Social protection and just transitions are critical to supporting countries in achieving sustainable development

Statement delivered by Haoliang Xu at the High Impact Initiative Global Accelerator, event of the SDG Action Weekend, UNGA, NY HQ

September 17, 2023

President of Malawi, H.E. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my privilege to join this vital event on the High Impact Initiative on Social Protection and Jobs. 

It comes at a moment where there are widening chasms between people & social protection and decent jobs.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the roll-out of social protection, a debt and fiscal crisis is stalling much of that momentum.

A ‘Debt-Poverty Pause’

New research by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has shown that, on average, a low-income country spends 2.3 times more on debt interest payments than on social assistance.

With reform of the international financial architecture happening too slowly, we have called for adaptive social protection and floated the concept of a ‘Debt-Poverty Pause’ to redirect debt repayments toward critical social expenditures.

We estimate that it would cost little more than $14 billion -- which is just 0.009% of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2022 -- to lift out of poverty the 165 million people living on less than $3.65 a day.

Indeed, the exceptional promise of the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection remains elusive without meaningful financing.

Financing the Global Accelerator: Four Ways Forward

As we think about the road to 2030, I would like to emphasize 4 key ways to help drive progress on the Global Accelerator. 

First, we must continue to leverage the space created by Integrated National Financing Frameworks to mobilize and align financing from diverse sources -- both public and private -- to expand social protection coverage and decent jobs. 

Second, as the G20 takes steps to address taxation, there are concrete ways that we can support countries to combat tax evasion and avoidance both domestically and internationally to finance the SDGs. 

Third, as agreed during the COP26 in Glasgow, phasing out inefficient and harmful subsidies, such as fossil fuel subsidies, can free up resources for social investments that generate decent and green jobs, while simultaneously minimizing negative environmental impacts. 

At a time when total spending on fuel subsidies topped $7 trillion dollars, equivalent to 7% of the global GDP, we must find a mechanism to re-direct these subsidies towards jobs and social protection.

Fourth, Digital Public Infrastructure -- or DPI -- represents the digital ‘roads and bridges’ that countries can build robust and inclusive social protection systems, ensuring equitable access and resilience in a rapidly changing world. During the pandemic response, countries that used digital databases and data exchange platforms reached, on average, 51 percent of their population with cash transfers, whereas countries that could not rely on digital systems reached only 16 percent.

Thank you.