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We are at a critical juncture in our implementation of the UN development agenda. Despite demonstrable progress, we confront delays in reaching the goals, coupled with new challenges, many of which require our urgent attention and collective action.


First, the fragile state of the major developed market economies, persistent global imbalances and soaring oil and non-oil commodity prices are slowing growth of the global economy. The financial turmoil of the past year is not incidental, but a reflection of systemic weaknesses in global financial markets. These conditions threaten to undermine efforts towards the development goals.

Second, rising food and energy prices are hitting hard on the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people. Progress so far towards our developmental goals could easily be reversed if we do not find workable solutions to the twin crises in the food and energy markets.

Third, we are facing the profound threat of climate change and the deterioration of our natural environment. I believe that, if not addressed timely and adequately, this threat can bring all our development efforts to naught. It will bear down on the lives of our children and grandchildren. The pernicious impacts will be deep and pervasive.

Finally, skepticism about globalization continues. There has been concern for some time that globalization is leaving behind the vulnerable and poorest communities, and the added worry now is that the middle classes ar e beginning to feel the effects of a much more insecure world. No social or economic order is secure if it fails to benefit the majority of those who live under it. From this perspective, we all should have serious
concerns about a system whose wealthiest 400 citizens command, as a group, more resources than its bottom billion. Yet we also need to beware of the risks of a severe backlash against globalization, which could significantly curtail the opportunities and benefits of a more closely integrated world.

At the same time, challenges also offer opportunities. Leaders, economists and bankers have come together to find short-term remedies to avert financial meltdown. They are also deliberating on long-term solutions to address the systemic inadequacies. The need to engage all key actors in this process is widely recognized. We must persist in pursuing truly concerted action to redress the woes of the global economy. Only then may we hope that a more robust global financial system will emerge from this credit crisis.

The eradication of poverty is among the most prominent of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the challenge of poverty eradication is the greatest for the least developed countries, where almost half of the population still lives in extreme poverty. This is why UNCTAD argues that the LDCs is the battleground where the Sustainable Development Goals will be won or lost. At least eighteen of the 169 Sustainable Development Goal targets refer explicitly to the least developed countries, and dozens more are of central importance to their development success. This testifies to the concern of the international community with the development challenges of these

Revitalizing sustained and sustainable economic growth and employment creation in the LDCs, and accelerating the structural transformation of their economies, will be indispensable to achieve the SDGs. In particular, achieving an annual growth rate of 7 per cent as established in the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020 and reiterated under SDG 8, is of paramount importance. Although external factors have a strong impact on the pace and structure of GDP growth in LDCs, the governments of these countries can influence the process of structural transformation and reduce their external vulnerability by choosing appropriate policies.

It is essential that LDCs themselves take the lead in their development policy design and implementation. Over the years, the analytical reports of UNCTAD’s Division for Africa, Least Developed Countries and Special Programmes have aimed at supporting LDC governments in this task and have advanced the understanding of all development partners on policy issues that are common to most LDCs.

There are currently 47 least developed countries (LDCs). They host just over 1 billion people, approximately 13 per cent of the world’s population, but account for only 1.2 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP). Almost half of the population of LDCs still lives in extreme poverty. At the same time LDCs have the world’s fastest population growth rate. The basic causes of persistent and widespread poverty in LDCs are low productivity, and high levels of unemployment and underemployment.


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It is essential that LDCs themselves take the lead in their development policy design and implementation.

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Economic growth must be inclusive to provide sustainable jobs and promote equality.

Although external factors have a strong impact on the pace and structure of GDP growth in LDCs, the governments of these countries can influence the process of structural transformation and reduce their external vulnerability by choosing appropriate policies.

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Access to justice for all, and building effective, accountable institutions at all levels.


Most LDCs face considerable challenges posed by demographic developments, rising inequality and persistent poverty, combined with accelerated urbanization. The population living in the present LDCs is projected to almost double to 1.9 billion by 2050. With a soaring youth population, an additional 630 million people (equivalent to about one third of the estimated LDC population in 2050) will have entered the labour market by 2050. Moreover, it is the most vulnerable countries among LDCs that are the most affected by these demographic trends (LDCR 2013: ch.2). Insufficient paid employment creation has the potential to become a source of significant social and political tension and can weaken domestic demand growth.

In sharp contrast with demographic developments, the rate of capital accumulation and technological progress in LDCs is generally slow. As a result, most workers, who, on average, receive only low levels of education and training, must earn a living by using their raw labor, and basic tools and equipment. They also face challenges related to poor infrastructure provision.

In most LDCs the growing labour force has mostly found employment in agriculture, largely in connection with the cultivation of additional land. However, with further population growth, more and more young people are seeking work opportunities outside of agriculture. Nascent manufacturing activities and services offer new opportunities for productive employment, mostly in urban centres, but these employment opportunities are not expanding fast enough to meet the growing demand for jobs. As a result, poverty in LDCs has two faces. One is low-productivity, small-scale agriculture and the other is low-productivity, urban, informal-sector activities in petty trade and services. This situation has led to large-scale emigration. If this situation persists, poverty reduction will be very slow, despite accelerated output growth. In addition, the link between output growth and employment creation needs to be strengthened.


The SDGs also represent a planning and follow-up tool for the countries at the national and local levels. With their long-term approach, they offer support for each country on its path towards sustained, inclusive and environmentally friendly development, through the formulation of public policies and budget, monitoring and evaluation instruments.

The 2030 Agenda is a civilizing agenda that places dignity and equality at the centre. At once far-sighted and ambitious, its implementation will require the engagement of all sectors of society and of the State. Accordingly, the representatives of governments, civil society, academic institutions and the private sector are invited to take ownership of this ambitious agenda, to discuss and embrace it as a tool for the creation of inclusive, fair societies that serve the citizens of today as well as future generations.

A successful sustainable development agenda requires partnerships between governments, the private sector and civil society. These inclusive partnerships built upon principles and values, a shared vision, and shared goals that place people and the planet at the centre, are needed at the global, regional, national and local level. Urgent action is needed to mobilize, redirect and unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources to deliver on sustainable development objectives.

Long-term investments, including foreign direct investment, are needed in critical sectors, especially in developing countries. These include sustainable energy, infrastructure and transport, as well as information and communications technologies. The public sector will need to set a clear direction. Review and monitoring frameworks, regulations and incentive structures that enable such investments must be retooled to attract investments and reinforce sustainable development. National oversight mechanisms such as supreme audit institutions and oversight functions by legislatures should be strengthened.

No country or individual can resolve them in isolation. In other words, multilateral action is more important than ever. Remarkably, we have already seen how the 2030 Agenda has brought disparate groups together to work towards common goals.
International cooperation on climate change, migration, technology, trade and partnerships with all stakeholders can be strengthened even further with the facilitation of the United Nations system. There is still time for us to achieve the SDGs if we act now and act together, taking advantage of the many synergies that exist across the 2030 Agenda.

In fact, only by taking a long-term perspective can we ensure the well-being of future as well as present generations. It is now more important than ever to put into practice the concept of sustainable development, which integrates economic growth, social development, and protection of the environment. Despite increasing awareness on long-term sustainability problems, we have yet to witness significant movements on issues such as climate change, deforestation, biodiversity and desertification.

We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and people. The interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals are of crucial importance in ensuring that the purpose of the new agenda is realized. If we realize our ambitions across the full extent of the agenda, the lives of all will be profoundly improved and our world will be transformed for the better.

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