Powering the Sustainable Development Goals

From left: Steven Stone (Chief, Resources and Markets Branch, UN Environment), Lizwi Nkombela (Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of South Africa to the United Nations), Antje Leendersee (Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Germany), Guy Ryder (Director General, International Labour Organization), Erik Solheim (Executive Director, UN Environment) , Nikhil Seth (Executive Director, UN Institute for Training and Research), and Vic Van Vuuren (Director, Enterprise Development, International Labour Organization)

 4 May 2017, Geneva, Switzerland – Over 20 ambassadors and 200 delegates from the permanent missions to the United Nations in Geneva gathered at a high level session titled, “Inclusive and Sustainable Economies: Powering the Sustainable Development Goals,” organized under the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) and hosted by the International Labour Organization at its headquarters.  

At the event, PAGE was honoured to have a panel consisting of the Ambassador of Germany and South Africa (represented by Counsellor), and heads of three PAGE  agencies, Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment, and Nikhil Seth, Executive Director of the UN Institute for Training and Research. Ambassadors and delegates discussed the role of transitioning to inclusive and sustainable economies in achieving SDGs and the need for broad partnerships, such as the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), to provide technical assistance on integrated policymaking to countries.

Participants expressed of appreciation for the PAGE model of joint-funding and resource mobilization, which has proven to be a successful model to promote effective cooperation among UN agencies and to deliver as one. PAGE is emerging and establishing itself as a unique partnership to support countries on SDGs and climate agenda, as well as a key mechanism to ensure a “just transition” to greener economies. Other important features of PAGE that were discussed at the event included national ownership over defining priorities for PAGE support as well as setting national targets and pathways for transforming economies into drivers of sustainability.

At the event, a message that resonated time and again was around the recognition by policy and finance communities that economic growth and employment opportunities increasingly lie within a world-wide shift to greener economies. This transition, however, cannot be left to market forces alone and there is an important role for government in policy making a need to ensure respect for international labour standards and social justice. PAGE offers advisory services that take into account social and environmental considerations in achieving economic growth. 

Attendees of the high-level event

“The jobs are in going green. We need to get out of the old fashioned idea that either you provide economic development or you provide for the environment,” said Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment. He also highlighted that the changes towards a greener world are already evident in financial markets through investments in green technology and energy, as well as in the examples of South-South partnerships for a greener economic future.

Within the area of green growth, each speaker highlighted various needs that must be addressed to ensure an inclusive and just transition. Among these concerns are the need for retraining programs for the labour force, greater international cooperation, and technological investment. With such a diverse range of needs to address in every country, PAGE provides a unique offer as an upstream mechanism for helping countries deliver smart policies to local communities by providing analytical and policy expertise.

In this regard, Guy Ryder, Director General – ILO expressed, “As a country-driven program, PAGE can… offer a meaningful contribution to deliver on urgent and essential demands of people and communities from all over world - deliver a safe environment, have access to decent work opportunities, to realize their aspirations.” This is made possible in part by the high degree of cooperation between PAGE organizations and their ability to leverage regional expertise and provide tailor-made solutions for countries. 

From left: Guy Ryder and Erik Solheim

There was also a call for PAGE to provide analytical support for national decision makers to compare trade-offs between short term gains, medium term targets under SDGs and long term prosperity, especially in those countries where fossil fuel reserves are being discovered.

Nikhil Seth, Executive Director United Nations Institute of Training and Research supported this point by stating, PAGE is a “model for reaching the SDGs and making countries follow smarter policies… [which should involve] not only governments, but all actors in society.” Mr. Seth also stressed the importance of concrete action and timeliness within this process: “It is the era of implementation, we have gone way beyond the time of conceptualization.” With PAGE’s unique funding mechanism that has proven to be a successful model for incentivising cooperation between agencies, it is possible to create “smarter policies” through the diverse institutional knowledge of PAGE’s five member agencies while delivering as a single unit.

Other panelists, such as H.E. Ambassador Antje Leendertse of Germany, highlighted the importance of international cooperation as exemplified at the second PAGE Ministerial Conference in Berlin for fostering discussions on how to best achieve the global development agenda.  In particular, she focused on a need to continue providing policy expertise and outreach to countries with the goal of producing more success stories. These should be made available to the international community to inspire other countries to make similar green transitions.

The event underscored the necessity of national ownership for green economy transitions and the necessity to invest in local capacity building. Mr. Nkombela, representing H.E. Nozipho Joyce Mxakato-Diseko, Permanent Representative of South Africa to the United Nations, stated a need for capacity-building to ensure that South Africa can follow through on its many ideas for green economy and Ambassador Deep Ford of Guyana, spoke of the issues of trade-offs between green and brown economies during the transitional period. Representatives of Switzerland and Norway also spoke of their own achievements in green economy as well as their commitment to continue working with PAGE in the future.

During the open discussion, various  institutional and geographical perspectives on sustainable and inclusive economies were discussed.  The common thread between different viewpoints was that the transition to a greener economy is happening in all parts of the world and that the movement is gaining momentum. In addition to economic growth and employment opportunities, reframing economies around sustainability offers a pathway to achieve SDGs and keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees. To achieve these goals, however, this process needs to begin progressing at a much quicker pace and on a global scale. It also noted that PAGE, as a partnership of five UN agencies, is a unique mechanism for meeting country and global demand for support in pursuing inclusive and sustainable economies. 

To watch the presentation in its entirety, please click here.

Photos from the event can be found on the PAGE Flickr account.