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Despite huge challenges, we can still achieve the SDGs by 2030

Despite huge challenges, we can still achieve the SDGs by 2030

By Kingsley Ighobor.

Mr. Collen Vixen Kelapile, President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)

Botswana’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Collen Vixen Kelapile, is the current President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) that is tasked with coordinating UN efforts on sustainable development and advancing internationally agreed goals. In this interview with Africa Renewal’s Kingsley Ighobor, Ambassador Kelapile discusses Africa and climate change, tackling gender inequality and peace and development on the continent. These are excerpts:

Let’s talk about climate change. Africa contributes the least to greenhouse gas emissions but suffers the brunt of the climate crisis. What advice would you give African representatives at the Conference of Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow this November?

That’s a very pertinent question. Precisely, Africa contributes around 2 to 3% of the total global emissions yet it is disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. It is the most vulnerable continent.

Regarding COP26, the continent already has good experience in how to succeed in negotiations. Remember that Africa played a significant role in the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The process started with Africa adopting a common position. So, I would advise a similar approach to COP26. Africa needs a common position. In doing so, they must also reflect on several advantages that climate action presents, including being an investment opportunity and a source of socio-economic development.

It shouldn’t just be to complain about climate change is a problem. Yes, it is a problem, but they must work to at least tap the potential that can be derived from the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the SDGs.

If you were to ask how this can be done, I would say, first, that investing in clean energy based on renewable energy solutions is one example. Some 570 million people in sub-Saharan Africa do not currently have access to electricity. Renewable energy is becoming a cheaper energy solution, and so anybody in business would say these investments make perfect sense. This is the case in many parts of the world, and I think it’s the same in African countries that are moving into renewables.

Second, Africa should go to COP26 with a view to seeking to make a breakthrough on adaptation.

The Global Commission on Adaptation has found that every $1 invested in adaptation could yield about $4 in benefits. This makes sense considering that Africa is on the frontlines of many drastic climate impacts, including traumatic events from floods and droughts. And I understand that one in three Africans is not adequately covered by early warning systems.

There continue to be deep-rooted practices that impede women’s empowerment, particularly in Africa. What message would you send to African leaders regarding gender inequality on the continent?

There are many forms of inequalities, and gender inequality is a particular challenge. I must acknowledge there has been progress. At the same time, some of the practices have been part of cultures and addressing them seems to be taking longer than necessary. A lot can be done to improve the situation.

Gender inequality is not just the empowerment of women, it is also an essential tool to transform economies and to build a more just, equal and inclusive society.

So, my message is very simple: let us not just narrow the existing gaps; we should take deliberate actions to permanently solve this issue. Women make significant contributions to our economies but are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are amongst the most vulnerable because of the situation they often find themselves in – they are unpaid care workers and continue to be victims of domestic violence, which surged during the pandemic.

I would encourage African leaders to place particular emphasis on making progress towards gender parity in decision-making and to address gender-based violence.

One other thing that can be done is a disaggregation of data because, without that, you cannot even measure the problem itself, nor can you measure the progress you are making. The problem becomes undeniable when data is clearly disaggregated.

There is often talk about the nexus between peace and socio-economic development. Can you share your reflections on this, given your role as the ECOSOC President?

Certainly. This nexus has been part of the agenda of ECOSOC for many years, and it continues to be the case today.

In the early 1990s, I shared a recommendation with ECOSOC, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council regarding the need for a comprehensive approach to development, conflict and humanitarian challenges. It included a need to coordinate support to countries that are in conflict. ECOSOC created a mechanism in 2002, which was an ad-hoc advisory group on African countries emerging from conflict. At that time there was no Peacebuilding Commission.

This advisory group transferred its responsibility to the Peacebuilding Commission in 2007-2008.  This mechanism helps us look more closely at how social and economic dynamics intersect with political insecurity, and from that process, we are able to make recommendations for consideration by the Security Council, which is another principal UN organ we work with closely.

The UN General Assembly has now mandated a meeting on the transition from relief to development. So, there is now a new platform, just approved by the General Assembly, that will provide the opportunity to promote the synergies of development, the humanitarian aspect, and also support for peace in societies.

Can we realise the dream of an Africa without war? 

Yes. Africa, through the African Union (AU), in 2013 adopted the theme Silencing the Guns by 2020 (now extended to 2030). The key to having an Africa that is not in conflict or at war is when guns are silent.

Let us do whatever it takes to silence those guns. I believe the AU has agreed on the mechanisms for realizing this. We must implement what has been agreed upon, the decisions by African leaders themselves to silence the guns. I don’t think we should give up on it. I believe that it can be achieved.

Given the civil conflicts currently in different parts of Africa, in addition to the climate crisis and the COVID-19 situation, do you think countries can still meet the SDG targets by 2030?

Yes. I’m very positive because I think there’s value in being positive. We will stand a chance of achieving the SDGs if we look at the situation the same way I advise we look at the climate change discussions at COP26; that is, how we use the experience of this challenge to engage in more transformative ways of approaching the SDGs. I have hope that we can do it. I know it’s overly ambitious.

I want to touch on the issue of the levels of indebtedness of our countries. I know there is a lot going on to relieve countries in Africa of debt. Yes, some African countries have received or have been offered some partial debt service relief, debt service suspension, by the G20.

And I know there is ongoing work on the cancellation of debt for vulnerable countries. This is very important because it offers the liquidity support needed to at least respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is the most immediate challenge. It will also allow countries to create the needed fiscal space to work towards achieving the SDGs.

The SDGs were purposely designed to be very ambitious, and I believe we can still achieve them.

I think if we take an integrated approach to make the structural changes that are needed to realize the SDGs, we can achieve something. We are talking about the right social and economic transformation, combating climate change in different ways, working to reduce inequality, expanding social protection, increasing access to health, education and more.

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