Expert voices Vol 21, No. 05 - May 2017

Innovations for infrastructure development and sustainable industrialization

On 31 May 2017, the President of ECOSOC will convene a special meeting to highlight the relevance of industry, innovation and infrastructure to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Ahead of this meeting, UN DESA Voice spoke with Navid Hanif, Director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination (OESC) in UN DESA, about the state of infrastructure development and sustainable industrialization around the world.What is the current status of infrastructure development and sustainable industrialization and how well do we foster innovation around the world today?

“Infrastructure development and sustainable industrialization are key drivers of growth. Industrialized countries benefit from diversified economic bases and lower costs of doing business. Emerging economies, including in Asia, are experiencing fast growth rates that are strongly correlated with industrialization and manufacturing.

Though there has been progress in the last two decades, developing countries as a group still lag behind in terms of infrastructure development. Road access rate in Africa is 34%, compared with 50% in other parts of the developing world, while transportation costs are 100% higher. More than 620 million people lack access to electricity. Only 5% of agriculture is under irrigation. Internet penetration rate is around 6%. In Africa, infrastructure deficits are estimated to cost 2% in GDP growth.

Economies are increasingly driven by innovations, including but not limited to, technological innovation. They increasingly emerge as solutions to problems on the ground and follow a bottom-up evolution at an increasing pace. Africa is not left behind in this trend. This means that governments and the international community need to create and reinforce favorable conditions to drive innovation, especially in the areas of skills training and partnerships.”

Where are we making progress and where do challenges remain?

“We need to make sure we capitalize on the opportunities generated by progress. Infrastructure has been responsible for more than half of Africa’s growth. The global community has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with bold yet achievable commitments. The COP 21 agreement is also now in place, and Africa has adopted Agenda 2063. Initiatives in support of infrastructure development are growing, including public-private partnerships, and the acceleration of urbanization and innovation is not only catalyzing growth in the areas of infrastructure and industrialization, but also strengthening the inter-linkages with all other aspects of development, such as food security or health.

However, for countries with lower capacities, this trend actually reinforces inequalities, lowers access to opportunities and creates a technological and spatial divide both between and within countries. Additionally, if we are to realize the climate commitments, new models of infrastructure must be developed.

Policy frameworks need to be stabilized as infrastructure development projects and programmes typically span 20 to 30 years. We must also enhance resilience, not only by building “green” infrastructure and stimulating green industrialization, but also by de-risking infrastructure investments to attract finance. At the same time, we need to boost domestic resource mobilization, including by curbing illicit financial flows.”

Why is it critical to develop these areas to achieve inclusive growth?

“This will bolster innovation and create new jobs in infrastructure and industrialization. For instance, every job in manufacturing creates 2.2 jobs in other sectors. Innovation, infrastructure development and industrialization, therefore, will support all other areas of the economy. Sustainable industrialization is also a response to many global crises so this represents an opportunity to strengthen regional integration as well as international cooperation.”

These challenges will take centre stage at the upcoming ECOSOC Special Meeting; what does the event hope to accomplish?

“Under the leadership of the ECOSOC President, two global meetings were held in Dakar and Victoria Falls. They gathered high-level representatives and experts from governments, civil society organizations, academia, the private sector, international and regional organizations, as well as the United Nations system.

The meetings took stock of key trends and innovations for infrastructure development and sustainable industrialization, including in agriculture and agro-industries. These meetings were a space for knowledge sharing on best practices as well as common challenges and areas to leverage progress. The rich discussions provided numerous insights which will be brought forth at the Special Meeting in New York where concrete initiatives will be launched in order to accelerate progress.”

For more information: 2017 Special Meeting of ECOSOC

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