Three Cs — Climate Change, Conflicts and Coronavirus — have adverse effects on the achievement of the African Union’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want.
The effects are dire, and the reality of these challenges was not lost on discussants at the seventh session of Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development (ARFSD-7) held in a hybrid format, with in-person presence at Brazzaville, Congo and also virtual attendance.
The four-day event was convened by the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) in conjunction with other United Nations systems, the Government of Congo, the African Union Commission (AUC); and the African Development Bank (AfDB).
The session was on the theme: ‘Building forward better towards a resilient and green Africa to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063’.
The theme is closely aligned with that of the 2021 meeting of the high-level forum on sustainable development — Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that promotes the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.
It is similarly aligned to ‘Building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development’, also part of the high-level forum theme.
Discussants had their work cut out for them as they deliberated on the regional follow-up and review of progress made in implementing both 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
They undertook a review of Goal-1, end extreme poverty; Goal-2, zero hunger; Goal-3, good health and well-being; Goal-8, decent work and economic growth; and Goal-10, reduced inequalities.
Others are Goal-12, responsible consumption and production; Goal-13, climate action; Goal-16, peace, justice and strong institutions; and Goal-17, partnerships for sustainable development.
From several sessions held at the event came reports, with paths to follow.
Africa is to prioritise low carbon development strategies, leveraging its natural resources and building value chains by adopting appropriate technologies and skills to optimise economic opportunities.
The countries will have to increase investment in science, technology and innovation, by allocating more finance for development, reducing illicit financial flows and other measures.
This is in addition to strengthening education and health, which are of such importance in human capital development.
African countries should also step up their investment in human capital development, the importance of which has been evidenced by COVID-19.
Also, strategies should be developed to use key assets such as energy as well as information and communications technology as catalysts for technological development and industrialisation.
The countries could do this by capitalising on the opportunities afforded by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), strengthening institutions and harnessing technology and innovation.
There is need to leverage and build partnerships by strengthening digital and energy infrastructure, to enable people to learn and work anywhere;
Various African countries and the private sector should work together to develop innovative and inclusive financing models for science, technology and innovation that will drive entrepreneurship and promote innovations and industrial development;
The countries were encouraged to implement science, technology and innovation policies to accelerate attainment of the goals of the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) monitored the event via Webinar from Lagos, and reports that the forum enjoyed laudable participation, considering COVID-19 challenges.
The participants include African ministers and senior officials responsible for environment and sustainable development, finance, economic and social development, agriculture, education, justice, statistics, the digital economy, science and technology.
Others are heads and members of delegations of the parliaments of African Union member-states and experts representing governments and intergovernmental organisations, the private sector and civil society,
NAN reports that discussions were marked by fruitful and high-quality deliberations on the monitoring and evaluation of the progress achieved and exchange of experience in the field of sustainable development in Africa.
Discussants agreed that African countries would have to redefine and develop economic models that incorporate the protection of natural resources and the promotion of renewable energy.
Other steps include the development of green and resilient infrastructure and inclusive digitization, informed by an awareness of the value of our human capital.
African countries also need to harness science, innovation and emerging cutting-edge technologies, such as artificial intelligence and blockchain systems, to drive the transformative change needed over the next 10 years to achieve SDGs.
Crucially, the continent is expected to take its messages to the high-level political forum on sustainable development, under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council, holding in New York from July 6 to July15.
Other destinations for the messages are the twenty-sixth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change, and at various global, regional and subregional forums.
Key speakers at the forum include the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed; and the Under-Secretary-General of the UN and Executive Secretary of the ECA, Vera Songwe.
There was also the President of the Economic and Social Council of the UN, Munir Akram; and the Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Industry and Mining, African Union Commission, Albert Muchanga.
Others include the Minister of Tourism and Environment, the Congo, Arlette Soudan-Nonault; and the Deputy Prime Minister of the Congo for Civil Service, State Reform, Labour, and Social Security, Firmin Ayessa.
Ms Mohammed reiterated that COVID-19 was undermining plans to deliver on Sustainable Development Goals.
She noted that some 100,000 Africans had died from the virus, and Africa was facing its first recession in 25 years.
She added that the continent continued to grapple with diverse regional crises, as well as conflict and violence, including a recent outbreak of Ebola in Guinea.
“However, there was hope and opportunity to leverage all of the capacities of Africa and the potential of its 226 million young people to chart a new direction, with the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063 as guides,” Mohammed said.
She outlined areas to inform the deliberations of the Forum to include the call of the Secretary-General for COVID-19 vaccines to be a global public good, available to everyone, everywhere, along with the role of the COVAX facility.
Mohammed pointed out the lack of financing by most African countries to adequately respond to the crisis.
She noted that ECA estimated that Africa needed $100 billion per year for three years to deal with the health and socioeconomic impacts of the crisis.
Similarly, there is the need to develop a just economic model that embraces renewable energy, green and resilient infrastructure, and inclusive digitalisation, while protecting natural resources.
Another area is the repositioning of the regional UN development system – combined with the reform of the AU, which had established a much stronger footing to support member-states in their sustainable development efforts.
The UN deputy secretary general pointed out that, with the power of women, young people, cutting-edge technology and innovations, Africans could drive transformative change over the next 10 years.
On her part, Songwe stated that the massive and brutal shock produced by the unprecedented health pandemic and the measures taken to overcome it had plunged the global economy into a serious recession.
She noted that, for Africa, ECA estimated that the contraction stood at 8 per cent in the best-case scenario and 9 per cent in the worst-case scenario, due to COVID-19.
The ECA boss further underlined that Africa was already spending 2 per cent to meet the impact of climate change, and that the COVID-19 pandemic had created a deficit of about $345 billion.
She recalled that the crucial issue of debt was discussed in two conferences by ECA with African ministers of finance, organized by ECA in March 2020.
According to her, the conference deliberation led to a call for a debt payment suspension for all developing countries – the Debt Service Suspension Initiative.
She said this initiative was enacted by the G20 and was benefiting about 30 countries.
Songwe said that, while the debt moratorium was important to increase countries’ liquidity, only low-income countries benefited from it.
She further noted that ECA, along with African ministers, was calling for a new issue of Special Drawing Rights (SDR) of about $25 billion that would benefit all African countries and be distributed equitably by quota.
The ECA executive secretary advocated a reallocation of these SDRs, as this new injection of liquidity could assist in addressing the worsening poverty.
“The SDRs could provide the opportunity to access convertible monies that would allow the informal small and medium-sized enterprises to stay in business and relaunch the economy.
“While developed countries had already spent 20 per cent of their GDP on new liquidity to combat the crisis, the number was only 2 per cent and 6 per cent for low-income and middle-income countries, respectively,” Songwe said.
In the same light, Muchanga said that COVID-19 had posed challenges to implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.
He added that the theme of the seventh session of the Regional Forum was timely, as COVID-19 had disrupted the sustainable development systems, which required rebuilding.
According to him, the progress of sustainable development in Africa was mixed.
He noted that, for example, poverty had declined, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, it was on the rise again.
“African debt had soared to 70 per cent of its GDP. The debt-to-GDP ratio was likely to exceed 100 per cent in at least seven African countries.
“Therefore, domestic resource mobilization remained critical.
“Countries must aim to mobilize at least 75 per cent domestically to allocate the resources for sustainable development.
“One strategy to increase domestic resource mobilization would be to minimize illicit financial flows, through which $59 billion was lost annually.
“Another would be to strengthen revenue collection, through which $100 billion was lost annually. Africa had allocated $10 billion to acquire COVID-19 vaccines through the Africa Medical Supply initiative.
“The African Export–Import Bank provided a $2 billion guarantee for vaccine procurement and pledged to extend the package to $5 billion.
“These all demonstrated the commitment of Africa to rolling out COVID-19 vaccines across the continent, leaving no one behind,” Muchanga said.
To Akram, the 2030 Agenda remained the blueprint to achieve sustainable development regionally and globally.
“Yet, the prospects for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals had been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
He recalled that African economies were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic due to their existing vulnerabilities, worsening inequalities, reducing financial resources and causing recessions.
Akram outlined priorities to recover from COVID-19 and accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, including mobilizing financial resources for the Sustainable Development Goals.
He called for investment in sustainable infrastructure, and promoting science and technology, in terms of financing the recovery from COVID-19 and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Other steps, according to him, include external debt relief and restructuring for Africa; creation of $500 billion in SDRs; and enlarging concession grants to benefit middle-income African economies.
Akram also listed mobilizing $100 billion annually to finance climate change action, as pledged by developed countries as part of the Paris Agreement; and curbing illicit financial flows from Africa and returning the funds to countries of origin.
Earlier, Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Zimbabwe, and Chair of the Bureau of the sixth session, Paul Mavima, said that 2020 had proved to be a year of huge challenge.
He noted that COVID-19 pandemic continued to ravage economies worldwide and derail progress on the implementation of the SDGs and Agenda 2063.
He welcomed the roll-out of vaccines, but echoed growing calls for Africa to use its capital and human resources to develop its own medical solutions, including the production of vaccines.
According to Mavima, Africa’s priority should include changing the mindsets of the populations to develop local solutions.
Other steps include aggressively exploring and adopting effective resource mobilisation strategies anchored within the endowments of the continent; and Africa taking the future into its own hands.
He said there is need to foster a new inclusive development trajectory to uplift the lives of the majority of people; and utilise the outcomes of the forum on science, technology and innovation to deal with the technology divide.
Mavima also called for the roll-out and adoption of the integrated planning and reporting toolkit developed by ECA and partners. (NAN)