The UNCTAD 15 Civil Society Forum got underway on September 22, with a welcome address from Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley.
Ms. Mottley reminded her audience that UNCTAD 15 was the second major UN conference which Barbados was hosting, the first one being the 1994 Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Islands Developing States. She acknowledged that, “The growth in organisation and activism of Caribbean NGOs, especially on environmental and sustainable development issues, derives much of its impetus from that critical UN process back in 1994.”
The Prime Minister said, “Our hope for UNCTAD 15, meeting of course at this unique and profoundly disruptive moment in time, is that this Conference is as catalytic and transformative for the international community as was SIDS 94 for small islands.”
Ms. Mottley underscored the importance of civil society, stating that, “We cannot educate our citizens and then treat them as though their opinions do not count. For it is people who must be at the centre of truly participatory democracy. And when people act, confident in the knowledge that they are both seen and heard, their ability to network, exchange ideas and share best practices, at the national, regional and international levels is greatly amplified.”
She expressed confidence that the discussions over the next three days would be robust and full of substance and that the civil society would enrich the wider negotiations and decisions of UNCTAD 15.
UNCTAD Secretary General Rebeca Grynspan: I am deeply aware of the incredibly testing times that we are in. “We stand at a critical moment in the history of multilateralism, in the history of the United Nations and in the history of UNCTAD itself. The COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be one of the largest challenges of our generation, producing big setbacks in the hard-won progress made in combatting poverty and inequality, and in advancing sustainable development.”
“This crisis is not over,” Ms. Grynspan warned. “And many developing regions are seriously facing the prospect of another lost decade, exactly at the time when efforts towards achieving the 2030 agenda should be coming into full gear.”
Referring to the recently published UNCTAD trade and development report, Ms. Grynspan lamented that fact that, “We are witnessing a very divergent global recovery, with advanced countries growing and vaccinating at rates that are multiples of those in the developing world. If we follow the current trajectory, this is a recovery which will leave many people behind. This will not be prosperity for all.”
The UNCTAD Secretary General said, “We need a new path forward, and this is a path in which each and every one of us must feel empowered to help and participate.”
Barbados’ Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations Colin Jordan also spoke at the opening session of the forum. His remarks echoed those of the UNCTAD Secretary General. Minister Jordan said that the “pandemic has wreaked havoc on a deeply unbalanced global economic system, emphasizing social and economic gaps within and across communities and countries. Steady gains in achieving the SDGs are being eroded by impacts of the pandemic.”
Mr. Jordan said that small island developing states like Barbados have long been challenged by climate change. He noted that, “In recent years, there have been record numbers of natural disasters, including hurricanes, droughts and fires across the world. The developmental challenges from sea level rise, altered rainfall patterns and storm surges threaten to reverse progress toward achieving sustainable development.”
He said that efforts must be placed on adaptation strategies, resilience building initiatives and adequate financing mechanisms to support small island developing states and developing countries, noting that this can only be achieved if there is global political consensus.