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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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
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
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
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.
“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
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.
“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
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