14 June 2017
ECOSOC Meeting Spotlights Infrastructure’s Potential, Limitations
Photo by IISD/ENB | Angeles Estrada Vigil
story highlights

ECOSOC held a Special Meeting on ‘Innovations in Infrastructure Development and Promoting Sustainable Industrialization,' following preparatory events in Dakar, Senegal, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

ECOSOC President Frederick Shava said infrastructure, industry and innovation are the enablers of growth and sustainable development, with positive impacts on other SDGs, particularly 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11.

Also on investment and the digital economy, UNCTAD released the 2017 issue of its World Investment Report on 7 June.

7 June 2017: The UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) held a Special Meeting on ‘Innovations in Infrastructure Development and Promoting Sustainable Industrialization,’ aiming to draw attention to SDG 9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure) and highlight its linkages with other Goals and targets. Several speakers said infrastructure and industrial production, in particular, are key drivers of growth, while others stressed the importance of technology and digital economies.

ECOSOC President Frederick Shava reflected on his experiences living in Africa, where lack of transport, energy and communications can limit people’s opportunities. Noting people’s desire and capacity to create and innovate, he lamented that there is “so much untapped potential.” Shava said infrastructure, industry and innovation are the enablers of growth and sustainable development, with positive impacts on other SDGs, particularly 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11.

Shava reported that the two preparatory events for the Special Meeting, held in Dakar, Senegal, and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, had emphasized job creation as the number-one priority in Africa, and underscored the need for a better enabling environment for agricultural investments, and for improving the business climate by addressing investment risk and risk perception. José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, added that the Victoria Falls meeting had identified constraints to agro-industrial development, including: the limited skills of value chain actors; a lack of coordination of activities; and the difficulty in accessing export markets.

Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, supported engaging with development banks and the private sector to build resilient infrastructure and industrialization. He noted the need for an evidence-based approach to support policy evaluation, and urged using the indicators for which data are readily available on SDG 9 to begin reviewing progress.

In a keynote address to the meeting, Li Yong, UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Director General, echoed the importance of industrialization as an engine of growth and poverty eradication. He also announced two initiatives: the Programme for Country Partnership (PCP), and the Accelerated Agriculture and Agro-industry Development Initiative PLUS (3ADI+). On the PCP, he described it as a model in which a project is led by host governments, with UNIDO helping to develop a strategy to identify priority sub-sectors, including those with a strong potential for job creation, increase exports, and attracting FDI. The pilot countries for the PCP model are Ethiopia, Peru and Senegal.

On 3ADI+, Li said it scales up an earlier initiative, 3ADI, and that the new iteration aims to facilitate private investment and unlock funding from development partners and the private sector, in particular FDI. Li reminded participants of the July 2016 UNGA resolution designating the third Industrial Development Decade, and noted that the Assembly’s 72nd session will include a high-level review meeting of the Decade programme.

The G-77/China said economic diversification requires more than infrastructure, calling for a breakthrough in international cooperation for technology.

Ecuador for the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China) said economic diversification is more than infrastructure; without a breakthrough in international cooperation for technology, shifting to a sustainable development path will be extremely burdensome for developing countries. He called for: improving the intellectual property regime, in particular by taking advantage of its flexibilities to facilitate technological catch-up for developing countries; concerted efforts to establish the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM); and the full operationalization of the Technology Bank for the LDCs.

China for the BRICS called for assistance to Emerging Markets and Developing Countries (EMDCs). In particular, he proposed assisting EMDCs to enhance their capacity in technological development, research and innovation, and in creating a favorable policy environment for innovation; attending to electricity and communication infrastructure, not only bridges and roads; assisting African countries and LDCs to develop digital economies, to ensure that they benefit from the “new industrial revolution”; and facilitating mobility for professionals and workers in the world’s integrated economies and supply chains. China also said the BRICS’ New Development Bank has: opened its first regional office, the African Regional Centre; approved the first batch of loans for renewable energy projects in BRICS countries; and issued its first green bonds, denominated in RMB, to finance environmental projects and advance SDG implementation.

The meeting also included a special address from Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, UN High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS). She said all three groups of vulnerable countries have limited productive capacities, and that economic diversification is needed to increase international competitiveness. ‘Utoikamanu also noted the importance of ICTs for vulnerable countries, citing their multiplier effects in agriculture, education, health, trade and governance.

Moderating a discussion session, Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya, noted that in contrast to the first industrial revolution 150 years ago, the new one is expected to be global and to leave no one behind. Ibrahim Mayaki, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) CEO, said Africa’s current production processes do not add enough value due to lack of industrialization, while China has consistently invested in mass industrial production since the 1970s. He noted that perceived risk hinders investment in infrastructure development. NEPAD has developed a continental business network to support private sector investment, he reported, and said development partners must technical assistance for early stages of project preparation.

Zambia’s Minister of Transport and Communications Brian Mushimba said his country’s economy is not very diversified, resulting in limited products for market. In addition, he said that given the predominance of mined copper, whenever copper prices drop, almost the entire economy is shaken, which impacts the rate of development. Mushimba stressed the need to improve infrastructure and add value to semi-finished or finished projects, and to promote trade between and outside LLDCs.

Maria Kiwanuka, Special Presidential Advisor, Uganda, said that as a support sector for others, infrastructure must “pay its way.” On partnerships with the private sector, she said government should finance “bulky public goods” that the private sector will not, while coordinating with the private sector to ensure desirable skill-building. She suggested focusing on gaps in the value-added chain as another area for partnership. Finally, Kiwanuka urged caution to ensure that innovation helps those in need, rather than putting people out of work overnight without re-absorbing them.

The inter-agency core group that supported the Special Meeting includes UNIDO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), UN-Habitat, the UN Office of the Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Also on investment and the digital economy, UNCTAD released the 2017 issue of its World Investment Report on 7 June. The 2017 report notes that only four of the top 100 digital enterprises are based in developing countries, and calls for enabling policies to close the digital divide. [Special Meeting Webpage] [Wu Statement] [China Statement] [PCP Concept Note] [3ADI+ Concept Note] [World Investment Report 2017: Investment and the Digital Economy] [UN Press Release on UNCTAD Report]

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