The 19th session of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) General Conference concluded today, taking place at a critical juncture following the UN Secretary-General’s call for a “Decade of Action” and as countries all over the world strive to recover from the socioeconomic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The event was an opportunity to show how UNIDO is capitalizing on its rich expertise and bringing a stronger focus to the practical aspects of its inclusive and sustainable industrial development mandate and help countries get back on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
To contain the spread of COVID-19, the General Conference was a semi-virtual affair. Many delegates from Member States, other stakeholders and interested parties across the globe joined online. A virtual exhibition showcasing UNDO’s work was created in place of the traditional physical one but there was one physical exhibition stand, Building a Better Future, and a photo-led exhibition showing UNIDO beneficiaries for in-person participants. The virtual exhibition highlighted some key UNIDO topics such as climate change, sectoral and agribusiness development, the fourth industrial revolution and industrial policy, as well as UNIDO partnerships.
During the official opening session, the Director General LI Yong and representatives of Member States congratulated UNIDO on the 55th anniversary of its establishment.
Li remarked, “Reflecting on past years and looking at the current situation, I am pleased to be handing over an agile and innovative organization that is on a solid footing.”
After eight years at the helm of UNIDO, and in accordance with the two-term limit of UNIDO’s Constitution, Li stood down as Director General during the General Conference. Gerd Müller, formerly Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, was confirmed as the new Director General of UNIDO for a period of four years.
Addressing delegates, Müller said, “I want to thank you for your great support and for electing me as the new Director General of UNIDO.”
In his acceptance speech, Müller stated, “If we want to solve the global challenges of our time, we need global solidarity and a partnership-based cooperation between industrialized and developing countries.”
The overarching theme of the five days of meetings, debates and discussions was ‘Building A Better Future‘.
The Eighth Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development Forum featured a keynote address by Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, and an adviser to policymakers across the world.
“We need governments to take a leading role in building, coordinating and governing horizontal, cross-sectoral partnerships,” said Mazzucato, continuing, “Whether it is climate change or the digital divide, none of these areas can be solved in isolation. We need every sector to be part of the solution when we think of the future of industrial policy and recovery.”
Partnerships were also the theme of the Donors Meeting where representatives of Member States and development partners discussed scaling up impact through innovation.
The General Conference saw the official launch of UNIDO’s flagship publication, the Industrial Development Report (IDR). The Future of Industrialization in a Post-Pandemic World seeks to explain why some countries are weathering the COVID-19 crisis better than others, and ask what lessons can be gleaned from these countries for the future of industrialization.
At the IDR 2022 launch, Fu Xiaolan from the University of Oxford’s Technology and Management Centre for Development, said, “This new digital revolution represents a window of opportunity for countries in the global South,” adding, “UNIDO can lead the acceleration of industrial digital transformation in developing countries, in collaboration with other agencies and task forces.”
Jeffrey Sachs, President of the UN Sustainable Development Social Solutions Network, said countries need to accelerate the shift to a green industrial sector and to transform their energy systems. “It is necessary to overcome the challenges to move from fossil fuels to renewable sources and zero-carbon power generation,” he added, “but to do so developing countries need more access to adequate financing and technologies.”
With the increasing recognition of the importance of industrial policies as the driver of economic transformation, a side event focused on prospects for establishing a global industrial policy forum for multilateral policy learning and knowledge sharing.
‘New forms of investments as drivers for a sustained post-COVID-19 recovery’ was the theme of another side event, which promoted dialogue on how developing countries can better harness quality foreign direct investment and impact investing.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has a key role to play in enabling sustainable and inclusive industrial development. Together with its Member States, UNIDO is developing a strategic framework to mainstream a digital, gender-responsive and sustainable transformation, and to scale up digital capabilities. These issues were the subject of a side event titled, “The post-pandemic world will be digital: implications of the Fourth Industrial Revolution for developing countries’.
As the global community strives to build back better industries, economies and societies post-COVID-19, investing in women is both the right thing and the smart thing to do. Gender equality and the empowerment of women is a priority at UNIDO, and another event featured best practices and results from UNIDO activities that may serve as an inspiration for future approaches. The examples showcased were based on the awardees of the second UNIDO Gender Equality Mobilization Award.
The year 2021 was declared the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development by the UN General Assembly, and another side event showed how UNIDO has tackled the challenges of supporting the creative economy.
The 19th UNIDO General Conference took place just a few weeks after the meeting of the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26). The “Accelerating climate impact for Member States through Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development” event brought together prominent external experts and policymakers from Member States to discuss the climate change landscape emerging from COP26.
The General Conference brought together the stakeholders from governments, academia, the private sector and knowledge-based institutions, coming together to discuss the way forward to build a better future for everyone!