Tackling climate change and the pursuit of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are taking centre stage on both the national and international fronts, and in the wake of conflicts such as the present war between Russia and Ukraine it has become more urgent than ever for countries to work on achieving the SDGs.
Recent natural disasters such as Storm Daniel, which devastated the cities of Derna and Al-Bayda in Libya resulting in widespread loss of life and damage to infrastructure, are threatening countries worldwide, along with continuously rising temperatures.
The focus now is on measures to mitigate the impacts of climate change, plans to transition to renewable energy sources, and the formulation of policies that will compel nations to take further action on climate change.
Against this background, UN Resident Coordinator in Egypt Elena Panova spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly about endeavours towards realising the SDGs.
What were the highlights of the 2023 summit designed to monitor efforts to realise the SDGs?
The UN General Assembly, held last month at UN headquarters in New York, saw a multitude of high-level summits and gatherings. Among these, the most pivotal were the summit dedicated to tracking progress on the SDGs, the climate summit, a high level session on boosting financing for development, and high-level meetings on universal health coverage, on tuberculosis, and on pandemic prevention, preparedness and respons.
The summit addressing the implementation of the SDGs by the target date of 2030 was the highlight of the week, particularly because we are half-way through our journey towards achieving these goals, set in motion in 2015 with a target deadline of 2030. To date, we have accomplished only 15 per cent of them.
The SDG summit culminated in the unanimous adoption of a Political Declaration by UN member states that outlines a comprehensive development plan encompassing certain critical objectives, including the attainment of food security, the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, ensuring universal access to sustainable energy at affordable rates, providing Internet services and digital connectivity for all, and increasing investment in high quality educational services.
This approach aims to ensure equal opportunities for everyone, extend social protection measures, and bolster efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change, enhance biodiversity, and combat pollution.
What are the objectives of the Political Declaration from the SDGs summit?
The declaration serves as a comprehensive roadmap outlining the developmental tasks essential for maximising progress in the upcoming months. It underscores a firm commitment to allocate $500 billion annually for investment in sustainable development – the so called SDG Stimulus Plan. Furthermore, the world’s leaders have reaffirmed their dedication to scrutinising budgets in a manner that ensures meaningful contributions towards achieving these goals.
Additionally, the declaration recognises the role played by the multilateral development banks (MDBs). Particular emphasis was put on prioritising food security and social protection. The objective is to reach a coverage of one billion additional people by 2025 and four billion by 2030 through the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection.
The declaration also calls on wealthy nations to allocate a minimum of 0.7 per cent of their GDP towards development aid to impoverished countries.
How can countries be brought to commit to financing agreements on environmental and sustainable development issues?
Further efforts must be made to bolster financing, reduce debts, reform the multilateral development banks, enhance aid delivery to developing nations, and overhaul the global financial system.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are set to convene their annual meetings in Marrakesh in Morocco in October. There was a call to redirect $100 billion in their Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) to assist the developing countries in tackling post-Covid-19 crises.
In recent years, only $34 billion SDRs was allocated to Africa, while $138 billion was allocated to Europe, with a portion of these funds remaining unutilised. There is now a compelling call to redirect these unused resources to the aid of the developing nations that are in dire need of financing.
The 2023 SDGs summit witnessed commendable endeavours to galvanise countries into increased commitments. But the financing gap for implementing the SDGs has surged from $2.7 trillion prior to the Covid-19 pandemic to $4 trillion.
Moreover, 40 per cent of the developing countries suffer from severe debt problems and extremely expensive market-based financing. In addition, the African nations find themselves allocating more resources to servicing debt than to vital development, education, and healthcare services.
Borrowing costs have skyrocketed eight-fold for these developing nations, which is not fair and requires the reform of the global financial system. During the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development, Egypt’s minister of international cooperation underscored the importance of innovative financing and introduced an initiative on converting debts into investments in climate projects and renewable energy.
What is the UN’s view of Egypt’s Nationally Determined Contributions on environmental issues?
Egypt’s dedication to climate action is indispensable for attaining the SDGs, as underscored in Egypt’s Vision 2030, the National Climate Change Strategy 2050, and the revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDGs).
I was particularly pleased with the clarity and coherence evident in Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri’s speech, delivered on behalf of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, at the Climate Ambition Summit this year.
Based on Egypt’s presidency of the UN COP27 Climate Conference last year in Sharm El-Sheikh, Shoukri emphasised the pressing global challenges confronting climate action. He stressed the imperative to bolster climate financing for developing nations and the necessity for a mechanism to address the debt concerns of low- and middle-income countries, including by potential restructuring.
He also highlighted the significance of the just transition path, focusing on the NDGs and Egypt’s flagship ‘Nexus of Water, Food and Energy’ (NWFE) programme. As highlighted by Ministry Shoukry in New Yor, NWFE is a “nationally owned vision with associated targets for delivering on energy transition and resilience building.” He noted that Egypt has issued two updates to its NDGs, with the latest update in July 2023 to include sector-specific emissions-reduction targets to be achieved by 2030 compared to business-as-usual scenarios.
Among these targets is a commitment to accelerating the contribution of renewable energy to reach 42 per cent of total electricity generation by 2030 instead of the initially planned 2035. Other targets include the reduction of carbon emissions in the electricity generation sector to 37 per cent and making significant emissions reductions in the oil and gas sector and the transportation sector.
What would you say are Egypt’s most important development programmes and projects?
Egypt’s successful implementation of the Decent Life Initiative will enhance the quality of life for millions of citizens in rural parts of the country. Recognised by the UN as one of the most substantial poverty reduction programmes to date, the initiative encompasses a wide range of projects aimed at improving infrastructure, education, healthcare services, employment opportunities, and ultimately reducing poverty.
It also carries the promise of stemming the tide of rural-to-urban migration, a development that has garnered optimism from the UN.
It is crucial for the government to invest more in social protection, a domain witnessing both vertical and horizontal expansion. Egypt is also providing direct financial support to the most vulnerable segments of society through initiatives like the Solidarity and Dignity Programmes.
Egypt’s pledge to provide universal health insurance for all citizens by 2030 is a laudable endeavour, especially considering that 60 per cent of healthcare services involve out-of-pocket payments.
Egypt’s commitment to revamping educational curricula and reducing classroom overcrowding is noteworthy, as are its efforts to empower women and increase their participation in the labour market, given that women’s participation was 14 per cent in 2020.
How do you see the outcomes of last year’s COP27 Climate Conference and their effect on the UAE’s holding of the COP28 Conference later this year?
Egypt’s presidency and hosting of the COP27 presented the country as a leading nation in the realm of climate change. The conference’s achievements include the historic global agreement to establish a fund aimed at financing losses and damage. This fund is expected to be activated during the upcoming COP28 Conference in the UAE.
During the COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt and the UN secretary-general unveiled a global early warning plan meant to provide early warning systems for every person against the increasingly hazardous weather phenomena expected in the years ahead. This plan is expected to be achieved by 2027.
How is the UN preparing to address climate challenges during the COP28? How is it cooperating with Egypt in this regard?
In our efforts to address climate change, our aim for the upcoming COP28 Conference in Dubai is to arrive with specific and actionable goals and commitments. These include advancing the establishment of a fund to provide compensation to countries affected by climate related damage, a critical agreement reached during the Sharm El-Sheikh conference last year.
Additionally, we are actively engaged in the second replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, with projected increase to $10 billion and current funding gap of $3 billion. These funds will be instrumental in mobilising resources for adaptation projects and mitigating the consequences of climate change.
I am pleased that Egypt has assumed a leadership role in efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Collaborating with the UN and various international agencies, Egypt is working to implement its national strategy to combat climate change and manage natural resources.
This endeavour encompasses a range of programmes, including the establishment of solar energy generation units, energy saving projects, initiatives to address rising sea levels in the Delta region, and the protection of coral reefs in the Red Sea.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 5 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly