Helen Clark: Remarks to European Parliament

May 9, 2012

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark meets the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, May 9, 2012. (Credit: EP)

Remarks by Helen Clark
Administrator of UNDP

European Parliament, Brussel
May 9, 2012


I am pleased to have the opportunity to address members of the European Parliament for a second time since becoming Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

I would like to begin by wishing all present a happy Europe Day – the day which celebrates the peace and solidarity of modern-day Europe.

The European Union is a major supporter of UNDP’s work in development. Alongside EU Member States which themselves contribute significantly to the core budget of UNDP, the European Commission funds some seven per cent of UNDP activities. We co-operate in over one hundred countries across the world’s regions – helping countries to deepen their democratic governance, to avoid or recover from conflict and natural disasters, and to adapt to climate change. Our partnership is able to leverage from the unique multilateral platform of the UN to address some of the most sensitive issues in development.

My remarks today will focus on the importance of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June and what might come out of it.

I have read the Communication from the European Commission on Rio+20, and find that it is expressing many similar positions to those taken by UNDP in the run-up to the conference. We both see Rio+20 as a significant opportunity to raise awareness of the urgency of addressing the inter-related and complex issues which are inhibiting achieving sustainable development, and to motivate action.

Advancing sustainable development will require lifting capacity for integrated decision making across its strands to new levels. It is not a question of whether to pursue either inclusive growth and equity or environmental sustainability. We have to pursue both as interdependent objectives.

Previous world summits going back to Stockholm in 1972, Rio in 1992, and Johannesburg in 2002 have endeavored to reconcile advances in human progress with maintaining ecosystem integrity. The Earth Summit outcome document, for example, stated that “human beings, at the centre of sustainable development, are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.” Yet developmental and environmental initiatives have largely proceeded on different tracks.

On the environmental track, the international conventions on climate change, biodiversity, and combating desertification are a key legacy of the Earth Summit, along with the Global Environment Facility and Agenda 21.

On the development track, the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 galvanized global partnerships around time bound, specific, and easily communicated targets, with some success. For example:

·       - preliminary 2010 estimates from the World Bank suggest that the world as a whole has already met the MDG target of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty from the 1990 baseline number;

·       - over the last decade, substantial progress has been made on lowering child mortality and increasing access to education. The total number of children out of school fell by one third – from 106 million to 67 million - between 1999 and 2009 and gender disparities in both primary and secondary education were significantly reduced;

·       - the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water has been cut in half, well in advance of the 2015 MDG target date.

The EU has played a critical role in supporting development gains through its strong advocacy for development and through the many billions of Euros it has provided in ODA for development programming. Access to EU markets for labour and for exports of goods and services, and to European investment helps development greatly. As well, the EU provides strong leadership on tackling climate change, both through its efforts to lower its own carbon footprint and through advocacy for a new global climate agreement. This too is critical for developing countries.

There remains much to do, however, in many countries on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, and reaching the basic development indicators represented in the MDGs. Critical drivers of progress like access to energy need concerted attention: 1.3 billion people lack access to any modern energy services, and 2.3 billion still rely on traditional biomass for cooking and heating.

As well, planetary boundaries are under great pressure - the effects of climate change are increasingly felt; the world’s fisheries are under great stress; and a fifth of the world’s coral reefs have been damaged beyond repair. Desertification threatens livelihoods in drylands – home to a third of the world’s people. Nearly forty per cent of the global landmass is already degraded as a result of soil erosion, reduced fertility, and overgrazing.

Now, with the world’s population at the seven billion mark, and expected to grow by another two billion people by 2050, pressures on planetary boundaries will be even greater on existing patterns of production and consumption. By 2030, it is estimated that the world will need at least fifty per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy, and thirty per cent more water.

While these trends impact on all societies, it is always the poorest and most vulnerable who are disproportionately affected. Unless issues of sustainability and equity are addressed simultaneously, the human development gains of recent decades cannot be sustained.

Using information on trends in environmental degradation and on inequality, the 2011 global Human Development Report constructed three scenarios of what our world could look like in 2050. The “base case” scenario assumes limited changes in inequality and environmental threats and risks, and anticipates that the global HDI could be nineteen per cent higher by 2050 than it is today. That would represent a rate of progress in lifting human development similar to that achieved between 1990 and 2010.

Then, an “environmental challenges” scenario was constructed, taking into account, among other things, the impact of global warming on agricultural production, challenges related to water, sanitation and pollution, and growing inequality and its consequences – such as a higher probability of intrastate conflict. Under this scenario, the increase in global HDI was predicted to be eight per cent lower than in the “base case” scenario, and twelve per cent lower in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Under an even more adverse “environmental disaster” scenario, which amplified the magnitude of the impacts modelled, the global HDI would be fifteen per cent below the “base case” scenario in 2050.  The most dramatic impact of that would be on Sub-Saharan Africa which would fall 24 per cent below the “base case” scenario, and on South Asia, which would fall 22 per cent below.

Overall, these worst case scenarios see human development progress slow to a crawl, and actually regress in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. There is, therefore, surely a compelling need for action at all levels to prevent this scenario materializing.

What does this mean for Rio+20?

Rio+20 is an opportunity to recommit to equitable and sustainable human development, and to the expansion of people’s freedoms and choices without compromising those of future generations. Its outcome could take us forward in the following ways:

1.               Showcasing “triple win” policies and promoting global knowledge exchange on what works in sustainable development.

Pursuing economic, social, and environmental objectives together calls for integrated policy- and decision-making capacity at all levels. Integrated approaches look for multiple wins from policies, where living standards improve and the environment is looked after.

By implementing what UNDP describes as “triple win” policies and programming, a number of countries are doing just that and advancing their economic, social, and environmental objectives simultaneously. It is important for Rio+20 to showcase what works and to give strong support to South-South and other partnerships for sharing best practice and experiences.

An example of triple win approaches is India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which benefits approximately 55 million households. Among its primary objectives are conserving natural resources and enhancing environmental services, sustaining food and livestock production, increasing water levels, reducing soil erosion, increasing soil fertility, conserving biodiversity, and sequestering carbon. Almost fifty per cent of the programme’s beneficiaries are women and 43 per cent are from historically disadvantaged groups.

Another example comes from Niger’s southern regions where trees are an important asset for local farmers, serving as windbreaks to protect crops from sandstorms, retain moisture in soils, and draw nutrients to topsoil. The government, in partnership with the development community, has supported locally managed reforestation initiatives which, thus far, have reforested about four per cent of the country’s land area. This area was in turn able to increase its cereal yields by 100 kilograms per hectare in 2009, improving livelihoods and food security for some 2.5 million people.

To make triple win policies common practice and not exceptional practice, the capacity of countries and local communities to plan, implement, and scale-up such approaches must be strengthened. The EU’s emphasis on the importance of capacity building for advancing sustainable development in the context of Rio+20, including in the outcome document, is therefore much welcomed by UNDP.

2.               Funding for sustainable development – where to focus it and where to source it.

The funding needs are great, and will need to be met through a mix of public and private finance. The EU’s contributions are already substantial through ODA, and it will be likely to be a significant source of funding for the new Green Climate Fund.

Some of the ten billion USD per year which developed countries pledged at Copenhagen for low-emissions and climate resilient development from 2010 to 2012 has been delivered. Overall, climate finance is now accessible through more than fifty international public funds, sixty carbon markets and six thousand private equity funds. Navigating through the plethora of diverse funding sources requires significant capacity.

By 2020 developed countries have committed to raising US$100 billion in climate finance annually. That would create an even larger base from which to leverage large scale private investment for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.

UNDP has long supported countries to overcome barriers to attracting investment. We are now applying this experience to help countries build the capacities necessary to access climate finance.

Without strengthened capacities, too many localities and countries will be left out, unable to tap the upfront resources needed to leverage private investment and put sustainable development into practice. While not a “climate conference” per se Rio could give strong support to the need for capacity development to enable countries to access the wide range of resources available for sustainable development.

ODA can be used in smart and catalytic ways to support institution and capacity building, including in ways which will help leverage other financial resources, such as climate finance and other investment flows.

Mobilising and reallocating domestic resources are also important – for example, environmentally harmful subsidies, like those on fossil fuels in many countries, could be phased out. As the EC’s communication on Rio+20 suggests, Rio+20 should launch a co-ordinated set of actions by countries to identify and phase out environmentally harmful subsidies, accompanied by targets and deadlines. In removing the subsidies, however, it is vital that the incomes of the poor are protected – for example through social protection.

3.     Measuring Progress

Rio+20 could give impetus to the development of new ways of measuring progress on sustainable development.

That could take the form of a sustainable development index, perhaps building on the Human Development Index to provide a more holistic measure of human and environmental wellbeing. UNDP will devote its main side event at Rio+20 to this issue of measurement.

4.               Strengthening international governance mechanisms for sustainable development

Rio+20 offers opportunities to strengthen international governance for sustainable development and establish mechanisms to evaluate and review progress. An option could be the creation of a new sustainable development body, possibly within ECOSOC, and replacing the existing Commission on Sustainable Development.

Such a body, or some other appropriate mechanism, could be equipped with a universal periodic review mechanism, through which countries could review each other’s performance on a voluntary basis across the three dimensions of sustainable development. The review would need to be tailored to the specific circumstances and challenges of each particular country. It could also include an assessment of the international support being provided by the UN and the International Financial Institutions to sustainable development.

A voluntary peer review mechanism could also be a way of sharing best practice and lessons learned on how to advance sustainable development.

On-going reform of the UN development system would also offer better support for developing countries to design and implement integrated policies for sustainable development. UN Country Teams need to be well co-ordinated to provide those services.

Both Rio+20 and the UN General Assembly’s Quadrennial Comprehensive Policy Review of the UN’s development operations later this year therefore could be catalysts for stronger co-ordination across the UN development system.

5.               Sustainable Development Goals and the Post 2015 agenda

The Rio+20 outcome document seems likely to call for the establishment of Sustainable Development Goals. That outcome would then influence the shaping of the post-2015 development agenda. But, to succeed, the next set of goals will need to retain the attributes which drove the MDG approach – with targets which are specific, time bound, and easy to communicate. They should link the drive for poverty reduction and equity with that for environmental sustainability.

After Rio+20, there needs to be a global conversation about what the post-2015 development agenda could look like. It should be an open and inclusive conversation, drawing on the perspectives of governments, the private sector, civil society, and citizens around world.  The UN Development Group will support such inclusive national consultation processes in at least fifty countries and a number of global thematic consultations will also be supported.

At the request of the UN Secretary General, UNDP and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs are leading technical experts from across the UN system to take stock of the MDG experience and recommend what might follow from 2015. The Secretary General will also be appointing a High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons to provide advice and perspectives on the post-2015 agenda.


Sustainable development is a global challenge. Tackling the challenge requires global partnerships.

The EU has been a major force for promoting and advancing sustainable development at home and abroad. Its voice on these issues is respected.

We look to the EU to promote strong outcomes at Rio, and to lead the way in showing that “the green economy” can drive inclusive and equitable growth, job creation, and innovation.

Developing countries need support for their efforts to green their economies, through finance, capacity building, and technology transfer. As a very significant provider of ODA and with its edge in green technologies, the EU has a critical role to play.

Allow me to conclude by re-emphasizing that UNDP’s partnership with the EU, and its individual member states, is immensely important, to us and to the developing countries in which we work with your support.

In the follow up from Rio and as the post-2015 agenda is formulated, I hope our partnership will continue to go from strength to strength.

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