For the first time, a UN Conference on Least Developed Countries leaves a note of optimism for the future, instead of just high hopes and empty words: these countries are best placed to make their economies environmentally sustainable, paving the way for growth in the medium term and vectors which can provide long-term socio-economic development.
Heads of State and senior officials from numerous countries were among the 7,000 attendees of this Conference, which is a follow-up on the Brussels Programme of Action (2001) that aims to implement support measures for the 48 countries labelled as LDCs (1).
The UN report Why a Green Economy Matters for the Least Developed Countries (2) coincides with the opening on May 9 of the Fourth UN Conference on LDCs in Turkey. Previously, numerous factors prevented LDCs from growing, namely:
Structural constraints - dependence on fragile agricultural practices, low economic diversification and a limited access to energy and technology, these being due to insufficient investment and policies which did not respect the more relevant economic sectors in the regions and countries concerned.
Other challenges arise from the fact that due to the limited access to technology and the means of its implementation, LDCs suffer more from deadly yet preventable diseases, are more vulnerable to natural disasters, degradation of the environment, ethnic conflict and endemic cycles of violence caused by socio-economic vectors and more importantly, the inability to trade fairly in the global marketplace because of the blocks imposed by wealthier nations. Despite the existence of the World Trade Organization, and despite the fact that it preaches free trade, how to explain the system of tariffs and subsidies exercised by the haves to keep the have-nots out?
The report suggests a new approach. In the words of its foreword: "Refocusing policies and investments to target sectors and areas including renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, tourism and enhanced ecosystem services can lead to the economic empowerment of low income populations, be more conducive to inclusive growth and jobs and make a significant contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in the poorest countries."
Focusing on policies which stimulate development, rather than hindering it, and implementing enabling policies which foster sustainable growth, the tide can be turned as these countries shift to green economies as natural assets are valorised and low-carbon industries flourish, creating wealth and jobs.
One of the report's authors, Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, highlighted four key points which need urgent attention: "First, identifying new sources of funding that can be directly applied to transitional efforts; second, creating an enabling environment that is conducive to private investment in green economy markets; third, taking advantage of trade to create global markets for LDCs' green goods and services exports; and fourth, designing new and effective mechanisms to transfer green technologies to LDCs."
The LDCs themselves have also identified their most pressing needs:
Ensuring universal access to essential services; enhancing social protection systems; advancing human rights and the rule of law; prioritizing human and social development, particularly through the achievement of MDGs; strengthening education and vocational training; empowering women and achieving gender equality; transforming the agricultural sector; ensuring food and nutrition security; reducing disparities and promoting equity; enhancing energy security; mitigating the impact of crises and building resilience; and dealing with the consequences of climate change (3).
From words to action
The UNO aims to focus more on support work to sustain productive capacity through stepping up efforts to improve the targeting of programmes, encouraging donors and partners to increase access to facilities and funds (e.g. Aid for Trade), make closer use of Trans-National Companies in the development process (such as in the Pharma Industry) and the wider implementation of the UN Global Compact, which seeks to develop good governance and socially responsible practices.
For UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, "Investing in LDCs is an opportunity for all. First, it is an opportunity to relieve the world's most vulnerable people of the burdens of poverty, hunger and needless disease. This is a moral obligation. Second, investing in LDCs can provide the stimulus that will help to propel and sustain global economic recovery and stability. This is not charity, it is smart investment.
"Third, it provides a massive opportunity for South-South cooperation and investment. The world's rapidly emerging economies need both resources and markets."
Joseph Deiss, president of the UN General Assembly, sums up what needs to be done:
"Rule of law, respect of human rights and democracy must be strengthened. The fight against corruption has to be intensified. Eradicating poverty and reducing vulnerability in the least developed countries is a duty that we have towards the billion people living in these countries. This will in turn contribute to making the world safer, more prosperous, more dynamic, more democratic and more united."
(2) co- authored by Achim Steiner, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) Executive Director, Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and Cheick Sidi Diarra, UN High Representative for OHRLLS (UN Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States).
(3) Source: UNO