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Opening second Session, Preparatory Committee for Least Developed Countries Conference Considers Impact of COVID-19 on World’s Poorest Nations in Realizing 2030 Agenda

The second session of the intergovernmental Preparatory Committee for the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries opened at Headquarters today with delegates — mindful of the impact of the COVID-19 on the world’s poorest nations as they struggle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals — aiming to finalize a draft programme of action for when the Conference takes place in Doha, Qatar, on 23 to 27 January 2022.

Throughout this week, delegates will focus on fine-tuning a 47-page “zero draft” for adoption by Heads of State and Government in Doha as a successor framework to the Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020, adopted in Istanbul in 2011.  The Preparatory Committee previously held its first session from 24 to 28 May to begin work on elements of the new 10-year framework.  (See Press Releases DEV/3438, DEV/3439, DEV/3440 and DEV/3441.)

Perks Master Clemency Ligoya (Malawi), Chair of the Group of Least Developed Countries, introduced the zero draft of the Doha programme of action for least developed countries for 2022-2031, saying that it takes on board the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development while also attempting to set new and ambitious targets going forward.  “You will see in the draft that we tried to maintain a delicate balance between ambitioun and realism,” he said.

The draft opens with an introductory section that identifies the areas in which the world’s 46 least developed countries are struggling to make progress, but which also presents how — with their burgeoning youth population, abundant natural resources, and science, technology and innovation — they enjoy enormous potential to be drivers of global production and consumption, he said.

It then sets out six key focus areas for action.  They include investing in people to eradicate poverty and leave no one behind; leveraging science, technology and innovation to combat multidimensional vulnerabilities and achieve the Goals; structural transformation as a driver of prosperity; enhancing international trade of least developed countries and regional integration; addressing climate change, recovering from COVID-19 and building resilience against future shocks; and mobilizing international solidarity and reinvigorating global partnership and innovative tools for risk-informed sustainable development.

Some concrete proposals need further elaboration, he said.  They include the founding of an online university for least developed countries; creating investment promotion regimes and an international investment support centre; and establishing crises mitigation and resilience-building mechanisms to deal with a multitude of hazards.  Given the growing number of least developed countries that are approaching middle-income status, the draft also calls for special and differential support to continue for 12 months following graduation.  Gender mainstreaming, good governance, the rule of law, transparency, accountability, peace and security also figure prominently in the draft, he said.

“Many of you may have some concerns with regard to the length of the document, but please keep in mind that this is a 10-year programme of action for 46 LDCs,” he said, appealing to delegates not to dwell on the length of the draft, but rather to focus on its substance.  “There is no reason that we should compromise the substance simply for the sake of brevity,” he said, appealing for passion, understanding, constructive engagement and flexibility to achieve consensus on the text.

Rabab Fatima (Bangladesh), Co-Chair of the Preparatory Committee, delivered opening remarks, saying that while the pandemic’s severity is being felt worldwide, the least developed countries are bearing the heaviest brunt, with a 1.3 per cent decrease in gross domestic product (GDP) and a vaccination rate of less than 2 per cent.  Key sources of external financing, including export earnings and remittances from migrant workers, have fallen dramatically.  About half the least developed countries are in a debt crisis and others are about to fall into one.  Even before the pandemic, these countries were far off track to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Urgent access to affordable vaccines should be the immediate priority, she said, adding that many least developed countries are at a tipping point and require protection to avoid economic and humanitarian disaster.

In such a context, the Conference is an enormous opportunity to demonstrate solidarity and partnership to help least developed countries through concerted global action, she said, calling for a new paradigm for global partnership that is bold, ambitious and decisive.  One billion people cannot be left behind as the world strives to build back better in the pandemic’s wake.  Looking ahead to the Doha conference, she said that the zero draft of its outcome document contains ambitious targets and concrete actions, as well as a comprehensive blueprint to ensure the implementation of a fresh programme of action.  She looked forward to contributions from development partners to the zero draft to make it more actionable on the ground.

Robert Bob Rae (Canada), Co-Chair of the Preparatory Committee, said that the pandemic has exposed not only vulnerabilities between States, but also the shortcomings of multilateral solidarity.  Just when the world needs more solidarity, there are too many signs that there is less, and the Doha conference is an opportunity to change that.  With a zero draft now before them, delegates must focus on specific concrete actions and solutions that can put more least developed countries on the path to achieving the 2030 Agenda.  He encouraged delegates to listen to each other, to determine where best to focus their attention and to engage constructively in the coming weeks and months to achieve the most ambitious programme of action for least developed countries for the next decade.

Courtenay Rattray, High Representative and Under-Secretary-General Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, described the Doha conference as an “opportunity to recover lost ground on the Sustainable Development Goals” and make important strides forward.  “This is the moment to mount an effective and strengthened response to COVID-19 and build back better,” he said, pointing out that the successful discussions emerging from the First Preparatory Committee are laid out in several key areas and commitments in the conference’s zero draft outcome document.  Among other things, the draft calls for a scale-up of targeted social protection measures — which have been at the core of the response to COVID-19’s socioeconomic impacts — and for access to disaggregated data and digitalization.

Also spotlighting the need to focus on vulnerable people, the need for strengthened partnerships between Governments and other actors and the importance of deepening adaptation to climate risks, he said the zero draft is ambitious, forward looking and focused.  “It is a true reflection of the priorities that will ensure least developed countries achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond,” he said, pledging that his office will continue to provide support to the deliberations on the new programme of action — a “new global deal for LDCs, built on a new generation of global partnerships”.  In that vein, he said, stakeholders in recent global summits have called for a fair international trade regime and more technology transfer to build up the research and development capacities of least developed countries.

In addition, he highlighted a broad push for greater financial support for least developed countries as well as timely access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatment.  Debt relief beyond the Debt Service Suspension Initiative has also been identified as an important step towards creating the fiscal space required to respond to short-term needs and invest in long-term resilience building and structural transformation.  Describing a range of ongoing global negotiations, review processes and platforms for exchanging views — including the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the “LDC Future Forum” and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as COP26 — he said each will provide valuable opportunities to build momentum towards the fifth Conference on the Least Developed Countries, in January 2022.

Jassim Sayar Al-Maawda (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the host country for the upcoming January 2022 Conference, reaffirmed its commitment to provide everything to ensure that the event achieves its goals.  The United Nations delegation traveled to Doha to inspect the venue.  The National Conference Centre is the most significant facility in the Middle East.  The United Nations delegation also met with relevant authorities to prepare the necessary logistics. Qatar is pleased to see the “zero” draft of the Programme of Action, which is the first that is linked to the 2030 Agenda and the first such document since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Qatar is ready to provide facilitation to ensure the success of the Conference and the safety and well-being of all participants, he stressed, expressing hope that the Conference will help improve the lives of millions of people and place least developed countries on the path to sustainable development.

Demba Moussa Dembele, Chair of LDC Watch, welcomed the “zero” draft, as it correctly highlights the devastating economic and social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for least developed countries and calls for “greater action and extraordinary measures” to tackle the challenges facing them.  This means a break with current economic policies and a new framework for cooperation with them, he pointed out, expressing hope that the international community will heed that call.  The document raises concern about the slow process of graduation as illustrated by the failure of the Istanbul Programme of Action to achieve its major goals, especially the graduation of 24 countries by 2020.  The group reiterates its view that only a break with the current approach to graduation could lead to a better outcome, he said, recommending re-examining the criteria and the quality of the data used to determine graduation thresholds.

He went on to express support for the legitimate demands made on debt and resource mobilization; trade and related issues; climate change; and global governance, among others.  The group also shares the document’s “deep concern” about the under-representation of least developed countries in the global decision-making processes.  This applies to the global South in general, he said, joining the call to quickly correct this injustice.  Lastly, he expressed hope that the Conference will mark a radical break with policies of the past 40 years and be the beginning of a genuine global commitment to eliminating the least developed countries category.

Fahmida Faiza, a lawyer and youth policy advocate in Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organisations (ICMYO), said that none of the agendas to be discussed can be meaningfully achieved without the direct, enhanced engagement of young people in least developed countries.  For the Conference platform, a meaningful youth declaration would work as a soundboard to echo youth concerns, she said, recommending inclusion of diverse and underrepresented youth from least developed countries in the process.  “I am not here to talk about tomorrow anymore, the action has to begin right here right now,” she said, noting that youth are inheriting problems like climate change their ancestors have contributed to.  “Our duty is to rectify those mistakes,” she emphasized.

Martin Chungong, Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said the “leave no one behind” promise of the 2030 Agenda must apply first and foremost to the least developed countries.  The world organization of parliaments is again organizing the parliamentary track to the Doha Conference.  The idea behind this is very simple: parliamentarians everywhere, not just in the least developed countries, are key to bringing this Agenda to fruition through their power of the purse and their legislative and oversight authority.  Unfortunately, parliamentary engagement in the Istanbul Programme has not been stellar partly because parliaments themselves are less capacitated than Governments when it comes to integrating these global agreements in their daily work.  In the coming months, the organization will produce three reports to focus attention to the role of parliaments in the least developed countries, particularly regarding gender equality, development cooperation and good governance.  “Most important, we will come to Doha with a parliamentary statement on behalf of the global parliamentary community,” he said, asking that the new Programme retain the commitments made in the predecessor document that touch upon the role of parliaments.

Several delegates made general statements.

The representative of Guinea, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that the Programme of Action to come out of the Doha conference will be a crucial component for least developed countries to achieve sustainable development.  The Group of 77 looks forward to the successful conclusion of a draft text by the end of this year.

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, recalled that the bloc is the largest provider of official development assistance (ODA) to least developed countries.  She regretted that the draft text was not presented until the middle of the holiday period, adding that that must not translate into a lack of quality in the outcome document.  She stressed the need for balanced commitments by least developed countries and their development partners and suggested that the draft outcome document be shortened.  Also, the 90 minutes allotted for consultations with civil society is insufficient.

The representative of Morocco said that the zero draft outcome document is a very good basis for discussion.  She added that the final document must emphasize, among other things, debt relief measures and increased climate finance for least developed countries.

The representative of Indonesia, associating himself with the Group of 77, stressed the importance of inviting inputs from all stakeholders.  Describing resource constraint as a major barrier to development for least developed countries, he called for renewed global partnership.

The representative of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and associating herself with the Group of 77, said eight small island States are categorized as least developed countries.  While the 2030 Agenda provides sustainable development pathways for least developed countries, the dedicated programme of action offers a tailored course of action for them.  The negotiations must conclude by the year and it is not the length but content that is important.

The representative of Turkey, as the host of the previous Conference in 2011, expressed hope for active engagement towards adopting an action-oriented document for least developed countries, attaching great importance to the multi-stakeholders’ approach involving international financial institutions and the private sector.

In other business, the Preparatory Committee adopted the provisional agenda and organization of work of its second session (document A/CONF.219/2021/IPC/4/Rev.1).  It also approved its provisional rules of procedure (document A/CONF.219/2021/IPC/L.4) and the draft decision “Modalities of the high-level thematic round tables of the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries” (document A/CONF.219/2021/IPC/L.5).

In addition, delegates approved a draft recommendation to the General Assembly that would enable the Preparatory Committee to hold an additional half-day meeting, on a date to be identified by the Secretariat between mid-December and 10 January 2022, to take action on the draft outcome document to be recommended to the Doha conference.

Consideration of the Doha conference’s draft provisional agenda and organization of work will take place at the Preparatory Committee’s next formal meeting at 3 p.m. on Friday, 30 July.


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