developed countries, access to vaccines has allowed economies to reopen, while stimulus payments and investments herald projected growth of 5 or 6 percent this year. In sub-Saharan Africa, that figure is just about 2.5 percent. A recent report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development forecast that the cumulative cost of delayed vaccination alone will amount to 2.3 trillion U.S. dollars by 2025, with developing countries bearing the brunt, said Guterres.

“This could lead not only to a lost decade for development, but to a lost generation of poorly educated, unemployed, disaffected young people,” he warned.

Across the developing world, the pandemic has caused lasting damage, while debt burdens prevent governments from investing in recovery. Advanced economies are investing nearly 28 percent of their gross domestic product into economic recovery. For middle- and low-income countries, that number is between 2 and 6.5 percent — a tiny proportion of a much smaller amount. Many of these same developing countries are facing the worst ravages of the climate crisis, which they did nothing to create, he said.

This uneven, unfair recovery is eroding trust between the developed and developing world — trust that is essential to global cooperation in other areas, he warned.

The pandemic is set to increase the number of extremely poor people by up to 224 million around the world. More than three-quarters of these “new poor” are in middle-income countries. Many developing countries face crippling debt service costs while their domestic budgets are stretched and their ability to raises taxes is reduced. These countries urgently need a helping hand. But many, particularly vulnerable middle-income countries, do not qualify for aid and debt relief under current rules, said Guterres.

He welcomed the recent issuance of 650 billion U.S. dollars in Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) by the International Monetary Fund. But obviously they are distributed, by quotas, largely to the countries that need them least. It is important that there is a significant amount of these SDRs to be rechanneled to the countries in greatest need. Likewise, the Group of 20’s Debt Service Suspension Initiative (DSSI), and the Common Framework for Debt Treatment, have the potential to ease the debt crisis. But they are not sufficient. The DSSI should be extended into next year, and made available to all middle-income countries that need it, he said.

The current dynamics of global debt mean rich countries can borrow cheaply and spend their way to recovery, while low- and middle-income countries struggle to keep their economies afloat. Without debt relief, many countries will be in an unsustainable financial situation. Their people will pay with their lives, and with years of poverty and hunger, for this failure of global solidarity, he said. “No government should be forced to choose between servicing its debts and serving its people.” Global cooperation is indispensable to building resilience to future shocks, through economies that work for everyone, said Guterres.

The high-level event coincides with the publication of Guterres’ policy brief on “Investing in Jobs and Social Protection for Poverty Eradication and a Sustainable Recovery.”