Global economic crisis stalls progress for poor, warns UN

House speaker Pelosi says some US politicians still think climate crisis is a ‘hoax’

Decades of development progress are at risk as economies are pushed backward by climate change losses, the Covid-19 economic fallout, a growing cost-of-living crisis, and soaring debt and inflation, the UN development chief said at Cop27 in Egypt.

“We essentially document a regression – and regression that is virtually universal across the board,” said Achim Steiner, who leads the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Progress toward the globally agreed Sustainable Development Goals – which include ending poverty and hunger and are due to be achieved by 2030 – is sliding, he said, with some countries finding themselves back where they were in 2016.

The economic pain is making it harder for many governments to find the funding needed to roll out clean energy and tackle climate change – something that would have been easier when interest rates were still low, Mr Steiner said in an interview.


With 54 countries now in debt distress – and getting close to defaulting - “it will be more costly to step in,” he added.

But multiplying global crises, particularly the war in Ukraine, are also creating new incentives to swap fossil fuels for renewable energy, with its possibilities for cheaper power bills once in place and greater energy independence, he said.

It has also become clearer that demands for environmental protection and economic advancement are “no longer forces pulling in opposite directions”, especially as renewables like solar become the cheapest source of energy, Mr Steiner said.

That means there are still strong possibilities to wrest the world off using coal, oil and gas and onto a greener development path, despite the economic headwinds around the globe, he said.

The problem — particularly for poorer, debt-ridden countries — is finding the money to actually install clean energy, which has higher upfront costs but produces decades of cheap power.

Elsewhere, Nancy Pelosi, the US House speaker, has appeared at Cop27, telling an event it is “hard to speak” about the midterm elections in the United States, which could still see Republicans take narrow control of the chamber.

Ms Pelosi said Democrats and Republicans have had “as you would say a disagreement on this issue, they all say it’s a hoax and we’ve got to get past that. This is urgent, this is overdue”.

She added: “We have to save all the children, it’s a moral issue. We can’t have political disagreements over this or let the fossil fuel industry cramp our style. The need is great enough and the urgency is clear enough.” – Agencies