United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Where are we heading: Visions and scenarios for the future of the SDGs following the COVID-19 crisis

Fri 17 Jul 2020, 9.00 am — Wed 03 Feb 2021, 8.45 am
Virtually (held New York time)


This session will focus on future trends, projections and scenarios around the ECOSOC theme of “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development” following the COVID-19 crisis.

The General Assembly decided that the ECOSOC High-level Segment would focus on “future trends and scenarios related to the Council theme, the long-term impact of current trends, such as contribution of new technologies, in the economic, social and environmental areas on the realization of the SDGs based on the work of the UN and other regional and international organizations and bodies as well as other stakeholders.” (resolution 72/305)

This year, as part of this discussion, the High-level Segment will address the current COVID-19 pandemic and its economic, social and environmental effects on the SDGs. The COVID-19 outbreak has mobilized emergency action at local and national level. The reports of the Secretary-General on the theme of ECOSOC 2020 and on “long term future trends and scenarios -impacts in the economic, social and environmental areas on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals” will provide background for the session. 

To advance the thinking around transformative pathways that can advance the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development, the first report discusses particular accelerated actions required during and beyond the response to COVID-19 along pathways for reducing income inequality and eradicating extreme poverty, as well as reducing CO2 emissions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The second report presents a set of best-case, aspirational long-term scenarios in line with the SDGs and contrasts them with business-as-usual and worst-case scenario outcomes for 2030 and 2050. It also explores the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as new Internet technologies and artificial intelligence.

Proposed guiding questions:

  • What are the long-term implications of current and near-term decisions, such as those to address COVID-19 or the impacts of new Internet and artificial intelligence technologies? How will they influence our capacity and available options to deal with other great sustainability challenges that humanity is facing in the longer run?
  • How can governments turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity to “build back better”?  What are the most important policies and actions to overcome the current global economic crisis and put the world on a pathway towards the SDGs, eradicating extreme poverty, saving the environment, and “leaving no one behind”? What could be achieved with much higher water, energy and materials efficiencies?
  • How can governments better shockproof healthcare, social protection and other key systems and institutions for unexpected events like COVID-19?
  • What role can governments and the United Nations play in the coming decade to strengthen solutions-oriented international cooperation on sustainable development?  


  • H.E. Ms. Mona Juul, President of Economic and Social Council


  • Mr. Michael Obersteiner, Executive Director, The Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford, UK

Presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals Progress Chart 2020 by Mr. Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Resource Persons:

  • Mr. Nebojsa Nakicenovic, Executive Director, The World in 2050 (TWI2050), former Deputy Director and CEO of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis  (IIASA)
  • Ms. Claudia Martínez, Executive Director of E3- Ecología, Economía y Ética, Colombia, and Co-chair of the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) country programs

Lead discussant:

  • Mr. Kostas Stamoulis, former Assistant-Director General of the Economic and Social Development Department, and Senior Adviser to FAO


  • H.E. Mr. Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, United Arab Emirates
  • H.E. Mr. Jochen Flasbarth, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, Germany
  • Ms. María Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Special Envoy of the UNSG on Disability and Accessibility