After a devastating 2020, leaders across governments, the private sector, civil society, and multilateral organizations are pulling out all the stops to plan for a more resilient, more positive chapter in 2021. The word on everyone’s lips is “recovery,” and several moments this week highlighted what that may look like — for global health, the environment, the economy, and global leadership — in the year ahead.

Here’s what you need to know:

1. As the pandemic rages on, the vaccine divide widens

This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) had its Executive Board meeting, where the “greatest health crisis of our time,” the COVID-19 pandemic, topped the agenda. During the meeting, Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus strongly urged member states not to be tempted by vaccine nationalism and to think of both the moral and economic imperative of achieving vaccine equity. He said: “. . . rich countries are rolling out vaccines, while the world’s least-developed countries watch and wait. With every day that passes, the divide grows larger between the world’s haves and have nots.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the U.S. delegation at the board meeting, reaffirmed the Biden administration’s decision to not withdraw from WHO. The U.S. also announced it would join COVAX, the only mechanism currently in place to deliver vaccines equitably to low- and middle-income countries.

2. New research points to the economic imperative of inclusive, sustainable recovery

Two reports released this week underscored why any chance for recovery must take into account all countries — big and small, rich and poor. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ World Economic Situation and Prospects report painted a stark picture of the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the global economy in 2020 — from soaring unemployment and job losses to an increased number of people living in extreme poverty. The report warned that the socioeconomic situation in 2021 won’t be any better than last year’s if we don’t focus on sustainable development, promote inclusive and equitable growth, reduce inequality, and enhance environmental sustainability.

Another study, published by the International Chamber of Commerce, focused on the negative impact of vaccine nationalism and the consequences for economic recovery. The study showed that if high-income countries secure doses for their populations while letting the rest of the world fend for itself, they stand to lose the most: as much as $5 trillion in economic costs, to be exact, compared with $38 billion to fully fund the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the WHO-led initiative to provide equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.

3. UN Secretary-General lays out 2021 priorities

In his appearances this week, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for resilient recovery and transformation.

At the World Economic Forum’s Davos Agenda, he called on leaders to leverage their unique resources and work together for a resilient pandemic recovery, saying the world had reached “a moment of truth.” Guterres proposed two immediate goals: an inclusive, equitable recovery to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and a green recovery to avert climate disaster and biodiversity loss.

The UN chief also addressed the General Assembly to lay out his priorities for 2021 and outline a series of actions to help the world “move from death to health; from disaster to reconstruction; from despair to hope; from business as usual to transformation.”

4. Leaders focus attention on the ocean, climate — and what the world needs to do to adapt

This week also kicked off the Climate Adaptation Summit, the first-ever platform for world leaders and stakeholders to discuss climate adaptation and resilience measures. The group launched an action agenda, setting out clear commitments to build resilience to the effects of climate change. Discussions ranged from how to better manage water resources to how to secure food supplies from climate shocks.

Leaders also gathered virtually for the Ocean-Climate Ambition Summit to identify solutions to protect our world’s oceans. The event, which was supported by the UN Foundation, featured U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, who outlined how the Biden administration will prioritize climate action. He said: “. . . every agency is now part of our climate team, and only together are we going to be able to build the resilience to climate change that is critical to save lives and meet our moral obligation to future generations and to those currently living in very difficult circumstances.”

UN Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Cousens underscored why 2021 is the moment to supercharge ocean-climate ambition, saying there is “no shortage of opportunities to address the interlinked crises of the ocean and climate.”

5. U.S. takes action on sexual and reproductive health and rights

The Biden administration’s executive action this week to reverse the Global Gag Rule placed girls and women front and center in pandemic recovery efforts. It’s a crucial step toward ensuring access to reproductive health services for people everywhere, and the U.S regaining its standing as a champion of sexual and reproductive health and rights and gender equality. The Administration also restored funding to the United Nations Population Fund, allowing their life-saving work to continue. The UN Foundation’s Universal Access Project Executive Director Seema Jalan called the decisions, “a signal to girls, women and people around the world that the U.S. will uphold their human right to reproductive autonomy and health.”


Featured Photo: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe