Poorest Countries Leading Way in Combating Climate Change, Keynote Speaker Tells Economic and Social Council Forum, Saying Days of ‘Business as Usual Are Over’

ECOSOC/6821
5 April 2017
2017 Session, Partnership Forum (AM & PM)

Poorest Countries Leading Way in Combating Climate Change, Keynote Speaker Tells Economic and Social Council Forum, Saying Days of ‘Business as Usual Are Over’

The “clock is ticking” with no time to waste in forging strong public-private partnerships to stave off grave climate change consequences by using innovative solutions to build resilient communities and reach those most in need, the Economic and Social Council heard today.

Under the theme “Partnerships for promoting opportunities, increased prosperity and sustainable development for all”, the day-long Economic and Social Council Partnership Forum focused on addressing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goal 9 — building resilient infrastructure, promoting sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation.  Central to discussions was promoting infrastructure development, particularly in Africa, the least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, which faced the largest gaps in that sector.

The days of conducting business as usual were over, said Mary Robinson, President, Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, delivering a keynote address.  As world leaders had come to realize that climate change could not be tackled alone, it was in fact some of the poorest countries that were leading the way.  Inspired by their call for a new era for development, addressing climate change and leaving no one behind, she said the question now was whether countries had a choice between economic growth and sustainable alternatives in, for example, building infrastructure.  To answer that query, a new wave of infrastructure investment must provide a guide to supporting sustainable development.

However, she said, not all action that was good for the planet was good for people and climate justice needed to prevail.  Local communities must be consulted, she said, providing examples of renewable energy projects that had infringed upon rights.  To do so, partners from civil society could play a role.

She went on to say that strong partnerships could also help to meet the goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change if they involved States, civil society and the private sector.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a video message, stressed the urgency of the task.  “The clock is ticking and we have no time to waste,” she said, describing multiple global trends such as climate change, rapid urbanization and mass movements of people that were affecting communities around the world.  In fostering partnerships to address those and other concerns, critical elements included delivering results on the ground, providing effective financing and garnering significant private-sector investment.

Frederick Musiiwa Makamure Shava (Zimbabwe), Economic and Social Council President, said the fight for a healthier planet could only be achieved by joining forces.  “To achieve sustainable development for all, we are going to need strategic partnerships that will deliver strong results,” he said, underlining the importance of transparency and accountability.

Agreeing, General Assembly President Peter Thomson (Fiji) said securing a sustainable future would require letting go of old grievances and scepticism in favour of working together through new and inclusive ways of thinking, financing and delivering results.  “We must embrace partnerships as a fundamental part of the solution,” he said, adding that it was critical to explore ways to bring together stakeholders from Governments at all levels, the United Nations, international financial institutions, civil society, the private sector, academic and scientific communities, technology leaders and innovators, philanthropic institutions and grass-roots organizations.

During the day-long meeting, round-table discussions were held on “Innovative Partnerships for resilient infrastructure, including in countries in special situations” and on “Principles and guidelines governing United Nations-associated partnerships”.

Opening Remarks

FREDERICK MUSIIWA MAKAMURE SHAVA (Zimbabwe), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the fight for a healthier planet — one in which all people lived better lives — could only be achieved by joining forces.  Recalling that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognized the catalytic role of partnerships, he said the collective effort of all stakeholders would be critical in addressing the greatest challenges.  “I am of the view that to achieve sustainable development for all, we are going to need strategic partnerships that will deliver strong results,” he said, adding that transparency and accountability would be key.  Describing today’s Partnership Forum as a unique gathering of Governments, the private sector, philanthropy and civil society, he said he looked forward to a dialogue that would generate fresh ideas.

PETER THOMSON (Fiji), President of the General Assembly, emphasized the need for collaborative, multi-stakeholder partnerships to achieve the 2030 Agenda, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.  It was critical to explore ways to bring together stakeholders from Governments at all levels, the United Nations, international financial institutions, civil society, the private sector, academic and scientific communities, technology leaders and innovators, philanthropic institutions and grass-roots organizations.  Drawing attention to several high-level events he had convened to drive implementation of the 2030 Agenda, he said the Ocean Conference, to be held at Headquarters on 5‑9 June, would be organized around seven partnership dialogues.  Securing a sustainable future would require letting go of old grievances and scepticism in favour of joining forces through new and inclusive ways of thinking, partnering, financing and delivering on the group, he said.  “Strategic and innovative partners hold the key,” he added. “We must embrace partnerships as a fundamental part of the solution.”

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, in a video message, said “the clock is ticking and we have no time to waste” amid climate change, rapid urbanization, mass movements of people and other global trends affecting communities and financing worldwide.  The 2030 Agenda had set the bar high and partnerships were key to supporting the Sustainable Development Goals and ensuring their success.  In fostering partnerships, critical elements included delivering results on the ground, providing effective financing and garnering significant private-sector investment.

Yet, she said, how those investments were directed would affect results such as job creation and addressing climate change.  Local, national and regional partnerships were equally important and young people needed to be empowered to become part of those widespread changes.  Promoting effective partnerships would entail including innovation and finding new ways to move forward.  “We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we can’t afford to fail,” she said, “but nothing is impossible when we work together in partnership.”

Keynote Address

MARY ROBINSON, President of the Mary Robinson Foundation — Climate Justice, said “we cannot just continue with business as usual” as a range of current situations were untenable.  Elaborating on some of those challenges, she said the Elders, an independent group of global leaders working for peace and human rights, had issued a strong message about famine affecting four African countries.  “Any country facing famine in the twenty-first century is an indictment against all of us and we should hang our heads in shame,” she said.  Also disgraceful was the ongoing war in Syria.  In addition, addressing the existential threat of climate change was another colossal challenge.

In 2015, she said, world leaders had, with the 2030 Agenda, demonstrated a clear understanding that no one country alone could protect its citizens from climate change and, with the Paris Agreement, had committed to adopting new approaches.  A new paradigm must be created to replace the current silo landscape to foster a global solidarity to reach the world’s most vulnerable people.  Recent waves of populism had been seen in many countries, but it was clear that taking climate action now was imperative.  The 2030 Agenda focused on reaching those most in need.  Some of the world’s poorest countries were leading climate action.  Inspired by their call for a new era for development, addressing climate change and leaving no one behind, she said climate justice was the antithesis of short-term thinking.  More carbon emissions were detrimental on many levels.  The question now was whether countries had a choice between economic growth and sustainable alternatives in, for example, building infrastructure.  To answer that question, a new wave of infrastructure investment must provide a guide to supporting sustainability.

However, she said, not all action that was good for the planet was good for people and climate justice needed to prevail.  Local communities must be consulted, she said, providing examples of renewable energy projects that had infringed upon rights.  Civil society was a key player in that regard.  Going forward, there was a risk that States could withdraw from commitments they had made and choose to work alone.  The same spirit that had been seen after the Second World War was needed now, she said.  A new level of consciousness was needed to rise above the challenges of the time and reach a common ground pursuing shared values.

Round Table I

The Council then held a round-table discussion titled “Innovative Partnerships for resilient infrastructure, including in countries in special situations”.  Moderated by Rajesh Mirchandani, Vice-President of Communications and Outreach, Centre for Global Development, it featured presentations by Moira Feil, Senior Policy Officer, Group of 20, German Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation; Symerre Grey-Johnson, Head of Partnerships, Regional Integration, Infrastructure and Trade Division, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD); Marie-José Nadeau, Honorary Chair, World Energy Council; Zhao Huxiang, President of the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations, Vice Chairman of China Merchants Group and Chairman of the Board of SINOTRANS; Cheryl Martin, Head of Industries and Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum; and Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice-President for the 2030 Development Agenda, World Bank.

Trevor Davies, Global Lead, International Development Assistance Services, KPMG, and Elliott Harris, Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) New York Office, spoke as respondents.

Mr. MIRCHANDANI said the discussion would focus on the unique challenges faced by countries in special situations in achieving Sustainable Development Goal 9 regarding infrastructure, industrialization and innovation, as well as the role of private-public partnerships in that regard.

Ms. FEIL described the Group of 20 as a partnership between a diverse group of countries, representing almost two thirds of the world’s population and 75 per cent of global trade.  Infrastructure had been a major part of its agenda for many years, with much discussion on such aspects as project preparation facilities, she said.  Genuine private-public partnerships required a balanced and good approach to risk sharing with all partners making informed decisions.  For smaller countries, regional approaches could be attractive, lowering transaction costs.  Within the Group of 20, consideration had been given to ways of narrowing the infrastructure investment gap and how multilateral development banks could optimize their balance sheets and make more funding available, she said.

Mr. GREY-JOHNSON said Africa had seen a number of private-public partnership success stories, notably in South Africa and Senegal.  There had not been so much success in regional projects, however, and that was where NEPAD came in.  Recalling the outcome of a financing summit hosted by Senegal in 2014, he said the private sector was only interested in properly prepared projects.  “Money will chase good projects and well-prepared projects,” he said.  With regard to gender mainstreaming, he said NEPAD had established a capacity-building fund that helped ensure that project design included a gender element from the outset.

Ms. NADEAU said private-public partnerships worked in large infrastructure projects when there was a revenue flow, fair sharing of risk and rewards between parties, in countries where the rule of law prevailed, with a pipeline of bankable projects, as well as the skillset required to design, build, operate and maintain projects.  With regard to gender, she noted a growing number of well-trained women in emerging economies and developing countries, as well as the need for social responsibility, training and mentorship programmes designed for women.

Mr. ZHAO said his company had a lot of experience with regard to private-public partnerships and promoting infrastructure, having committed big amounts to projects in African countries and developing a business model for ports and free-trade zones.  It felt quite positive about that.  In some countries, he continued, the public sector was more optimistic about projects than the private sector.  He also emphasized the importance of transparency as a way to build trust, and to think of projects in a more strategic way.

Ms. MARTIN said a true partnership meant understanding, trust and learning from each other.  If well done, it was a virtuous circle that would lead to conversations on such topics as gender diversity.  Projects, if done well, would benefit women.

Mr. MOHIELDIN spoke of addressing private-public partnerships from two perspectives — the wider approach, as a new way of doing business, and the narrow approach, meaning an investment modality.  Private-public partnership was not a panacea nor was it the sole solution in all cases.  With regard to the gender perspective, he said the World Bank used to treat gender separately, but now it was incorporated into project preparation, in line with a code of standards.  He described the Bank’s Global Infrastructure Facility and its Global Infrastructure Forum.  He added that, in Africa, perceived risk was much higher than real risk, but that many of the continent’s countries lacked transparency.  If there were better data, there would be more projects and better projects.

Mr. DAVIES said today’s discussion had been quite general and did not look enough at the impact on landlocked developing countries and small-island developing States.  He also noted a lack of urgency in addressing the effects of demographic change in Africa, where 140 cities the size of New York would be needed to accommodate a growing urban population.

Mr. HARRIS said the discussion seemed to focus on large-scale investment, which did not reflect the entire reality of infrastructure in the developing world.  In Bangladesh, for example, electricity was being introduced to 6.5 million households, one solar panel at a time.  Unlike a big energy project, that small-scale investment effort was getting clear and renewable energy to the people, consistent with the 2030 Agenda.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Japan asked the panel for their thoughts about using new technology for capacity-building as an alternative to dispatching experts to developing countries.

A representative of the International Road Transport Union drew attention to the absence of a commonly agreed definition of green finance.

The representative of Zambia, speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, said States faced a number of development challenges, including lack of access to seaports and high trade and transportation costs.  Resilient infrastructure had been recognized as fundamental to sustainable development, she said, adding that such infrastructure could support market access and poverty reduction while bringing countries into regional transport networks and global value chains.

Responding, Mr. MOHIELDIN said small was not necessarily beautiful when it came to infrastructure projects.  Noting how countries within a given group could have both many things in common and nothing in common, he called for more a country-specific understanding of requirements.

Mr. GREY-JOHNSON contrasted the sale and installation of solar panels with the need to ensure that everyone was on an electrical grid.  He also underscored the need to look at megaprojects with a transboundary reach and requiring private-public partnerships.

The representative of China drew attention to South-South cooperation, as well as his country’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which served to promote African and Asian infrastructure.

The representative of South Africa said North-South cooperation was still at the core of the global partnership for sustainable development.  The need for continued and increased official development assistance (ODA) was relevant and critical.

The representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, said small-island developing States needed resilient infrastructure and green industrialization that were in alignment with their national plans, policies and priorities.  She added that the public sector in such countries must be able to enhance and monitor private-public partnerships.

The representative of Nauru, speaking on behalf of Pacific small-island developing States, said access to infrastructure development resources was a constant challenge for countries in a region that faced rising sea levels and extreme weather events.  Appropriate follow-up and review mechanisms needed to be in place, he said, looking forward to the Ocean Conference and the partnerships that would be made there.

Representatives of Morocco, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates and Algeria, as well as the European Union and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), also spoke.

Round Table II

In the afternoon, the Council held a round-table discussion titled “Principles and guidelines governing United Nations-associated partnerships”.  Moderated by Gavin Power, Deputy Director of the United Nations Global Compact, it featured presentations by Craig Mokhiber, Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Vinicius Carvalho Pinheiro, Special Representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to the United Nations, New York; Olav Kjörven, Director of Public Partnerships, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); Geoffrey Hamilton, Chief of Public-Private Partnerships Programme, Economic Commission for Europe; and Nancy Aburi, Lead of the Partnership Development and Network Support Private Sector Partnerships, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Speaking as respondents were Laura Petrella, of United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), Louise Kantrow, Permanent Observer of the International Chamber of Commerce to the United Nations, New York, and Pietro Bertazzi, Deputy Director of Policy and Global Affairs, Global Reporting Initiative.

Mr. POWER asked the panellists a range of questions, including explanations of how the 2030 Agenda had influenced partnership guidelines, how principles and guidelines were connected to impact evaluations and their plans for future endeavours.

Mr. MOKHIBER said the 2030 Agenda had shaken up the way things operated.  “This is not your grandmother’s agenda,” he said, emphasizing that the development framework mirrored human rights, with issues such as personal security and the administration of justice.  Such an ambitious agenda could not be successfully implemented without effective partnerships.  Evaluating impact through a human rights lens occurred at every step of the process, from selecting partners to examining components in the partnership’s structure, including gender equality.  That process went beyond reporting issues, but was about tracking responses and communicating about findings.

Mr. PINHEIRO agreed, saying ILO was a partnership in itself, promoting policies in favour of agreed upon outcomes in areas such as child labour and human trafficking.  Other partnerships included projects conducted with Governments on decent work, jobs for youth and other initiatives.  The 2030 Agenda also offered the opportunity to revisit and assess partnerships.  A general impact assessment should go beyond the core guidelines.  For instance, an ILO labour partnership had been assessed on specific projects by using tailored methodology.

Mr. KJÖRVEN said UNICEF was now assessing its partnerships, with multi-stakeholder ventures being favoured as a way to move forward.  A focus was also on public-private and civil society partnerships and how they could achieve results on the ground.  Yet, partnerships were not enough to achieve all the Sustainable Development Goals.  Using food as an example, he said reversing the current situation where children were obese from eating junk food, were developing diabetes and getting sick, partners needed to include farmers, those responsible for what went on the market and how waste was managed.  Equally important was a willingness to change, which was key to fostering effective multi-stakeholder partnerships and making progress on the Goals.  Whatever accountability that was built around partnerships must keep the Goals in mind.  “It was important to keep our eye on the ball,” he said.

Mr. HAMILTON said public-private partnerships had never formally been part of the development system.  Sensitizing the private sector was the starting point in building partnerships aimed at driving forward progress on achieving the Goals.  He said that he would appreciate it if the Organization could develop guidelines for external partners as “one United Nations”.  Development assistance was important in leveraging public-private partnerships and should be examined to improve results.

Ms. ABURI said that to deliver a successful comprehensive refugee response, partnership guidelines had been revised.  Currently, some partnership guidelines centred on fundraising.  In the 2030 Agenda, work needed to be done with new partners.  From a private-sector perspective, the UNHCR board could consider guidelines during the partner review process.  Furthermore, it must be easier to adapt existing guidelines.

Ms. PETRELLA said partnerships varied across many sectors.  Urban development was a multi-stakeholder endeavour that could include efforts such as urban planning, private sector and local governmental authorities.

Ms. KANTROW said the roles of the private sector and partnerships were beginning to gain attention in the development arena.  The 2030 Agenda and the General Assembly resolution on a global partnership for development had recognized that and, moving forward, efforts should centre on fully engaging the private sector.  The United Nations had guidelines using a principle-based approach and businesses had also developed their own.  Going forward, all guidelines should be reviewed towards achieving successful results.

Mr. BERTAZZI said principles and guidelines on collaboration of partnerships should include a number of elements.  Among them were a focus on impact, using a holistic approach that emphasized the connectivity between the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and on transparency and reporting.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates shared suggestions and concerns about ways to create and enhance partnerships.  Some suggested that bolstering technology transfer initiatives would level the playing field for landlocked developing countries and others in special situations.  Others gave national examples of how partnerships had achieved progress in a number of fields.

The representative of Ecuador, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, underlined the importance of robust, effective and transparent public-private partnerships to advance progress on the Goals.  Welcoming progress that had been made to date, he said South-South cooperation projects should be bolstered.  Yet, South-South cooperation was a complement to and not a substitute for North-South cooperation.  Countries in vulnerable situations should be able to access technology transfers in a non-discriminatory way.  Coordination in engaging partners was important, he said.

The representative of El Salvador, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), highlighted the significance of finding new ways of interactions between Governments, academia and the private sector in fostering the development of science, technology, innovation and technology transfers.  Developed countries must meet their ODA commitments, which could leverage and sustain financing for developing States.

The representative of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, said a robust, effective global partnership was needed.  However, partnerships should consider national situations, policies and priorities.

The representative of Morocco said the Goals required extended partnerships, with States being the “centre of gravity”.  A common vision was needed with a view to achieving the Goals.  Ensuring the effectiveness of partnerships was essential, as was improving existing mechanisms, bringing in new actors and accelerating dialogue between State, public and private stakeholders.

The representative of the Republic of Korea, speaking on behalf of a number of countries, said the United Nations was well positioned to assist the international community in realizing common goals.  In examining how to improve the current system, efforts should aim at streamlining processes in ways that better reflected realities on the ground.  Also important was using information technology and considering input from civil society.

The representative of Belarus said vulnerable groups must not be left behind.  For its part, Belarus had worked with partners to tackle human trafficking and organized crime, with one practical outcome being the creation of a trust fund for victims.

The representative of Denmark said existing partnership guidelines, such as those being used by the Global Compact, should be used and built upon while using caution to avoid adding layers of bureaucracy.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Maldives, Tajikistan, Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Indonesia, Dominican Republic and the European Union, as well as United Nations Volunteers, non-governmental organizations and civil society.

For information media. Not an official record.