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Alicia Bárcena Calls for Implementing a Big Push for Sustainability to Build a Future with More Equality, Solidarity and International Cooperation

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary delivered a keynote lecture at a seminar inaugurating the 21st edition of the School of Latin American Development Studies.

11 January 2021|Press Release

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Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC
Alicia Bárcena, ECLAC Executive Secretary, during her presentation in the seminar.
Photo: ECLAC

“The world is at a crossroads: development needs to be reformulated and economic policies, reshaped,” Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated today during a keynote lecture delivered in the framework of the commencement of the 21st edition of ECLAC’s School of Latin American Development Studies.

The senior United Nations official called for implementing a big push for sustainability to build a future with more equality, solidarity and international cooperation. “We must act now to tame the emergency and think of the long term to correct the region’s structural problems,” Bárcena stated, in reference to the difficulties that Latin America and the Caribbean faces in light of the economic and social consequences stemming from the crisis unleashed by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

ECLAC’s Executive Secretary was the main speaker at the seminar entitled “Geopolitics, trade and economic integration: Latin America and the Caribbean in the international system,” which kicked off the latest version of the School of Latin American Development Studies, which is taking place virtually for the first time. On this occasion, it is bringing together 29 students from distinct countries in both the region and Europe (55% of whom are women), 25 professors and 14 panelists, who will participate in nine seminars.

Bárcena emphasized that since the year 2000, the School has offered postgraduate students advanced debates on Latin America and the Caribbean’s economic and social problems. “Equality and democracy will be the Northern stars that will guide our policy debates on economic development. We believe equality is not only an essential part of the very concept of development, but also a tool to advance towards a more dynamic and efficient economies,” she stated.

In her presentation, Alicia Bárcena shared with students the main conclusions of the document Building a New Future: Transformative Recovery with Equality and Sustainability, which was published by the Commission at its thirty-eighth session last October and in which it presented to the region’s countries a proposal for achieving a different model – one that would take into account the three dimensions of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental) in a global context of high vulnerability and uncertainty such as the current one. “This is a document for action, since it urges us to move towards the society that the change of era demands; it is a realistic document, because it indicates that the society we want is closer than ever if the necessary coalitions are built and new compacts are agreed upon; and it is also a necessary document, since it responds to the pressing needs of Latin America and the Caribbean,” she explained.

Bárcena recalled that the pandemic hit a region already beset by structural problems, such as the lack of authentic competitiveness, based on technological change and diversification; external constraints; rising inequality; and an increase in CO2 emissions and the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystems. ECLAC forecasts that regional Gross Domestic Product fell by -7.7% in 2020 and will grow 3.7% in 2021, primarily due to a statistical rebound; per capita GDP has fallen -9.9%; poverty is seen growing by 208 million, with 78 million people living in extreme poverty; exports are seen falling -14%; unemployment is projected to reach 10.7%, with a high rate of labor informality (54%); while at the same time, it is calculated that 40 million households have no access to the Internet.

“During the last decade, ECLAC has positioned equality as the foundation of sustainable development. In addition to its intrinsic ethical value, equality is indeed instrumental in driving sustainable development, by contributing to innovation, productivity growth and environmental protection. Equality, productivity and democracy are strategic complementary (not substitute) goods,” Bárcena underscored.

She added that in order to overcome the three gaps hindering development in the region, three growth rates must converge. First, minimum growth of 4% to achieve equality, with redistribution; external sector growth of between 1.4% and 2.6% to achieve authentic competitiveness based on technical progress; and growth of 1.2% to achieve environmental sustainability (decarbonization), consistent with the Paris Agreement.

She noted that there are seven sectors capable of driving the big push for sustainability, since they promote technological change, generate employment and reduce external constraints and the environmental footprint: the transformation of the energy matrix based on non-conventional renewable energies; sustainable mobility in urban spaces; the digital revolution; the health-care manufacturing industry; the bioeconomy; the circular economy; and sustainable tourism (above all in the Caribbean).

“The response to hyperglobalization should not be the retreat to geopolitical rivalry, but instead to move towards a renewed multilateralism. We must coordinate fiscal policies for full employment and a green energy transition (a Global Green New Deal) and to create spaces for the pursuit of development policies,” Alicia Bárcena sustained.

The inaugural seminar of the School of Latin American Development Studies also included presentations by Professor Andrés Rivarola of Stockholm University, Director of the Nordic Institute of Latin American Studies, and Professor Neil Foster-McGregor, Deputy Director of the United Nations University’s Innovation and Technology Center in Maastricht, the Netherlands.