Shaping sustainable approach to create long-term value: UN  

Shaimaa Raafat
10 Min Read

Elena Panova, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Egypt, praised Daily News Egypt for their choice of the name for the newspaper’s first annual summit, which was “Leadership in Times of Crisis”.

She said that it reflects where we are today; grappling with different cascading crises, not just in this region but globally. The last year did not give the world a chance to recover from the COVID pandemic; instead, it brought new challenges in the form of international conflict, economic and financial disruption, and major disasters. All of which takes place under the increasingly urgent existential threat of climate change.

She added: “We are well into 2023 and quickly approaching the midway point of the 15 years we have to deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals. It is clear after 7 years of implementation, we are not taking the bold decisions and making the needed investments to drive transformative progress. But now is not the time to despair.

On the contrary, now is the time for solidarity, leadership, and for commitment to the actions that we need to take to work for our sustainable future. Our theme of today also inspires because it presents a much-needed conversation on what we need to move forward. And this is a real leadership to tackle the crises we are faced with.”

Panova said she wanted to answer two key questions in this conference: 

1)     How can we broker genuine partnerships and shape sustainable approaches to create long term value?

2)     What is the role of multilateralism and the UN in the face of current crises?

First, if we are serious about achieving the SDGs, we need a fundamental shift in our business models, and the way we think about growth. This is about building the economy of the future, moving beyond corporate social responsibility as an add-on, and incorporating sustainability into the core of business operations. Indeed, this requires a long-term perspective, moving beyond short-termism.

It also means re-considering how we think about growth and prosperity.

In this vein, Secretary-General Guterres has commissioned a dedicated effort to end the tyranny of Gross Domestic Product as a benchmark and replacing it with metrics that measure our wellbeing and that of our planet. Today, if we burn a forest or if we burn coal, we are producing GDP and that shows the absurdity of using it as the only metric. 

I’m fully aware this is not easy. In the current economic situation with rapidly rising inflation, and an increasing burden on the public budget, the focus is on immediate needs: panova said

As the UN, we also see the impacts of the economic downturn on the vulnerable and groups that are at risk of being left behind. And from a private sector perspective these vulnerabilities, particularly the pressures on the middle classes and their purchasing power, will have an impact on business prospects in the immediate future. 

At the same time, we need to make use of this moment to reflect on long-term trends and anticipate opportunities for the future. This is imperative, especially for the private sector, to remain competitive. Looking to the future, I want to highlight three issues: climate, demography and gender. 

Firstly, it is clear that Egypt stands to be impacted strongly by climate change, both in the Delta and throughout the country. Climate action, both mitigation and adaptation, is a policy imperative. And I firmly believe this also represents a key business opportunity for the future.

Secondly, demographic trends point to a continued expansion of the Egyptian population beyond the nearly 105 million we have today. There is huge potential here in terms of harnessing human capital, of a young and dynamic workforce, particularly into new service-oriented sectors. For this reason, achieving long-term value necessitates focus on developing young people equipped for the new economy we envision. The UN can present the Shabab Balad initiative, which is an attempt to have the first youth-public-private platform from learning to earning. 

Thirdly, and speaking of human capital, there is a significant opportunity to further integrate women into the labor market, particularly when we look at female unemployment and labor participation. The potential economic benefits of this are enormous. 

The question is how we get there. We need a number of fundamental shifts to enable capitalizing on the above trends. The four critical pathways we as UN see are (1) transforming education to meet the shifting knowledge and skills needed in the future; (2) a systems approach to the agrifood transformation (3) the energy transition; and (4) digitalization.  If we get these transformations right, we will have the building blocks in place.

The UN has put these issues on the global agenda, and we will be working with the Government and private sector, to support the translation of these ambitions to action and impact at the national level and to anchor them on the domestic policy agenda. 

Building on this, for a sustainable approach to long term value creation, economic and financial governance is a key to success, both at country and at the global level. At the national level, this is about setting the right policy incentives, creating an open, enabling and predictable business environment that inspires investor confidence, having transparent reporting frameworks and access to data and information. As the UN in Egypt, we are well positioned to support through our new five-year Cooperation Framework with the Government that includes a new focus area on Transparency, Good Governance and Rule of Law. 

An important piece of the governance issue is situated at the global level. Secretary-General Guterres has consistently been calling for globalization that benefits all, specifically calling for a reform of the global financial architecture.

On the one hand, this is about a global financial safety net and a debt architecture that makes debt relief and restructuring available to all vulnerable countries, including middle income ones, and a better aligning of the financial system with the Sustainable Development Goals.

On the other hand, this involves a change in the business model of multilateral development banks, so they can assume greater risk, and better leverage private funds to help countries accelerate to renewable energy and invest in the SDGs. In turn, that will also enable the national financial system to better align with these objectives.

These big changes will not come overnight. At its core, this is about multilateralism that delivers.And let us be honest: Multilateralism itself is in crisis. 

As the Secretary-General himself noted recently, the current forms of multilateral structures were designed in and for a bygone era. They are not always adequate to today’s complex, interconnected and rapidly changing world.

But that does not mean we can afford to give up on the multilateral approach. 

The challenges ahead of us, as mankind, are so large and complex, they cannot be tackled by countries alone and no nation is immune. That is precisely why we need to work together, why we need multilateralism. It is our only option.

This is why the Secretary-General has suggested holding a Summit of the Future next year. This will be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvigorate global action, recommit to fundamental principles and develop multilateral frameworks that work for today’s world.

As the UN we hope this summit will result in a Pact for the Future that will encompass action towards a fair and just global financial system and a commitment to a safe, peaceful and sustainable planet. 

She added: “I’m back to where I started. Ultimately, this is about leadership and genuine partnership. We need collective leadership, where business, government and other stakeholders jointly take responsibility for our future.”

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