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UN Secretary-General: SDGs Need “Rescuing”

Statement to ECOSOC may preview HLPF focal points

On May 17, 2022, UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the Economic and Social (ECOSOC) Segment on Operational Activities for Development making the bold assertion that the global community “must rise higher to rescue the SDGs.” In doing so, he highlighted a number of key issues facing the implementation of the Global Goals. In this article, we explore the highlights of that statement and discuss what this statement may mean for upcoming conversations and data releases set to occur during July’s High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

Read the full statement:

Photo Credit: UNclimatechange

The Economic and Social Council is responsible for organizing the HLPF — the most significant global gathering related to the Sustainable Development Goals. So, it is no surprise that the UN Secretary-General’s comments to the group provided an outline of progress, challenges, and necessary improvements related to the SDGs. In addition to the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) released each year, the HLPF also serves as the launch point for the yearly SDG Progress Report. Given the timing and audience of Mr. Guterres statement, we believe the development community can learn a lot about what to expect in the coming months and years in terms of key indicators and potential foci from his comments.

The Secretary-General’s comments are notable in their assertion that Global Goals — which serve as the global focus of development from 2015 through 2030 — need to be rescued. But, more practically, we can learn from the specific challenges, solutions, next steps and key actions outlined. The points included here are likely to be mirrored in the annual progress report to be released in July.


  • 15 million people have died during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • 100 million more people became impoverish in 2020.
  • Women’s rights have been set back by a full generation.
  • Global financial investments favored the already wealthy nations while ignoring the needs of developing countries.
  • Disparity in health access was apparent in vaccinations with over 70% of people in high income countries receiving at least one COVID-19 vaccination while only 17% in low-income countries have been able to receive one.
  • Multiple crises are disproportionately affecting developing countries from unequal recovery, to climate crisis effects, to food and fuel access issues, and international conflict.


  • The SDG framework remains the best tool for improving global conditions and responding to emerging issues.
  • UN influence, through Country Teams and strategic initiatives, is expanding with promising results.
  • Collaboration and coordination has increased in recent years.
  • COVID-19 response and Climate Change guidance are among the most effective elements of support.
  • We’ve seen improvements in transparency, accountability, data usage and independent evaluations.

Next Steps

  • Improve support and international cooperation for countries most in need.
  • Mobilize investments around food systems, energy, and digital connectivity.
  • Increase liquidity and asset infusions for developing economies to continue progress.
  • Create a global financial system overall because we must “ensure power, wealth and opportunities are shared more broadly, so countries can invest in their people.”
  • Align public and private finance with the SDGs and global climate protocols.
  • Increase investment in food systems and job growth.

Five Areas for urgent attention

  • Ensure UN teams have the skills, expertise, and configuration to support strategic investments.
  • Expand and improve partnerships, knowledge, and financing.
  • Change approach to collaboration across humanitarian, development, and security challenges.
  • Improve effectiveness and efficiency of operations.
  • Strengthen collaboration at regional level.

While we are confident the SDG Report will include more specific details and calls for action, we believe the points above will be central to the overall theme and conclusions to be presented.

You can follow our coverage of the HLPF and all the data released during this event here as well as on our twitter account: SDGCounting.

SDGCounting is a program of StartingUpGood and tracks the progress of counting and measuring the success of the SDGs.



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Keeping track of progress on trying to count and measure the success of the Sustainable Development Goals.