At a United Nations intergovernmental forum opening in Nairobi, Kenya, today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged participants to focus on strong collaboration, equality and inclusion in trade, finance and investment in order to better align action with agreed-upon sustainable development targets and help restore trust in the global economy.
“The successful actions we will need over the next 15 years – especially in the area of trade, investment, technology and finance – require that we tap the full potential of all actors, promote innovation and correct unsustainable trends,” Mr. Ban said at the 14th session of the UN Conference at Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which began today and continues to 22 July.
“We must work together – across sectors and industries – in broader and deeper partnerships,” he added.
The session, which has been held every four years since 1964, includes ministerial debates, high-level round tables, thematic events, a World Investment Forum, a Global Commodities Forum, a Youth Forum and a Civil Society Forum, among other events. This year's theme is “From Decisions to Actions.”
Noting that Nairobi hosted an UNCTAD session just over four decades ago, the Secretary-General said that while much has changed in 40 years, many of the challenges raised at UNCTAD IV remain on the international agenda.
For example, he highlighted that the vulnerability of developing countries to volatile commodity markets was a main focus at UNCTAD IV, and that today, with a global trade slowdown and declines in commodity prices, the issue is again a “hot button,” along with other complex questions challenging the international community.
“Vulnerability today derives not only from volatile markets, or from social instability, but also from a fragile global environment weakened by climate change,” Mr. Ban said.
The Secretary-General also noted that this year's session is the first major UN development conference since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
In particular, he highlighted that the 2030 Agenda will guide global collective action for sustainable development over the next 15 years.
“The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer a blueprint for how the global economy, society and the environment should look in 2030, along with specific actions that will be required at global, regional and national levels,” the UN chief emphasized.
Noting that there are “worrying signs” that people around the world are increasingly unhappy with the state of the global economy, Mr. Ban said that high inequality, stagnant incomes, not enough jobs – especially for youth – and too little cause for optimism “stoke legitimate fears for the future for many in all regions.”
While the global trade slowdown and a lack of productive investment have sharpened the deep divides between those who have benefited from globalization and those who continue to feel left behind, the Secretary-General stressed, many actual and would-be leaders are embracing protectionism and even xenophobia, rather than working to change the economic model for the better.
The vision of the Sustainable Development Goals
“The vision set out in the SDGs – for people, planet, prosperity and peace – will not succeed if shocks and stresses in our global economic and financial system are not properly addressed. Trade must provide prosperity in ways that work for people and planet and respond to the challenges of climate change,” Mr. Ban said, adding that the regulatory frameworks governing trade, investment in agricultural production, and technology related to agricultural productivity all play a critical role.
He also said that incentive structures in financial markets, both at the level of institutions and the individual decision-maker, need to be aligned with social objectives in order to avoid large income disparities. The international community must also put a proper value on assets, such as ecosystem services, and correctly price systemic and interconnected risk, such as that posed by climate change.
“There are more than enough savings in the global economy to drive the transformation that the SDGs call for, but our investments need to become better aligned with sustainable development,” Mr. Ban said.
“My message to you today is that the SDGs represent the change we need to restore people's trust in the global economy,” he added.
In that regard, the UN chief said that UNCTAD – with its integrated approach to trade and development – has a vital role to play in implementing the interdependent, holistic sustainable development agenda.
For its part, the 14th UNCTAD conference must establish how UNCTAD will contribute to meeting the challenges of achieving the SDGs, the Secretary-General said, calling on Member States to agree in Nairobi on deeper cooperation on trade and development to bring the world closer to that vision.
“Trade, finance, technology and investment can be positive forces to end poverty. Used wisely, they can ensure that we leave no one behind,” Mr. Ban said, noting that engagement must involve Heads of State and Government; parliamentarians; leaders from business and civil society; young entrepreneurs and philanthropists.
Also today, the Secretary-General held a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, during which Mr. Ban thanked Kenya for continuing to play a “pivotal role” in the region, noting that its contribution to regional peace and stability remains crucial.
“At the same time, the United Nations stands ready to work with the international community, and particularly on delivering humanitarian assistance to hundreds of thousands of people who need daily assistance. You can count on the United Nations,” Mr. Ban said with regard to South Sudan, adding that he appreciated the Kenyan Government and people for their generosity supporting the many people who have been fleeing from the war-torn country.