As 2013 came full circle, DESA News got an exclusive interview with the department’s Under-Secretary-General, Mr. Wu Hongbo, who shared some of the past year’s gains as well as some highlights for an eventful and action-packed new 2014. “We will discharge our mandates […] and do whatever we can to make our work a success next year,” said Mr. Wu.
During an intense and activity-filled 2013, UN DESA has worked in many different areas to promote social, economic and sustainable development worldwide. A number of important achievements have been gained and it looks like the coming year will be as busy for the department. During 2014, Mr. Wu and his staff will be involved in many key events, which will be essential as the world community moves forward preparing for a sustainable development agenda beyond 2015.
Gains for social, economic and sustainable development
“If we look back to the year 2013, it is a year full of achievements and I am very proud of the colleagues of my department,” Mr. Wu said, pointing to some of the many major events carried out in the past 12 months. “First is the Forum on Forest,” said Mr. Wu, highlighting the importance of this event, which took place in Istanbul on 8-19 April and which helped raise the profile of forests globally. “It is the first time that the participants in the forum actually discussed financing for sustainable forest management,” he added.
If we look back to the year 2013, it is a year full of achievements
Mr. Wu discussed the well-attended Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which focused on how the Internet, relevant ICTs and technologies could serve the future sustainable development agenda. He also underscored the importance of the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, which was another successful event arranged by UN DESA in September. “That Member States are discussing disability inclusive arrangements for post-2015, is very important,” Mr. Wu emphasized.
The High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development that took place in October was also organized by the department. “This is the second time, that such a high-level dialogue on migration takes place within the framework of the United Nations,” Mr. Wu said. “Member States were discussing the implications of the international migration and the relevant suggestions relating to post 2015,” he added.
Support of GA President and inter-governmental processes
Mr. Wu also shared how UN DESA has been busy supporting the President of the General Assembly. “We had PGA’s special event on MDGs last September, it was very important in that it promoted the awareness of the Heads of State to implement further the MDG commitment,” he said, also underscoring its role in providing new ideas towards a sustainable development agenda.
“I would not do justice to our work if we do not mention the two important inter-governmental processes as a result of the implementation of the Rio+20 follow up,” Mr. Wu added, referring to the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and the Committee of Experts on Sustainable Development Financing. “These two inter-governmental processes are well under way and discussions have been very productive,” he said. Mr. Wu also pointed to the establishment of the High-level Political Forum, which held its inaugural meeting in September.
Although Mr. Wu underscored the challenge to single out a specific event or activity more memorable than others, he mentioned that the PGA’s special event on the MDGs was very important, given the remaining work on implementing the MDGs, particularly when it comes to eradicating poverty.
Important work outside of the spotlight
We are trying to make the opportunities available as much as possible to civil societies to get involved
He also wanted to bring to the forefront, the work of UN DESA that is not always visible to the public eye. “I think I should mention some of the areas which are not in the spotlight in our work. For instance, statistics,” Mr. Wu said, pointing to the important contribution of the Statistics Division, “providing the basis for discussions for the sustainable development agenda.” Mr. Wu also described the significance of capacity building and capacity development. “We have been doing quite a lot to help the Member States and other organizations,” he explained.
Mr. Wu highlighted the analytical work and the flag ship publications issued every year by UN DESA. “They are influential; they remain high-quality and are very popular,” he said. In addition, Mr. Wu underscored the support provided by the department to civil societies during important high-level events. “We are trying to make the opportunities available as much as possible to civil societies to get involved and it has been greatly appreciated,” he explained.
Prepared for busy year ahead
Mr. Wu is well prepared for an eventful 2014, filled with many important events, among them the UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa in September. “As the Secretary-General for the SIDS Conference, I have been through all the preparation processes so far and I think next year will be very busy, because the General Assembly has already adopted modality resolutions,” he said, adding that global negotiations will begin shortly.
“What I hope is that the SIDS as a vulnerable group would be able to stand up and voice their concerns. It is good timing for them to do so, because in September next year, hopefully the Open Working Group will come up with a set of sustainable development goals,” Mr. Wu explained.
Hopefully the Open Working Group will come up with a set of sustainable development goals
Mr. Wu also shared that Member States have mandated the Secretary-General to produce the synthesis report on the post-2015 development agenda next year, summarizing our current standing as well as suggesting a way forward. “This is very heavy responsibility,” said Mr. Wu, adding that the department will soon begin gathering the views of various stakeholders.
Another upcoming event is the Summit on Climate Change, where the department will be involved in the preparations. “That summit, is not a summit for negotiations, it is designed to mobilize political wills of Heads of State, Heads of Governments, and try catalyze the actions on the ground in dealing with climate change,” Mr. Wu explained.
Moreover, Mr. Wu highlighted the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples in September and the department’s continuous support of the President of the General Assembly. “We are going to have three high-level meetings and three thematic debates, one stocktaking session. So you will see every big event, in every month starting in January next year,” Mr. Wu added.
“I know the road ahead is full of challenge, and I am confident that my colleagues and I are fully prepared for the challenge. We will discharge our mandates, as given by the Member States and the General Assembly, and do whatever we can to make our work a success next year,” Mr. Wu said.
“To serve the development issues together with all my colleagues, over 500 of them […] is a pride for me, and I think I cannot find better colleagues to work with,” he concluded. Mr. Wu and his team will now continue their work in 2014, striving towards an inclusive, prosperous and sustainable world.
“The world economy has experienced another year of subdued growth in 2013,” said Pingfan Hong, Acting Director of DESA’s Development Policy and Analysis Division, as the Global Economic Outlook for 2014 was revealed on 18 December 2013. Mr. Hong pointed to continued challenges, but he also shared some new positive trends including improvements in the Euro area and strengthened growth in the US.
“Most developed economies have continued struggling on a bumpy road of recovery grappling with the challenges of taking the right policies,” Mr. Hong said, as the first chapter of the World Economic Situation and Prospects (WESP) 2014: The global economic outlook was released on 18 December. Together with UN DESA’s Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Shamshad Akhtar, Mr. Hong shared the latest trends and forecast for the global economy.
Global economy is improving, but remains vulnerable
While highlighting some of the remaining challenges, both Ms. Akhtar and Mr. Hong said that recent improvements have been observed. “The outlook for coming years, barring any further disruption, is set to improve, driven in part by increased demand in developed countries,” said Ms. Akhtar.
“The Euro area has finally come out of a protracted recession,” Mr. Hong said, also pointing to strengthened growth in the US, as well as to the effects of expansionary policies in Japan. “A few large economies including China and India, have managed to backstop the slowdown experienced over the past two years and started to veer upwards albeit only moderately,” he added.
The report reveals that the global economy is expected to grow at a pace of 3.0 per cent in 2014 and 3.3 per cent in 2015, compared with an estimated growth of 2.1 per cent for 2013.
Inflation will remain tame, but the employment situation will continue to be challenging. While growth in international trade flows is expected to pick up moderately to 4.7 per cent in 2014, the prices of most primary commodities are projected to be flat. The report warns that international capital flows to emerging economies are expected to become more volatile.
“Our forecast is made in the context of many uncertainties and risks coming from possible policy missteps as well as non-economic factors that could stymie growth,” said Ms. Akhtar.
Regional and national trends
The report predicts that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the United States is expected to increase 2.5 per cent in 2014. Western Europe has emerged from recession in 2013, but growth prospects remain weak, as fiscal austerity will continue and the unemployment rates remain elevated. GDP in Western Europe is expected to grow by 1.4 per cent in 2014. In Japan, GDP is forecast to grow by 1.5 per cent in 2014.
Growth in Brazil has been hampered by weak external demand, volatility in international capital flows and tightening monetary policy, but is expected to rebound to 3 per cent in 2014. A slowdown in China has been stabilized and growth is expected to maintain at a pace of about 7.5 per cent in the next few years. India experienced its lowest growth in two decades, along with large current account and government budget deficits plus high inflation, but growth is forecast to improve to above 5 per cent in 2014. In the Russian Federation growth weakened further in 2013, as industrial output and investment faltered, and is expected to recover modestly to 2.9 per cent in 2014.
Growth prospects in Africa remain relatively robust. After an estimated growth of 4.0 per cent in 2013, GDP is projected to expand by 4.7 per cent in 2014. The report emphasized the dependence of Africa’s growth on investment in infrastructure, trade and investment ties with emerging economies, and improvements in economic governance and management.
More detailed regional forecasts from WESP will be released in January 2014.
Key risks for world economy
Mr. Hong highlighted some of the main hazards during the forecasted period. “One key risk for the world economy is associated with a possible chaotic exit from the quantitative easing, or QE, by the US Fed [U.S Federal Reserve],” he said. ”This could trigger significant shock to financial markets and the global economy. Some emerging economies are particularly vulnerable to such a shock and could be pushed into a hard landing,” Mr. Hong added.
Other uncertainties and risks include the remaining fragility in the banking system and the real economy in the euro area and the continued political wrangling in the U.S. on the debt ceiling and budget. Beyond the economic domain, geopolitical tensions in Western Asia and elsewhere remain serious risks. These and other risk factors, unfolding unexpectedly, could derail the world economy far beyond the report’s projections.
Facing this and other challenges, policies worldwide should focus more on the recovery of jobs
Focus on recovery of jobs
“Facing this and other challenges, policies worldwide should focus more on the recovery of jobs,” Mr. Hong said. “We must also increase attention to reducing the spillover effects coming from the large-scale, unconventional monetary policies adopted by major developed countries on developing countries and economies in transition, particularly when major developed countries start to unwind these policies,” he added.
International policy cooperation and coordination are also needed to advance the reforms of the international financial system. Progress in financial regulatory reform has been slow, encountering growing resistance from the financial industry. The report adds that more forceful efforts are needed to address the issues of international tax avoidance and evasion, particularly through tax havens.
“We also reiterate the call for the international cooperation to ensure sufficient resources to the least developed countries,” concluded Mr. Hong.
WESP is produced at the beginning of each year by UN DESA, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the five United Nations regional commissions. The full version of the report will be available 20 January 2014.
A number of commitments to help bring modern and reliable energy services to impoverished rural communities were announced by UNDP, WHO, the Alliance for Rural Electrification and several other stakeholders at the “Global Conference on Rural Energy Access: A Nexus Approach to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication”, which took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 4 to 6 December 2013.
The commitments were made as a contribution to the 2014 – 2024 UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All. The main theme of the Conference, which was organized by UN DESA, in collaboration with Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All), UN-Energy and the Economic Commission for Africa, was the essential role that access to energy services has for enabling sustainable development and poverty eradication. Over 250 participants from 40 countries attended the Conference.
Links between energy and development factors
Participants agreed that lack of clean, affordable and reliable energy is at the heart of a range of interconnected problems faced by the energy poor in rural areas. Discussions therefore focused on a nexus approach to sustainable energy, which acknowledges the strong link between energy and other development factors such as education, health, gender, environment, economic growth, food security, and water, and seeks to address these in a holistic way.
In his introductory statement via a video message, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and CEO for SE4All, Mr. Kandeh Yumkella, highlighted some of these inter-linkages: “Without energy, our hospitals will not run well; without energy, our children cannot study at night; without access to energy, we cannot process food and store it long enough to deal with food security issues.” He also pointed out that lack of reliable energy prevents businesses from competing and creating jobs.
Numbers confirm lack in access
The case for commitments was not only strengthened by this nexus, but also by numbers: 85 percent of the 1.2 billion people who lack access to electricity and 78 percent of the 2.8 billion who still rely on unsustainable solid biomass as fuel for cooking and heating, live in rural areas. Globally, there are close to 4 million premature deaths from household air pollution every year, 70 to 80 percent of which are women and children. Household pollution “is the number four killer in the world; it is the number two killer of women,” said Mr. Yumkella.
The ensuing discussions and presentations demonstrated that successful models and pilot projects to bring sustainable energy to rural areas exist, but limited progress has been made, in particular in Africa, in translating these approaches into effective action. Exploring the reasons for this, and suggesting remedies, was another important Conference theme, in line with the Conference objective of providing an opportunity to share and strengthen capacities on policy, technical and entrepreneurial approaches to sustainable rural energy access.
Potential of improving lives of millions
Considering the numbers involved, commitments that increase sustainable energy access to rural areas have the potential of improving the lives of millions. UNDP announced its intention to create a Hub for decentralized, off-grid “Bottom Up” Energy Solutions to advance the SE4ALL Country Actions Agenda, building on two decades of experience in linking energy and sustainable development. UNDP also committed to continue its advocacy for energy as a critical component of the post-2015 development agenda.
Without energy, our hospitals will not run well; without energy, our children cannot study at night
Kandeh Yumkella, UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative and CEO for SE4All
The Alliance for Rural Electrification committed to launching two awareness raising campaigns in 2014, which will target energy decision-makers in developing countries. The first campaign will focus on the contribution of small hydro power technologies for rural development, and the second one on hybridization of off-grid systems. Based on the good experience made with previous Stakeholder Dialogue events, the Alliance will also organize further business-matching events in Africa together with Practical Action in the context of the African EU Energy Partnership. In 2014, the Alliance also plans to launch a study to contribute to the better understanding of the financial requirements to mature nascent rural electrification markets based on mini-grid technologies.
Health benefits from home energy technologies
The WHO will contribute to SE4All by, among other things, launching the new WHO guidelines on house fuel combustion solutions, with evidence of the levels of health benefits that can be expected from different home energy technologies and fuels, clarifying remaining knowledge gaps about what are healthy home energy interventions. This should generate the missing knowledge for arriving at solutions that can be prescribed by doctors for health protection.
An innovative “Twin Schools” programme, with technical and social components, was also announced at the conference. This partnership would involve the development of inexpensive, high quality solar equipment and training systems to promote rural electrification, as well as an educational exchange linking universities and secondary schools in developed countries with universities and schools in developing countries. A team of teachers and students will be trained in the selected developing countries to install and maintain solar systems in rural communities. The programme will be initiated by UN DESA in partnership with a local government in a rural area in Bolivia, and two NGOs, the Institute for Decentralized Electrification, Education and Entrepreneurship (id-eee) of Germany and Energetica of Bolivia.
Displaying renewable energy tools The NGO AMISTAD (Actions pour la Mobilisation des Initiatives et STratégies d’Aide au Développement) of the Ivory Coast committed to organizing competitions on innovative approaches and applications for rural energy access, and to provide energy access to 50 Ivorian villages within the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All. Fosera Manufacturing PLC announced the launch of the local assembly Line of FOSERA off-grid lighting products in Ethiopia.
An exhibition, at which 25 organisations displayed renewable energy technologies that enable affordable, clean energy, was an integral part of the Global Conference. The exhibition demonstrated that advanced “clean” cook stoves and stand-alone electric generation systems, which are practical, reliable and durable, are both widely available and affordable.