24 May 2017: The fifth Vienna Energy Forum brought together over 1,650 participants from 128 countries. It was co-organized by UNIDO, the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), the Austrian Government, and Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL). At its conclusion on 15 May participants agreed on 10 "key messages" highlighting the catalytic role of energy in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030 and the Paris climate agreement. A fuller Outcome document is expected in a few weeks. The 10 Points (with our comments in red) are:
ONE Many of the capital investments we make today have a very long replacement time, therefore the energy choices we make today will lock us into a development path for decades to come. Long-term integrated strategies are imperative to cover all SDGs. The deadline set for the SDGs highlights the urgency of moving forward now if we are to these goals by 2030, show substantial progress by 2020 and gather momentum for the future 2050 development targets. The vision for 2050 for sustainable development must shape the decisions made today. Every effort to set "long-term integrated strategies" at national or international levels has resulted in gross inefficiencies and malformed development. It would be far wiser to set broad targets and leave the rest to entrepreneurs, scientists and markets.
TWO Energy is the key enabler for food security, health, land and water. From food refrigeration to wastewater treatment, energy is a basic requirement for rapid and healthy development. The urgency of the implementation phase of the SDGs and the Paris Agreement highlights the need for a holistic approach which mitigates the trade-offs while positively enhancing the numerous interlinkages between these sectors. Again, attempts at a "holistic" approach based on some masterplan invite disaster. In envisaging the future it is necessary to look to the implications of three major trends today. These are
(1) Global connectivity;
(2) Rapid development of solar/wind energy
(3) 3D Printing.
Global connectivity enables small and medium enterprises to find and cater to niche markets. That will disaggregate the mass markets essential for the survival of mega-corporations. Cheap renewable off-grid energy and 3D printing (which makes the highest quality of industrial production possible on the smallest scale) accelerate the demise of mass manufacturing.
We are looking at a future in which small and medium enterprises, and even individual artisans, will compete with mega-corporations and make it impossible for them to survive. The effects will be felt in every sphere of economic life, for commodity trade will be transformed, as will transportation networks and all energy infrastructure.
THREE With the global megatrend of rapid urbanization, its proportionally growing energy demand and corresponding greenhouse gas emissions, cities are calling for innovative approaches to urban design and transformative change. One of the solutions could be innovative infrastructure that uses renewable energy in an efficient way to cope with the rising demand of energy without detrimental impact on the climate and the environment. The trend described above will put a stop to rapid urbanization. Without mass manufacturing, the single greatest driver of urbanization will cease. Decentralized small scale production will mean that "industrial cities" and even trade-dependent cities will become relics of the past.
FOUR Affordable and clean energy is the biggest opportunity to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The majority of the Nationally Determined Contributions see the energy sector as a vital component to achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Technology transfer, investment, capacity building and institutions will help energy play its role in fighting climate change. The changes described above will bring about most of the major changes necessary to end global warming. Global connectivity will allow all projects to be crowd-funded, so the role of finance as we now know it will become irrelevant.
FIVE Technological innovations are central for sustainable energy development. New concepts and game-changing technologies are being introduced, but the level of readiness remains uncertain. This is the first generation that has the technology to solve climate change and related problems of sustainability. Current development strategies need to be continuously updated to reflect newly available technological innovations. To make such adjustment possible, it is necessary for international organizations to become networks embedded as nodes in global networks.
SIX Sustainable solutions depend on innovative and inclusive business models that can be scaled up, replicated, and are self-sustaining. These business models exist already and are ripe for financing by financial institutions, development banks, as well as private investors. The financial resources necessary to accomplish SDG 7 and the Paris Agreement also exist, yet the appropriate instruments are not being applied in a way that enables new businesses to blossom and large-scale projects to move forward. This represents a collective opportunity for collaboration and partnerships between the public and private sector to provide such solutions. The reality foreseen in this paragraph will not exist. The future lies with networks of small, medium and artisanal scale producers, crowd-funded by the communities they benefit. World trade will resemble a giant e-Bay. Governments and international agencies will have strategic roles in directing the world economy but the action will lie largely with the private sector.
SEVEN Governments are able to stimulate innovation by demonstrating political commitment and setting ambitious targets and plans to provide the incentives to realize those goals; supporting research and development in cross-sectoral innovation and providing platforms to deliver technologies and integrated solutions that respond to the differentiated needs of users; and by developing the energy system based on an integrated network rather than a top down approach. There will be no need for governments to stimulate innovation. The system driven by small-scale entrepreneurs will maximize innovation at the only meaningful level, that of the individual.
EIGHT Recognizing that innovation works at multiple levels, and that it can trigger fast and transformative change, target-setting and regional cooperation can further ensure that results of innovation trickle down through all levels. Additionally, women are the best placed agents to absorb innovation and successfully turn it into higher income and better lives. Private sector players can also help drive down the cost and increase the efficiency and speed of mainstreaming of innovation. As noted above, transformative changes will depend heavily on networks. There will be no need for "trickle down" in a networked world.
NINE Energy is a crucial component for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, but also for meeting the energy security needs of various countries. The elements of trust, confidence and transparency are essential enablers for the means of implementation. Additionally, tailored sustainable solutions for specific national needs are vital for ensuring the success in meeting these global agreements. The whole concept of national security will be transformed by the emergence of a world economy with decentralized production and energy sources.
TEN The role of the private sector in implementing the SDGs and the Paris Agreement is growing, and the public sector should embrace it as the driver of innovation. The design of policy should incorporate the needs of small and medium enterprises in developing countries. This can be done alongside the creation of frameworks which enable new entrepreneurs to create quality and cost effective solutions which can address energy and sustainability demands simultaneously. There will be only the private sector.
24 April 2017: UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim have agreed on a joint framework to help countries caught in conflict. They signed a partnership agreement in Washington on 22 April to:
In a joint statement the two officials said the framework would seek to build resilience and sustain peace in conflict areas by reducing poverty, promoting shared prosperity, enhancing food security, and sustaining peace in crisis-affected situations.
They said the initiative was "in response to global calls for our institutions to work more closely together on prevention and reducing needs, risks, and vulnerability as the world faces a spike in violent conflict." The human and economic costs of conflict "are massive, affecting long-term stability and prospects for economic development and poverty reduction," they said. "Violent conflict drives 80 percent of humanitarian needs costs, with the UN estimating that $22.1 billion is required in 2017 for humanitarian assistance—a sharp increase from the $9 billion needed just 5 years ago."
Recognizing that the UN and World Bank have "different comparative advantages and mandates," the framework outlines guiding principles to ensure that collective efforts encompass developmental, humanitarian, political, security, peacebuilding, human rights, economic, and social dimensions, with the goal of advancing integrated solutions based on the needs of each country."
The framework also notes the importance of aligning and leveraging financial resources, doing more through innovative, data-driven operational responses. "To advance this work, our two institutions will focus on building resilience in a variety of situations. These include situations where there is a risk of violent conflict or ongoing conflict; situations with high levels of forced displacement; protracted and post-crisis situations; and when climate change and natural disasters affect these situations."
15 April 2017: The Secretary-General has named Achim Steiner of Germany as UNDP Administrator on 13 April, a UN holiday because of Good Friday. The announcement came as a surprise because it had been widely expected that the post vacated by Helen Clark of New Zealand would go to another woman, specifically, French Environment Minister Segolene Royal.
The AFP story reporting the appointment said Ms. Royale was surprised because Guterres had promised a woman would take the job. "She intimated that Germany used its weight as a major UNDP donor to have Steiner chosen," the story said.
Perhaps the appointment of a French Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping two weeks ago had something to with the change of plans. It would have been extraordinary if another French national was appointed to a post that is on par with that of Deputy Secretary-General.
Mr. Steiner can be expected to hit the ground running because he has spent a decade at the head of the UN Environment Program headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya. At the end of his term at UNEP he was a leading candidate to replace Antonio Guterres as High Commissioner for Human Rights. Guterres also spent a decade at UNHCR before becoming Secretary-General. Both men will probably rack up another decade in their new jobs; if that happens they will be the longest serving agency heads in UN history.
7 April 2017: The expectation of developing countries that the work of ECOSOC's Committee of Experts on Tax Matters will help end the illicit drain of wealth from their economies is headed for disappointment. That was made clear at the 7 April special meeting of ECOSOC on international cooperation on tax matters at which members of the Committee of Experts engaged in an interactive dialogue with Member States.
The presentations by the experts did not focus on "tax havens" or "shell companies," the two institutions central to the illicit financial drain from developing countries. They dealt mainly with ways in which developing coutries could improve their tax collection systems.
Such measures cannot make a meaningful contribution to meeting the multi-trillion dollar cost of implementing Agenda 2030 and will almost certainly contribute to greater corruption. It is axiomatic that the first response to more stringent tax collection will be avoidance, and that means paying the collector to look the other way.
The sensible approach to the problem of illicit financial flows from developing countries would be to target the conduits, but that would affect the interests of the wealthy, so the UN looks the other way.
7 April 2017: The Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) has decided that the theme of the humanitarian affairs segment of its 2017 summer session will be “Restoring humanity and leaving no one behind: working together to reduce people’s humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability." It combines concern at the acute crisis of forced migration with a key theme of Agenda 2030. In taking the decision on 4 April, ECOSOC also set three expert panel discussions during the segment.
25 March 2017: The 55th session of the Commission for Social Development (1 to 10 February 2017), reviewed “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all,” the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the emerging issue of youth development in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Poverty Eradication: In a high-level panel discussion and in its general debate, the Commission "noted with concern that efforts to eradicate poverty continue to face significant challenges. Those include global economic growth that continues to disappoint, world financial markets that remain volatile, persistent high levels of unemployment and ongoing humanitarian crises. Further, the effects of ongoing climate change continue to worsen. The Commission expressed further concern that the international community has seen a rise of new threats to the ideals of a more inclusive world. Ma jor threats include calls from some countries to strengthen exclusionary national economies and the scapegoating of refugees, migrants and religious and ethnic minorities. Concern was also expressed regarding the impact of conflicts, the influx of refugees and economic sanctions on social development in some countries."
Africa Social Development On the social dimensions of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (E/CN.5/2017/L.5), the Commission welcomed progress in deepening democracy, observance of human rights, improved governance and sound economic management. It also emphasized the “increasingly unacceptable” levels of poverty, inequality and social exclusion in most African countries and said they required comprehensive social and economic policies. It encouraged African countries to prioritize structural transformation, modernize smallholder agriculture, add value to primary commodities and improve public and private governance institutions. The Commission's resolution will be affirmed by its parent body, the Economic and Social Council, at its summer 2017 session.
Panel Discussions In addition to its general discussions, the Commission convenedthree panel discussions. The report of the Commission provides a web link to the Chair's summary of the panel discussions -- http://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/united-nations-commissionfor-social-development-csocd-social-policy-and-development-division/csocd55/summaries. html) -- but it brings up a 404 "page not found" message. A search on the DESA web site brings up the cryptic message "You do not have access to this page."
Civil Society and Youth Forums The Commission heard the views of nearly 20 civil society organizations on these issues. In addition, the Chair of the Non-Governmental Organization Committee on Social Development presented the outcome of a Civil Society Forum on poverty eradication. The forum emphasized social protection as the "preeminent strategy to eradicate poverty and achieve social development for all." A "youth representative" highlighted the outcomes of the ECOSOC Youth Forum, and noted its recommendations pertinent to the goals being reviewed by the 2017 high -level political forum on sustainable development.
Inclusive Policies The Commission "recognized the enormous role it could play in providing guidance on inclusive social policies" and "strongly underscored that no development could be sustained if millions of people were left behind. Stressing that "the international community must bolster current commitments to eradicate poverty in all its forms and must fully implement the 2030 Agenda in its entirety" the Commission noted that the 2030 Agenda was inextricably linked to the rights of women, young people, older persons, indigenous people, persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups. Those groups continued to disproportionately face major obstacles to their development, while people living in extreme poverty lacked the political power and equal opportunities to take charge of their destiny. Hence, human dignity must be at the centre of any sustainable development process. In the panel discussion."
18 March 2017: A new United Nations code of Conduct on cooperation to combat international tax evasion is set for adoption at the summer session of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Under a resolution recommended by an expert committee ECOSOC would invite all member States to share tax information automatically
The Code would recognize that “tax evasion, including tax fraud, is a global problem affecting developed and developing countries and that legal provisions related to the phenomenon need to be updated. To that end, the Code would set minimum standards of conduct required of Member States regarding the automatic exchange of information.
The code of conduct seeks ensure that all States can protect themselves from non-compliance with their tax laws and provide high levels of transparency and automatic exchange of information in tax matters. It will support the development of international norms, practical steps and capacity-building programs to prevent and combat international tax evasion.
States will exchange information in both criminal and civil tax matters. Through technical meetings, seminars and other measures they will seek to build capacity in developing countries for the automatic and confidential exchange of information. That could include unilateral, bilateral and multilateral means, including regional approaches.
23 December 2016: The General Assembly is creating a new subsidiary body, a “Technology Bank” for the Least Developed Countries to be based in Gebze, Turkey. It will be entirely funded from voluntary contributions, led off by a pledge from Turkey.
The Technology Bank is meant to strengthen the science, technology and innovation capacity of least developed countries. Specifically, it will seek to improve their capacity to identify, absorb, develop, integrate and scale up the deployment of technologies and innovations, including indigenous ones, with a view to fostering national and regional capacity of LDCs use technology to bring about transformative change.
A 13-member expert Council appointed by the UN Secretary-General will be the governing body of the Technology Bank. It will meet once a year and may hold special sessions. The institution will be headed by a Managing Director appointed by the UN Secretary-General in consultation with the Council and serving two-year renewable terms. S/he will be charged with preparing and leading the implementation of a multi-year strategic operational plan as well as fund-raising. He and those appointed to work for the Technology Bank will be covered by UN Staff rules.
The Technology Bank’s operational units will be a “Supporting and Enabling Mechanism” for technology transfer and an “Intellectual Property Bank.” A Management Support, Partnerships and Coordination Unit will support that work. Regional centers in Africa and Asia may be established if resources permit.
Among the members of the Council will be one appointed with the concurrence of the host country and another representing the Secretary-General. All members will be appointed for three-year renewable terms. The Managing Director of the Technology Bank will participate in the work of the Council. Representatives of the heads of UNCTAD, UNDP, UNESCO, the World Bank and WIPO will have standing invitations to participate in the work of the Council. In addition, the Council may invite representatives of other UN organs and agencies and other relevant international and regional organizations, including from the academic, research and private sectors, to attend as observers.
Source: Charter of the Technology Bank for the Least Developed Countries (A/71/363)
13 November 2016: The number of international migrants — persons living in a country other than where they were born — reached 244 million in 2015, up 71 million from 2000. Between 1990 and 2015, the number of international migrants worldwide increased by 60 per cent, or over 91 million. They now constitute over 3 per cent of the world population.
Economic, social and environmental factors, have been long-term drivers of international migration. Currently, there are 40 million people forcibly displaced internationally and the number of refugees and asylum seekers has surpassed 24 million.
Developed countries host 58 per cent of all international migrants, and of those 61 per cent originated from a developing country. Of international migrants in developing countries, 87 per cent are from the global South.
In 2015 Europe hosted 76 million international migrants, Asia 75 million, Northern America 54 million, Africa 21 million, Latin America and the Caribbean 9 million and Oceania 8 million.
From 1950 to 2015, the developed regions gained population from positive net migration, while the developing regions lost population. Between 1950 and 2010, positive net migration to the developed regions continued to increase, reaching 3.2 million persons per year during the decade from 2000 to 2010, up from less than 0.3 million per annum in the period from 1950 to 1970. After 2010, the size of the net inflow of persons to the developed region declined for the first time in five decades, averaging 2.3 million per year between 2010 and 2015.
Percentage of Local Populations: In developed countries international migrants were 11.2 per cent of their population in 2015; in developing regions they were 1.7 per cent. Foreign migrants in Oceania were 21 per cent of the population in 2015, in Northern America it was 15 per cent and in Europe 10 per cent. Latin America and the Caribbean had the lowest proportion of international migrants, just 1.5 per cent, followed by Africa and Asia with 1.7 per cent each.
Women: In 2015, women comprised 48 per cent of all international migrants. In developed countries women constituted 52 per cent of international migrants, up from 51 per cent in 1990; in developing countries their share declined in the same period from 47 to 43 per cent. That fall reflected a strong demand for male construction workers in the oil-producing countries of Western Asia.
Among international migrants in Europe 52 per cent were women; in Northern America it was 51 per cent; in contrast, men constituted 58 per cent of international migrants and 54 per cent in Africa.
Age Breakdown: In 2015, 72 per cent of all international migrants were between the ages of 20 and 64, reflecting the preponderant role of employment as a driver of international migration. Of the 177 million international migrants in this age range, the majority (59 per cent) lived in developed countries. Globally, 15 per cent of all international migrants were under the age of 20. That proportion was significantly higher in the developing regions (22 per cent) than in the developed regions (around 10 per cent). There were 30 million international migrants aged 65 or over in 2015.
9. Although the total number of international migrants living in Europe has continued to increase, the decline over the past decade in the net inflow of persons to the developed regions was due to a reduction in the level of net migration to Europe as a whole. Annual net inflows to Europe declined by more than half, from around 1.7 million between 2000 and 2010 to 0.8 million between 2010 and 2015. Meanwhile, annual net migration was stable for both Northern America (around 1.2 million) and Oceania (0.2 million). For Asia, the estimated net outflow fell from 1.9 million persons per annum between 2000 and 2010 to 1.3 million between 2010 and 2015; for Latin America and the Caribbean, negative net migration dropped by half between the same two time periods, from 0.8 to 0.4 million persons per year. Conversely, annual net outflows from Africa increased from around 0.3 million in the decade from 2000 and 2010 to 0.7 million between 2010 and 2015.
Projections Vary Significantly: In the developed regions, net immigration is expected to be the main driver of population growth between 2000 and 2020, and the sole driver of growth in later decades. From 2000 to 2030, population growth in the developing regions is expected to slow down owing to a decline in natural increase caused by a drop in the birth rate, with net migration continuing to play a minor role in overall population change.
By the decade from 2040 to 2050, population growth in the developed regions is projected to be negative, with positive net migration no longer compensating for the excess of deaths over births. For the developing regions, population growth is projected to continue as a result of natural increase, albeit at declining rates
Source UN: Migration and Development A/71/296
28 October 2016: The Economic (2nd) Committee of the General Assembly heard today from the heads of Regional Commissions on “One year of Sustainable Development Goals: Where the regions are.” Presentations were made by:
Three of the presentations (Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America-Caribbean) were almost entirely technical, dwelling on data, policy, coordination, capacity-building etc. The West Asian presentation was a cri de coeur about the terrible conflicts tearing the region apart (48:50 minutes into the video below). The Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) presentation noted the impressive economic growth over the past decade but underlined that it had not reduced poverty. Africa was determined to proceed with industrialization and maintain its internal cooperative mechanisms. In speaking of financing development the ECA speaker noted (1:12 into the video), that Africa is losing $80 billion annually through illicit transfers. Strangely, speakers for Asia-Pacific and Latin America-Caribbean made no mention of this problem which occurs on an even larger scale in their regions. None of the featured speakers mentioned terrorism; Egypt noted it as a major problem during the discussion that followed. Egypt also drew attention to the ground-breaking resolution the Group of 77 has introduced this year on illicit financial flows.
The meeting contributed only the bare minimum of support to the General Assembly's deliberative and policy guidance processes. The presentations made clear the importance of the Regional Commissions without providing any clear guidance on strategy. Most of the meeting was devoted to reporting basic information at a level of generality of little use to policy makers. Those trying to revitalize the General Assembly need to push that level of discussion into informal-informals and bring to the committee plenary only a distillation of key policy points.
12 September 2016: Booming use of renewable energy is decoupling world economic growth from carbon emissions, says a new report submitted to the General Assembly. As the global economy grew by around 2.4 per cent for the second successive year in 2015, CO2 emissions from the energy sector stayed flat. The International Energy Agency (IEA) pointed to the surge in renewables as a key factor, noting that they accounted for 90 per cent of new electricity generation in 2015; and that is with modern renewable sources of energy accounting for just 10.3 per cent of global consumption. [The report, prepared under the aegis of UNEP, IEA and UNCCD, does not mention what role low economic growth in coal dependent China might have in the decoupling.]
Use of renewable energy from all sources and for all sectors, including transport, heating, cooling, cooking and power generation, reached 19.2 per cent in 2014, up from 18 per cent in 2010. Traditional biomass accounts for 8.9 per cent of current renewable energy consumption. The statistics are from a new World Bank-led UN Global Tracking Framework that has established baseline data and issues bi-annual reports on global trends.
Booming Growth in Renewable Energy
The overall global renewable electric power capacity increased to 1,849 gigawatts (GW) in 2015, from 1,701 GW in 2014, the largest annual increase ever. Solar photovoltaic and wind energy generation is experiencing very rapid growth The solar photovoltaic market was up 25 per cent over 2014 to a record 50 GW, lifting the global total to 227 GW, whereas globally, a record of 63 GW of wind power was added for a total of about 433 GW. More power capacity is now being added from renewable energy annually than from all fossil fuels combined, and for the first time ever, renewable energy, excluding large hydro, accounted for most of the new generating capacity installed in 2015.
The competitiveness of renewable energy technologies continues to increase, with significant fall in the cost of onshore wind power, solar photovoltaic and concentrated solar power. The cost of electricity from onshore wind, without subsidies, is now in the same range or even lower than that of fossil fuels. However, the picture has changed because of the sharp fall of fossil fuel prices since 2014. The price of oil fell from over $100 a barrel to $27.10, the Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp coal contract dropped from $84 per ton to $36.30, and the natural gas price fell from $4.50 per MMBtu to $1.91.
Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
Subsidies for fossil fuel consumption are four times the support governments give to the non-renewable sector. They amounted to $493 billion in 2014, down from $548 billion in 2013. Factoring in externalities, subsidies were projected to reach $5.3 trillion or 6.5 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2015. Much of that is for coal consumption in emerging Asia and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, where subsidies were projected to reach $2.5 trillion in 2015.
For the first time in history, total investment in renewable power and fuels in developing countries in 2015 exceeded that in developed economies. The developing world committed a total of $156 billion, up 19 per cent compared to 2014. China played a dominant role, increasing its investment by 17 per cent to $102.9 billion, accounting for 36 per cent of the global total. Renewable energy investment also increased significantly in India, South Africa, Mexico and Chile. Other developing countries investing more than $500 million in renewables in 2015 included Morocco, Uruguay, the Philippines, Pakistan and Honduras.
A number of developing countries around the world have set high targets for the use of renewable energy. Costa Rica is aiming for 100 per cent renewable power by 2030, Uruguay 95 per cent by 2017, Belize 85 per cent by 2027, Guatemala 80 per cent by 2030, and Bolivia 79 per cent by 2030. Paraguay aims to achieve a 60 per cent increase by 2030.
China led the world in total renewable energy capacity at the end of 2015, followed by the United States of America, Brazil and Germany. In per capita terms, excluding hydro-power, the world leader is Denmark, followed by Germany, Sweden and Spain.
China was the largest investor in renewables (excluding large hydro) in 2015, with $102.9, well over a third of the global total. The United States was second with $44.1 billion, Japan third with $36.2 billion, followed by Britain and India with $22.2 billion and $10.2 billion, respectively
Excluding large hydro-power, the renewable energy sector employed 8.1 million people globally in 2015. For the second year in a row, four Asian countries — China, India, Japan and Bangladesh — are on the global top-10 in job creation with a share of global renewable energy employment reaching 60 per cent in 2015, up from 51 per cent in 2013. African countries also witnessed an increase, with a conservative estimate of 61,000 jobs in 2015 as new projects came online. China continued to lead employment with 3.5 million jobs, followed by Brazil, the United States and India. The European Union employed 1.17 million in the sector, of which 355,000 were in Germany and 170,000 in France.
Source: Report of the Secretary-General (A/71/220)
9 September 2016: As a result of the 2015 United Nations Pledging Conference for Development Activities, the following amounts (US$) were paid or pledged to the Fund for South-South Cooperation as of 30 June 2016. The Fund supports the work of the UN Office of South-South Cooperation that operates autonomously within the framework of the UN Development Program (UNDP).
Algeria $40 000.00
Bangladesh $1 000.00
Brazil $30 000.00
Chile $5 000.00
China $1 200 000.00
Colombia $150 150.00
Philippines $5 000.00
Republic of Korea $1 300 979.85
Turkey $20 000.00
United Arab Emirates $40 000.00
Islamic Development Bank $38 500.00
United Nations $280 000.00
Source: A/CONF.208/2016/2 (The document also contains information on contributions to the following: Perez-Guerrero Trust Fund for South-South Cooperation, UN Capital Development Fund, UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women, UN Population Fund and the UN Volunteers Program. It does not contain information on funds that make their way into the UN Development system outside the framework of the annual pledging conference. For example, the annual contribution from the IBSA countries-- India, Brazil, South Africa.)
10 August 2016: As UNCTAD conferences go, the 14th quadrennial session was a very peculiar one. It was meant to be held in Peru but then, nine months before the event (or six, depending on whether you believe the Secretary-General of UNCTAD or the president of the conference), it was shifted to Kenya. The reasons are not clear; some say it was because of El Nino flooding, others that it was for political reasons.
Whatever the cause, it seems to have discombobulated UNCTAD's usually well honed political sensibilities and even its basic competence: the main report to the July 2016 Conference was evidently written in September 2015; in its signed foreword UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi refers to "the expected call for action [emphasis added] at the Conference of the Parties on climate change in Paris."
The report itself, entitled "From Decisions to Actions" is amateurishly written. Reading its Introductory pages one almost feels embarrassed for UNCTAD staff, who must surely be squirming. Paragraph 6 says "Some technologies also go far beyond improving traditional economic activity, by more directly empowering people. The Internet of things is a case in point." Paragraph 7 has this: "Growing interdependence, interconnectedness and globalization has (sic) gone hand in hand with a transformation of many countries in the 'developing world' at an unprecedented speed. A number of developing countries have become important engines of growth not only for their own regions, but also for the global economy at large. The South now includes countries that are major drivers of global trade and investment and even of the supply of credit to both developed and other developing countries."
Paragraph 10, concluding the section says: "The last 25 years have been important in terms of achievements, but also in terms of lessons. They have taught us that we can expand the boundaries of what we think is possible. They have taught us that significant improvements can be made with the right policy mix and conducive national, regional and global environments. Change is possible and it is within our grasp to make it happen. Those 25 years have set the stage for the final push in the eradication of extreme poverty within a generation. They have also set in motion the conditions and wealth, including from the South, needed to build a more prosperous, equitable and sustainable world."
G-77 View a Stark Contrast
That is a far cry from the reality of the world UNCTAD reports have analyzed over the last quarter century. It is in stark contrast to the relevant paragraphs (10 and 12) of the Group of 77 Declaration to UNCTAD 14:
"We reiterate that the global economic, financial and trading system, including the multilateral trading system, remains unbalanced; that global inequality remains with many still in the abyss of poverty; that the high volatility of food and commodity prices is a persistent challenge and that, furthermore, the impact of the global economic and financial crisis has revealed new vulnerabilities, affecting, in particular, developing countries.
"We stress the importance of multilateral efforts to tackle increasingly complex cross-border challenges that have serious effects on development, such as financial market volatility and spillovers to developing countries, illicit capital and financial flows, tax evasion and tax avoidance, sovereign debt crisis prevention and resolution, cyber security, the influx of refugees, foreign terrorist fighters and bribery, as well as the need for technology transfer, absorption and its financing."
None of those issues figures in the report from UNCTAD's Secretary-General. This is what he thinks UNCTAD should be doing (para 27): "The specific action lines where UNCTAD can and should make maximum contributions for the post-2015 era are fourfold: (a) Building productive capacity to transform economies; (b) More effective States and more efficient markets; (c) Tackling vulnerabilities, building resilience; (d) Strengthening multilateralism, finding common solutions."
The Outcome of UNCTAD 14
At this writing, three weeks after UNCTAD 14, its final negotiated outcome document is not yet out. The Press release issued by UNCTAD announcing agreement on the text deserves to be in a museum of UN oddities. It was headlined:
"NEGOTIATORS AT UNCTAD14 REACH CONSENSUS, STRENGTHEN UNCTAD WORK PROGRAMME
And this is how it began:
"Nairobi, Kenya, 22 July 2016 - Negotiators applauded on Friday after reaching agreement on the Nairobi consensus, the Maa kiano, setting UNCTAD's work program for the next four years after long discussions including two sleepless nights. Final agreement came at 10:20 following long days of negotiations in which negotiators had used caffeine pills, candies, and soft drinks to keep themselves alert while scrutinizing the draft documents being projected onto screens in an underground room.
"I'm delighted that our 194 member states have been able to reach this consensus, giving a central role to UNCTAD in delivering the sustainable development goals," UNCTAD Secretary-General, Mukhisa Kituyi, said. "With this document, we can get on with the business of cutting edge analysis, building political consensus, and providing the necessary technical assistance that will make globalization and trade work for billions of people in the global south," he said.
"UNCTAD14 President, Amina Mohamed, expressed delight while negotiators laughed when the agreement was finally reached. "As the President of this conference, I cannot begin to tell you how I feel right now," she told negotiators sitting in the tightly packed room at rows of tables, littered with empty water bottles and cups of takeaway coffee. "It's a good day for Kenya, a good day for UNCTAD, and a big win for multilateralism," she said."
This is how the Press release ended:
"The conference also saw a fashion show, highlighting the creative and commercial potential of Kenya's fashion industry, the launch of this year's Economic Development in Africa Report, and the highlighting of issues around non-tariff measures, debt, and illicit financial flows."
That single tail-end reference to a the theft of trillions of dollars from the world's poorest people, tucked away under the fashion show, is yet another peculiarity. Especially because the Civil Society statement on UNCTAD 14 mourned the failure of the conference to deal with the issue. (Developing countries had wanted to mandate UNCTAD to report on the need for a global body to study tax avoidance; Developed countries would not allow it, asserting that the work of OECD on the matter was enough.)
Most Opaque UNCTAD Ever
From the journalistic perspective UNCTAD 14 was the most opaque conference of the last five decades. Its main negotiating document was not available on the media page, there was no meetings coverage, and the video available online was not a continuous stream but a speaker by speaker atomization. If there was a G-77 speaker, I could not find who it was; perhaps there was none, for the Jamaican chair of the Group in Geneva did not attend the conference -- yet another peculiarity.
May 2016: More than 100 participants from 40 countries attended the third African Think Tank Conference at Marrakesh, Morocco (2-4 May) to discuss "Building a Sustainable and Secure Future for the People and Institutions of Africa." The primary focus was how to implement sustainable development goals while combating climate change and progressing towards the target of a Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).
The meeting was hosted by the OCP Policy Center of the Economic Commission for Africa in collaboration with the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of the University of Pennsylvania (TTCSP) in the United States. The hosting arrangement was itself significant in building intra-African ties because of Morocco’s longstanding boycott of the African Union. See video explaining how that happened.
The meeting had twin aims. Karim El Aynaoui, Managing Director of OCP Policy Center stressed the importance of building partnerships and sharing experiences among the African think tanks and forging strong South-South Cooperation links among individual experts, think tanks and policy makers. James Mc Gann, Director of the TTCSP underlined the importance of developing “specific strategies and partnerships” between “think tanks and governments throughout Africa to design strategies for sustainable institutions that will serve civil society and governments in the continent."
A cross-cutting theme throughout the discussions was how to integrate international and global initiatives into national development plans, support their implementation as well as their follow up and review, according to ECA's Head of Planning and Renewal, Bartholomew Armah. More information at www.ocppc.ma www.gotothinktank.com
2 May 2016: The World Bank has stopped distinguishing between developed and developing countries in its most widely used dataset, World Development Indicators (WDI). An official blog on the 2016 edition (released on 15 April) offers the rather lame explanation that “with the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals on... the whole world, we should start phasing out the term developing world.”
In previous editions of WDI low- and middle-income countries were categorized as developing and high income as developed countries. The blog notes that as a result of the change a new aggregate for North America has been included in tables, and aggregates for Europe and Central Asia include countries of the European Union.
The rationale for ending the distinction makes no sense when we consider that the World Bank says meeting the “Sustainable Development Goal of eliminating extreme poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030 is very ambitious” and probably cannot be met. It says if "national growth rates for the past 10 years prevail for the next 15 years, the global extreme poverty rate will fall to 4 percent by 2030, with variations across regions. If national growth rates for the past 20 years prevail, it will be around 6 percent. Eliminating extreme poverty will require a steep change from historical growth rates."
In terms of the reduction in the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day there has been major progress globally. In 1990, 37 per cent of the world population lived below the international poverty line of $1/90 a day. In 2015 it was calculated at 13 percent and is estimated to have continued falling to below 10 percent. However, different regions advanced at varying rates. In East Asia and Pacific the extreme poverty rate fell from 61 percent in 1990 to 7 percent in 2012, and in South Asia it fell from 51 percent to 19 percent. In sub-Saharan Africa the extreme poverty rate did not fall below its 1990 level until 2002.
Since the formation of the Group of 77 in 1964, the division between developed and developing countries has been one of the firmest political lines at the United Nations. Over the decades there have been many maneuvers to break that division but developing countries have hung fast to it because of the collective bargaining power it provides in negotiations. Although there is a great variety within the G-77, the Group has been ingenious in melding different sub-group positions. In fact, in the context of South-South Cooperation, the variety has proved to be a strength, with providers emerging even from the Least Developed Countries sub-group. The latest sub-group to emerge is at the other end of the spectrum, the Middle Income Countries.
May 2016: UNCTAD’s latest Investment Trends Monitor is one of the most confusing reports I’ve read in that usually lucid series. Its policy message is clear – that the persistence of offshore financial flows highlights the pressing need for greater coherence of global tax and investment policies; but it is difficult to make sense of the supporting evidence. The opening Highlights section reads:
In 2015, the volatility of investment flows to offshore financial hubs – including those to offshore financial centers and special purpose entities (SPEs) – rose significantly. These flows, which are excluded from UNCTAD’s FDI statistics, declined but remain sizable.
Financial flows through SPEs surged in volume during 2015. The magnitude of quarterly flows through SPEs, in terms of absolute value, rose sharply compared with 2014, reaching the levels registered in 2012-2013. Pronounced volatility, with flows swinging from large-scale net investment in the first three quarters to drastic net divestment in the last quarter, tempered the annual result, which dipped to US$221 billion.
Investment flows to offshore financial centres continued to retreat from its recent high of US$132 billion in 2013, but remained roughly in line with the flows of previous years. Investment to these jurisdictions, which hit an estimated US$72 billion in 2015, had risen in recent years by the growing flows from multinational enterprises (MNEs) located in developing and transition economies, sometimes in the form of investment round-tripping.
The proportion of investment income booked in low tax, often offshore, jurisdictions is high – and possibly growing. The disconnect between the locations of income generation and productive investment results in substantial fiscal losses, and is therefore a key concern for policy makers.”
A footnote on page 2 says “While there is no specific definition of an SPE, they are characterized by little or no real connection to the economy in which they are resident, but serve an important role within an MNE’s web of affiliates by holding assets or liabilities, or by raising capital.”
In contrast to the May Investment Trends Monitor the January issue was a paragon of clarity. Its Highlights section read:
Global FDI flows jumped 36% in 2015 to an estimated US$1.7 trillion, their highest level since the global economic and financial crisis of 2008-2009.
A surge in FDI targeting developed economies (+90%) was the principal factor behind the global rebound. Strong growth in flows was reported in the European Union (EU) as well as in the United States where FDI quadrupled, although from a historically low level in 2014. As a result, the pattern of FDI by economic grouping tilted in favor of developed countries which now account for 55% of global FDI inflows in 2015.
However, the growth was largely due to cross-border merger and acquisitions (M&As), with only a limited contribution from greenfield investment projects in productive assets. Moreover, a part of FDI flows was related to corporate reconfigurations involving large values in the financial account of the balance of payments but little movement in actual resources.
Developing economies saw their FDI reaching a new high of US$741 billion, 5% higher than in 2014. Developing Asia, with its FDI flows surpassing half a trillion US dollars, remained the largest FDI recipient region in the world, accounting for one third of global FDI flows. Flows faltered in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean (excluding offshore financial centers) reflecting the plummeting prices of their principal commodities exports
Flows to transition economies continued to fall (-54%) as tumbling international commodities prices and regional conflicts undercut FDI. Investment in the region’s two largest host economies, the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, fell sharply.
Cross-border M&As increased by 61% in 2015, while the overall value of announced greenfield investment projects registered little change from the previous year. There was a decline in announced greenfield investments in developing economies, pointing to a growing weakness in MNEs’ capital expenditures.
Barring another wave of M&A deals and corporate reconfigurations, FDI flows are expected to decline in 2016, reflecting the fragility of the global economy, volatility of global financial markets, weak aggregate demand and a significant deceleration in some large emerging market economies. Elevated geopolitical risks and regional tensions could further amplify these economic challenges.
In December 2015 the United States Congress approved a major power shift within the International Monetary Fund by agreeing to the 2010 "Quota and Governance Reforms." The reforms had been adopted by the IMF Board of Governors in December 2010 and by the great majority of other States. They include increases in the "Quotas" (shares in the IMF), held by all member countries and an amendment to the Articles of Agreement doing away with members appointed by the five largest members of the Executive Board. The main changes are:
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According to figures from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime cited by the 37-member Financial Action Task Force (FATF), some $1.9 trillion is laundered annually into the world economy.
According to Washington based non-profit Global Financial Integrity (GFI) the total illicit transfers out of developing countries between 2004 and 2013 amounted to $7.8 trillion. China lost $1.3 trillion, Mexico $528.44 billion, India $510.29 billion and Brazil $226.67 billion. In all, developing countries lost an estimated $1.1 trillion in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available. It was roughly 1.3 times the $858 billion in total FDI that year, and 11.1 times the $99.3 billion in ODA.
According to ECLAC, illicit transfers cost Latin America $154 billion in 2012, exceeding foreign direct investment of $129 billion; it was more than twice the $63 billion in remittances and 10 times the $10 billion ODA.
Illicit transfers have made Africa a net creditor to the rest of the world every year since 1983. This enormous theft from the poorest people in the world occurs mainly through mispriced trade, tax evasion and organized crime operations. The theft is made possible by "shell companies" that have fictitious owners. If the true owners were known, the victims could seek legal recompense.
2 September 2016: A year after the General Assembly adopted “Agenda 2030” as the global plan of action for the next 15 years the project is appearing increasingly Utopian. There are two main reasons. One is that the plan’s high rhetoric about all countries and stakeholders “acting in collaborative partnership” is in stark contrast to the reality of geopolitical power struggles, wars fought for profit in poor countries, obscenely high global military expenditures, drug trafficking, terrorism and the cancerous incubus of a $30 trillion+ black market within the world economy. The second is a pronounced deterioration in the quality of United Nations capacity to provide sound analytical and political guidance, evident in Agenda 2030 itself and in the implementation process.
All the problems noted above were major international concerns as the United Nations led what it claimed was a “global consultation” to determine the content of the 2030 Agenda, but strangely, none of them featured prominently in the document.
Terrorism was among the high priorities for most world regions during the consultation period but it got only three low key mentions in Agenda 2030 (one of them noted below). The African and Latin American-Caribbean regions highlighted other issues of particular concern; the former emphasized the importance of ending armed conflicts and illicit financial transfers from developing countries; the latter stressed the need to combat drug trafficking by ending prohibitionist policy.
The preambular section of Agenda 2030 acknowledged those serious threats to sustainable development thus: “Global health threats, more frequent and intense natural disasters, spiraling conflict, violent extremism, terrorism and related humanitarian crises and forced displacement of people threaten to reverse much of the development progress made in recent decades.”
In its actionable section the text devoted all of 23 words to those concerns (Target 16.4): “By 2030, significantly reduce illicit financial and arms flows, strengthen the recovery and return of stolen assets and combat all forms of organized crime.” Most of the 15,500+ words of Agenda 2030 focused on priorities ostensibly identified by an online opinion poll administered by UNDP in which the global public was offered options precooked by the UN secretariat.
Indivisible Global Goals Defined Nationally
The 17 Goals and 169 Targets of the Agenda that emerged from such “consultations” were declared to be “integrated and indivisible, global in nature and universally applicable.” However, there was no guidance on the nature and value of that dynamic interrelationship and not even a mention of the global connectivity that is revolutionizing every area of international relations. Instead, Agenda 2030 set out Goals and Targets “defined as aspirational and global, with each Government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances.”
Follow-up and Review arrangements were also declared to be “voluntary and country-led,” conducted “in a manner which respects their universal, integrated and interrelated nature and the three dimensions of sustainable development.” Governments were told to identify “achievements, challenges, gaps and critical success factors” and “mobilize the necessary means of implementation and partnerships.”
After listing a string of other desiderata (people centered, gender sensitive, etc.), the Agenda required that national assessments of implementation be “rigorous and based on evidence,” use “high-quality, accessible, timely, reliable” data “disaggregated by income, sex, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability and geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts.” The text admitted that all this “will require enhanced capacity-building support for developing countries,” adding that they “will benefit from the active support of the United Nations system and other multilateral institutions.”
Manipulative and Misleading UN Role
How useful will that support be? Not much, especially if we consider the manipulative and misleading role the United Nations secretariat had in shaping Agenda 2030. It diverted attention from the real problems preventing sustainable development by setting out a range of “aspirational” goals and scheduling the Addis Ababa conference on Financing for Development before the adoption of Agenda 2030, at which developing countries were promised help to meet the multi-trillion costs of achieving them. The promise turned out to be pie in the sky at the first meeting of the Financing for Development Forum in April 2016. The multilateral process of oversight and cooperative guidance has also proved to be of little worth. In July 2016, the first High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), the supposed acme of 2030 review processes, turned out to be a farcical exercise with speakers allotted three-minute slots to address the most complex issues. The HLPF demonstrated little capacity to integrate available information or communicate it to a wide audience.
Rube Goldberg Logistics
A primary reason the HLPF cannot succeed in providing overall guidance to the 2030 process is its Rube Goldberg logistics. It will meet annually under the aegis of ECOSOC for three years, convene every fourth year under the General Assembly, and within that cycle, consider the “integrated and indivisible” issues of Agenda 2030 in their own cyclical progression. Delegations discussed those arrangements as if they seriously expected them to distill national/UN system experience under ECOSOC and facilitate policy guidance from the Assembly. No one seemed to recall that similarly clumsy arrangements have consistently disappointed expectations since Agenda 21 a quarter century ago.
The factors that make the 2030 Agenda an unrealistic proposition – inadequate cooperation among States and the low quality of UN leadership – were evident most recently at UNCTAD 14 which concluded in Nairobi on 22 July. At this writing (2 September) its outcome document is reported to be still under negotiation in Geneva because of fundamental disagreements between developed and developing countries, including on whether or not UNCTAD should have the mandate to consider the issues related to the illicit transfer of resources out of poor countries.
If the UN membership cannot agree on a forward-looking action plan to make trade more equitable and efficient at a time when the entire engine of world growth is in deep disarray, there can be little doubt about the writing on the wall for Agenda 2030.
For some other recent examples of low quality UN Secretariat work see here
June 2016: "Downside risks to the global economy remain elevated against the backdrop of weak demand, low investment, low commodity prices and the financial market turbulences" says the latest update of the UN's World Economic Outlook.
It points out that divergent global inflationary pressures have prompted pro-cyclical monetary tightening in several developing economies while the euro area and Japan are continuing monetary easing policies and the United States Federal Reserve is delaying a rise in interest-rate.
"Increased divergence in global interest rates may intensify capital flow volatility and exchange-rate pressures in developing economies" says the report. It suggests greater policy coordination among countries to mitigate the negative spillover effects of policy misalignment and contain financial market volatility.
There is also a growing need for reducing high dependency on monetary policy by exploiting available fiscal space and other policy measures to boost global growth.
"Integration Segment" Fogbound in Vaporous Talk
7 May 2016: The “Integration segment” of the Economic and Social Council (2-5 May) was supposed to discuss innovative and balanced policy to implement Agenda 2030 on sustainable development but with the exception of one panel on "Leaving no one behind," very little was said that can be easily geared to change. Expressions of support for such vaporous formulations as a “new mindset,” the necessity of “breaking out of silos” and the high priority of “empowering women” were not followed by specifics of innovative action. One "keynote speaker" on energy asked the audience to close their eyes and imagine a blissful scene in 2024 that she described; she said nothing about the policy paths that might take us from the current turmoil in world oil markets to that future.
The exceptional panel was made so largely because of the ministerial participant from Vietnam who spoke of privatizing State Owned Enterprises and using the proceeds for education and hospitals. The government also maintained a safety net for those who needed help and to deal with emergency situations. A new initiative was creating interactive community web sites that were used to present data on local conditions and engage private donors in beneficial projects. Each web page was itself sponsored by a major donor.
There were also several other interesting speakers on the same panel. One represented the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. He spoke of a forthcoming meeting in Sweden to discuss the application of Agenda 2030 to developed countries and how they could mainstream sustainable development. A key activity was to make the avalanche of available data into knowledge and that into policy. How governments could deal with complex economic, social and environmental issues was important; key elements would be risk management and the role of private entrepreneurs and cities; the Habitat 3 conference later this year in Quito would have to plan for the next two decades. As Machiavelli had commented 500 years ago, there was nothing more difficult than to establish a new order of things. Policy makers would have to assess upside and downside aspects of integrated action and weigh synergies and trade-offs; all that would take time and resources.
Another notable participant was from Columbia University. He spoke of the need to have all voices heard. Existing Environment Impact Assessments did not do so. For instance, BP had a 600-page EIA document on its Gulf oil well that blew up; evidently no one had read it. He said it was necessary to have all EIAs posted on the web so that communities and activists could access them and robust laws to enforce action. The delegate of Guyana commented that implementing Agenda 2030 would have to be an organic process, combining institutional firmness and fluidity of practice. His government was preparing a green development plan that looked at decentralizing action to the country's 10 administrative provinces, with each having a "capital town." A speaker representing the International Telecommunications Union recalled the World Bank digital report released earlier this year. The analog support for the digital revolution would require hard wired connectivity in the health and education sectors; it would require private/public collaborations.
Most member States participated in the general debate through a handful of representatives and the developed countries not at all except for the Czech Republic. Some of the invited discussants from outside the UN seemed almost clueless. The unfortunate impression in much of the proceedings was of intellectual confusion and irrelevance even when individual presenters were pertinent and insightful. For instance, the two opening speakers of the session addressed the topics of e-governance and the informal sector of developing country economies, both critically important contexts for innovative public policy; but there was no discussion following their presentations.
Instead, the chamber was taken over for the taping of a dreary BBC radio show whose two hosts seemed oblivious not only of the UN’s conservative dress code but its decorum of practice. As one of them boasted of the “53 million” audience of the BBC its logo flashed on the video screen behind the podium; I’ve had the Secretary-General as my “warm-up act,” she said smugly.
That Ms. Piggy sensibility continued into the substance of their interviews on topics ranging from “barefoot lawyers” in Uganda to toilets in India. The best of the interviewees was an environmental activist from Costa Rica who made a series of interesting and important observations but seemed to get the cold shoulder. A comment about the urgent need to overcome the short-term perspectives of most parliamentarians was met with a non sequitur about road noise that had interfered with a BBC interview; another regarding the need to translate Agenda 2030 into the language and concerns of ordinary people was met with glazed silence.
Members of the second panel, on “A paradigm shift in development” seemed confused about what exactly they should be addressing; some spoke of obstacles to change (the tendency for issues to be addressed in “silos”), others of changes already happening (the shift to multi-dimensional measurement of poverty). Two participants with important things to say were a World Bank official speaking of the need for “analog support” for the digital revolution and a veteran leader of the women’s banking movement who noted that gender and finance were both cross-cutting issues in Agenda 2030. Increasingly aware that women with access to finance were powerful change agents, governments were acting to provide it. In Nigeria a woman could now open a bank account with a mobile phone, a photograph and an address; previously it required answering some 50 questions on a printed form. In the last year 700 million women had opened bank accounts globally, half of that in India. Most of them used mobile phones to access their accounts; it was sobering that 1.8 billion women had no mobile phones.
In the general debate developing countries stressed the need for the UN to look to the coherence of its own internal architecture and policies. Regional and country offices needed to be integrated, best practices had to be better shared, South-South and Triangular Cooperation utilized. The Arab League spokesman noted the need for innovative policy to fight violent extremism and terrorism. China called for the coordination of "macroeconomic arrangements" and said it would make implementation of Agenda 2030 top priority at the next G-20 summit.
Development Financing as Theater
22 April 2016: The inaugural session of the UN Forum on Financing for Development Follow-up (19-21 April), was more theater than international diplomacy. There was a great deal of strutting and fretting on the stage of the new ECOSOC subsidiary that will oversee support for the broadest plan the UN has ever made to transform the world: but to what effect was unclear.
The plan’s three components, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, all adopted in 2015, aim at “eradicating poverty, combating inequality, preserving the planet, creating sustained economic growth and fostering social inclusion” (to quote the UN System’s Chief Executives Board). The new Forum will keep track of that complex effort by focusing on the “holistic, coherent framework” for financing development set by the Addis Agenda.
Supporting the Forum will be a UN Inter-Agency Task Force reporting not only on the “several hundred concrete actions” States “have pledged to undertake individually and collectively” but on the financing “outcomes and the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Further, the Task Force will advise governments “on implementation gaps and recommendations for corrective action … mapping out policy options and analyzing their underlying assumptions and economic, social and environmental implications.”
Those are hugely ambitious goals, especially if we consider that the Forum will be meeting just once a year for five days, but at the inaugural session the only skeptical murmurs came from a World Bank Governor and a “Business Sector” representative; for the rest, the suspension of disbelief was worthy of a Broadway show. There was also more than a little active make-believe in the proceedings. Amidst all the talk of an "enabling international economic environment," only a single speaker mentioned – in the most hesitant manner – the negative impact of the post-2008 “quantitative easing” gyrations of developed economies; no one at all spoke of the novel concept of “negative interest rates” now prevalent in Japan and the European Union.
That restraint was especially remarkable considering that the Forum engaged the World Bank and IMF in a “High-level interactive session” and had before it a report noting that “over $700 billion of capital left developing and transition countries in 2015, greatly exceeding the magnitude of net outflows during the ‘great recession’.” Also unmentioned, including in the Task Force document, was the trillion dollar erosion of China’s foreign exchange reserves in 2015 and a slower but continuing steep fall in 2016.
Such reserve is rooted in a diplomatic reluctance to offend the powerful that has always been the bane of the United Nations. The most glaring example in the context of financing development is the silence at the Forum and in its documentation about military expenditures; in 2015 they totaled $1.7 trillion globally, some $700 billion more than at the peak of the Cold War.
“Illicit financial flows” from developing countries were considered unmentionable a few years ago; the 2002 Monterrey Conference on financing development ignored them completely. At the time even UNCTAD used to refer to this bald thievery as the “reverse transfer of resources.” Ironically, now that the matter is out in the open unnecessary histrionics are clouding policy. There is no need for more studies and speeches: a global ban on “shell companies” and the “tax havens” that cater to them will end the problem.
An even more development-friendly maneuver would be for developing countries to cancel all personal and corporate income taxes, thus not only cutting out a great deal of domestic corruption but offering a major incentive to all investors, domestic and foreign.
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"TAX BODY": A MASCOT THE UN DOESN'T WANT TO SEE
Civil society groups have been bringing their "Tax Body" mascot to the UN as a reminder the world needs rules to prevent illicit transfers of wealth from poor countries. It hasn't done much good so far; in April 2016 the mascot was ejected from a UN Press Conference in New York and hasn't been allowed back since.
ECOSOC 2017 work program
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