Regional Commissions Must be Strengthened to Better Assist with Implementing Sustainable Development Agenda, Speakers Say in Second Committee

Underscoring the need to bolster regional commissions in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, speakers focused on areas ranging from trade and transport to the environment and natural hazards, as the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) met with those bodies today.

Olga Algayerova, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), noted that her organization hosts the TIR Convention, a multilateral treaty with 74 parties and 34,000 companies that cuts transport time by up to 80 per cent and costs by up to 39 per cent. Digitalization of transport is critical to the efficient movement of goods, with intelligent transport expected to lower costs and time, she said.

She also emphasized a preventive approach to reduce accidents and hazards, stating that that Commission provides environmental assessments to analyse risks and consider alternatives for sounder decisions. Issues including aging power plants in the region pose a challenge going forward, she said, urging ECE help parties reduce risk and explore opportunities.

Also addressing hazards, Mounir Tabet, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), noted that droughts, earthquakes, floods and storms affected more than 37 million people from 1989 to 2008. Confronting those challenges, ESCWA has provided support to establish/update historical disaster losses databases for six Arab States and capacity development for them to address sand and dust storms.

On regional trade, Vera Songwe, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said it has strongly supported the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Estimates suggest that tariff elimination on goods under the Agreement could increase the share of intra African trade from 40 per cent to over 50 per cent, she said.

The trade increase would be larger if liberalization in services and non tariff barriers were to be tackled within Africa, she added. In 2015, African countries spent about $63 billion on food imports, largely from outside the continent, while intra African trade in agricultural products under the Agreement could be between 20 and 30 per cent higher in 2040.

During an ensuing discussion, speakers stressed that regional commissions must be strengthened, considering their key role in boosting implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Egypt’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, pointed to their support in building and strengthening national capacities through integrated policy advice, normative support and technical capacity.

Romania’s representative highlighted the role of ECE in bringing stakeholders together, calling for a dialogue on connectivity beyond the strict limits of transport and logistics infrastructure to focus on links between production sectors, banking and investment institutions. While urging regional commissions to cooperate in resolving such economic obstacles, the Russian Federation’s delegate noted that their burdens have become heavier and tasks more onerous, stressing the need to meet their staffing and funding needs.

An additional presentation was made by Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

Also speaking were the representatives of Paraguay, Republic of Korea, Bhutan, China, Thailand, Cabo Verde, Mexico, Iran, Belarus, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, Chile and Nigeria.

The Committee will meet again on Tuesday, 6 November to introduce and take action on draft resolutions.

Regional Commissions

ALICIA BA�RCENA, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), moderating the meeting, noted that the global economy is growing increasingly complex in an uncertain world. Regional integration is progressing differently in each region, but similarities exist in trade and other sectors. Growing inequalities are among the major problems, with each region working on a different front to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

VERA SONGWE, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said the continent’s growth is expected to decline slightly to 3.6 per cent in 2018, with East Africa achieving the highest growth. The lowest growth is expected in Southern Africa, which has suffered from commodity price shocks. She also noted that the savings/investment gap is widening, with domestic savings low and fewer resources available for investments, sparking a need for more foreign capital. However, oil prices have almost doubled over the past few years, so the economies of oil producing countries are preforming at a higher level.

Total debt, external debt and debt service are on the rise again, up to 54 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in some cases, making it difficult to raise financing for the Sustainable Development Goals, she said. On trade, she noted that Africa trades less with itself, compared with other regions. It trades with itself more on manufactured goods and increasingly on services than on primary commodities.

The ECA has been and will continue to be strongly engaged in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement processes, she said. It is estimated that tariff elimination on goods under the Agreement could increase the share of intra African trade from 40 per cent to over 50 per cent. The increase would be much larger if liberalization of trade in services and non tariff barriers were to be tackled within Africa. In 2015, African countries spent about $63 billion on food imports, largely from outside the continent. The ECA projects that under the Agreement, intra African trade in agricultural products will be between 20 and 30 per cent higher in 2040.

OLGA ALGAYEROVA, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), addressed transboundary issues and their importance in her region. Natural hazards and pollution are particular challenges, while solutions include infrastructure networks and improved connectivity. Ultimately, she stated objectives including better water management are key to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. ECE provides the regulatory backbone for transport networks and facilitates border crossings, hosting the TIR Convention, a multilateral treaty with 74 parties and 34,000 companies that cuts transport time by up to 80 per cent and costs by up to 39 per cent. She noted that digitalization of transport is critical to the efficient movement of goods, with intelligent transport expected to lower costs and time.

Turning to the multilateral issue of air pollution, she stated it is responsible for the deaths of 400,000 Europeans annually and reduces life expectancy in some regions by 12 months. The Convention on Long range Transboundary Air Pollution has reduced emissions by 40 to 80 per cent since 1990. Disasters don’t respect national borders, she said, noting most disasters are water related, including flooding costing Euros 400 billion between 1980 and 2013. The Water Convention, which entered into force in 1996, not only addresses pollution and disaster but offers opportunities for economic growth. She further noted that a preventive approach can reduce industrial accidents and consequences. ECE also provides environmental assessments to analyse risks and hazards and consider alternatives for sounder decisions. Issues including aging power plants in the region pose a challenge going forward, she said, demanding that ECE help parties reduce risk and explore opportunities.

KAVEH ZAHEDI, Deputy Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), addressed regional integration and cooperation. While his region is responsible for 40 per cent of global GDP, it also still suffers from poverty. Still, there has been progress, with rates reduced from 46 to 10 per cent over recent decades and over 1 billion people lifted out of poverty. The Asia Pacific region is a hub for global supply chains, however ESCAP analysis reveals it is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, reaching only one on educational access. He noted the region has been hit hard by climate change, with disasters outpacing resilience. In economic terms, inequality has widened during a period of growth, increasing in 40 per cent of countries. He also noted an inequality of impact, with the region five times more likely to be affected by disaster than any other. Greater integration and cooperation are the solution to putting the region back on track for sustainable development.

Citing stand out issues including the inequality of wealth and access to vital resources, environmental degradation and the new gap of the digital divide, he stated ESCAP is developing toolboxes to address issues and accelerate development. The Commission is prioritizing intergovernmental communication and consensus building and points to such developments as the China Mongolia Russian Federation Intergovernmental Agreement on International Road Transport, the Roadmap on Energy Connectivity and the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway in accelerating progress towards sustainable development. Technical support and capacity-building help harmonize progress and address transboundary issues like disasters and air pollution, repositioning ESCAP to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

MOUNIR TABET, Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), outlined challenges in his region. On climate change, he said the region contributes less than 5 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, but it is expected to reach the highest increase in average temperature. This threatens water dependent and weather sensitive sectors such as agriculture, ecosystems, cities and human health. The most vulnerable are the least developed countries, especially the southern rim of the region stretching from southern Mauritania to southern Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

As for disaster risk reduction challenges, he said the Arab region is among the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change, with disasters having transboundary consequences. From 1980 to 2008, droughts, earthquakes, floods and storms affected more than 37 million people. From 1971 to 2013, economic damage from these events was estimated at more than $19.8 billion. Some 83 per cent of all economic losses due to weather related hazards are caused by floods. In addressing these problems, ESCWA has provided support to establish/update historical disaster losses databases for six Arab States and capacity development for Arab States to address sand and dust storms.

On sustainable energy use and management, he said the regional market for electricity, energy products and trade in the fields of energy within the Arab region is limited, with electricity disruptions impacting and frustrating other development. Addressing these issues, ESCWA is providing technical support on formulation of policies that foster development and strengthen clean energy value chains. Turning to economic integration, he said low intra Arab trade volume in goods registered between 6 and 12 per cent of the region’s total trade from 2000 2016, compared with 50 per cent for the European Union and 23 per cent for Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As for migration, he said the Arab region hosted over 38 million migrants in 2017, representing 14.8 per cent of global migrants. In 2017, the number of refugees and persons in refugee like situations in the region was close to 8.7 million, while 16.4 million were internally displaced. Conflict prevention challenges include insufficient social cohesion, justice and inclusivity as well as frustrated youth expectations for decent jobs and a safe and secure future. Others are economic stagnation, inequality and vulnerability to economic and price shocks.

Ms. BA�RCENA noted migration is a major issue in her region. Growing trade tensions are also a problem, with issues between the United States and China affecting ECLAC countries across the board. South North migration is triggered not only by inequality but also climate change. She noted that although 70 million have been lifted out of poverty in the last decade, the issue remains prominent. Digital platforms are unfortunately concentrated in only two or three countries, and while States provide data, only a few companies aggregate it and profit from it. Stating that 2017 was very difficult and that the world has changed brutally since 2015, she noted growing inequality favours very few actors and is a source of anger among the disenfranchised.

In the region, she said, the change of economic cycle features capital outflows, making it time for ECLAC to focus on regional cooperation, including intraregional trade and climate change. The region must combat tax avoidance and illicit funds and close gaps on innovation and technology. She cited exports within the region as one key to improving economies, given exports to Europe and elsewhere are basically raw materials including food or minerals, while intraregional trade develops manufacturing. Lithium is a key commodity for electric cars and, as a dominant supplier of that metal, the region has the potential for considerable future development. She noted the region is improving integration across multiple platforms, including in technology and biodiversity. One source of financing is tapping into an estimated $340 billion in tax evasion, representing 6.7 per cent of GDP. The region must cooperate to alleviate public debt, while Central America offers a model for energy integration. Turning to the digital realm, she said the region must move towards 5G networks if it is to participate in the future economy. The region must rethink development, policy and technology with an overwhelming accent on equality. She presented several pillars for cooperation including dialogue across the region and between Government, business and citizens.

Statements

MOHAMED OMAR MOHAMED GAD (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said the key role of regional commissions in supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be preserved and strengthened. Their existing functions should be enhanced, along with their role as crucial platforms for intergovernmental cooperation and regional integration. He further stressed the need to enhance collaboration between United Nations country teams, regional coordinators and regional bodies to maximize their support for implementation of the Agenda. He also noted that follow up and review processes related to implementation of the Agenda are enhanced by the role of regional commissions in providing data and statistics needed to ensure implementation.

He emphasized that the functions of regional commissions should continue to go well beyond the role of think tanks and the support they provide to regional coordinators and United Nations country teams. He pointed to the crucial role of regional commissions in supporting the building, development and strengthening of national capacities, including through providing meaningful assistance directly to national Governments, as well as integrated policy advice, normative support and technical capacity.

DMITRY S. CHUMAKOV (Russian Federation) said the regional commissions should cooperate in resolving economic obstacles in implementing the 2030 Agenda. They should be seen as a valuable multilateral platform in solving vital issues in sustainable development. The role and place of the commissions in repositioning of the United Nations development system must be decided by Member States themselves. Adding that his country is a major donor in ECE and ESCAP, he said these commissions have real potential for implementing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. However, since heavier burdens are being placed on them and more tasks allocated, their staffing and funding needs should be met. The expertise of the commissions at the country level can be used for promoting innovative means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

ALBERTO ESTEBAN CABALLERO GENNARI (Paraguay), speaking on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, welcomed the comprehensive reports and highlighted the importance of broad implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action, asking for fundamental support from the regional commissions.

CRISTINA MARIA ALINA POPESCU (Romania) addressed the environmental elements of the 2030 Agenda, highlighting management of transboundary water management as key to preventing industrial accidents. Noting that sustainable development affects all aspects of society, she called for dialogue to focus on connectivity beyond the strict limits of necessary transport and logistics infrastructure to include links between production sectors, banking and investment institutions. She spotlighted the role of ECE in bringing together stakeholders.

PARK CHULL-JOO (Republic of Korea), noted the 2030 Agenda can only be realized through the coordination among countries and regions. The commissions have made a significant contribution in fostering dialogue and ensuring no one is left behind. He made special mention of the role of ESCAP in various sectors including information and communications technology (ICT), disaster risk reduction, the environment, statistics, transport and energy. As the largest donor country to ESCAP, his Government reaffirms regional and subregional cooperation as key to sustainable development.

DOMA TSHERING (Bhutan), associating herself with the Group of 77, said her country recognizes the importance of the regional dimension. The regional commissions play a vital role in follow up processes and capacity as well as knowledge sharing in efforts to achieve sustainable development. As intergovernmental platforms, they have been valuable in supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda at the national level.

Mr. XU (China) said regional commissions are important platforms in drawing up economic policies, development plans and environmental protection strategies. They are valuable in strengthening economic and trade integration and building a favourable international environment for development. Reforming the economic commissions is an important part of repositioning the United Nations development system. The commissions are instrumental in promoting cooperation in economic integration and capacity development.

SUPARK PRONGTHURA (Thailand), associating himself with the Group of 77, cited the role of ESCAP in providing capacity building to countries of the region according to their needs and priorities. The regional commissions play a key role in addressing poverty reduction, inequality, connectivity, migration, climate change and disaster risk reduction. However, he said ESCAP must also focus on the importance of a region by region approach. Cooperation between the regional commissions can deepen implementation of sustainable development, and regular engagement and dialogue between the commission would lend to sharing best practices and building partnerships.

JOSA� LUIS FIALHO ROCHA (Cabo Verde), associating himself with the Group of 77, noted Africa as a whole does not feature enough growth, with little savings and too much debt. He asked how ECA can assist countries in Africa to achieve the 2030 Agenda at the national level and provide them with the tools. In African regional integration, he said too much hope is placed in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement despite a mix of positive and negative trends. African small island developing States do not have a coordinated body as in other regional commissions. Given most African countries have coastlines, he asked how ECA can help them build blue economies.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico) said his region has been cooperating with ECLAC for 70 years. The Commission is more than a think tank, but a regional forum to evaluate progress in achieving sustainable development. He stressed the Commission should be dealing with issues related to migration and technology, adding that science, technology and innovation are valuable tools in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. HAJILARI (Iran) said accurate and realistic planning is needed and the 2030 Agenda should be part of the activities carried out by regional commissions. He noted that his region is among the most disaster prone in the world, especially as concerns sand and dust storms, which requires a multi country coordinated action.

Mr. SHUMSKI (Belarus) noted his country is very involved in ECE and appreciated the open dialogue the Commission fostered. Regional integration is important to the economic and political picture of the world and the 2030 Agenda. His country is part of two major economic blocs and focuses on integration. Regional commissions must look long term towards building a new and better world and should prioritize synergy and simplifying the participation of States in their activities, especially regulating international trade.

RIO BUDI RAHMANTO (Indonesia), associating himself with the Group of 77, noted his State still faces poverty, health and water issues, inequality and climate change which can reverse development gains. He cited involvement by ESCAP in helping countries work towards sustainable development, and the key role of the Commissions in promoting integration and synergy at the regional and subregional level. He asked how the commissions envisage aligning themselves with the repositioning of the United Nations system.

ARMAN ISSETOV (Kazakhstan), referring to a convention his country is chairing, said his nation reiterates its proposal to host the convention secretariat in a new building. The secretariat’s mandate would include three pillars � implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals, implementation of the Vienna Programme of Action and strengthening regional integration.

LEULSEGED TADESE ABEBE (Ethiopia), associating himself with Group of 77, said the role of regional commissions remains crucial as the international community continues to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. Expressing his appreciation for ECA, he said the recent agreement on a free trade area is an important achievement, which will increase the value of intra African trade.

Ms. AGUAYO (Chile), associating herself with the Group of 77, said the commissions are key to national development, with regional platforms offering great opportunities for sharing best practices and goals. Given the real challenges illustrated by the multidimensionality of sustainable development, Chile promotes the idea of development in transition, a truly inclusive notion that leaves no one behind. Each region faces its own challenges, she said, urging regional dimensions be strengthened in the repositioning of the United Nations development system.

SAMUEL VICTOR MAKWE (Nigeria), associating himself with the Group of 77, noted regional cooperation is important in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in sharing best practices. However, lack of technology and the widening investment gap hinder Africa’s progress. Debt vulnerability affects multiple regions, and he asked what ECA would do to help Africa in facing challenges and joining the world in achieving the 2030 Agenda.

Responses to Comments, Questions

Ms. BA�RCENA said that ECLAC does not have a voice in New York and must be heard through the United Nations. She stated each region must be looked at differently given their different needs. The 2030 Agenda also affects all the different ministries, and it is sometimes easier to hear from them directly. The commissions’ platforms are universal and leave out no country. She addressed higher costs experienced by landlocked developing countries and cited the point by the representative of Chile on development in transition as central. Given the abundance of middle income countries in her region, graduating States are excluded due to the per capita income standard. All the commissions stand ready to discuss United Nations reform with the Chair.

Ms. SONGWE, to a query about environment cooperation, said ECA is working with Kenya to prepare a global blue economy, with delegates from across the world. To a question about concrete steps ECA is taking to assist countries, she said it is working with Nigeria on diversification of its economy and supporting economic growth and has been working with it on partnerships. During the next three days, there will be a conference in Nigeria on what free trade will do for business to ensure growth.

Mr. TABET underscored the importance of cooperation with other regional bodies such as the League of Arab States and the African Development Bank. His Commission has carried out joint initiatives with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and other agencies relating to national as well as regional issues. It is also assisting countries in conflict with their recovery and reconstruction efforts in regaining the path to sustainable development.

Source: United Nations