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Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the Tenth Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development 2024 [as prepared for delivery]

23 April, 2024
Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the Tenth Session of the Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development 2024 [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,

I thank the Government and the People of Ethiopia for hosting this year’s Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development. I thank the Chair of the Forum, the Government of Niger for their leadership during the last year.

I express my deep appreciation to the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and his exemplary leadership on the continent and beyond.

I welcome my colleague Mr. Claver Gatete, for the first time in his role as Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa.

The world faces multiple complex interconnected challenges.  And our great continent is being hit hard by a devastating series of global shocks, and their impact on our people, environment and economies.

COVID-19, the cost-of-living crises, and the triple planetary crisis of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution– have caused a perfect storm and immense pain, further exacerbating Africa’s vulnerabilities and reversing the gains of the last decade

Conflicts and instability – near and far – are thriving, causing untold suffering and further jeopardizing the African Union's goal of silencing the guns, and achieving sustainable development.  

Debt servicing is at an all-time high due to external shocks and is squeezing our economies dry, leaving little or nothing to invest in sustainable development, often at the expense of education and health services.

Developing economies are settling into a new bad equilibrium: of low investment, low growth, and stalled progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. 

As we pass the halfway point to the SDGs and complete the first decade of implementing the African Union’s 2063 Agenda, our sustainable development efforts are at risk of failure. 

While we can demonstrate some significant strides toward sustainable development the gains remain fragile.  

This includes the African Continental Free Trade Area and the single African air transport market — both key tenets of Agenda 2063 — that point to our booming potentials for the technology and innovation sector.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

We know that this progress is not enough. But we also know that more and better progress is possible.

At the SDG Summit last September, governments endorsed a bold Political Declaration, recognizing Means of Implementation as the key barrier to achieving progress.

In the face of multiple crises, developing countries are not accessing the financing they need at scale and in time.

The gap is enormous.

An additional $4 trillion must be invested every year to 2030 to have a chance of achieving the SDGs. 

In other words, we desperately need to increase the flow of capital. Yet today, capital into the developing world has gone into reverse.

Bondholders and commercial banks have taken over $300 billion out of developing countries over the last two years.

International financial institutions are trying to buttress countries, but have been unable to stem the tide. Net transfers from the IFIs to developing countries fell by more than half last year.

Excluding concessional flows, they fell to zero.

This reversal of capital is partly a story of debt.

Since 2010, Africa’s debt increased by 183 percent - roughly four times higher than the region's growth rate in dollar terms.  

Those debts are now maturing, obliging countries to confront hefty debt service to satisfy their creditors. Rising interest rates have now pushed debt service far higher.

Total debt service accounted for a staggering 47.5 percent of government revenue in Sub-Saharan Africa last year - crowding out expenditure on essential services as well as investments in the continent’s future.

20 out 54 countries are at high risk of — or already in — debt distress.

With high debt service comes limited fiscal space. This is further exacerbated by years of emergency spending to respond to global shocks, and little growth in revenue reflecting slow economic growth and modest progress in growing the tax base.  

That’s why the Secretary-General has called for a SDG Stimulus of at least $500 billion a year to scale-up affordable long-term financing for developing countries, alongside a series of structural reforms to the institutions and rules that make up the international financial architecture.  

Africa's leadership and collective voice are essential to make the SDG stimulus a reality and take decisive steps towards a global financial architecture that is more equitable, resilient, responsive and accessible to everyone.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The Political declaration is only the first step.

It must be followed by concrete, ambitious and transformative action that will put us on the path to deliver on the SDG by 2030.

In this regard, it is essential that we scale up action on key transitions and investment pathways that can accelerate progress across the goals.

Both regionally and nationally, we are seeing opportunities for critical transitions that can turbocharge progress.

Allow me to highlight four areas in particular.

First, inclusive and sustainable energy – which powers sustainable development.

African countries are making tangible progress in securing access to all sustainable energy.

Access to electricity rose by nearly 10 percent in the last six years.

Africa is also home to 60 per cent of the world’s most coveted solar resources – but the continent only attracted two per cent of global investments in renewable energy over the last two decades.

This underinvestment means a continent with the potential to be a renewable energy superpower lags with just one percent of installed solar capacity.

We are also home to a significant proportion of the minerals critical to the global renewables revolution – an immense potential source of wealth.

It’s worth remembering that the electric vehicles value chain is estimated to be worth nearly $ 60 trillion by 2050. A huge potential market for African renewables.

As Africa seeks maximum benefits from this market, resource extraction must not undermine the livelihoods of the vulnerable. The Secretary-General's panel on Critical Energy Transition Minerals is critical to ensure that we do not repeat past patterns of exploitation.

Finance is also vital to rolling out renewables more widely. But we need to take a systematic approach at home.

Governments must set ambitious renewable energy targets to contribute to the goal of tripling renewables capacity by 2030, and shift subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables to better participate in global supply chains for critical minerals like copper, cobalt and other materials.

Rwanda’s Renewable Energy Fund to tackle electricity accessibility challenges in remote and mountainous rural areas is a good example, as are Ethiopia's policies and strategies to promote green energy use.

By putting forward Nationally Determined Contributions – or NDC – that usher in the energy transition, countries have an opportunity to comprehensively address these challenges.

Second, sustainable food systems.

After a long period of improvement, hunger has worsened substantially in Africa. Around 280 million people are undernourished, an increase of 57 million people since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Small farmers, dependent on agriculture, are impacted every year by climate-related weather events with losses estimated at 670 million USD per year.

The challenges faced by our food systems are not easily overcome. But significant progress has been made in advancing food system transformation across Africa.

Various African initiatives are embedding food systems transformation across sustainable development strategies and plans. 

Positive examples are the African Union Commission’s Regional Nutrition Strategy and the African Common Position on food sovereignty and resilience.

42 African countries have developed national pathways to implement the UNs vision under the Food Systems Summit and the recent Call to Action resulting from the Food Systems Stock Take +2. 

These are fully in line with the national and regional investment plans under the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme for agricultural production, food security and nutrition.

Third, digital connectivity.

Countries in this region are emerging as trail blazers for innovation and booming tech industries.

Yet, the divide between and within African countries remains significant, while internet access and mobile penetration gaps are persisting between poor and well-off, rural and urban areas, male and female users.

More must be done to scale-up investments in technology and digital infrastructure to bridge the digital divide.

National digital strategies in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda are great examples of how we can shape investment pathways at scale across the region.

Fourth, education.

No country can harness the opportunities provided by food, energy and digital transitions, unless they invest more in quality, relevant and future-oriented education systems.

The AU’s decision to make 2024 the African Year of Education and it’s comprehensive ten-year Continental Education Strategy for Africa speaks to the strong recognition of this fact by African leaders.

So too does the progress being made in the area of education by several countries – from Sierra Leone to Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire to Namibia.

This echoes the spirit of possibility and determination that emerged from the Secretary-General’s Transforming Education Summit in 2022.

This year, through convenings in Paris, New York and Brazil, we will take stock of progress and identify opportunities to scale up coherent and effective support from international partners to African countries.

Whether that’s to tackle the foundational learning crisis or better equip teachers for a changing learning environment, to boost vocational programmes for skills for just transitions, or to leverage the digital transformation to improve how we learn, what we learn and where we learn.

And at the heart of all of this, like so much else, is finance.

Now is the time to rethink austerity-oriented international policies, reduce debt-servicing costs and ensure a more equitable global taxation system so that African countries can do what we know that want to do: to invest more, more efficiently and more equitably in the capacities and skills of their peoples.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

Across this work, the UN development system is your trusted partner.

Our offices, Resident Coordinators, UN Country Teams and regional capacities are all committed to helping you forge investment paths, shape policy and regulatory frameworks, and garner the support you need from multilateral and regional development banks and private investors.

And we count on Member States to keep investing in the UN development system – including the Resident Coordinator system– to ensure we can continue to do so.

The inclusion of the African Union in the G20 and the addition of an extra seat for sub-Saharan Africa at the IMF are also of major importance — for the voice of Africa and for that of the Global South.

Our voice will be essential in the lead up to the Summit of the Future, and at the fourth international Conference on Financing for Development and the second World Summit on Social Development in 2025.

I urge you to harness the potential of these foras - including this forum - to deliver on our vision for Africa enshrined in Agenda 2063.

Let’s keep the promise of the Africa Africans Want.

Thank you.