The year of living

When crises collide
December 2021

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2021 was dominated by two crises that the world could not ignore – COVID-19 and global heating.

From unprecedented floods in Germany, to out of control fires in California and Greece, extreme weather increased in intensity and frequency. While some gains were made, high level climate meetings did not immediately come up with the necessary momentum to keep to the goals of the Paris Agreement.

colorful collage including images of flooding and wildfires

COVID-19 pandemic

At the same time as this deadly pandemic continued to spread, reversing hard won gains in the fight against HIV and TB - and claiming between 5 – 15 million lives, its socio-economic effects became painfully clear.

A man in protective gear delivers a bag of food to a young girl
“Without urgent support low-income countries will continue to face the devastating economic impact of COVID-19 over the course this decisive decade. This includes a significant decline in the earnings of the two billion people who make up the informal workforce in low-income countries, the majority of whom are women residing.” Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director of the Health Group, UNDP Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

The pandemic laid bare other inequalities. Rich countries hoarded vaccines and poor countries went without. The UNDP, WHO and University of Oxford’s vaccine equity dashboard stressed the benefits of levelling the playing field. These messages became all the more urgent with the emergence of Omicron – the latest variant of concern.

A women in protective gear walks along lines of people Close-up of a medical worker filling a syringe
“Vaccine inequity is the world’s biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19. Economically, epidemiologically and morally, it is in all countries' best interest to use the latest available data to make lifesaving vaccines available to all.” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, WHO.

Fair food
& energy

Global food systems struggled to cope with the twin crises, the United Nations met to consider ways to change the way we eat and produce food.

“This United Nations Food Systems Summit must be the moment when our global food systems undergo a “hard re-boot”. That means driving structural change; making tough decisions; and bringing diverse voices to the decision-making table. This need for change was underlined by a new UN report which found that almost 90 percent of global agricultural subsidies paid to farmers every year are doing immense harm.” – Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator

A woman holds a bundle of wheat and sickle
UNDP Lebanon

At the United Nations High-level Dialogue on Energy, UNDP advocated for the hundreds of millions of people who lack even basic energy infrastructure.

"We are in 2021, yet 759 million of people around the world don’t have electricity in their homes, to study, to cook food with lights on and 2.6 billion people do not have clean cooking fuel.” – Haoliang Xu UNDP Director of Bureau for Policy and Programme Support

Two women sit in a dark room lit by candlelight
Midwife and nurse during an emergency consultation at the Chikumbi Health Centre at night.
UNDP/Karin Schermbucker

Online and
in touch

The digital divide became more pronounced, the pandemic also showed that we can change quickly, but only if we have the resources and the vision.

“We need to move beyond our understanding of connectivity through whether or not someone has access to the internet to a more nuanced understanding of the ways inequalities may be perpetuated or amplified in the digital sphere. It is imperative we ensure the opportunities of work, education, and public services that connectivity can provide are accessible to all.” – Robert Opp, UNDP Chief Digital Officer

A young girl works on a school assignment with a teacher visible on her television
Turkey on March 23 launched EBA system (TV-based distance learning) for around 18 million primary, secondary and high-school students
UNDP Turkey/Levent Kulu

Charting a path out of crisis

In the midst of global crises, countries such as Afghanistan and Myanmar had to cope with the extra burden of political upheaval which set back human rights, with potentially disastrous effects. A UNDP appraisal revealed that up to 97 percent of Afghans are on the brink of universal poverty.

Refugees living in a camp outside Kabul under the Taliban rule An anti-coup protesters sets fire on the road
“A transition to new authorities, a pandemic, a drought, an oncoming winter season – each of these on their own would already pose a major challenge. Taken together, they form a crisis that demands urgent action,” Kanni Wignaraja, UNDP Director of the Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific
Infographic: from 1 February 2021 until 1 May 2021 830 people were killed and 3885 people were detained

The complex challenges of fragile countries were compounded in places such as Haiti, which while still recovering from its last disastrous earthquake, was struck by natural forces yet again, with an estimated 600,000 in need of humanitarian help.

“The status quo for crisis response is no longer an option. We are quickly shifting from reaction to anticipation. UNDP has pivoted its approach to be more agile, responsive and anticipatory, supporting countries to both respond to and prevent future crises. We’re already putting this approach into action in countries and regions like Sudan, Haiti, Afghanistan, and the Sahel.” Asako Okai, Director, UNDP Crisis Bureau

The road to
and from Glasgow

As the year ended, the eyes of the world were on COP26 in Scotland. At the heart of the Paris Agreement are national pledges on climate change – or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). UNDP supported 120 countries to enhance their NDCs through its Climate Promise. Now, it’s time to turn the pledges into action with UNDP’s extensive portfolio that helps countries large and small to take bold action on energy, adaptation and resilience, nature, forests, finance, gender, indigenous and local communities, green jobs, and the circular economy.

The Glasgow Climate Pact took important steps, but not the leaps that were needed. The Paris Agreement goal of keeping global temperature increases below 1.5C (2.7F) is still alive, but all countries must take ambitious and urgent action.

People with signs march in the street
Young people display placards during the march that took place during the Pre-COP Event where the ministers prepare UN COP26 climate change conference.
Mauro Ujetto
“To confront the climate, ecological and social emergency, the international bureaucracy must be urgently updated in the same way as it was done for the COVID-19 health emergency, but without losing sight of inclusion, cultural diversity, freedom and a just transition. Every individual, town, municipality, city, province, country and continent has one simple homework assignment: it is time to act, and there is no escaping.” Máximo Mazzocco, Youth Activist #Generation17 Initiative
Máximo Mazzocco takes a selfie with Francisco Vera at COP26
Generation17 leader Máximo Mazzocco meets 12-year-old climate activist Francisco Vera at COP26
Máximo Mazzocco

In 2021, UNDP was also at the forefront of voices advocating for fossil fuel subsidies to be consigned to history.

“The world continues to spend billions of dollars on fossil fuel subsidies, while hundreds of millions of people live in poverty and the climate crisis accelerates. As ‘code red’ for humanity flashes, the science tells us that only the most ambitious decarbonization and climate action will limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius,” - UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.

“At least we had an asteroid. What’s your excuse?” Frankie the dinosaur
A dinosaur speaks at the podium of the United Nations general assembly hall
UNDP’s ‘Don’t Choose Extinction’ campaign and film aim to shine a spotlight on the consequences of fossil fuel subsidies