Speakers Call for Ambitious Action, Investments to Build Sustainable, Inclusive, Resilient Cities, Urban Communities, as High-Level Political Forum Continues
As cities grow exponentially, Governments, the private sector and civil society will have to urgently work together to ensure that urban communities of the not-so-far-future are sustainable, resilient and inclusive for all, speakers stressed, as the high-level political forum on sustainable development — held under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council — continued its discussion today.
Convened under the theme “Accelerating the recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”, the forum — which runs until 19 July — will explore policies and transformations needed to overcome the multiple crises that continue to threaten decades of progress made in development around the world. Particular emphasis will be placed on trends and policies related to Sustainable Development Goal 6 (clean water and sanitation); Goal 7 (affordable and clean energy); Goal 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure); Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities); and Goal 17 (partnerships for the Goals and their linkages to other Goals).
Giovanna Valverde, Costa Rica’s representative to the United Nations Environment Programme and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and Co-Chair of the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, presented the Programmes’ progress report (document E/2023/72). She pointed out that greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and water stress impacts, as well as health-related pollution, are “directly linked to the way we extract, cultivate and process material resources”. As material extraction doubles by 2060, sustainable consumption and production will be extremely crucial. That means making sure high impact industry sectors cut their negative impacts on climate and biodiversity.
Sokunpanha You of the Statistics Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs presented related highlights from the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Goals (document E/2023/64). In 2020, an estimated 1.1 billion urban residents lived in slums or slum-like conditions. If current trends continue, over the next 30 years, 2 billion more people are expected to live in such settlements. “The world now faces a moment of choice and consequence”, he said, stressing the need to focus on implementing urban development policies that prioritize access to basic services, affordable housing, efficient transportation, and green spaces for all.
Delivering a keynote address, Rabab Fatima, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States and Secretary-General of the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, said that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the already difficult situation of least developed countries. “Recovering lost ground will require our full arsenal of domestic and international resources,” she said, adding: “We have the tools at our disposal; however, political will and action will be paramount.”
Panels were also held throughout the day, including “SDG 11 and interlinkages with other SDGs — Sustainable cities and communities”; “Overcoming middle-income countries’ challenges in advancing the 2030 Agenda”, and “African countries, Least Developed Countries and Landlocked Developing Countries: Turning the tide, regaining lost ground and embarking on the road to the SDGs”.
Many speakers stressed the need to translate ambition into action and invest in solutions in cities and urban communities, especially on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption, which they said presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to so-called “build back better”.
In that regard, panellist Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat, said that the world must make a choice about what kind of future it wants: cities of integration or cities of segregation; cities of resilience or cities of vulnerability; cities of stability or cities of insecurity. Change is possible, she said, underscoring that a transformative change in housing will have an effect on everyone.
Paul Stout, content creator of TikTok account TalkingCities, pointed out that a surprising amount of the world’s most valuable urban space is dedicated to the most inefficient mode of transportation: cars. Car-dependent development patterns are extremely expensive, both for cities and people. Young people prefer walkable neighbourhoods with transit access. “Cost is a useful proxy: what something costs in monetary terms is often not far from what it costs the planet.”
Spotlighting middle-income countries, panellist Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, said that, due to the declining share of concessional borrowing from official bilateral and multilateral creditors, middle-income countries are increasingly turning to private creditors. She highlighted the case of Egypt — a country that uses over half of its revenue on interest payments rather than spending funds investing in crucial public services. “Our world is only as resilient as our most indebted nation,” she said.
On the panel focusing on “turning the tide”, Namira Negm, Director of the African Union Migration Observatory, said that COVID-19 left African States, especially least developed countries, in a very fragile situation. “This challenge was imposed on us,” she pointed out. The pandemic is similar to climate change: Africa had nothing to do with creating it but now has to deal with the blowback. That is why the status quo is no longer good enough. There is a need to change this dynamic, she emphasized.
However, Yacouba Ibrahim Oumarou of the Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent based in Niger, observed that sometimes these deep-rooted and inescapable inequalities fester within countries as well. Across West Africa, he said, descent communities are characterized by being born into a lineage of perceived “lowest” caste. “When our groups attempt to free themselves, they are violently suppressed,” he said. This is not limited to Africa, he reported, citing the Quilomibla people in Latin America, the Dalits in Asia or the Romani around the world. As a musician who has toured West Africa, he underscored the power of the arts in bringing people together.
The Economic and Social Council’s high-level political forum will reconvene at 9 a.m. on Friday, 14 July.
Sustainable Development Goal 11 — Sustainable Cities and Communities
GIOVANNA VALVERDE, Costa Rica’s representative to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and Co-Chair of the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns, presented the Programmes’ progress report (document E/2023/72), noting that sustainable consumption and production can address the planetary crisis and support a recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 50 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress impacts, as well as one third of health-related pollution impacts are “directly linked to the way we extract, cultivate and process material resources in consumption and production systems”. Material extraction is expected to double by 2060. Transitioning towards sustainable consumption and production patterns is critical. The 10-Year Framework of Programmes offers solutions to help Governments and stakeholders move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption and production.
She added that the Global Strategy for Sustainable Consumption and Production, through multistakeholder partnerships, enables transformative changes and empowers countries, in particular developing countries. This multilateral and multi-stakeholder collaboration for sustainable consumption and production needs to be intensified. Accelerating the shift towards sustainable consumption and production requires focusing on high impact industry sectors and ensuring that they are significantly reducing their negative climate, biodiversity, and pollution footprints. As well, digital technologies can help businesses reduce their environmental impact, reduce waste, and decrease the use of resources. But to harness that potential, tailored policies are critical. Governments can enable and encourage sustainable consumption including by deploying green nudges and incentives. A good example of that is the Group of 20 High-Level Principles on Lifestyle for Sustainable Development, she said.
Focusing on Goal 11 (sustainable cities and communities), SOKUNPANHA YOU of the Statistics Division in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs presented related highlights from the Secretary-General’s report on progress towards the Goals (document E/2023/64). The proportion of urban population living in slums declined slightly between 2014 and 2020. Nonetheless, the total number of slum dwellers continues to rise with increasing urbanization. In 2020, an estimated 1.1 billion urban residents lived in slums or slum-like conditions. If current trends continue, over the next 30 years, 2 billion more people are expected to live in such settlements, mostly in developing countries. Further, in 2022, only 51.6 per cent of the global urban population had convenient access to public transport, with an estimated 1 billion people still lacking access to all-weather roads in developing countries, where demand for mobility has been rising exponentially.
In 2020, more than three quarters of cities dedicated less than 20 per cent of their area to open public spaces and streets, far short of the target of 45 to 50 per cent, he continued. While air quality is improving globally, this is largely driven by advancements in high-income countries; in 2019, towns in Eastern and South-eastern Asia, a region with a significant proportion of the world’s population, experienced poorer air quality than cities. “Tackling air pollution requires a shift in perspective, acknowledging that it is no longer an exclusively urban issue,” he stressed. In 2022, 102 countries reported having local governments with disaster risk reduction strategies, a substantial increase from 51 in 2015. “The world now faces a moment of choice and consequence,” he said, calling for a focus on implementing urban development policies that prioritize access to basic services, affordable housing, efficient transportation and green spaces for all.
Moderating the panel discussion “SDG 11 and interlinkages with other SDGs —Sustainable cities and communities” was Stefano Marta, Coordinator, Territorial Approach to the Sustainable Development Goals, Centre for Entrepreneurship, Small and Midsize Enterprises, Regions and Cities of the Organisation for the Economic Cooperation and Development. The featured panellists included: Maimunah Mohd Sharif, Executive Director of UN-Habitat; Ana Ciuti, Head of International Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, Argentina; António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration, Coordinator of the United Nations Network on Migration; and Maruxa Cardama, Secretary General, Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport. The lead discussants were: Marc Workman, CEO of World Blind Union; and Paul Stout, content creator of TikTok account TalkingCities, USA, youth speaker. Nikolina Brnjac, Minister for Tourism and Sport of Croatia, spoke as the ministerial respondent.
Ms. SHARIF, noting that today, the planet is majority urban, said that the world has arrived at a crossroad where a choice must be made with regard to what kind of future it wants: cities of integration or cities of segregation; cities of resilience or cities of vulnerability, cities of stability or cities of insecurity. “The choice is ours,” she declared. Stressing the need to rethink strategies of how to plan and manage cities, she said “it is time to act now”. It is time to translate ambition into action and invest in high impact solutions and fully empower local and regional governments which deliver the Sustainable Development Goals everywhere. Stressing that change is possible, she highlighted many innovative solutions championed by regional governments. Housing is one of the areas related to poverty and equality and a transformative change in housing will have a transformative effect for everyone, everywhere, she underscored.
Ms. CIUTI said the harmful effects of climate change are clear on a global scale. “All the mayors and city teams present at the high-level political forum this week have [shared] concrete example of what is happening in their cities,” she said, underscoring that cities are taking a leading role in the fight against climate change. However, they also face a dire challenge. “The access to finance is our major barrier,” she reported. That prevents cities, particularly in the Global South, from realizing their sustainability ambitions. “Financial instruments can be used to help cities overcome fiscal and regulatory barriers to access funding from both public and private resources,” she said. However, in some cases, cities may not be empowered to directly access international funds. Meanwhile, multilateral development banks are constrained by their mandates. It is important to leverage momentum to encourage multilateral development banks to increase the availability of climate finance for cities. “We need to improve the coordination and participation of cities in international forums and strengthen our engagement,” she stressed.
Mr. VITORINO noted that during the pandemic, migrants were amongst those hit the hardest by job loss and lack of access to health and other services. Yet they are now driving economic growth both in cities and in countries of origin “thanks, in part, to the staggering scale of remittances they send to their families back home”. Migration is an accelerator of inclusive growth “when we put in place policies that enable migrants fully to become active changemakers in our societies”. He affirmed the importance of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, as it provides the framework to make migration work for all. He welcomed the fact that of the 230 pledges formulated at the International Migration Review Forum, 48 are led by cities or local communities. To help unlock the full potential of migrants and migration, the United Nations Network on Migration seeks to forge strong partnerships with cities through their involvement in capacity-building initiatives. “Most importantly, migrants and local authorities need to have a seat at the table in discussions that affect them,” he emphasized.
Mr. VITORINO noted that during the pandemic, migrants were amongst those hit the hardest by job loss, lack of access to health and other services. Yet they are now driving economic growth both in cities and in countries of origin “thanks, in part, to the staggering scale of remittances they send to their families back home”. Migration is an accelerator of inclusive growth “when we put in place policies that enable migrants fully to become active changemakers in our societies”. He affirmed the importance of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, as it provides the framework to make migration work for all. He welcomed the fact that of the 230 pledges formulated at the International Migration Review Forum, 48 are led by cities or local communities. To help unlock the full potential of migrants and migration, the United Nations Network on Migration seeks to forge strong partnerships with cities through their involvement in capacity-building initiatives. “Most importantly, migrants, and local authorities, need to have a seat at the table in discussions that affect them,” he emphasized.
Mr. WORKMAN said inclusion begins at the local level, where Governments, civil society, and communities must join forces to create accessible, inclusive, and resilient environments. The World Blind Union and United Cities and Local Governments jointly developed a policy brief to highlight the critical importance of localization to solve the accessibility crisis. “Accessibility is an internationally recognized human right and a precondition for inclusion and participation in society,” he emphasized, voicing concern about the proliferation of accessibility barriers amid today’s rapid urbanization and the climate crisis. Local and regional governments must be engaged as key stakeholders in the implementation of the Goals and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Organizations of persons with disabilities must also be actively involved as they are essential in shaping inclusive urban development strategies, policies, and practices. Detailing other recommendations, he stressed that while data plays a vital role, data on inclusion and accessibility is lacking. Empowering local and regional Governments with the necessary resources and competencies to collect disaggregated data and identify accessibility barriers is critical to inform policymaking, he said.
Mr. STOUT said that a surprising amount of the world’s most valuable urban space is dedicated to the most inefficient mode of transportation: cars. Thinking about Goal 11 from a young person’s perspective reveals an additional crisis — a cost of living crisis — which has two main components: housing and transportation. Car-dependent development patterns are extremely expensive, both for cities and people. Saving money aligns perfectly with a less carbon intensive lifestyle. Thus, building non-car dependent, denser and more affordable housing is an essential part of decarbonizing the transportation network. Young people prefer walkable neighbourhoods with transit access. “Cost is a useful proxy: what something costs in monetary terms is often not far from what it costs the planet.” Resilience means building back better, he stressed, adding that the way in which neighbourhoods are built has a tremendous impact on achieving a net-zero future.
Ms. BRNJAC underlined the need to work towards inclusive, resilient cities, assisting the elderly and achieving green and sustainable housing construction. Accordingly, she spotlighted her Government’s programme which focuses on providing affordable subsidized housing to young families in Croatia. States must do more to improve the housing conditions, increase green spaces and improve air quality of cities. Further, the shock caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — which has influenced the urban environment — should be used to work more ambitiously to meet Sustainable Development Goal 9.
As the floor opened for the interactive dialogue, speakers underscored the importance of ensuring that cities move toward sustainability as urbanization intensifies further.
Switzerland’s representative, noting that his country’s buildings are responsible for close to a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions and 40 per cent of energy consumption, said his Government is encouraging the construction of less energy intensive structures.
Other speakers outlined national actions to meet demand and improve urban housing and accessibility for all, with the representative of Thailand spotlighting his Government’s engagement with all stakeholders to include the needs of people of all genders, children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities in planning sustainable and “green” cities.
Inclusive housing was brought to the fore with a representative of the LGBTI Stakeholder Group reporting that LGBTI youth and older persons experience disproportionate rates of homelessness. Citing statistics that 40 to 50 per cent of homeless youths are LGBTI, she noted that Goal 11 underscores the necessity of sustainable urbanization, inclusive housing, and safe public spaces for all. “Yet, LGBTI persons are excluded from urban development initiatives,” she pointed out.
Many speakers also highlighted the need to promote the roles played by city leaders and local governments and communities. “Fundamentally, we have learned that we cannot do this work alone,” the representative of the United States said, adding that local governments and civil society must be at the forefront of urban efforts.
Echoing that, Poland’s delegate, speaking for the Group of Friends of UN-Habitat, stressed that investment is needed to support sub-national and local government’s capacity to plan and deliver inclusive basic urban services. “When we plan, manage, govern and finance cities and human settlements in a way that makes them inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, we have a chance to achieve all SDGs.”
Noting that out of the 110 million people who are forcibly displaced in the world 60 per cent live in urban areas, the representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that, in fact, in some cities, they represent the largest minority group. “Cities are facing a myriad of challenges,” he said, adding: “But we can turn this crisis into an opportunity”.
Other speakers detailed efforts to address the urban housing crisis, with Senegal’s representative describing the restructuring of slums taking place in his country’s capital. Highlighting the “zero-slums” and “zero-waste” programmes, he reported that the initiative already has “very positive” results and better housing has already been built.
All people living in urban areas, stressed a German youth delegate, must be considered and involved in the building of sustainable cities. Young people can contribute greatly to urban planning. “We have to accept that our cities will change,” she said, adding: “We can either find the courage to shape this process or stand by watching”.
Responding, Ms. SHARIF acknowledged the many interventions highlighting housing and homelessness as a critical priority, as the global housing emergency spares no country, city, community or group. Housing is a fundamental basis for health and dignity for all, and the UN-Habitat Assembly has a resolution to establish an open-end intergovernmental expert group on housing and to address action on slum upgrading.
Ms. CIUTI cited initiatives by the Prime Minister of Barbados, and a new agreement in France to reform development finance architecture, where local Government partnerships with national States are engaging to provide more financing for cities.
Mr. VITORINO recalled that “it has been said that 60 per cent of migrants worldwide live in cities”, possibly rising to 70 per cent by 2030. Further, 2022 set the record for internally displaced persons — almost 100 million — who are also headed to cities, representing an extra pressure on the housing sector. Durable solutions for integration will require mobilizing not just those people but, first and foremost, local authorities.
Ms. CARDAMA underlined that informal transport services are among the most common urban systems, in almost every city and town in low- and middle-income countries, accounting in some cases for 95 per cent of trips. The tendency to ignore that has generated large gaps in policy and data, but if integrated, informal transport could accelerate the transition to more sustainable transport systems worldwide.
Overcoming Middle-Income Countries’ Challenges in Advancing the 2030 Agenda
The panel discussion on “Overcoming middle-income countries’ challenges in advancing the 2030 Agenda” was moderated by Omar Hilale (Morocco), Chair of the Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries. It featured panellists: Homi Kharas, Senior Fellow at the Center for Sustainable Development at the Brookings Institution; Rola Dashti, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; and Fiona Tregenna, South African Research Chair in Industrial Development at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. It also featured lead discussants Adrian Lasimbang, Board Member of the Right Energy Partnership with Indigenous Peoples in Malaysia, representing major groups and other stakeholders; and Mishell Naomi Cabezas Vilela, Junior Lawyer at the Estudio Juridico Merchán/Merchán Law Firm in Ecuador and youth representative.
Mr. KHARAS said that middle-income countries have suffered a great shock due to the COVID-19 pandemic and their level of income has not recovered. In addition, whereas developed countries have suffered a temporary shock and have now recovered, developing countries have suffered a permanent shock. Without accelerating economic growth, there is little hope that middle-income countries will make serious progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Highlighting obstacles that prevent investments, he pointed to a lack of fiscal space and a high cost of capital faced by middle-income countries whose credit worthiness had deteriorated in the aftermath of COVID-19. Fifty out of 86 developing countries with a bond credit rating have seen their rating downgraded and eight middle income countries are in default. He underscored that the best solution for middle-income countries lies in the expansion of financial and technical support by the multilateral development banks that provide affordable interest rates.
Ms. DASHTI said that the share of concessional borrowing from official bilateral and multilateral creditors is declining, and middle-income countries are increasingly turning to private creditors. Egypt exemplifies this with over half of its revenue consumed by interest payments rather than spending these funds on improving the lives of its citizens and investing in crucial public services. She urged the international community to provide support based on needs and vulnerabilities, not just on income per capita. She also stressed the need for debt relief and called for reform of the global financial architecture. “We are not pleading here,” she said. Multilateral action is imperative, but it is not enough. Middle income countries must adopt prudent borrowing practices and curb illicit financial flows as well. “Our world is only as resilient as our most indebted nation,” she stated. The debt of middle-income countries is a threat for all and a threat to economic resilience. For middle income countries, it is a call for introspection and an opportunity for growth.
Mr. LASIMBANG stressed that middle-income countries face significant challenges, with marginalized communities particularly affected. Indigenous people often lack access to basic services and infrastructure, he said, adding that limited access to the Internet and basic services perpetuates a cycle of poverty and inequality. Innovative approaches are essential in overcoming challenges faced by marginalized communities. These include satellite internet access and exploring new models of service delivery. He highlighted the importance of embracing technology and adopting context-specific innovation, also adding that direct financing to local organizations enables them to scale up efforts to reach communities in need.
Ms. VILELA said that middle-income countries, including her own country, Ecuador, must prioritize domestic resource mobilization. The international community for its part must support them in sustainable development endeavors. She asked the Forum: How can middle income countries ensure they have access to the resources they need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? For one, education plays a central role in advancing sustainable development. Education empowers individuals, fosters critical thinking, and gives future generations the skills they so critically need. As a lawyer from Ecuador, she said, it is an honour for her to participate in the high-level forum. It is important that young people have opportunities and have a seat at the table. “I am not here just to speak to you. I am here to be part of the change,” she said.
As the floor opened for the interactive dialogue, speakers emphasized that inequities in financial instruments, measuring mechanisms and other economic indicators present impediments to middle-income development.
The representative of the Education and Academia Stakeholder Group underlined that how countries are measured and classified does not reflect their realities, due in part to the colonial structure of financing measurements. She called for different financial mechanisms, while cautioning that it is important to consider the consequences of the mechanisms used.
Also addressing financing issues, Kenya’s delegate noted that loans to middle-income countries have become very expensive, limiting access to development financing or maximization of Goal implementation. He called for stronger international Government cooperation and fair-trade policies by developed countries.
Similarly, Colombia’s delegate stressed the urgent need to launch an intergovernmental process to establish measures beyond GDP alone — a deliverable that would have the greatest impact at the SDG Summit.
The representative of the Philippines said the most pressing issue is tight fiscal space and high external debt, with most middle-income countries facing the choice between their developmental aspirations and fiscal stability. The international community can offer support by bolstering development cooperation and South-South and triangular cooperation.
Other speakers focused on the specific development needs of country categories and of marginalized groups of people, including Armenia’s delegate, who noted that landlocked middle-income countries face additional challenges including transport issues, connectivity and access to foreign markets.
Women have to take a role in the implementation of the Goals in middle-income countries, the representative of the Women’s Major Group emphasized. Only ensuring the rights of women and girls “and identifying the gender equality indicators across all Goals will get us to justice and inclusion”, she said.
Addressing the importance of economic diversification, the representative of the World Trade Organization noted trade integration in the global economy lies behind the success of many countries in diversifying and driving far-reaching poverty reduction in the process. As such, diversification should be seen as a goal in and of itself, to stabilize export revenues and decrease trade shocks — to which middle-income countries are particularly vulnerable.
Responding, Mr. KHARAS said middle-income countries are among the most vulnerable, facing the greatest challenges to movement on climate action and nature preservation, among a long list of impediments in a very constrained financial situation.
Ms. DASHTI called for a coordinated voice on those challenges and constructive dialogue between middle-income countries and developed countries on financing mechanisms.
Ms. TREGENNA expressed hope that the session will herald greater attention to middle-income countries, citing the finance and support gaps addressed by the speakers.
African, Least Developed, and Landlocked Developing Countries
Giving a keynote address, RABAB FATIMA, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States and Secretary-General of the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, underscored that the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the already difficult situation of least developed countries. Undernourishment has increased across the board in sub-Saharan Africa compared to pre-pandemic levels, she said, adding that in 2020 alone, 32 million people were pushed into extreme poverty. Over the last three years, there has been limited progress on water and sanitation; also, access to electricity remains a major issue, impacting much of sub-Saharan Africa.
She further reported that 52 per cent of least developed countries’ population lack access to any kind of electricity. To recover, financing will be critical. Trillions will be needed to address this complex situation from both public and private sources, she observed, noting that the debt situation has worsened in many of these countries. Despite the dire situation, “we can still be cautiously optimistic”, she said, spotlighting the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries — adopted in March 2022 — which reflects multiple challenges resulting from the pandemic. She also stressed the need to effectively tackle the climate crisis, including by increasing funds for climate adaptation. “Recovering lost ground will require our full arsenal of domestic and international resources,” she said, adding: “We have the tools at our disposal; however, political will and action will be paramount.”
Moderating the panel discussion “African Countries, Least Developed Countries and Landlocked Developing Countries: Turning the tide, regaining lost ground and embarking on the road to the SDGs” was Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, Executive Vice President of the African Center for Economic Transformation. The featured panellists included: Namira Negm, Director of the African Union Migration Observatory; Dulguun Damdin-Od, Executive Director, International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries; and Dima Al-Khatib, Director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation. The lead discussants were Rwodah Al Naimi, Strategic Partnership Department Manager, Qatar Fund for Development; Humphrey Mrema, Chairman of the United Republic of Tanzania’s Youth Survival Organization and Youth4Climate Advisory Committee Member and youth speaker; and Yacouba Ibrahim Oumarou, Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent, Niger.
Ms. NEGM said that COVID-19 left African States, especially least developed countries, in a very fragile situation. Yet, despite the successes in raising funds, it was extremely challenging for Africans to access vaccines. “This challenge was imposed on us,” she pointed out. The pandemic is similar to climate change: Africa had nothing to do with creating it but now has to deal with the blowback. That is why the status quo is no longer good enough. Building resilience in least developed countries is imperative to improve the poverty situation as well as to reduce migration. African connectivity is fundamental as the driver of development. That includes investing in infrastructure such as internet connectivity. It is challenging to least developed countries when national priorities are not intersecting with the priorities of their partners. There is a need to change this dynamic and direct finances towards projects that will yield maximum profits for least developed countries. Stressing that the abuse of Africa’s natural resources must end, she also underscored that investing in the service sector and agricultural manufacturing will assist in the diversification of least developed countries’ economies.
Mr. DAMDIN-OD noted that given their lack of access to the sea, landlocked developing States face substantial costs when accessing global markets, with average costs for importing and exporting shipping containers being more than double those faced by transit countries. Offering three major recommendations, he said that, firstly, Governments in landlocked developing countries should foster public-private partnerships to greater mobilize expertise and resources in the renewable energy sector. Many landlocked States have an average of 44 per cent of renewable energy in their total final energy consumption as of 2020. Second, those countries should ramp up regional cooperation in order to exploit existing opportunities for cross-border bilateral renewable electricity trade with neighbouring countries and through regional electricity markets. Thirdly, focusing on global trade, he said that landlocked countries need to engage in further constructive dialogue with neighbouring transit countries, particularly to harmonize regulations, procedures, and customs standards to reduce transit times and costs.
Ms. AL-KHATIB outlined measures to support resilience and sustainability through South-South and triangular cooperation. This development cooperation modality can be leveraged to enhance resilience building and prepare countries against future shocks, address loss and damage in climate change, mobilize financial resources and promote transfer of technologies. This could be achieved through enhancing the institutional capacities and human resources in least developed countries and landlocked developing countries to unleash structural transformation and address the overreliance on primary commodities. By enhancing their skills and capabilities through South-South cooperation, they would be able to effectively implement trade facilitation measures. Another vital area is resource mobilization and access to innovative financing. Developing countries with financial resources and expertise can support African countries, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries in accessing funding for COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery and Sustainable Development Goals implementation. South-South cooperation can facilitate linkages for increased trade and investment opportunities among countries of the South. She emphasized that encouraging regional integration and supporting the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement can boost economic recovery, create jobs and promote sustainable development.
Mr. OUMAROU said that, across West Africa, descent communities are known by names such as Haratin, Limalmine, Jongo — characterized by being born into a lineage of perceived “lowest” caste and their respective professions. “We are also called ‘former slaves’ by the dominant groups,” he said, adding: “When our groups attempt to free themselves, they are violently suppressed to re-establish what is perceived as the proper ‘social order’.” However, this phenomenon is not limited to Africa. The Quilomibla people in Latin America, the Dalits in Asia and Buraku communities in Japan or the Romani in Europe and across the world are a few examples of communities who also have similar experiences. From the perspective of a rights expert from descent communities and musician and artist who has toured in West Africa, he stressed the need to fund the power of arts and music. He also pointed out that the poorest and most vulnerable communities throughout the world disproportionately suffer climate change impacts due to their lack of resources. Climate injustice is intimately connected to systemic discrimination that governs unequal socioeconomic positions within a society. Against this backdrop, he recommended to establish clear land titles and ownership for all and to protect the most marginalized, particularly descent communities.
Ms. AL-NAIMA reported that the Government of Qatar has contributed $60 million to the Doha Programme of Action. As well, from 2013 to May 2023, the Qatar Fund for Development disbursed over $1.3 billion to support least developed countries and small island developing States. In 2020, the country dispersed 16 per cent of its bilateral official development assistance (ODA) to least developed countries and 23 per cent in 2021. “We are keen to keep our ODA to LDCs to at least 20 per cent, also in the future as stipulated by the Doha Programme of Action,” she said, accenting the need to ensure effective support towards achieving the Goals. “More funding does not necessarily mean more impact unless we know the effects of our efforts,” she stressed. The Qatar Fund has elaborated a corporate results framework that is aligned with the Goals indicators in priority areas of education, health, economic development and climate change. “This not only helps us apply a result focus in our international cooperation, but also assess our actual contribution to the SDGs in our partner countries,” she said.
Mr. MREMA spotlighted the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Doha, Qatar, from 5 to 9 March, and the Youth Declaration that emerged from it that called for world leaders to invite youth participation in global affairs. “It doesn’t have to be tokenistic, but we need to be engaged, from policymaking to discussions,” he stressed. Citing the Declaration’s nine calls to action, including on human rights, refugees, migration and internally displaced persons, tackling climate change and digital inclusion, he emphasized that they cannot be solved one-by-one without an institutionalized leadership structure. Citing the statement that “what happened in Doha must not stay in Doha”, he called for a transition from ambition to action, so that young people are never sidelined, but instead have all their challenges addressed. “This is how we can attain a sustainable future,” he stated.
As the floor opened for the interactive discussion, speakers outlined transformative financing measures that are needed to accelerate recovery, ensure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and advance the Doha Programme of Action.
In that vein, the representative of the United Kingdom declared: “We must turbo charge the SDG process” by recommitting to the 2030 Agenda, building a more equitable international financial system and mobilizing sustainable finance across the Goals, as well as supporting countries in accessing insurance against natural disasters, including through the African risk capacity.
The representative of South Africa underscored that while no country, rich or poor, is spared of the negative impacts of the current global crises, it is critical that there is due recognition of the uniquely devastating consequences on African countries, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries. Urgent action is needed to mobilize resources for these countries, he stressed, voicing supports for the Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus proposed by the Secretary-General.
Nepal’s delegate said least developed countries have suffered devastating health and socioeconomic setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic, which are worsened by rising prices of food, energy and fertilizers. Stressing that the international financial architecture must be urgently reformed, he called on States to implement the Stimulus and ramp up financing flows by at least $500 billion by 2025.
The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic said his country has been severely affected by the multifaceted challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the fuel, financing, food and fertilizer crises, as well as climate change. The adoption of the Doha Programme of Action was an important reference for the international community to help least developed countries achieve rapid recovery from the pandemic, build resilience against future shock, eradicate extreme poverty and achieve graduation.
Echoing his concerns, Paraguay’s delegate emphasized that, in light of the specific challenges of landlocked countries — such as managing debt, post-pandemic period, climate change and limitation of new technological resources — they need the broadest possible support to fully make use of the opportunities that will be offered at forthcoming meetings and conference. In this regard, the mobilization of international support and resources will be crucial.
Due to no interpretation after 6 p.m., services of the Meetings Coverage Section concluded.