The Arab Sustainable Development Week (ASDW) was held in Cairo from 13 to 15 February.
The three-day meeting gathered under the banner Together for Sustainable Recovery. It is only through “collective action and cooperation that we will recover sustainably, and with resilience to withstand the next shock or health crisis, Irena Panova, UN resident coordinator in Egypt, said during her address to the opening session of ASDW.
Panova pointed out the factors that are central to the collective sustainable recovery the world seeks — the urgent need to protect the planet, and ensuring sustainable financing.
ASDW saw the launch of the first Financing Sustainable Development report, which attempts to identify sustainable mechanisms for future development financing. While the first report focused on Egypt, future reports will address the situation in other Arab states.
Minister of Planning Hala Al-Said, whose ministry spearheaded the preparation of the report, said the Arab League had chosen Egypt to be the first country to prepare such a report because of its developmental weight in the region.
The report, Al-Said said in her address to the ASDW, presents an in-depth analysis of development finance vis-à-vis achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and an analysis of the economic and development challenges facing development in Egypt.
The report will help decision-makers understand the situation of the sustainable development at the national level and introduce approaches and recommendations that are suitable for the region, noted Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Abul-Gheit.
During the inauguration of ASDW, he affirmed that, despite the impact of the pandemic, “we still have the opportunity to push forward the 2030 sustainable development agenda”, adding that a quick, coordinated, and comprehensive response is needed to support more fragile economies.
Abul-Gheit told the opening session that the unified economic report of 2021 had estimated that Arab states had lost $220 billion worth of production in 2020, the first year of the pandemic, and that the losses constituted a major regional challenge and had contributed to the deterioration of the situation in countries such as Tunisia, Lebanon and Sudan which were already suffering from conflicts.
The secretary-general expressed the hope that COP27, which Egypt is hosting in November, will foreground the interests of Arab states.
The ASDW was organised by the Arab League, in cooperation with Egypt’s Ministry of Planning, the EU, the World Bank, and the UN.
The session Inspiring Arab Youth Initiatives in Sustainable Development provided a platform for successful sustainable development projects. As part of the session, Basma Tawakol, founder of Dayra, a sustainable retail platform that sells preowned high-quality clothing at affordable prices, explained that the project meets six of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
“The pandemic encouraged more people to benefit from our project as it offered affordable prices via online shopping,” she explained, before calling on the government to be more open to youth initiatives, projects, and social enterprises.
Planning Minister Al-Said, who attended the session, said all the showcased stories were inspiring, and called on the Arab League, in collaboration with the Ministry of Planning, to establish a website on which young people can discuss their experiences, stories, and the challenges they face.
The Arab Sustainability Initiative, which was reviewed in a separate session, represents a new approach by the Arab League to helping Arab countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals while recovering from the pandemic.
The evidence-based initiative uses data to develop strategies that contribute to sustainable development and promote community projects, entrepreneurship, and localisation.
Ehab Shalabi, chairman of DCarbon Egypt, a consulting firm specialising in managing sustainable transition, stressed the importance of the Sendai Framework, the first major agreement of the post-2015 development agenda, in protecting development gains.
“The Sendai Framework, together with the SDGs, provided a global framework for all of us,” he explained. “Now we need additional national and regional frameworks to implement its provisions.” As part of this process, he called for an Arab council for sustainability standards to be established.
Moez Al-Shohdi, head of the Regional Food Banks Network, underlined the importance of inculcating awareness about sustainability at an early age. “Including food banks in the sixth primary year school curriculum would help teach children to serve society through donations or voluntary work,” he said.
On the second day of the forum, a roundtable on the mid-term review of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Sendai Framework, was held.
Mami Mizutori, from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), said the three agreements aim to build humans and ecosystem resilience and promote more risk-informed investment. The UN General Assembly will hold a midterm review of the agreements next year and is expected to renew commitment to the agreements and recommend accelerated implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Mizoturi said that while the Covid-19 pandemic had slowed down the implementation of the agreements, “the UNDRR is looking forward to the day when we stop managing disasters after they happen and begin managing them before they do, by prevention.”
Emad Adli, National Coordinator of the Arab Network for Environment and Development, outlined recommendations for containing the fallout of disasters across the region. They included a greater role for civil society organisations in spreading awareness, including through school curricula, documenting wrong doing, promoting dialogue, and accessing resources.
ASDW, launched in 2017 under the Arab League, provides an opportunity for Arab ministers, senior officials, key decision-makers and representatives of the private sector to meet and discuss the best practices in implementing and accelerating the 2030 sustainability goals.
Rola Dashti, executive secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), and Ayat Suleiman, regional director for the World Bank Group’s Sustainable Development Department for the Middle East and North Africa, attended the ASDW opening.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.