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Financial transparency, 'sound governance and accountability’ essential to reach Global Goals

“As an international community committed to addressing inequality and advancing sustainable development, we must put in place the very principles of transparency, sound governance, and accountability that we so often champion”, Volkan Bozkir said at the release of the Report of the High-Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI). 

Putting sound principles in place 

In the Financial Integrity for Sustainable Development report, the FACTI Panel recommends that governments finance critical action on extreme poverty, COVID-19 and the climate crisis by recovering billions of dollars lost through tax abuse, corruption and money-laundering. 

“Developing countries could not afford to lose resources during the best of times and they certainly cannot afford to now, in the midst of the COVID crisis”, attested the Assembly President.  

Noting that as much as 2.7 per cent of the global GDP is laundered annually, the FACTI Panel is calling on governments to agree to a Global Pact for Financial Integrity for Sustainable Development. 

Making the case 

Pointing out that corporations shopping for tax-free jurisdictions cost governments up to $600 billion a year, the Panel flagged the need for stronger laws and institutions to prevent corruption and money laundering and advocated for those enabling financial crimes to face punitive sanctions. 

The report also calls for greater transparency around company ownership, public spending and stronger international cooperation to prosecute bribery and to increase tax levels on giant digital corporations. 

“A corrupt and failing financial system robs the poor and deprives the whole world of the resources needed to eradicate poverty, recover from COVID and tackle the climate crisis”, said FACTI co-chair and former president of Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaitė. 

Ibrahim Mayaki, FACTI co-chair and former prime minister of Niger, added that “closing loopholes that allow money laundering, corruption and tax abuse…are steps in transforming the global economy for the universal good”. 

Cutting tax avoidance 

At a time when billionaires’ wealth soared by 27.5 per cent and COVID-19 has pushed 131 million into poverty, the report notes that a tenth of the world’s wealth could be hidden in offshore financial assets – preventing governments from collecting their fair share of taxes.  

Recovering annual loss to tax avoidance and evasion would, for example, allow Bangladesh to expand its social safety net to nine million more elderly, permit Chad to pay for 38,000 classrooms, and enable Germany to build 8,000 wind turbines, according to the report 

Mr. Bozkir welcomed the Panel’s new system, which fosters financial “fairness, accountability and integrity” for sustainable development and expressed confidence that “if duly implemented” it can “advance progress towards achieving Agenda 2030”. 

“None of us stand to benefit from failure to act”, he attested. “The onus is on each of us to put in place a system of financial integrity for sustainable development” to free up resources that would otherwise be lost and build “trust in our international, national and local systems of governance, demonstrating transparency, accountability and the ability to deliver on the 2030 Agenda”.


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FROM THE FIELD: The Indian women weaving a digital web

Women weavers in Gujarat, India, feared the worst for their livelihood when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and work practically ground to a halt. However, thanks to their proficiency with online tools, they have been able to thrive through this difficult period.

Self-employed rural Indian women learn how to carry out basic online transactions. Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)

The weavers had taken part in an initiative managed by the World Bank, the Leelavati Project, which is improving the digital and financial literacy of around half a million women across six Indian states.

As well as being able to promote and sell via Instagram and Facebook, they can carry out online transactions, avoiding the need for face-to-face cash sales. These kinds of skills were becoming important for Indian workers in the informal economy before the pandemic: today they are indispensable.

You can read the full story here.

FROM THE FIELD: The goats helping Zambians to reach economic independence

When Sylvia Chiinda’s husband died, she was left to raise seven children on her own. As extreme weather hit more frequently, her farm became less productive, forcing her to look for other ways to make money.

Women in the village of Kanakanatapa in Zambia’s Chongwe District have more economic independence as a result of diversifying their farming activities. UNDP/Moses Zangar Jr.

Help came in the form of a UN-backed project which is supporting vulnerable women like Ms. Chiinda, by training them in goat-rearing and providing them with a stable income, as demand for Zambian goats grows. 

Read more here about how women supported through the initiative say they have benefited financially as well as gaining a new sense of independence and respect within their villages.

First Person: The Colombian youth fighting for digital education for all

Ms. Rosas, a UN Young Leader, is the founder of El Origen, a foundation that provides at-risk youth with a second chance at education. O-lab, the app developed by El Origen, is adapted for indigenous students, who have some of the world’s lowest education attainment levels.

In an interview with UN News, Ms. Rosas expressed her firm belief that inclusive digital education is the solution to bridging many of the world’s economic, social and educational gaps.

Tania Rosas, a Colombian education advocate, has developed the O-lab app. Tania Rosas

“It is not enough to give the internet to everyone, you have to create specific tools that are customizable, and their impact must be measurable. We must think in terms of communities when we create technology, and not simply build generic tools, with a community aspect bolted on later.

I was born in La Guajira in 1991, the year in which indigenous people such as the Wayúu, who live in the region, a peninsula shared by Venezuela and Colombia, were officially recognized as Colombian citizens for the first time. Before that, as non-citizens they were only allowed to attend Catholic schools, and were barred from state-run schools. However, La Guajira is still the region with the largest indigenous population in Colombia and also the one with the highest rates of school dropout and illiteracy.

My interest in finding customized solutions to the educational crisis is the result of observing the many shortcomings in this area, such as the marginalization of children and young people from the most vulnerable communities.

A family of educators

The project is the result of my life and experiences. I come from a family of educators. My grandmother, who was of African descent, had a school in her house, to help indigenous and non-indigenous children who had trouble adjusting to the regular school system. Since I was little, I have been very interested in finding solutions to problems with the education system.

A student uses the O-lab application in Colombia. El Origen Foundation

Coming from a family which is descended from Africans, I had more opportunities than indigenous people. During my time at school, I remember that the indigenous people wanted a new, inclusive form of education. When I was in fifth grade, a lot of kids from different communities were just entering. They were the same age as me but they were starting school for the first time, so they weren’t able to adapt to the system, and usually dropped out. Today, this is still happening.

I also have indigenous members of my family, who were forced to renounce their culture. For example, my paternal grandmother does not speak her indigenous language because at school they told her that it was a devil’s language.

La Guajira and El Origen

This is why, when I finished university, I wanted to return to La Guajira and try to give many more young people a second chance. This is how the El Origen project was born: our mission is to ensure that any child or young person in a vulnerable community can access digital education, without any barriers. We’ve been going for five years now, we have helped some 2,500 children and the number is increasing day by day. 

El Origen Foundation
Indigenous students from the El Origen Foundation in La Guajira, Colombia.

The O-lab app allows children and young people from rural or marginalized communities to gain access to a range of educational materials that are appropriate for their age, and approved by local schools or educational institutions close to them. The key advantage of this app, is that it works with or without an internet connection. and that it meets the particular needs of each student.

Pupils can take part in the courses that their classroom teacher gives them access to. To learn how to use the application there is a tutorial in Spanish, in English and another in the Wayuunaiki language, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Colombia. We want to translate it into other indigenous languages as well.

Providing the tools for success

It has long been evident that many children in urban areas are able to access electronic devices, whilst children from rural areas are being left behind. It is important to distribute equipment more widely.

El Origen is working with the Ministry of Education and international organizations, to donate tablets to community schools, which they, in turn, distribute to their students.

We have also seen that many students, especially in high school, already have cell phones. Our app is designed to work on these devices, even very cheap ones. We want them to see their phones not only as a way to access social media, but also a way to get education and better opportunities once they leave school.

Although we have mainly focused on working with indigenous children, and youth between the ages of 6 and 18, the system has proven useful for other vulnerable groups. For example, those teaching Venezuelan migrant students have created a course adapted to their needs, which is helping them to progress through the academic system.

There is a huge world of information online, but we want students to be able to access knowledge that is useful and convenient for them to use. Rather than being confused and overwhelmed, we want them to see digitization and technology as an ally for the sustainable development of their communities”.

UN chief calls for ‘new social contract’ as part of post-pandemic recovery

António Guterres was among leaders addressing a Special Meeting of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) to investigate the links between structural racism, inequality and sustainable development, with a focus on pandemic response. 

‘New social contract’ 

The UN chief said the global crisis “represents a damning indictment of systematic prejudice and discrimination”, with COVID-19 mortality rates up to three times higher for some marginalized groups. 

“As we strive to recover from the pandemic and build a better world, we need to forge a new social contract based on inclusivity and sustainability.  That means investing in social cohesion,” the Secretary-General said.

“All groups need to see that their individual identities are respected, while feeling that they belong as valued members of society as a whole.” 

The ECOSOC meeting, held online, comes ahead of the annual High Level Political Forum in June which will review global progress towards reducing inequalities and promoting peace, justice and strong institutions, in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

Solidarity and cooperation 

Council President Munir Akram underscored the need for action, recalling commitments made by world leaders during the UN’s 75th anniversary last year. 

“Solidarity and cooperation among countries, societies, communities, and individual citizens is the only possible way to eliminating racism, xenophobia and discrimination for all,” he said. 

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of a landmark UN Conference on racism, held in Durban, South Africa, and the country’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, spoke of how COVID-19 has exposed “fault lines” both within and between countries. 

“The pandemic has deepened poverty, inequality and other forms of social injustice around the world,” he said in a pre-recorded message.  “Africans and people of African descent, Asians and people of Asian descent, Roma and the Sinti are among those particularly affected.” 

Address the threat, achieve the dream 

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, outlined several proposals for the international community to recommit to uphold fundamental principles of human rights.  

They include addressing historic inequalities and injustices as part of pandemic recovery, increasing representation of people of African descent in global institutions, and building a global alliance against rising Islamophobia, antisemitism, and racial violence. 

“Extremism and systemic racial discrimination and exclusion are threatening the very political, legal and moral foundations of several States,” he warned. “We must collectively address the threat posed by racial and other forms of inequalities.” 

The son of slain civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged the difficulty of achieving sustainable development against the backdrop of the pandemic, though he underscored the critical role of solidarity.  

“To me, the 17 Sustainable Goals are essential challenges that we absolutely must meet, if we want to create the beloved worldwide community that my father spoke about so often,” Martin Luther King III said in a pre-recorded message. 

“We have got to work together to create a global ethos to end poverty and discrimination, homelessness, pollution, pandemics, disease and violence.” 


UN offers science-based blueprint to tackle climate crisis, biodiversity loss and pollution

“For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises”, Secretary-General António Guterres told a virtual press briefing on the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, Making Peace with Nature. 

Pointing to climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution, which “threaten our viability as a species”, he detailed their cause as “unsustainable production and consumption”. 

“Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet”, said Mr. Guterres. 

Linking challenges 

According to the UNEP report, the world can tackle the climate, biodiversity and pollution crises together, but the UN chief said that these interlinked crises require “urgent action from the whole of society”. 

Noting that some two-thirds of global CO2 emissions are linked to households, he underscored that “people’s choices matter”.  

He explained that “we are overexploiting and degrading the environment on land and sea. The atmosphere and the oceans have become dumping grounds for our waste. And governments are still paying more to exploit nature than to protect it”. 

Trio of emergencies 

The report shows that the global economy has grown nearly fivefold in the past five decades, but at massive cost to the environment. 

Despite a pandemic-induced decline in emissions, global warming is on track to increase by 3°C this century and while pollution-related diseases are prematurely killing some nine million people annually, over a million plant and animal species risk extinction.  

Mr. Guterres made several points, including that women represent 80 per cent of those displaced by climate disruption; polluted water kills a further 1.8 million, predominantly children; and 1.3 billion people remain poor and some 700 million hungry. 

“The only answer is sustainable development that elevates the well-being of people and the planet”, he said, drawing attention to possible actions for governments, including putting a price on carbon, shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to nature-friendly solutions and agreeing to “not support the kind of agriculture that destroys or pollutes nature”. 

‘The bottom line’ 

While noting that far-reaching change involves recasting how we invest in nature, the report presents a strong case to integrate nature’s value into policies, decisions and economic systems that, among other things, foster innovative sustainable technologies. 

“The bottom line is that we need to transform how we view and value nature”, said the Secretary-General. “The rewards will be immense. With a new consciousness, we can direct investment into policies and activities that protect and restore nature”. 

SDGs and the environment 

The report examines linkages and explains how science and policymaking can advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and a carbon neutral world by 2050, all while bending the curve on biodiversity loss and curbing pollution.  

While the authors stress that ending environmental decline is essential to advancing the SDGs on poverty alleviation, food and water security, and good health for all, Mr. Guterres flagged the need for “urgency and ambition” to address how we produce our food and manage our water, land and oceans.  

“Developing countries need more assistance. Only then can we protect and restore nature and get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030”, he said, adding that the report shows that “we have the knowledge and ability to meet these challenges”.  

As an example, Making Peace with Nature outlined that sustainable agriculture and fishing, allied with diet changes and less food waste, can help end global hunger and poverty, improve nutrition and health, and spare more land and ocean for nature.  

“It’s time we learned to see nature as an ally that will help us achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”, upheld the Secretary-General. 

An auspicious year 

This year, beginning with next week’s UN Environment Assembly, a number of key international environmental conferences – including on climate change, chemicals, biodiversity, desertification and oceans – can help to propel us on the path to sustainability, the UN chief said.  

“One key moment occurs tomorrow, when we welcome the United States of America back into the Paris Agreement on climate change”, he highlighted, noting that the move “strengthens global action”. 

“President Biden’s commitment to net zero emissions means that countries producing two-thirds of global carbon pollution are pursuing the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. But we need to make this coalition truly global and transformative”, he added. 

If adopted by every country around the world, a global coalition for carbon neutrality by 2050 can still prevent the worst impacts of climate change. 

“But there can be no delay. We are running out of time to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C and build resilience to the impacts to come”, he asserted. 

Adopting a vision 

The report spotlighted the importance of changing mindsets to find political and technical solutions that equal the environmental crises. 

“The path to a sustainable economy exists – driven by renewable energy, sustainable food systems and nature-based solutions. It leads to an inclusive world at peace with nature”, said Mr. Guterres, emphasizing that “this is the vision we must all adopt”. 

The UN chief encouraged everyone to use the report to “re-evaluate and reset our relationship with nature”. 

Making Peace with Nature draws on global assessments, including those from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), UNEP reports and new findings on the emergence of zoonotic diseases, such as COVID-19. 

ICS/Craig Nisbet
The Seychelles moved in March 2020 to protect 30 per cent of its marine environment.

UN highlights importance of pulses for diets and food security

Pulses – also called legumes – are the edible seeds of plants from the pea family, cultivated for consumption.  

They are a key ingredient in dishes and cuisines globally: hummus in the Mediterranean; baked beans in English diets, or dal in south Asian cuisine. 

In many countries, pulses are also a part of the cultural heritage. For instance, in Nepal, Kwati, a soup made with nine varieties of pulses, is consumed during major festivals, and is a central element in the diets of expectant mothers. 

Pulses do not include crops that are harvested green (such as green peas or green beans), or those used mainly for oil extraction or sowing purposes. 

Importance in diets  

Pulses are an important source of protein, especially for vegetarians or for people who do not get enough protein by eating meat, fish or dairy. Furthermore, pulses are a healthy choice for meat-eaters, helping cut off excess fat from diets, and contain zero cholesterol. They are also a good source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, especially iron and zinc.  

In terms of gram-for-gram nutritional value, pulses are also far cheaper than meats or other sources of protein, offering an economical alternative.  

Improving agriculture sustainability 

The nitrogen-fixing properties of pulses improve soil fertility, increasing and extending the productivity of the farmland. In many regions, farmers plant legumes along with other crops, a practice known as intercropping, to improve yield and promote soil biodiversity. 

Pulse crops are also known to fight off plant disease-causing pests, thereby reducing dependency on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Pulses also produce a smaller carbon footprint, indirectly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and contributing to climate action. 

The World Day 

The World Pulses Day, to be commemorated annually on 10 February, was established in 2018 by the UN General Assembly, which recognized the importance of pulses as well as their contributions to sustainable food production.  

The General Assembly also highlighted the potential of pulses “to further the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, urging efforts to heighten public awareness of their nutritional benefits of eating a variety of food, including pulses. 

FROM THE FIELD: Teaching Chad’s scientists of the future

A pilot study in the city of Bol in Chad, which has suffered the effects of cross-border terrorism over many years, has shown that the provision of simple science-focused materials like a compass or protractor (which measures angles) is making a  big difference to both teachers and pupils in one of the poorest parts of the Central African country.

Two young students in Bol, Chad show their work on a blackboard at school. UNICEF/Frank Dejongh

Ten teachers and 775 students, half of whom are girls, have received the supplies so far and it’s hoped eventually more than 12,000 will benefit.

Ahead of International Day of Women and Girls in Science marked annually on 11 February read more here about Chad’s future scientists.

Read more stories here from Education Cannot Wait.

Social development key pillar for ‘sustainable and resilient’ world – Commission hears 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the key role social development plays in protecting people’s lives and livelihoods, as well as the planet”, Munir Akram, Pakistan’s UN Ambassador and the President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) told the in-person opening session of the Commission for Social Development in New York. 

He upheld that it is also “one of the critical pillars” for making the world “more sustainable and resilient”.  

Foster transformation 

Despite 25 years of extraordinary progress in human and social development, with a reduction in poverty, higher education standards, employment growth, rising incomes and increased longevity for hundreds of millions, Mr. Akram pointed out that “today, 26 people own half the world’s wealth”. 

And todays crisis has shone a stark light on existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.  

“We need to foster transformative resilience by choosing policies that tackles high and rising inequality…[and] policies that empower people and communities to become more resilient and offer multiple opportunities for decent work and social and economic transformation”, the ECOSOC President stated. 

Under the premise that today’s digital divide could become “the new face of the development divide”, he underscored the “urgent need” to invest in infrastructure that connects people and strengthens international cooperation “to build a digitalized global economy” guided by regulation and fair competition. 

‘Act with urgency’ 

Meanwhile, General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir said that the world faces the “largest setback in socio-economic development since the Second World War”, and that decades of gains and untold resources, risk being wiped away “if we do not act”. 

“This is unacceptable”, he spelled out, encouraging the members to act with urgency to drive a “people-centered” recovery to mitigate and overcome the negative impacts of COVID-19, particularly on disadvantaged and vulnerable populations.  

However remote or disadvantaged, he stressed that all people must be reached, and that the needs of those hit hardest hit be reflected in recovery planning.   


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Visionary action 

As countries face the social and economic fallouts of the pandemic, the Assembly President called for visionary action, solidarity, multilateral cooperation and “above all else”, transformation.  

“The challenges we face today – from COVID-19 to climate to inequality – all go hand-in-hand”, he observed, saying that “our efforts must be equally as reinforcing if we are to overcome them”.   

Noting that it would not be easy, Mr. Bozkir pinpointed that a new social contract must be drawn up to address root causes of inequality and vulnerability, prioritize equal opportunities and close gaps across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).      

“Now is not the time for hesitancy”, he concluded. 

Digital transformation 

Commission Chair Maria del Carmen Squeff, said that this session is a special one because it follows up on the objectives of the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action, to fight poverty, achieve full employment and promote social inclusion – all within the challenges posed by the pandemic.  

Social welfare depends on a digital transformation, flagged Ms. Squeff, adding that in today’s world, digital inclusion is imperative in leaving no one behind. 

“We must promote equality, with inclusive digital transformation processes”, she said, adding that the way out of the pandemic is by creating in solidarity, “fairer, egalitarian, diverse and inclusive societies”. 

Harness 4th Industrial Revolution 

On behalf of civil society, Maria Fornella-Oehninger and Monica Jahangir-Chowdhury, co-chairs of the non-governmental Committee on Social Development, said that digital technology has “shrunk the planet, galvanized voices for social change and transformed the way we live forever”.  

They urged the UN to utilize the “transformational power of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” to build better societies guided by the values of justice, equity, security, and transparency.  

“Let us join forces and harness the immense potential of digital technology for the benefit of all, accelerating the global transition to a sustainable development based on inclusion, respect for human rights and human dignity”, the cochairs said.

©UNICEF/Srikanth Kolari
A 15-year-old girl in India carries water (right) as she is forced to miss school because she lacks the technology attend online classes.

FROM THE FIELD: Chicken wings, hunger and the Super Bowl

WFP says Americans spent around $17 billion on food, drinks, party supplies and other paraphernalia to mark the 2020 Super Bowl, the flagship event of the American football season, and in the process consumed a stomach-churning 1.3 billion chicken wings and almost 900 million pints of beer.

The money spent by US companies on TV advertisements during the Super Bowl is enough to feed 690 million hungry people around the world. Unsplash/WFP

An estimated 130-140 million people around the world are expected to tune into the game which takes place on Sunday, similar to the number of hungry people worldwide who WFP are hoping to reach with food aid in 2021.

Read more here about how the Super Bowl-inspired feast of over-consumption relates to the global challenge of feeding the world’s hungriest people. 

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