Statement by Ambassador Amina Mohamed, UNEP Deputy Executive Director at the 17th session of the UN High - Level Committee on South-South Cooperation Thu, May 24, 2012

Thematic segment on "Promoting Socio-economic transformation through infrastructure development, employment creation, social cohesion and the transfer of technology using South-South Cooperation". 23 May 2012


Your Excellencies

Directors General for development cooperation agencies

Colleagues from the UN family

Distinguished delegates

Dear Friends and colleagues

Thank you again for the opportunity to contribute to the 17th session of the United Nations High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation.

I have been asked to address your thematic segment – Promoting Socio-Economic Transformation through Infrastructure Development, Employment Creation, Social Cohesion and the Transfer of Technology Using South-South Cooperation.

In analysing this important thematic segment, many may obviously wonder what we, at UNEP, can really offer. After all, environment is often perceived as a threat to development, economic growth and decent jobs. But the lessons of sustainable development over the past two decades – and even longer – highlight the interlinkages across social, economic and environmental challenges.

Mr. President

We cannot do justice to our topic today, without acknowledging the critical role of our ecosystem and climate system. They can either enhance or threaten our built environment and decent jobs, and overall human well-being.

Managing the potential disruption, displacement and adaptation to phenomena such as sea-level rise or extreme weather events, represents a profound challenge to sustainable development at the local, national and international level, including South-South cooperation. This is especially true for small for small island states.

Evolving scenarios and scientific findings suggest continuing, accelerating and even "tipping point" trends linked to environmental change which experts suggest, have fundamental implications for infrastructure development, employment creation, social cohesion and for social economic transformation in general.

In 1998, Hurricane Mitch impacted Honduras with 290km/hour winds and three metre waves. An estimated 70-80 per cent of Honduras's transportation infrastructure was destroyed and existing maps of the country were rendered obsolete.

In 2010, over 90 per cent of disaster displacement within countries was caused by climate-related hazards, primarily floods and storms.

You may be wondering why it's necessary to highlight such doom-and-gloom, and how possibly it could be related to South-South cooperation. The answer is simple: Failure to take into account the multiple crises countries face today undermines the sustainability of South-South Cooperation.

In a world facing multiple challenges, including environmental change, there are also opportunities. We believe that a low carbon and resource efficient economy can be a catalyst for investing and re-investing in the kinds of clean tech industries that produce markedly less greenhouse gas emissions and minimize waste generation, contributing to reducing the risks of irreversible environmental change, while also more intelligently and sustainably investing in, and managing, our ecological infrastructure (for example, forest ecosystems which enhance resilience and store carbon) that will be central to a more stable, equitable and peaceful world.

The sustainable development paths of individual nations of the South will increasingly be predicated upon the ability of South-South Cooperation and the international community in general to act collectively in addressing common challenges.

Countries of the South have a lot to learn and educate each other on experiences and solutions to adapt and be resilient in the face of environmental change.

A number of studies have demonstrated that investments in green buildings produce more jobs than they replace in the energy-supply industry. A study on the green building industry in Brazil for instance shows that jobs related to greening the construction, commercialization, maintenance and use of buildings grew from 6.3 per cent of the total number of formal jobs in 2006 to 7.3 per cent in 2008.

In order for socio-economic transformation to contribute to social equity and human well-being, a sound policy framework is required to create an enabling environment. For instance, socio-economic transformation through investing in green infrastructure would necessarily affect employment across a range of activities and will have economy-wide impacts. While such a transition could provide ample opportunities for employment across many sectors of the economy, and indeed can become a new engine of development, adequate investment in capacity building and training would be required to adapt to such a transition.

As green jobs span a wide array of skills, educational backgrounds, and occupational profiles, appropriate policy measures need to be put in place to ensure a just transition. Public policy can and should seek to minimize disparities among putative winners and losers that arise in such a transition. Developing a global programme for retraining relevant skills including entrepreneurial skills and apprenticeships for green jobs could particularly help young people to seize the opportunities presented by the greening of economies.

Making the economy more sustainable will also require a just transition for those who now hold jobs in carbon-intensive and polluting industries. For labour unions, already buffeted by the forces of globalization that bear an uncertain future in terms of wages, job security, and organizing rights, this transition is a major challenge.

Access to clean technologies is pivotal in achieving sustainable socio-economic transformation, yet the path to ensure such access is fraught with many challenges. In developing countries specifically, easy access to appropriate technology at reasonable costs and financing for application of new technologies, are major challenges. Other challenges include its limited capacity to absorb such technologies and a lack of a supporting policy framework that increases investment by public and private sectors, facilitate transfer of technology and strengthen technical capacity.

In overcoming such challenges, South-south cooperation could be instrumental. Many countries of the South have rich traditional knowledge and sophisticated indigenous techniques and technologies in the areas of agriculture, health, sanitation, finance, manufacturing etc. which have high potential for transmission to, and replication in, other countries of the South. Developing countries can greatly benefit from technology transfer from other Southern countries as its technologies may be more adapted to their use and conditions. Equally important is to scale up appropriate technologies, as opposed to simply high-tech technologies, through South-South cooperation and to foster R&D on those green technologies that are not technically mature but have a great potential for a sustainable economy.

In addition, as many developing countries tend to face similar challenges to succeeding in such a transformation, sharing knowledge and experiences through a regional policy dialogue could help countries to learn from each other and disseminate best practices, so that a just transformation could be made possible.

While it is widely recognized that the bulk of the investment for such a transformation will come from the private sector, governments can stimulate markets, create incentives and ensure equity, transparency and accountability. For instance, governments can ensure that their spending is not counterproductive to the sustainable socio-economic transformation, such as contributing to the depletion of natural assets (via subsidies, etc.). They could also use taxes and market tools to promote green investment, create regulatory frameworks and establish effective enforcement to drive the green investments.

South-south cooperation could also foster adequate capacity building required to adapt to such a transformation and enable policy environments and institutional capacity for technology transfer- which is critical for attracting investments and ensuring private sector engagement.

International financial institutions, such as regional development banks, can play a key role in stimulating South-South cooperation to enhance regional solutions and knowledge sharing. Among the current impediments to greater South-South cooperation are limited institutional capacity, lack of financial resources and a disconnection between supply and demand. An example for the catalytic role of regional development banks is the South-South Cooperation Trust Fund (SSCTF) that had been established jointly by the African Development Bank and the Federative Republic of Brazil.

Another example illustrating the Regional Development Bank's role as "broker" for South-South cooperation is the Inter American development Bank (IDB)'s Initiative for the Promotion of Regional Public Goods.. The objective of the initiative is to support the early stage of generating regional public goods that potentially create a high development impact.

Mr. President

While these reflections are by no means exhaustive, I hope and trust that they will nonetheless server as food for thought for this afternoon's discussions.

In closing, l wish to express my profound gratitude to you Mr. President, your bureau and the UNDP Special Unit for South-South Cooperation for this unique opportunity to share these reflections with you

Thank you for your attention.

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