International Community Must Make Quantum Leap in Leveraging Resources, Partnerships, Speakers Say, as Development Cooperation Forum Begins
With development deficits worsening at a time when progress is needed more than ever, the international community must make a quantum leap in leveraging resources and partnerships, speakers at the Economic and Social Council’s Development Cooperation Forum stressed as they opened its annual session.
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, delivered the keynote address at the opening segment, calling for a major transformation in development cooperation. The Forum plays a pivotal role in driving this transformation, she said, noting the importance of massively scaling up affordable long-term development finance. Official development assistance (ODA) is irreplaceable in addressing multidimensional vulnerability and the rights of the most vulnerable, she stressed, calling on all providers to meet their commitments. If done today, this would provide over $150 billion per year in financing for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she pointed out. Also stressing the importance of local action on the ground, she said it is crucial to pay attention to specific needs while also investing in commonly agreed priorities, including climate adaptation, social protection and digital transformation.
Rabab Fatima, High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said that the Forum provides an important space for an honest assessment of the situation currently faced by the world’s most vulnerable. Without effective development cooperation, least developed countries will have no chance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Such support must be reliable, predictable and sufficient, especially in terms of grants, capacity-building, technical assistance and concessional loans. Further, ODA commitments must be not only met, but surpassed; the potential of South-South and triangular cooperation must be harnessed and private finance must be mobilized for sustainable development, she said. A multidimensional vulnerability index would provide a long-overdue method with which to assess development needs in diverse country contexts to yield different, better results, she pointed out.
Avinash Persaud, Special Envoy to the Prime Minister of Barbados on Investment and Financial Services, underscored that climate change, pandemics and financial crises “are all windows to the same thing” — poverty and inequality. The current system of financing development must be modernized, as 70 per cent of the world’s poor do not live in the poorest countries, and thus the international community must decide whether it wishes to focus on poor people or poor countries, he said. Underlining the need for modern methods to address modern crises, he called for a substantial replenishment of ODA in an amount exceeding $125 billion, but stressed the need to consider who is eligible for such financing. The international community must reflect on the concept of multiple vulnerabilities, the need to provide specific funding for specific vulnerabilities and the importance of creating a specific measurement for each such vulnerability. Recalling that the bedrock idea of the Bretton Woods Institutions came from John Maynard Keynes’ The Economic Consequences of the Peace, he said it states that failure to address poverty and inequality in individual countries creates a global problem. Thus, “poverty alleviation itself is a global public good”, he stressed.
Lachezara Stoeva (Bulgaria), President of the Economic and Social Council, highlighted the organ’s central role in overseeing global commitments and identifying areas for collective action. Development cooperation can make a difference in the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, she said, identifying priority areas in strengthening climate adaptation, investing in the creation of decent jobs, boosting social protection and harnessing digital transformation. She also stressed the need to ensure that the Forum’s recommendations and messages are fully informed by voices representing the diverse spectrum of development-cooperation actors, noting that a priority of her presidency is “keeping the doors of all ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] meetings fully open to organizations and people from all walks of life”.
Li Junhua, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary-General’s report on trends and progress in international development cooperation (document E/2023/48). Highlighting the key findings of the report, he noted the need to strengthen development cooperation. The COVID-19 pandemic forced developing countries to redirect resources, he said, adding that rescuing the Sustainable Development Goals will require a major scaling up of predictable and reliable concessional financing. Least developed, landlocked developing, small island developing and middle-income countries, and countries in conflict situations face specific structural limitations and vulnerabilities, he pointed out. It is essential to reflect on multidimensional vulnerability, he said, adding that it is vital to build resilience so that individuals and societies can navigate crises better. Outlining priority areas, he called for innovating social protection programmes, integrating climate adaptations and harnessing digital technology.
Also addressing the Forum today was Khalifa bin Jassem al-Kuwari, Director General of the Qatar Fund for Development, who recalled the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, which took place last week in his country. The Conference was an important opportunity to reinvigorate the commitment of all partners, he said, calling on the international community to implement the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2022-2031. Describing it as a road map that spans 10 years, he said it underscores the importance of cooperation and policy coherence. Reaffirming his country’s commitment to the development of least developed countries, he recalled Qatar’s announcement of a financial contribution of $60 million to support the implementation of the Programme.
The Forum then held two panel discussions, the first of which was on “Protecting lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable through risk-informed development cooperation”. Panellists and delegates stressed the importance of multilateralism that goes beyond rhetoric to reach the most vulnerable, adding their voices to the call for a reform of the international financial architecture. There was widespread support for the multidimensional vulnerability index, as speakers underscored that development is not a linear process.
Speakers in the second panel, which was on the topic of “Scaling up effective development cooperation for climate resilience” also urged the international community to rethink how development is conceptualized. Building climate resilience must be considered an inherent aspect of development, they said, citing the national experiences of Guatemala and Rwanda in launching environmentally viable development policies. They also cautioned against development cooperation that leads to projects that dispossess indigenous people and cause environmental harm.
The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 15 March, for a recap of today’s discussions, followed by sessions on “Building momentum for effective social protection measures” and “Strengthening capacities to overcome the digital divide”.
The Development Cooperation Forum’s first panel discussion of the day was on the topic of “Protecting lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable through risk-informed development cooperation”. Moderated by Salih Booker, Senior Programme Officer for International Cooperation and Global Governance at the Ford Foundation, the panel featured: Karla Majano de Palma, Director General of the El Salvador Agency for International Cooperation; Björn Olof Skoog, Head of Delegation, European Union; Carmen Correa, CEO, Pro Mujer; and Eric Pelofsky, Deputy Chief of Staff, Rockefeller Foundation.
Ms. DE PALMA, noting the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change and conflicts, said that her country directly suffered from many crises and had to take coordinated and decisive action to address them. Noting that El Salvador is a middle-income country, she said her Government established her agency in order to boost international cooperation opportunities through partnerships and multi-actor forums. In the Central American region, the El Salvador Agency for International Cooperation is the first development agency and has been cooperating with the United Nations since its launch. Solidarity and multilateralism need to go beyond rhetoric, she said, calling for innovative responses that address the differentiated needs of developing countries. Stressing the importance of redesigning how sustainable development is measured, she called for access to concessional and non-concessional resources, as well as capacity-building.
Mr. SKOOG highlighted the challenges posed by a fragmented international geopolitical situation. Reaffirming the Union’s support for the United Nations and multilateral solutions, he said that while official development assistance (ODA) is not the solution to everything, it is a vital ingredient to solve many problems. Noting that ODA in 2021 rose by 4.4 per cent in real terms compared to 2020, he expressed surprise at that, adding that he had been afraid that the trend was going in the other direction. Highlighting the Union’s Global Gateway Initiative, he said that, since its launch in 2021, more than €9 billion in grants have been committed to infrastructure and development programmes in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Public finance alone will not be sufficient to address the challenges posed by the multidimensional crisis, he said, adding that it is vital to accelerate the flow of international private capital towards sustainable development investments. “We do believe that we are contributing our share. We want others to step up,” he stressed.
Ms. CORREA said that her organization has worked closely with women in Latin America for more than 32 years, enabling their access to financial inclusion, health services and skilling opportunities. Every political, economic, social or environmental phenomenon impacts women differently, she said, citing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women as an example. During the pandemic, women’s labour participation across the globe registered a historic drop, she said, adding that the pandemic has caused a setback of over a decade in labour-market participation for women in her region. Also noting the impacts of climate change, she stressed that climate change is not gender-neutral. Therefore, it is essential to mainstream a gender perspective into any decision-making process. However, she stressed, women have been impacted not only by these crises, but by long-standing structural inequalities. It is vital to remove those structural barriers that limit women’s potential and leave them at a clear disadvantage, she said.
Mr. PELOFSKY, noting the increasing debt distress, said that while advanced countries were able to put 24 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) into stimulus packages during the pandemic, low-income countries were able to put only 2 per cent of their GDPs towards that. Also highlighting the cumulative loss of 20 per cent GDP across the globe, he said this wipes away decades of progress. It is miraculous that many countries are still standing, he said, adding that 2023 is a particularly good year to focus on development financing because as per the diplomatic calendar, “there are no major replenishments this year”. Noting that the global financial architecture was designed in the 1940s and 1950s and has not kept up with the times, he observed a general agreement regarding the need to reform it. The funding needs are in trillions, he reminded delegates, adding that “we have to be brave and we have to be bold”.
The panel then turned to its lead discussants: Robin Ogilvy, Special Representative to the United Nations, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and Vitalice Meja, Executive Director, Reality of Aid Africa Network.
Mr. OGLIVY said that the current interlinked crises have increased the pressure on development cooperation. Stressing the need for concessional finance, particularly grants, he said that the international community must confront the challenges faced by small island developing States and other countries that find themselves at the forefront of the climate crisis. Also pointing to the situation of middle-income countries, which are home to a large proportion of the world’s poor, he said that it is necessary to look beyond GDP when measuring development.
Mr. MECHA said that allocating more resources towards development is crucial. This should include not just resources from development partners, but from national Governments, he said, adding that domestic budgets should indicate that countries are serious about development. It is time to walk the talk, he said, adding that it is essential to support the families that are going hungry and the small businesses that are closing. Further, the international community must create an enabling environment for civil society to participate in development. The question of localization is critical, he said, adding that, while there is much talk about data, it is essential to use data to address behaviour and impact, rather than simply use it as filler.
When the floor opened for dialogue, delegates stressed the importance of investing in people through capacity-building. They echoed the calls for development financing, while also underscoring the need to consider the multidimensional aspects of development.
The representative of Cuba, speaking for the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that predictable and conditionality-free resources must be available to those States that need it most. Much of multilateral ODA is in the form of loans rather than grants, he pointed out.
Sierra Leone’s delegate, speaking for the African Group, echoed that call, noting that public finances on his continent were strained even before the current crises. Echoing the Secretary-General’s call for a Sustainable Development Goals stimulus, to facilitate the scaling up of development financing, he also stressed the need for debt restructuring. Also pointing to the need to combat illicit financial flows, he said that Africa’s resources transferred illegally far surpass ODA flows. Countries of destination are enriching themselves at the expense of countries of origin, he underscored.
The representative of Morocco, speaking on behalf of a number of countries, stressed the importance of reconceptualizing the way development is measured. Urging the international community to think “beyond GDP”, she added that such an approach should be one of the pillars of the reform of the international financial architecture.
The representative of Australia said that the work on the multidimensional vulnerability index demonstrates that it is necessary to move beyond a linear model of development. “We can’t measure what we can’t understand,” she said, adding that the international community needs a better understanding of vulnerability and resilience.
The representative of the Virginia Gildersleeve International Fund called for the establishment of a global fund for social protection to address the financing gaps. Multidimensional vulnerabilities impacting livelihoods cannot be addressed through trickle-down economics, she stressed, adding that it is essential to boost livelihoods, design financial products with the needs of the vulnerable in mind and invest in skilling and upskilling.
Responding, Ms. DE PALMA noted the importance of South-South cooperation, while underscoring that it should not replace other forms of development support. Also highlighting the need for gender empowerment, she said her Government is updating its legislation to support the economic development of women and girls.
Mr. SKOOG said that no matter how much is invested, reaching the most vulnerable is still a challenge. The private sector will not go there, he said, adding that Governments need to ensure that resources reach them. This is one of the limitations of ODA, he noted, adding that it is necessary to acknowledge the importance of inclusion and rule of law in reaching the poorest.
Ms. CORREA focused on gender-based violence, stressing that, without guarantees of financial independence, women cannot break its cycle. Calling on the international community to incorporate a gender lens into economic progress, she said “we need to invest in women”. It is impossible to ensure prosperity and development if 50 per cent of the talent pool is left out of the process, she said.
Mr. PELOFSKY, outlining “what to fix and what to build”, said debt sustainability is a crucial factor in accelerating development. Also stressing the importance of more concessional capital, the loss and damage fund and climate mitigation, he said the international community must stay focused and use vehicles such as the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals stimulus.
Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were the representatives of Poland, Tunisia, Ecuador, Russian Federation, Bolivia, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. The Forum also heard from civil society speakers from the Rural Development Centre and Darussafaka Society.
The Forum’s second panel discussion explored the theme “Scaling up effective development cooperation for climate resilience”. Moderated by Bella Tonkonogy, US Director at the Climate Policy Initiative, the panel featured: Eleonora Betancur González, Director at the Presidential Agency for International Cooperation of Colombia; Munir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations; and Facinet Sylla, Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Ms. GONZÁLEZ, detailing her Government’s new reformist development plan, entitled “Colombia: A Global Potential for Life”, said that it puts human beings and the environment at the heart of national development and advances the idea of “total peace”. “Total peace” means a resolution of the economic, social and environmental conflicts throughout Colombia, she said, noting that this focus has opened up new debates on sustainable development in international spaces. She went on to say that, while many countries of the global South have many global public goods, they require huge financial resources that do not compromise the limited fiscal space available or risk the sustainability of debt, particularly in middle-income countries. Underlining the need to ensure that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are prioritized when assigning scarce resources — as such countries are “the lungs of the world” — she urged a rethinking of international financial architecture to ensure that State action is complemented by that of the private sector and multilateral development banks. She added that, ultimately, $4.5 trillion must be mobilized per year, and that effort is required to ensure environmental and development financing from the private sector to fill the massive gap in resources for climate adaptation and energy transition.
Mr. AKRAM said that, with the evolution of global warming and climate change, the concept of development itself has changed. Now, a focus is required not only on the fundamentals of economic growth, but also on countries’ resilience to climate shocks. He noted that, in response to massive flooding in Pakistan in 2022, the Government developed a reconstruction plan. In doing so, it determined that approximately $16.5 billion is needed to repair lost infrastructure, homes and agricultural land, and when taking into account how to rebuild in such a way to withstand similar phenomena in the future, an additional $13.5 billion is required. While this illustrates that building development with resilience is going to be more costly, the silver lining is that adaptation — in most cases — implies sustainable infrastructure, which is a core aspect of development. On where to get the money to finance sustainable infrastructure, he warned against the “dangerously false” assumption that such resources will come from the private sector, as infrastructure projects require long-term financing with no prospect of commercial return. Therefore, some element of public financing is required. He added that the United Nations and its country offices can play a considerable role in helping countries prepare projects and plans to attract financing from international sources.
Mr. SYLLA observed that mitigating the effects of climate change and strengthening resilience are priorities for developing countries, as is the objective of reaching sustainable growth. Promoting macroeconomic stability remains the focus of IMF, but the impact of climate change on Governments’ balance of payments requires new tools to finance national reforms. Spotlighting the IMF Resilience and Sustainability Facility, he noted that Rwanda has benefitted from the same — the only African country to do so — because of its strong track record of successful implementation of policies and reform, including those addressing climate change. He went on to point out that IMF is targeting $100 billion in special drawing rights for the Facility, but that, as of now, only $40 billion in commitments have been made. He underscored, however, that how to spend the money is more important than how to get it, stressing that good governance is required to establish proper safeguards and ensure that money is spent well. If countries desire resources to address climate change issues, they must demonstrate that such funds will be used effectively, including by creating proper institutions that will bolster donor confidence.
The panel then turned to its lead discussants: Luz Keila Virginia Gramajo Vilchez, Secretary of Planning and Programming of the Presidency of Guatemala; Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo, Executive Director of IBON International; and Jonathan Glennie, Co-Founder of Global Nation.
Ms. VILCHEZ, while noting that Guatemala was the second country in Latin America that passed laws and policies establishing a framework for addressing climate change and outlining nationally determined contributions, pointed out that such efforts were still insufficient for her country to access adequate climate funding. Against that backdrop, she underlined the need to consider national public-investment systems and to ensure that such systems consider risk-management tools within specific projects, stressing that countries like hers that are highly vulnerable to climate change cannot simply wait for international cooperation in this regard. She also highlighted the need for loss-and-damage assurances — as Guatemala has suffered over $6 billion in losses from floods and other meteorological events since 1950 — and the importance of mobilization with other stakeholders, including local governments, which Guatemala does through municipal development programmes.
Ms. ROSARIO-MALONZO stressed the need to address the inverse of the panel’s topic — namely, ineffective development cooperation that contributes to climate risk and harms — as the Global South does not have the safety nets or resources required to deal with such impacts. She expressed concern over development cooperation that leads to projects that dispossess indigenous people, spotlighting as an example certain mega-dam projects in the Philippines that are being financed despite the violations of the rights of the indigenous communities opposing those projects. She went on to note that the $100 billion target for climate finance has not been delivered, and further, that many developed countries are rebranding ODA as loss-and-damage financing — further shrinking the already scarce resources flowing to developing countries. Effective development cooperation means that people in the Global South can identify their own priorities in addressing the impacts of climate change, she added, also calling for additional — not creatively rebranded — development aid.
Mr. GLENNIE said that development cooperation must be explicitly intended to support development priorities, not driven by profit, skewed towards developing countries and based on relationships that aim to enhance such countries’ ownership. He also highlighted the barriers to effective development cooperation, namely a lack of urgency; possibilities defined by the Global North’s perspective; the unhelpful separation of climate and development; and the obfuscation of local perspectives by larger ones. To address this, he called for more public money, improved governance of major funds, modernized support for capacity-building and increased campaigning to raise public support for climate-adaptation measures.
When the floor opened for dialogue, delegates underscored that effective development cooperation ultimately requires greater financial resources dedicated to the same, with many also stressing that commitments made be honoured. Speakers also detailed national policies and strategies to address the impacts of climate change.
The representative of Côte d’Ivoire recalled that the 2022 United Nations climate change conference underscored the importance of creating a loss-and-damage fund to help developing countries recover from the impacts of climate change. He asked the panellists how that mechanism can be promptly operationalized, along with how to increase African countries’ resilience in strategic sectors such as agriculture, energy and water.
The representative of Panama, noting the importance of the sea to her country in terms of providing food and facilitating international shipping, said that her State recognizes its obligation to play a proactive role in adapting to climate change. Detailing national efforts in this regard, she said that the Panama Canal aims to become carbon neutral by 2030 and that her country’s national ocean policy is part of the global effort to promote the sustainable use of marine ecosystems.
The representative of Maldives joined others in highlighting the important relationship between climate finance and development. However, efforts to build infrastructure resilient to climate change is being hampered by underfunding, and he called on development partners to, at a minimum, double the financing provided for adaptation measures. He also pointed out that his country’s graduation to middle-income status limited its access to grants and concessional financing.
The representative of Belarus highlighted the importance of considering not only the adaptation needs of countries like small island developing States and least developed countries, but also those of countries with economies in transition. Such States also need capacity-building and cooperation to achieve low-carbon development, she stressed, adding that sanctions hinder countries’ ability to achieve sustainable development.
Responding, Mr. AKRAM said it will be difficult to actualize the loss-and-damage fund agreed on at the 2022 United Nations climate change conference. He also emphasized the need for public finance, and noted that it is problematic when IMF says that money will only go to countries that are perfectly governed — as this would mean they are developed countries.
Ms. GONZÁLEZ, spotlighting the importance of generating enthusiasm, urged those present to consider how to communicate to citizens and Governments regarding the need to mobilize resources and commit to the fight against climate change.
Mr. SYLLA said that, while IMF does not finance projects, it automatically provides States the means to finance projects within their national development strategies when it intervenes to clean up national budgets. Cautioning against pointing fingers at certain actors, he stressed that only through national budgets and legislatures can new resources be created and reforms implemented to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were representatives of the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Angola and Brazil. The Forum also heard from civil society speakers from the Man Up Campaign and the STUF United Fund.