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Build the Future: UNOPS Sustainability Report 2020

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Words by Grete Faremo

2020 was a truly remarkable year, forever to be viewed through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lives and livelihoods were lost, economies were disrupted at unprecedented levels, and the progress made under the 2030 Agenda came under threat. At UNOPS, we sadly lost ten colleagues to this devastating pandemic: four members of UNOPS personnel and six colleagues who worked on behalf of our partners.

But 2020 was also a year of resilience, of coming together to find solutions, and responding to our biggest challenges. UNOPS was quick to adapt to the reality of COVID-19 and help our partners prepare, respond and recover. In 2020, our total delivery of projects around the world exceeded $2.2 billion. We agreed almost $900 million in COVID-19 response and recovery activities with partners over the course of the year, of which, more than $200 million has been delivered.

Our focus remains resolutely on implementation. Our annual sustainability report is testament to the impact of our work: Across more than 80 countries, UNOPS-supported projects created more than 3 million days of paid work for local people. Of these, 850,000 were for women and 2.5 million were for men.

Across the world, our common future will be defined by how we respond to climate change. In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres, we face an “environmental emergency.” To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we need to “reset our relationship with nature.” Measuring the sustainability of our operations is crucial, and we have now reported on this for the fifth consecutive year through Global Reporting Initiative standards. This is how we contribute to a common framework, which serves to better understand the impact of our work on the health of our planet.

With our explicit mandate in infrastructure, we have strengthened our capability to champion the cause of quality infrastructure. Our infrastructure decisions today matter immensely. We face a critical juncture: Our world’s infrastructure needs are unprecedented and the resources available are limited. We need infrastructure that is resilient and can adapt and scale in the face of a changing climate, to help countries deliver on a vision for their future infrastructure, aligned with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

When it comes to our central role in procurement, beyond the provision of goods and services, UNOPS believes there is a huge unrealized potential in using public procurement to accelerate progress to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Public spending accounts for 15–30 per cent of GDP in most countries. The sheer scale of this purchase power is a force for change. By improving the way public funds are spent, nations can enhance transparency and ensure fair competition. With greener supply chains, social and environmental safeguards can be built into the process, aiding critical efforts to combat climate change. Improved public spending can also help drive equality. By using procurement as a policy tool, jobs and equal economic opportunity for all genders and ethnicities can be created. Workers’ rights and better employment conditions can be secured, allowing everyone a chance to prosper. UNOPS is committed to supporting governments to realize the immense potential of public procurement.

2020 also saw continued efforts by UNOPS to serve as a bridge towards the private sector, in order to expand the pool of resources available to deliver on the SDGs.
Following the Secretary-General’s Financing for Development strategy, we will continue our Sustainable Investments in Infrastructure and Innovation journey, to bring resources and expertise from the private sector to address the immense challenges of the 2030 Agenda.

We have also made great strides in achieving gender parity across our workforce. At the time of this report, more than 47 per cent of our personnel are women and make up 42 per cent of leadership roles. We still have progress to make in our journey to being a more equal organization, but this represents a significant achievement, even if long overdue. Moving forward, we want to ensure a broader, more diverse, and more inclusive approach.

We remain committed to ensuring that our work advances gender equality in the communities that we serve.

As we look to the future, the lessons of 2020 will be paramount in our minds. Now more than ever, we need to work together to build a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient world. Together, we can build a better future for all.