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Global collaboration is key to recovery and achieving the SDGs

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The COVID-19 pandemic has stalled the advancement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs). It is creating many challenges, yet also it unveils opportunities to build back better. In this context, inclusive and sustainable industrial development, which is at the core of SDG9, is expected to play a critical role in overcoming the crisis and setting countries back on the path of economic development.

The achievement of the SDGs in a post-COVID-19 world will require a holistic approach, including strong commitments towards the promotion of structural changes across all sectors of society. In this context, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) jointly organized a virtual event that addressed how the pandemic is impacting the SDGs, specifically SDG 9, and the Agenda 2030 

UNIDO’s Director General, LI Yong, opened up the event by emphasizing how Agenda 2030 is and still should be the roadmap to recovery. He also touched on the importance of achieving SDG9 to create a more sustainable industrial future and the need for reliable statistics and data, including UNIDO’s Industrial Analytics Platform and SDSN’s new data platform, SDGs Today. Li stated, “We must seize the opportunity to use the disruptive impact of the pandemic on the global economy to seek collaborative solutions to drive the 2030 Agenda.”

Gerhard Küntzle, Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN in Vienna, stated, “It is crystal clear that we must make the next ten years a decade of action and aim to mainstream evidence-based policymaking in the development agenda.”

SDSN President, Jeffrey Sachs, highlighted the need for global collaboration, and how the world should turn toward six transformation pathways to achieve the SDGs amidst the pandemic. Sachs specifically highlighted the need for the first transformation relating to education, gender and inequality, and the sixth transformation relating to a Digital Revolution for Sustainable Development.

“No child can have a future without education,” Sachs said, noting how access to the tools for free digital education for children is achievable with the right global collaboration.

Lastly, Sachs highlighted the need for decarbonizing industry: “Renewable energy is our theme and we must get to zero.” 

As Ethiopia has undergone an industrial revolution from agricultural to manufacturing, the next speaker, Arkebe Oqubay, Minister and Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, discussed lessons learned for the world to apply to achieve progress toward the SDGs. Oqubay highlighted three lessons: 1) Leadership and policymaking will need to be redefined in the new environment; 2) A commitment to green and carbon-neutral industrialization is vital; 3) Smart technologies will enable the wider application and use of green industries.

Last but not least, Professor Oqubay noted that global collaboration has become the foundation for averting global threats and maximizing opportunities.

Ann Rosenberg, co-founder of SDG Ambition UNGC, provided aprivate sector perspective and echoed Oqubay’s insights that all companies need to redefine production lines and industries. She said, “The hope from larger companies is that these smaller businesses and entrepreneurs will come up with new, redefined ways of doing things…There is a collective responsibility for everyone to help.”

Rosenberg stated that it is up to countries to figure out how to collaborate and how to access technology, so that all companies can advance industrially and toward the SDGs. Moreover, Rosenberg highlighted the need for tools to know where we are, so we know how we can close the gap to achieve the SDGs.

Ambassador Martha Lungu Mwitumwa, Permanent Representative of Zambia to UNIDO and to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, remarked on the need for more concentrated efforts towards achieving the SDGs, “With the crisis upon us, it will be far more difficult for Least Developed Countries and other low-income countries to achieve SDG 9. In this Decade of Action, we – as Ambassadors in Geneva – have a crucial role to play, in advocating the importance of industry and innovation, in mobilizing more resources towards it, and in fostering partnerships for leveraging trade, investment and technology to achieve that goal. And, as representatives of our countries to key UN institutions, we can foster greater UN coherence in these matters.”

It was clear that all panellists agreed that global collaboration is imperative to take the world through the recovery from COVID-19. Once out of recovery, panellists stressed how the focus should be on embracing the new, digital world to further three key initiatives: to bring access to education for all, to build sustainable industrialization, and to reach net-zero emissions.

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Lao PDR: New Project to Protect Landscapes and Enhance Livelihoods

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a US$57 million project to help Lao PDR promote sustainable forest management, improve protected area management, and enhance livelihoods opportunities in eight provinces across the country. Project funding comes from the World Bank’s International Development Association, with contributions from the Global Environment Facility and the Canada-World Bank Clean Energy and Forest Climate Facility.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project will support economic recovery in light of the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by focusing on preservation of natural capital such as forests, biodiversity, water resources, soil, and land. The Project will help communities in over 600 villages and 25 forest areas to secure livelihoods and jobs from sustainably managed forests, including opportunities in timber and non-timber products, and nature-based tourism.  

“This project will be crucial to helping Lao PDR recover from the global coronavirus shock by protecting and enhancing its natural capital, and supporting the creation of green jobs in vulnerable communities,” said the World Bank Lao PDR Country Manager Nicola Pontara.

Despite enjoying sustained periods of high economic growth in the last three decades, Lao PDR has experienced a gradual deterioration of its natural capital, making vulnerable rural people more susceptible to floods and droughts while jeopardizing their access to food, fiber, fresh water and income.

The Government of Lao PDR will implement the project through the Department of Forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. To create jobs and livelihoods and secure environmental benefits, the project will develop environmentally and socially sustainable partnerships among communities, government, nature-based-tourism companies, and forest plantations.

The Lao Landscapes and Livelihoods Project complements other partnerships between Laos and the World Bank on biodiversity protection, carbon emission reductions and nature-based tourism. It also supports the priorities of the government’s ninth National Socio-Economic Development Plan for 2021-25 and the 2030 National Green Growth Strategy.

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Two-Thirds of Poorer Countries Are Cutting Education Budgets Due to COVID-19

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Children in Côte d'Ivoire wear face masks as they return to school after temporary closures due to COVID-19. © UNICEF/Frank Dejongh

Education budgets are not adjusting proportionately to the challenges brought about by COVID-19, especially in poorer countries.  Despite additional funding needs, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries have, in fact, cut their public education budgets since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the new joint World Bank – UNESCO Education Finance Watch (EFW)

In comparison, only one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries have reduced their budgets.  These budget cuts have been relatively small thus far, but there is a danger that future cuts will be larger, as the pandemic continues to take its economic toll, and fiscal positions worsen.  These differing trends imply a significant widening of the already large spending disparities seen between low- and high-income countries.

According to the new report, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2018-19, high-income countries were spending annually the equivalent of US$8,501 for every child or youth’s education compared to US$48 in low-income countries. COVID-19 is only widening this huge per-capita education spending gap between rich and poor countries.

EFW stresses that the education finance challenge is not only about mobilizing resources, but also about improving the effectiveness of funding. Unfortunately, recent increases in public education spending have been associated with relatively small improvements in education outcomes. Although access to education has improved, the learning poverty rate – the proportion of 10-year-olds unable to read a short, age-appropriate text – was 53 percent in low- and middle-income countries prior to COVID-19, compared to only 9 percent for high-income countries.  COVID-19 related school closures are likely to increase this 53 percent share to as much as 63 percent.

“This is a critical moment where countries need to recover the learning losses the pandemic is generating, invest in remedial education, and use this window of opportunity to build more effective, equitable, and resilient systems,” said Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development.  “The learning poverty crisis that existed before COVID-19 is becoming even more severe, and we are also concerned about how unequal the impact is.  Countries and the international development community must invest more and invest better in education systems and strengthen the link between spending and learning and other human capital outcomes.”

EFW notes that global spending on education has increased over the last 10 years, but the signs are that the pandemic may interrupt this upward trend. Funding for education has grown most rapidly in low- and lower-middle-income countries, where the gaps between the funding needed to achieve the SDGs and current allocations are the widest. The deterioration in government finances over the medium-term suggests that without concerted efforts to prioritize education, the outlook for mobilizing the domestic resources required for education will worsen.

Aid for education has increased by 21 percent over the last 10 years. Disbursements had increased rapidly in the 2000s and fell between 2010 and 2014 in the aftermath of the great financial crisis. However, since 2014, aid to education has increased by 30 percent, reaching its highest recorded level of US$ 15.9 billion in 2019. However, fiscal constraints, other sectoral needs, and changes in student mobility patterns, suggest that external aid for education might fall at a time when it is needed most.    

“External financing is key to support the education opportunities of the world’s poorest,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General at UNESCO. “Yet donor countries are likely – and some have already begun – to shift their budget away from aid to domestic priorities. Health and other emergencies are also competing for funds.  We foresee a challenging environment for countries reliant on education aid. UNESCO estimates that it may fall by US$ 2 billion from its peak in 2020 and not return to 2018 levels for another six years.” 

The EFW is a collaborative effort between the World Bank and the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report team.  It will be produced annually following the main release of spending data by UNESCO’s Institute of Statistics.  The EFW aims to draw together the best data available on all sources of education funding and monitor efforts to improve information on the levels and use of education funding.  However, good quality and timely information on government, household, and aid spending in education is not readily available in all countries.  This hinders planning and monitoring at a time when countries cannot afford any missteps.

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Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency

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Bringing together governments and relevant networks and organizations, the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency (GACERE) aims to provide a global impetus to initiatives related to the circular economy transition, resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production patterns, and inclusive and sustainable industrialization.

GACERE is being established by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union (EU), and by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in coordination with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

GACERE will be launched on Monday 22 February 2021 from 12:00 until 13:15 CET on the margins of the first segment of the fifth meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly.

The event will be hosted by Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries; Inger Andersen, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and UNEP’s Executive Director; and LI Yong, UNIDO’s Director General.

Ministers of countries which have joined GACERE and other stakeholders will provide their perspectives on the Alliance’s intended role in supporting a global just transition to circular and resource-efficient economies and the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

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