* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With the COVID-19 crisis nowhere near an end, climate change ever accelerating and an economic crisis in the making, the stakes are higher than ever
By Fekitamoeloa Katoa 'Utoikamanu, United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States
The overlapping emergencies of COVID-19 and climate change are triggering profound financial, economic, social and institutional disruptions. Change is here and more is to come. The challenge now is how we meet this change and turn it into a positive for all.
For African economies and societies, many no strangers to turmoil and disruption themselves, this change has been even more profound. The impacts are already deep and far-reaching.
Devastating falls in commodity prices, manufacturing and tourism have played out across the continent exacerbating already unsustainable debt burdens. Deficits keep growing while Foreign Direct Investment and remittances dry up.
This confluence of crises demands a renewed solidarity, especially with the most vulnerable.
Of the 46 nations classified as least developed countries (or LDCs), 33 are in Africa.
These African LDCs, from Angola to Zambia, face multiple hurdles to sustainable and inclusive development. Their economies are weak and their exports are low. Endemic problems like conflict, inequality and corruption compound external threats like climate change to add complexity to an already dark situation.
The path forward is long for us all, and for Africa’s LDCs it is especially so. It will require strong and purposeful governance that aspires towards structural transformation and sustainable development. It will require bold action, innovation and accountability.
Our boldest opportunity to travel this path together and engage in solidarity on such path is the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries – or LDC5.
Once a decade, the United Nations convenes this major summit to analyse progress and set ambitious targets for LDCs. Crucially, it also builds international partnerships to support LDCs to deliver on them.
While LDC5 will take place a year from now in Qatar, the first major milestone is underway. Hosted virtually by the Government of Malawi, this gathering of African ministers and development partners will look at how African LDCs (as well as Haiti) are achieving sustainable development and agree on the package and partnerships they want to see agreed at LDC5.
This new partnership – arguably never more needed than now - will be consolidated at LDC5, which will be attended by presidents and prime ministers as well as leaders of civil society and private industry – and be a major landmark in the efforts of LDCs and their partners to overcome core challenges, including the COVID crisis.
This new programme of action agreed at LDC5 will mean hope and the potential to transform lives for no less than a billion of the world’s most vulnerable people.
But it is in Malawi where the African LDCs themselves will set the agenda.
We face a difficult set of complex problems and, as is too often the case, it is the weakest economies and the most vulnerable countries that are facing the greatest consequences.
LDC5, we hope, will reaffirm the global commitment to the special needs of LDCs at this critical time. With the COVID crisis nowhere near an end, with climate change ever accelerating and an economic and debt crisis in the making, the stakes are high and international solidarity and cooperation are needed more than ever.
The scale of the challenges ahead demands our being honest with ourselves and each other.
Humanity has the capacity to go to the moon. As we witness unprecedented technological advances, so do we have the capacity to deal with what is ahead of us. What we now need is the will to act.
The institutions, frameworks and tools for great multilateral cooperation are all there – so let us invest in them. The energy and ideas, especially from civil society and youth, are there – let us listen to what they have to say.
Neither COVID nor climate change nor inequality recognise borders. Like much else, havoc is increasingly globalized – yet as always it is the weakest who suffer most.
We must demonstrate solidarity through relief packages that focus on vaccines and debt relief and have the most vulnerable at their heart.
Great change is now calling to us from just on the horizon. We all will be judged by how we meet this call. This will not only say a lot about the systems we have built but will say a lot about us as a human race.