Future of Development: International Solidarity is the Key

UNDP Iraq / Claire Thomas

While country after country is returning to strict measures in order to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, UN assistant secretary general Ulrika Modéer looks beyond the current crisis to discern the challenges on the road ahead — in order to make that a road to building back better. ‘Rebuilding our society and economies in the face of COVID-19 provides a historic opportunity to leapfrog towards more sustainable, just and inclusive societies.’

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the full extent of human vulnerability on a global scale. Like climate change, no-one is truly protected from the spread of this virus. However, it has the potential to shift incentives to act in ways that were not on the policy, legal and regulatory table before.

As we scan the horizon, we sense that human vulnerability has been magnified by pre-existing inequalities. This is a glimpse of the future, multiplied many times over by the ongoing climate crisis. The intersection between vulnerability, inequalities and unsustainability will define the future course of development.

This socio-economic crisis is already striking hard the most vulnerable

Has the ‘convergence narrative’ of development of the past 30 years run its course? The Great Convergence, The Great Escape, Getting Better, The Rise of the South—have all illustrated the power of a particular concept of development: namely, that technological catch-up, global trade, and the exponential power of income growth can drive progress, reducing inequality between countries and leading to a point of convergence. In this view, development is about climbing a ladder and holding on to the highest rung possible.

But what if development is not like climbing a ladder at all? UNDP’s 2019 Human Development Report takes note of the remarkable improvements in well-being achieved over the past three decades, but zooms in on a critical insight: the very dynamics that drove these improvements also drove inequalities, unsustainable patterns of production and consumption, gender inequality, and violence.

With the current crisis, which goes much beyond the health dimension, UNDP estimates that 6 years of human development gains are already lost. The crisis is bringing about the worst collapse in per capita incomes since 1870. It might lead to an additional 25 million people unemployed worldwide (ILO, 2020) and double the number of people suffering acute hunger to 265 million by the end of 2020. This socio-economic crisis is already striking hard the most vulnerable: women, children, disabled, people lacking social protection and those in the informal sector.

In most countries, convergence in one dimension of well-being includes divergence in others. This churning process leaves millions behind in the digital economy, the race for newer and better skills, better health and longevity. Any future cycle of well-being will need to redress these legacies with a higher ambition: delivering well-being de-coupled from CO2 emissions, protective of nature, ready for more climate and pandemic shocks as the century unfolds.

COVID-19 provides a historic opportunity to leapfrog towards more sustainable, just and inclusive societies.

We do not know how post-COVID-19 world will look like. However, we do know that high-quality international cooperation is fundamental for dealing with existing and emerging global challenges. Addressing the needs of the most vulnerable countries through development cooperation will be an essential part of future cooperation structures.

The UN Secretary-General titled one of his articles on COVID-19 “We will come through this together” – reminding us that no country can tackle this issue alone and cooperation is crucial for addressing existing challenges.

Many development partners, such as the European Union and its Member States, have been playing a central role in supporting sustainable development efforts, valuing UN’s role to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges.

UNDP Yemen

If the UN has been able to make a real difference in peoples’ lives around the world, it is only because it had the support of many partners who believe in achieving more through collaboration and cooperation.

For example, Belgium is one of UNDP’s core partners and supporters of its work on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), governance, conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Its contribution allowed us to rehabilitate schools and hospitals in Iraq, modernize the public administrations in Burundi and Benin, and support countries in the COVID-19 response.

Choices made today can have ripple effects long into the future. Rebuilding our society and economies in the face of COVID-19 provides a historic opportunity to leapfrog towards more sustainable, just and inclusive societies.

Development cooperation, during the pandemic and in its aftermath, has been presented with an opportunity to build a better approach for recovery, one that does not replicate the unsustainable patterns of the past.

Curbing climate change is crucial while preparing for its effects is a matter of human survival. It is possible for the world to regain momentum and move ahead towards the establishment of robust universal healthcare and social protection systems, reducing inequalities and stepping up climate and environmental commitments.

International solidarity and cooperation are key if we want to secure a better future for the people and the planet.

Ulrika Modéer is UN Assistant Secretary General, UNDP Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy

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