Helen Clark: ‘Socio Environmental Protection Floor’ Side Event

Jun 20, 2012

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
‘Socio Environmental Protection Floor’ Side Event
At the Rio +20, UN Conference on Sustainable Development
Wed. 20 June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 5pm

 I am pleased to join you this evening to discuss Brazil’s proposal for a Socio-Environmental Protection Floor.

UNDP strongly supports the approach Brazil is proposing. It closely mirrors that of the “triple win” policies we are advocating, through which progress can be made simultaneously on the economic, social, and environmental strands of sustainable development.

In UNDP’s recent publication on “triple win” policies and in the excellent background paper prepared for this event by Brazil, many examples are given of how a wide range of countries are building environmental components into their poverty reduction and social protection schemes.

Last year the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published the report of an advisory group chaired by Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, which advocated for a social protection floor, and provided important guidance on how such floors can be designed.

Context for advancing social-environmental protection

Brazil has been a leader and innovator in addressing the many dimensions of poverty, acknowledging that it goes beyond a lack of income and demands comprehensive approaches which will break cycles of exclusion, lack of opportunity, poor health, and low income.

It no surprise therefore to find Brazil leading the call for the next generation of social protection systems, to expand people’s opportunities while also contributing towards ecosystem protection.

Brazil’s own flagship social protection initiatives in Brazil sem Miseria, South Africa’s ‘Working for water’ initiative,and India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, among many others,  have all demonstrated that investments in poverty reduction and social protection are critical for building the resilience which is the foundation of sustainable development.

Well-designed schemes like these open up opportunity to the poor, helping to stimulate domestic demand and inclusive economic growth.

In 2011, Brazil begun to extend its scheme through Bolsa Verde, a green grant which provides families living in extreme poverty with a guaranteed income in return for their support for environmental conservation in their locality. The early evidence suggests that this can generate employment, boost incomes, and protect the environment.  

At UNDP, we are committed to working with Brazil and other development partners through South-South and trilateral co-operation to share knowledge of and best practice about socio-environmental protection floors, and to support countries to adapt those experiences to their own unique circumstances.

Cash transfers, in‐kind transfers, and public works programmes, for example, can be adapted to provide environmental as well as social and economic benefits.  That can mean cash transfers for those providing environmental services, such as Bolsa Verde here in Brazil, Colombia’s Forester Family Programme, or South Africa’s Working for water initiative. It can also mean extending credit or grants to create jobs in poor communities — including for restoring or cleaning up environmental assets.

Through on-going support, UNDP and co-ordinated UN Country Teams can help countries develop well integrated and effective policies, across the strands of sustainable development, which will reduce both poverty and environmental degradation

Basic social protection programs are affordable, with the ILO estimating the costs to range between one and two per cent of GDP.  Yet only some twenty per cent of the world’s working age population – mostly in middle- and upper-income countries – have effective access to comprehensive social protection for themselves and their families.

At the Earth Summit in 1992, member states were able to agree that “human beings, at the centre of sustainable development, are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”

Twenty years later, the world needs to hear this message again from Rio.

Having access to education and decent work and the ability to live long and healthy lives is central to human development. But we cannot achieve that when the ecosystems on which we all depend are degraded and are being pushed close to and even beyond planetary boundaries. While that environmental damage affects us all, it is always the poorest and most vulnerable people who are disproportionately affected.

Sustainability and equity need to be addressed together to advance human development. An integrated socio-environmental protection floor can help countries advance both.

I congratulate and thank Brazil for its leadership in this area. At UNDP we look forward to continuing to work with Brazil to support global dialogue on best practices for socio-environmental protection programmes.

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