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UNCTAD Report Highlights $4 Trillion SDG Investment Gap in Developing Countries

Updated: Dec 16, 2023

A recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report underscores a significant financial gap in sustainable development investments for developing countries, totaling an estimated $4 trillion.

 This shortfall, known as the UNCTAD SDG Investment Gap, presents a formidable barrier to achieving a sustainable energy transition and, by extension, the broader the broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set for 2030.

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The Investment Shortfall in Renewable Energy

The UNCTAD report highlights that despite the near-tripling of investment in renewable energy globally following the Paris Agreement, developing nations are not receiving a proportional share.

Over 30 countries have not seen any international investment in utility-scale renewable energy projects since 2015. The direct foreign investment that these nations did attract for clean energy in 2022 amounted to $544 billion, which falls short of the actual requirement.

Funding Gaps Across Key Sectors

In addition to energy, significant investment gaps in developing countries exist within critical infrastructure sectors such as water and transport.

These deficiencies hinder their progress towards the SDGs and exacerbate existing disparities between developed and developing nations.


Deceleration in Renewable Energy Investments

Despite positive shifts among top multinationals toward renewable energy sources and the divestment of fossil fuel assets, the pace of renewable energy investments slowed in 2022. This deceleration is attributed to a decrease in international project finance deals.

Declining Trends in Foreign Direct Investment

Compounding the issue is the overall decline in foreign direct investment (FDI), which fell by 22% globally in 2022 to $1.3 trillion.

In the Least Developed Countries, primarily located in Africa, the decline in FDI was even steeper at 16%.

Contributing Factors to the Slowdown

UNCTAD identifies multiple overlapping crises contributing to the slowdown in investment, including the conflict in Ukraine, soaring food and energy prices, and mounting debt pressures.

These ongoing challenges are expected to continue exerting downward pressure on global FDI through 2023.

UNCTAD's Call to Action

To combat these challenges, UNCTAD advocates for a comprehensive set of policies and financial mechanisms to enable developing countries to attract the necessary investments.

The agency underscores the critical role of debt relief in providing these economies the fiscal space required for clean energy investments and lowering country risk ratings to attract private investments.

Furthermore, UNCTAD suggests partnerships between international investors, the public sector, and multilateral financial institutions to reduce capital costs for clean energy projects by up to 40%.

A Global Imperative

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan emphasizes the pivotal role of investment in achieving the SDGs, describing them as "the only game in town" that demands collective action and global solidarity.

She insists that these goals are too significant to fail and that investment is a "huge part" of the journey towards their realization.

The report serves as a call to the global community to address the urgent need for increased support to developing countries, highlighting the importance of investment in securing a green future and achieving the SDGs by the targeted 2030 deadline.


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