Experts Spotlight Role of Science, Technology in Tackling Pandemic-Related Challenges
Countries must up the ante on development cooperation, which is vital to tackle the dual challenge of recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic and fighting climate change, speakers said today as the Economic and Social Council concluded a two-day forum on the subject.
Connecting participants virtually, the Development Cooperation Forum held two sessions — one addressing competing priorities of pandemic recovery and climate action, and the other focusing on regional cooperation on science, technology and innovation in the COVID-19 era.
“No vaccines are coming to save the planet,” said Patrick V. Verkooijen, Chief Executive Officer of Global Centre for Adaptation, in his message to the morning session, warning that, if the world continues its current development path, the Earth will become inhabitable. He then called for greater development cooperation as the crises like COVID-19 and climate change can not be addressed in silos.
Silvio Gonzato, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to the United Nations, said that Governments around the world are borrowing heavily to counter the impact of the pandemic, meaning borrowing from future generations. Therefore, recovery plans should be designed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to “build back better”, by investing in green and digital transitions and creating a fairer, more resilient economy and society.
Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo, Executive Director of IBON International, said developed countries are not upholding their promise to mobilize an additional $100 billion to help developing countries fight climate change, yet are doling out billions of dollars to rescue the fossil fuel and aviation industries. Development cooperation for pandemic recovery should be supporting a transition to more equitable, greener economies, she said, emphasizing the need for climate finance that is new and a complement to official development assistance (ODA).
During the afternoon session, speakers highlighted South-South and triangular cooperation to harness the power of science, technology and innovation in order to address the many challenges created by the pandemic.
Javier Dávila Torres, General Director of Technical and Scientific Cooperation, Mexican Agency of Development Cooperation, pointed to efforts by Mexico’s scientific community to guarantee fair access to testing, vaccines, medical equipment and other disposable devices.
Carlos Santiso, Senior Director, Governance Practice and Digital Innovation in Government at the CAF Development Bank of Latin America, said international financial institutions already have directed $260 billion towards emergency support, including, countercyclical financing and advising States on both weathering the pandemic and preparing for recovery.
Samuel Annim, a Government Statistician from Ghana, said his country has received technical support from the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to track the way the coronavirus is affecting families and communities.
Tapping into discussions over the past two days, the closing session focused on ways to create a new paradigm for development cooperation that reduces risk, enables recovery and builds resilience.
Pandemic Recovery and Climate Emergency
In the morning, the Forum held a virtual discussion on the theme “Development cooperation in addressing the dual challenge of pandemic recovery and the climate emergency”. Moderated by Donna Mitzi Lagdameo, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), it featured the following guest speakers: Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission; Olaya Dotel, Deputy Minister of International Cooperation, Ministry of Economy, Planning and Development, Dominican Republic; Jorge Moreira da Silva, Director, Development Co-operation Directorate, Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD); and Patrick V. Verkooijen, Chief Executive Officer, Global Centre for Adaptation.
Lead discussants were Walton Alfonso Webson, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States; James Paul Roscoe, Ambassador, General Assembly Affairs, Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations; Silvio Gonzato, Ambassador, Deputy Head of Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations; and Jennifer del Rosario-Malonzo, Executive Director, IBON International.
Before the presentations by panellists, VLADISLAV KAIM, PALOMA COSTA and ARCHANA SORENG, members of the Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, delivered messages, stressing that, while fighting the COVID-19 crisis is imperative, the stakes of the climate emergency are even higher. Massive cooperation is needed, and youth have a critical role in development cooperation. Recovery must be people‑centred and there must be investment in development of the skills needed for green jobs, especially for young people. Recovery from COVID-19 and climate change adaptation must go hand in hand. Indigenous people and local communities must be included and prioritized in recovery and climate ambition efforts, they stressed.
Ms. LAGDAMEO said the dual challenge of recovering from the pandemic and addressing the climate emergency is one of the most discussed topics at present, stressing the need to make the right decisions and take the right actions in 2021 so that the international community can bear the fruits of such moves in 2030. She challenged panellists to speak about how things can be done differently and share how countries are addressing competing priorities.
Ms. SACKO emphasized the great potential that official development assistance (ODA) holds for poverty eradication and sustainable development in developing countries. Foreign aid has increased but largely in the form of loans that must be paid back. Turning to COVID-19 responses, she deplored that the COVAX Facility is underfunded and inequality in vaccine access is expanding. Africa may not reach herd immunity until 2023 if the current trend in vaccination persists. She said Africa produces less greenhouse‑gas emissions that cause global warming, but the impacts of climate change have been taking a heavy toll on the continent. Since Africa lacks access to finance, international development cooperation, financial and non-financial, is key in such areas as capacity‑building, clean technologies and disaster risk reduction. Stressing the need to address institutional weakness, she urged support for Africa and the least developed countries.
Ms. DOTEL said the Dominican Republic formed an inter-institutional working group comprising authorities on matters of planning, cooperation, and response to health emergencies, to make international cooperation more efficient in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. The criteria for allocating ODA to upper middle-income countries with vulnerabilities and structural gaps must be revisited. Proposing the establishment of a multilateral post-recovery fund that supports a social policy agenda, she said this fund could prioritize the promotion of a sustainable economy, an equitable technological transition, and policies to create resilient societies. Disaster risk management is a cross-cutting issue, and countries like hers are aware of the need to rethink the way they build infrastructure.
Mr. SILVA said development cooperation plays an important role in putting developing countries on sustainable pathways. ODA remains a stable source of finance for developing countries, but there is a need to align foreign aid with the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals. Citing significant gaps in climate funding, he called for greater investments in green energy, which are essential for developing countries to build back better and greener. This is the only option for a true global recovery. Developing countries need to phase out fossil fuels, he said, adding the energy transition must be a success story. Developing the renewable energy industry can also foster gender equality. Stressing the importance of an integrated approach, he said there is no partial recovery and no partial climate resilience.
Mr. VERKOOIJEN, in a video message, said the world was unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, warning against an approach to address the crisis in silos. Vaccines could possibly end the pandemic, but when it comes to climate change, “no vaccines are coming to save the plant”, he said. The Earth would become inhabitable, he warned, stressing the need to double down on emission reductions. Questioning the need to choose between economic growth and climate change adaptation, he said it is essential to stop neglecting one at the expense of the other. Human health and well‑being are linked to the well‑being of the environment. The Global Centre for Adaptation strives to bring climate change adaptation into all development plans. Every dollar invested in climate change adaptation could result in $10 net economic benefit, he said, noting that the Centre launched a programme to accelerate Africa’s climate change adaptation focusing on food security, innovative financing, entrepreneurship and infrastructure.
Following the panellists, lead discussants delivered their remarks.
Mr. WEBSON, in a video message, said the pandemic compounded the existing global challenges, such as inequality, undermining the international community’s collective ability to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA Pathway). “We should be in full implementation mode,” he said, expressing his regret that that was not the case. Small island developing States are at the forefront of climate ambition, but are experiencing difficulties in attracting and accessing finance to achieve these ambitions. There are steps that can be taken, including debt relief and cancellation. Since the pandemic began, Group of 20 (G20) countries have committed over $640 billion in public funds, but nearly 45 per cent of this supports fossil fuels. This type of investment hampers the development of small island developing States, he warned.
Mr. ROSCOE said the United Kingdom, as incoming President of the twenty‑sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP26, has put climate vulnerable constituencies at the front and centre of its action plans. The country hosted a ministerial conference on climate and development to address challenges faced by developing countries. It is using its Group of 7 (G7) presidency to push for a significant increase in bilateral financing for climate adaptation and resilience. Governments must recognize that the pandemic recovery packages will have implications for decades to come. “Through investing in sustainable and green industries, we can both turn the tide on climate and grow our economies,” he said. The United Kingdom is leading from the front, with an ambitious 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution.
Mr. GONZATO said the European Union’s action is oriented exactly towards recovery from the pandemic and climate adaptation. The European Green Deal and the Team Europe COVID-19 Response are the two vehicles to address those two challenges, both at home and in partner countries. Governments around the world are borrowing heavily to counter the impact of the pandemic, meaning borrowing from future generations. Therefore, the recovery plans should be designed as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to “build back better”, by investing in green and digital transitions and creating a fairer, more resilient economy and society. The Union’s budget for the next seven years will include a 30 per cent spending target on climate-related investments. Circular economy models will make an important contribution to achieving climate neutrality and decoupling economic growth from resource use. The bloc’s circular economy action plan, adopted in 2020, inspired a growing number of countries to follow suit. The sustainable consumption and production model is highly relevant for development cooperation.
Ms. DEL ROSARIO-MALONZO said that, even before the pandemic, financing by developed countries for climate action in developing countries was insufficient and not geared towards meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement and Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Developed countries are not upholding their promise to mobilize an additional $100 billion to help developing countries fight climate change through both adaptation and mitigation, yet they are more than willing to shell out billions of dollars to rescue the fossil fuel and aviation industries through generous stimulus packages and tax breaks. Development cooperation for pandemic recovery should be supporting the broader goal of transforming economies to be low-carbon, equitable, rights-based, people‑centred and sustainable, she said, emphasizing the need for climate finance that is new and a complement to ODA.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Guatemala, speaking on behalf of the Group of Middle-Income Countries, stressed that these countries represent 73 per cent of the world’s population and are highly vulnerable to shocks. Their middle-income status is making it difficult to gain access to financial resources, he said, stressing the need to correct this.
The representative of the Republic of Korea said her country’s New Deal adopted in July 2020 is a strategy to transition towards a more inclusive, climate-resilient and digital economy. The Republic of Korea also helps its partner countries respond to the current pandemic and transition to a low-carbon and digital economy.
A speaker for the International Trade Union Confederation said jobs are at the centre of workers’ priorities to build forward better. New jobs will have to be both climate-friendly and decent. Large numbers of jobs can be created through sustainable investment in infrastructure, health, public transport, housing, repairing ecosystems and making innovative improvements to cities.
A speaker for the Man Up Campaign stressed the need to invest in education, climate‑resilient infrastructure and nature-based solutions, citing an example in Costa Rica, where the unique approach of designating a marine-protected area, along with a business plan focused on nature capital and human capital, enabled a woman entrepreneur to expand beyond the norm of tourism-based income.
Also participating in the discussion were the representatives of Honduras and Panama, as well as the European Network on Debt and Development. A senior official of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also spoke.
Regional Cooperation to Support Science, Technology, Innovation during COVID-19
In the afternoon, the Forum held a session on the theme “Regional Cooperation to support science, technology and innovation in the COVID-19 period”. Moderated by Adva Saldinger, Senior Reporter, Devex, it featured presentations by Samuel Annim, Government Statistician, Ghana; Javier Dávila Torres, General Director of Technical and Scientific Cooperation, Mexican Agency of Development Cooperation; Carlos Santiso, Senior Director, Governance Practice and Digital Innovation in Government, CAF Development Bank of Latin America; and Stefano Bonaccini, President, Council of European Municipalities and Regions.
MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the pandemic has revealed how instrumental cooperation at the regional level has been in supporting countries which are facing shared challenges. The session will highlight regional initiatives to support pandemic recovery and identify opportunities to scale up these efforts for long-term sustainable development.
Ms. SALDINGER underscored the ways in which the pandemic has underscored the need for development cooperation. She looked forward to hearing from the panelists how such cooperation can play out at various levels.
Mr. ANNIM said that his country has benefited greatly from virtual communication platforms set up in response to the pandemic, notably by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Cooperation with the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom has also made it possible to share experiences. On the technical front, Ghana received support from the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to track the way the coronavirus is affecting families and communities.
Mr. TORRES drew attention to General Assembly resolution 75/254, an initiative launched by Mexico in March 2020 aimed at facilitating access to medicines, equipment and eventually vaccines for COVID-19. That test was approved by a broad majority of Member States resulting in the establishment of the COVAX Facility. In May 2020, the Prime Minister of Norway invited Mexico to join global efforts to generate a COVID-19 vaccine, leading to its membership in Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a multilateral organization that aims to speed up the manufacture of vaccines for diseases with pandemic potential. He outlined several other initiatives undertaken by his country with, among others, the Asia‑Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). For its part, Mexico’s scientific community is working towards guaranteeing timely and fair access to testing, vaccines, medical equipment and other disposable devices, as well as economic recovery.
Mr. SANTISO said that, so far, international financial institutions have directed $260 billion towards emergency support. Their assistance includes countercyclical financing and advising States on both weathering the pandemic and preparing for recovery. Going forward, emergency programmes and recovery packages must be corruption-proof. He added that the Latin American and Caribbean region entered the crisis with pre-existing conditions, including corruption and high levels of inequality, which still need to be addressed if recovery is to be sustainable. Moreover, challenges arising from swift digital transformation must be inclusive and ethical, he stated.
Mr. BONACCINI said that, at the pandemic’s outsets, in most countries, the response was mainly in the hands of central Governments. It was unclear whether this would be a temporary arrangement, but in many countries, local authorities played a bigger role as it became apparent that that would be more effective. Targeted measures at local levels are more likely to have an immediate impact. He noted that, historically, cities and territories have been drivers of innovation, adding that cooperation between cities can play a key role in contributing to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Guatemala, speaking on behalf of the Like-Minded Group of Middle-Income Countries, said that middle‑income countries face deep structural vulnerabilities akin to those in special situations. Underscoring the need to go beyond per capita gross domestic product (GDP) as a yardstick for determining a country’s level of economic development, he said that more ODA should be steered towards science, technology and innovation, with technology transfers being made on preferential terms.
Building a New Paradigm for Development Cooperation
The Forum then held its closing session on the theme “Global challenges inspiring action — building a new paradigm for development cooperation”, with presentations by Nikolaj Gilbert, President and Chief Executive Officer, PATH; and Jose Antonio Ocampo Gaviria, Chair, Committee for Development Policy.
Mr. GILBERT, introducing PATH as a global health non-governmental organization, said that the pandemic witnessed the forging of unprecedented partnerships which have brought together actors and resources from every sector to combat COVID-19. Such collaborations are not easy, but with humility, dedication and a cooperative spirit, they can be done. He drew particular attention to a new more affordable and transportable COVID-19 vaccine that is currently undergoing clinical trials in Viet Nam and Thailand, made possible by a multisector partnership that includes two medical schools in the United States, PATH and a vaccine manufacturing partner in Viet Nam. Because it can be produced in the same egg-based facilities that already produce a billion doses of flu vaccine every year, it could be a gamechanger for global access to COVID-19 vaccines and the pandemic itself, he said.
Mr. OCAMPO discussed a comprehensive study undertaken by the Committee for Development Policy, a subsidiary body of the Economic and Social Council, on the impact of COVID-19 on least developed countries. Among other things, it found that the financial situation of those countries became more challenging, given a fall in export revenues, foreign direct investment and remittances. Nearly half are either at high risk, or already at risk, of debt distress, he said, adding that many spent more on debt servicing in 2020 than on health. While a partial rebound in GDP growth is expected this year, international support will be essential not only to respond to the health crisis in least-developed countries, but also to speed up the structural transformation of their economies. In that regard, the upcoming fifth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries will be an opportunity to advance such support.
Stabilizing the financial condition of least developed countries and fostering the achievement of the Goals will require additional ODA in the form of transfers rather than loans, he said. More resources for multilateral development banks are needed, as well. Blended finance can complement traditional aid, but donors should use below-market rates in their non-concessional loans for blending. The agreed allocation of $650 billion in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) special drawing rights can supplement national official reserves, help restore confidence and support a global economic recovery. He suggested that interest payments due on donated special drawing rights should be paid from the Fund’s general budget.
LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivered closing remarks, saying that there are several ways through which the Forum can strengthen development cooperation for a sustainable, inclusive and resilient recovery. Those include generating policy guidance for Member States and other development actors as the pandemic unfolds; giving strategic direction and added value to the multilateral dialogue on development cooperation during the Decade of Action; documenting and disseminating evidence to support innovative policymaking and the adopt of best practices; and facilitating learning, knowledge-sharing and opportunities for collaboration. “In the current context of the pandemic’s response and recovery, it is extremely important to build up the United Nations development cooperation capacity,” he said, adding that it is critical to demonstrate international solidarity and active support for countries in special situations.
Mr. AKRAM (Pakistan), President of the Economic and Social Council, in closing remarks, expressed hope that the Forum will mark the start of new collective action to build back better through systemic change. The ideas and solutions identified during the past two days can lead to a new paradigm of international development cooperation in this Decade of Action for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Summarizing some highlights, he said that strengthening development cooperation in the context of COVID-19 means helping developing countries to overcome the pandemic, reduce risk and build resilience. Such an approach should become part of the new DNA of development cooperation. Every region, State and community has experiences and knowledge to share with others for mutual benefit.
The pandemic is an opportunity to scale up efforts to reduce the risk of future shocks, he said. Financial support for developing countries during and after the pandemic is critical. Levels of ODA should be revived and special drawing rights used to best effect. Strengthening health and social protection systems should be a priority and vaccines, medicines and other medical supplies deemed a global public good. Better efforts also need to be made to share new and emerging technologies. No country, community or company can address health crises, climate change or inequalities on its own, he said, adding that the Forum’s work will help inform the high-level political forum on sustainable development in July and COP26 in November.