Helen Clark Remarks: United Nations Foundation

Dec 14, 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on the occasion of the United Nations Foundation Dinner on “Energy, Climate, and the Millennium Development Goals”

Monday, 14 December 2009, Copenhagen


Thank you for inviting me to address you this evening on a topic which gets to the heart of the mandate of UNDP: the Millennium Development Goals and climate change.

I wish to acknowledge Senator Tim Wirth and the UN Foundation for their longstanding and strong support for the United Nations, and for UNDP.

The UN Foundation has helped us a great deal to develop initiatives in the areas of environment, biodiversity, and energy, to the considerable benefit of developing countries.

The 21st century to date has been characterized by multiple crises impacting adversely on development. In just the past two years alone, there have been food and fuel crises, the global recession, and major climatic events and other natural disasters. This year an influenza pandemic was declared.

Yet out of crisis can also come opportunity, and the chance to think anew and to innovate. The Copenhagen climate summit itself offers such an opportunity - to put in place agreements which can simultaneously address climate change, drive sustainable growth, and advance progress towards the MDGs.

In 2000, I was one of the heads of government who signed the Millennium Declaration.  It enshrined the eight Millennium Development Goals as the international community’s collective commitment to create a better tomorrow for billions of people. It prioritized efforts to reduce poverty and hunger, empower women, increase access to essential services like education, healthcare, clean water and sanitation, and forge strong global partnerships for development.

There has been significant progress on a number of the MDGs. For example, the global target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015 seems likely to be met. The world is getting closer to meeting the universal primary education target and the goal for the reduction of infant deaths, although still too slowly to meet the 2015 deadline.

As many as one billion people worldwide, however, are expected to remain in extreme poverty in 2015. And far too little progress has been made on MDG5, seeking to improve maternal health.
Now, the onset of the global recession, and the many pressures exerted on developing countries from high food and fuel prices, have added extra challenges, and the concern that progress on some MDGs will be reversed.

Climate change itself is a serious development challenge. While it affects all of us, it does hit the poorest and most vulnerable first and hardest, whether they be in the drylands of Africa, the great river deltas of Asia, or in the world’s small atoll nations.

It is estimated that a person in a developing country is currently 79 times as likely to be affected by a climate disaster as a person in a developed country. In many parts of the world, families and communities have their crops wiped out by prolonged drought, and/or their homes destroyed by floods and storms. Public and private infrastructure is devastated by typhoons and landslides.

The risks of social and political instability will increase in coming decades if climate change causes large population transfers and growing tensions over the allocation of essential natural resources like water.

Climate change has been given too little consideration in development thinking in the past. The issues it raises scarcely feature in the MDGs.  Yet our world will not sustainably reduce poverty and reach the MDGs and other development goals if we destroy the ecosystem on which life on this planet depends.

It is critical that climate change considerations are brought into the very centre of development thinking and strategies, with attention also being paid to the particular needs of vulnerable groups, including women and indigenous peoples.
There is no choice to be made between focusing on poverty reduction and growth on the one hand, and on climate and environment on the other.  We must tackle both together.  We have only one planet Earth.

So when a climate deal is finally sealed, it will need to be a good deal for development.

It should aim at multiple wins, leading to reductions in emissions, and to the development of less carbon-intensive production and consumption.  It should support the world's developing countries adopt low-carbon pathways to growth and energy access, and to  adapt to those climate change effects that are already inevitable. It should lead to reduced emissions from deforestation. 

For developing countries, the level of funding flowing from a climate deal is critical.

Greener alternatives to ‘business as usual´ development require significant new resources and technology transfer. Their full cost cannot be met by developing countries alone. The other option is the heavier carbon footprint route to development we are familiar with, which is so harmful to our climate.

The poorest and most vulnerable countries which have done the least - if anything at all – to contribute to climate change, also need considerable support, above and beyond existing ODA, to meet the adaptation costs they face.  Without such support, the chance of achieving the MDGs for many seriously diminishes.

Overall we must aim to foster green and inclusive growth which helps nations to reduce poverty, achieve the MDGs, and protect our climate and ecosystems.  These goals are mutually supportive. Our 21st century development paradigm needs to reflect this.

As the UN’s largest development agency with a specific mandate on the environment, energy, and sustainable development, UNDP has a vital role to play in driving this agenda forward at the country level and through global advocacy.  We will continue to assert strongly that climate change is a development issue and must be addressed as part of overall development strategies.

At the country level, we work to support the integration of adaptation strategies into national development planning – so that these are treated as central concerns, not “add-ons”.

Our country teams have also found that working at the local community level can have a powerful demonstration effect at the national level, provided that it is capable of scaling up.

 So we are supporting community-based adaptation initiatives which strengthen local capacity and provide a framework for delivering financial support to local actors. 

For example, the UNDP-implemented Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme has already delivered grants of more than $500 million since its inception in 1992. It supports more than 11,000 community-led initiatives in 120 countries, in co-operation with NGOs and communities, including of indigenous peoples.

Building on those experiences, UNDP is preparing to launch a Global Partnership for Community-Based Adaptation. This programme will bring together governments, civil society, and the private sector, including corporations and philanthropic foundations, to improve the adaptive capacities of poor communities.  UNDP is extremely grateful to the UN Foundation for providing seed funding to develop this proposal.  We look forward to further collaboration with it and other partners on this initiative. 

UNDP’s work to help developing countries increase access to affordable and modern energy services is another example of how we are addressing climate change and the MDGs simultaneously. 

According to a recent joint UNDP and WHO report, three billion people in developing countries still rely on traditional biomass and coal for cooking and heating.  Two million deaths per year are associated with the indoor burning of these fuels in unventilated kitchens. Almost 2 billion people need access to modern energy services.

In addition to expanding access to energy for the poor, our interventions include helping developing countries to use greener energy sources and cleaner technologies.

Avoiding deforestation is vital in the global mitigation effort.  As well, helping to conserve the forest ecosystems on which local communities depend will also bolster efforts to achieve the MDGs.

In partnership with FAO and UNEP, and in close collaboration with the World Bank, UNDP is providing support to developing countries to participate in any Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism which we hope will emerge in the new climate agreement.

With generous support from the Governments of Norway, Denmark, and Spain, we are helping forested developing countries prepare national REDD strategies, put in place monitoring, reporting, and verification systems, and support the full participation of indigenous peoples and other communities who depend directly on forests for their livelihoods.  A new REDD mechanism would provide compensation for forest protection.
There is also urgent work to do in supporting developing countries to access carbon finance now and in the future.
The carbon markets clearly have a role to play in addressing climate change, and are likely to be a significant source of financing for green development in future.

With important seed funding from the UN Foundation, and subsequent support from the Government of Norway and others, UNDP developed an MDG Carbon Facility. Through this we are working with private sector actors to help developing countries and specific communities access and benefit from carbon finance.

One recent project involves the installation of solar-powered water treatment facilities in Rwandan schools, demonstrating the capacity for carbon finance to pay for a basic social service like clean water. Initiatives like this can easily be replicated and scaled up.

These are just some of many activities we need to be promoting to tackle climate change, achieve sustainable development, and meet the MDGs.

With steadfast political commitment, sufficient resources, and strong partnerships with all stakeholders in development, I believe it is possible to make big gains for development.

But it is critical that the new climate agreement is fair, ambitious and comprehensive.  It must result in serious reductions in emissions in the industrialized world, and significant support to developing countries for adaptation, forest conservation, and low carbon development routes.

These are the challenges before us in Copenhagen and beyond.


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