UN 2023 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development: The First week of meetings has African focus

The United Nations 2023 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development under the auspices of ECOSOC ended its first week of meeting on Friday 14th July. 

Leaders from around the world gathered since Monday 10th July, at the UN Headquarters in New York to address pressing issues and forge a path towards a more sustainable future. Under the overarching theme of “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 aims to tackle the multifaceted crises that threaten years of global development progress.

The ongoing discussions, scheduled until July 19, focus on identifying policies and transformative actions necessary to overcome the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Of particular importance are Sustainable Development Goal 6, aiming for clean water and sanitation; Goal 7, striving for affordable and clean energy; Goal 9, emphasizing industry, innovation, and infrastructure; Goal 11, advocating for sustainable cities and communities; and Goal 17, highlighting the significance of partnerships for the Goals and their interconnectedness with other objectives.

During the forum, attention has turned to the situation in Africa, where progress holds great significance in determining the success of the Global Goals’ commitment to “leave no one behind.” Kofi Kankam, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Elizka Relief Foundation and Representative of the Africa Civil Society Engagement Mechanism, emphasized that the challenges facing the continent, including the shrinking civic space, require innovative and collective responses rooted in principles of justice, equity, and solidarity.

With the world still grappling with the devastating impacts of the pandemic, the need for sustainable development and resilience has become more urgent than ever. The forum provides a platform for leaders, experts, and civil society representatives to engage in constructive dialogue, share best practices, and develop strategies that can propel global efforts towards a greener, fairer, and more prosperous future.

African, Least Developed, and Landlocked Developing Countries 

In a keynote address at the High-Level Meeting on Sustainable development, Rabab Fatima, the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States, along with serving as the Secretary-General of the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, emphasized that the socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly worsened the already challenging situation faced by least developed countries. Fatima highlighted the alarming increase in undernourishment throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with 32 million people being pushed into extreme poverty in 2020 alone. Moreover, limited progress has been made in the areas of water and sanitation, while access to electricity remains a major issue, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Fatima further reported that 52% of the population in least-developed countries lack access to any form of electricity. To address this complex situation, she stressed the critical need for substantial financing, highlighting that trillions of dollars will be required from both public and private sources. It is worth noting that the debt situation in many of these countries has worsened. Despite the daunting circumstances, Fatima expressed cautious optimism, shedding light on the Doha Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries, which was adopted in March 2022 and recognizes the multiple challenges resulting from the pandemic. She underscored the importance of effectively tackling the climate crisis, including the increase in funds for climate adaptation. Fatima concluded by stating that recovering lost ground will necessitate utilizing all available domestic and international resources while highlighting that political will and action are of paramount importance.

The panel discussion titled “African Countries, Least Developed Countries, and Landlocked Developing Countries: Turning the Tide, regaining lost ground, and Embarking on the Road to the SDGs” was skillfully moderated by Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, the Executive Vice President of the African Center for Economic Transformation. The panel featured distinguished experts and representatives, including Namira Negm, Director of the African Union Migration Observatory; Dulguun Damdin-Od, Executive Director of the International Think Tank for Landlocked Developing Countries; and Dima Al-Khatib, Director of the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation. Rwodah Al Naimi, Strategic Partnership Department Manager at the Qatar Fund for Development, Humphrey Mrema, Chairman of the United Republic of Tanzania’s Youth Survival Organization and Youth4Climate Advisory Committee Member, and Yacouba Ibrahim Oumarou, representing the Global Forum of Communities Discriminated on Work and Descent in Niger, served as the lead discussants.

Namira Negm shed light on the fragile situation of African states, particularly the least developed countries, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite successful fundraising efforts, Africans have faced significant challenges in accessing vaccines, which Negm asserted were imposed on them. 

She drew parallels between the pandemic and climate change, noting that Africa had no role in creating these crises but is now dealing with the repercussions. Negm called for building resilience in the least developed countries to address the poverty situation and reduce migration. She emphasized the fundamental role of African connectivity as a driver of development, highlighting the importance of investing in infrastructure such as internet connectivity. Negm stressed the need for a change in dynamics, aligning national priorities with the priorities of their partners and directing finances toward projects that maximize benefits for least developed countries. She further underlined the urgency to end the abuse of Africa’s natural resources and advocated for investments in the service sector and agricultural manufacturing to promote economic diversification.

Dulguun Damdin-Od focused on the challenges faced by landlocked developing countries, emphasizing their substantial costs in accessing global markets due to the lack of sea access. He provided three major recommendations: fostering public-private partnerships to mobilize expertise and resources in the renewable energy sector, enhancing regional cooperation to exploit cross-border bilateral renewable electricity trade opportunities, and engaging in constructive dialogue with neighbouring transit countries to harmonise regulations, procedures, and customs standards to reduce transit times and costs in global trade.

Dima Al-Khatib outlined measures to support resilience and sustainability through South-South and triangular cooperation. She highlighted the potential of this development cooperation modality to enhance institutional capacities and human resources in the least developed and landlocked developing countries, addressing the overreliance on primary commodities and implementing trade facilitation measures. Al-Khatib stressed the importance of resource mobilization and access to innovative financing, with developing countries that possess financial resources and expertise supporting African countries, least-developed countries, and landlocked developing countries in accessing funding for COVID-19 socioeconomic recovery and the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals. She emphasized that regional integration and the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement can drive economic recovery, job creation, and sustainable development.

Yacouba Ibrahim Oumarou highlighted the experiences of descent communities across different regions of the world, underscoring the need to fund the power of arts and music as instruments for change. He emphasized that the poorest and most vulnerable communities disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change due to their lack of resources. Oumarou called for establishing clear land titles and ownership for all and protecting marginalized communities, particularly descent communities. He drew attention to the systemic discrimination and climate injustice that perpetuate unequal socioeconomic positions within societies.

Rwodah Al Naimi reported that the Government of Qatar has contributed $60 million to the Doha Programme of Action and disbursed over $1.3 billion through the Qatar Fund for Development to support least developed countries and small island developing states from 2013 to May 2023. Al Naimi emphasized the commitment to maintaining at least a 20% bilateral official development assistance (ODA) to least developed countries, as stipulated by the Doha Programme of Action. She stressed the need to assess the impact of efforts, noting that more funding does not necessarily translate to a more significant impact. The Qatar Fund has developed a corporate results framework aligned with the indicators of the Goals, focusing on education, health, economic development, and climate change. This framework enables the assessment of Qatar’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals in partner countries.

Humphrey Mrema highlighted the importance of youth participation in global affairs, emphasizing the need for meaningful engagement, from policymaking to discussions. He cited the Youth Declaration that emerged from the fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries in Doha, which called for institutionalized leadership structures to address a range of issues, including human rights, refugees, migration, climate change, and digital inclusion. Mrema called for a transition from ambition to action to ensure young people’s challenges are addressed and to attain a sustainable future.

During the interactive discussion, representatives outlined transformative financing measures needed to accelerate recovery, ensure progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, and advance the Doha Programme of Action. The representative of the United Kingdom stressed the importance of recommitting to the 2030 Agenda, building a more equitable international financial system, and mobilizing sustainable finance. Supporting countries in accessing insurance against natural disasters, including through the African risk capacity, was also emphasized. The representative of South Africa underscored the unique and devastating consequences faced by African countries, least-developed countries, and landlocked developing countries, emphasizing the urgent need for resource mobilization. Support for the Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus proposed by the Secretary-General was voiced. Nepal called for urgent reform of the international financial architecture and an increase in financing flows by at least $500 billion by 2025. The representative of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic highlighted the multifaceted challenges faced by their country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with fuel, financing, food, fertilizer crises, and climate change. The adoption of the Doha Programme of Action was viewed as crucial for rapid recovery, resilience building, poverty eradication, and graduation. Paraguay emphasized the importance of international support and resources for landlocked countries to maximize the opportunities presented in forthcoming meetings and conferences.

As the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development concluded for the first week, it reinforced the need for urgent action and global cooperation to address the socioeconomic challenges faced by vulnerable nations. Mobilizing financial resources, enhancing connectivity, promoting sustainable practices, empowering marginalized communities, and engaging youth in decision-making processes were recognized as critical steps towards achieving sustainable development. By translating words into actions, the international community can pave the way for a brighter future, leaving no country behind on the path to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Written by Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar, USA Correspondent

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Olivier Noudjalbaye Dedingar

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