Helen Clark: A Catalyst for change - Increasing impact through combining environmental and poverty reduction policies

Jun 21, 2012

Remarks for Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
A Catalyst for Change:  Increasing impact through combining
environmental and poverty reduction policies
UNDP-UNEP Side Event
21 June 2012 1:00 – 2:30p.m.

It is a pleasure to be here with you today, and I thank the representatives of Rwanda, Uruguay, and Bhutan, for their insightful interventions.

UNDP is pleased to be co-organizing this important side event with UNEP. We see it as a significant contribution to discussions on the need for integrating poverty reduction and environmental policies within the context of promoting sustainable development. 

As we have heard, the Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) is helping programme countries advance their sustainable development by transforming institutions and the way we think about and tackle interlinked challenges.

In my short remarks today I will first touch on why UNDP is committed to the continued success of PEI, and then, as this event is about sharing success stories and lessons learned, present some of the achievements of the initiative to inspire greater action. 

Since the Earth Summit in Rio twenty years ago, it has become increasingly clear that the burden of environmental degradation and climate change falls disproportionately on the poor.  This is because the poor are both more reliant on natural resources for their daily livelihoods and survival, and because they have the fewest resources available to adapt to these challenges.

Leaders here at Rio are outlining a vision for development which sees reducing poverty, advancing equity, and ensuring environmental sustainability as mutually-reinforcing.  Beyond Rio+20, we must ensure that this vision is operationalized and that countries are supported to implement what UNDP has labelled “triple-win” policies and programmes which simultaneously take forward economic, social, and environmental objectives.

The PEI is a catalytic programme which helps put in place enabling conditions - policies, instruments, and capacities – for sustainable and inclusive development.  It can play an important part in helping countries implement what will be advanced here at Rio.

Working with different levels of government – from national to local - and with private sector and civil society institutions, PEI pursues integrated approaches to equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development. This entails working in a concerted and co-ordinated way across sectors, and with equal emphasis on the economic, social, and environmental pillars.  

The Initiative offers practical tools and incentives to help mainstream pro-poor environment interventions into national planning and policy processes. This includes establishing consultative dialogues through multi-stakeholder forums, using cost-benefit analyses to make the economic case for change, and helping develop national capacities.

What is unique about PEI is that it is firmly committed to supporting nationally-led efforts, and operates only through existing government processes. PEI programmes are aligned with and, in most cases, integrated into broader development efforts, including national efforts to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

UNDP is committed to this initiative because we see how it has contributed to successful outcomes in the eighteen countries where there are now fully-fledged programmes. Many more countries have requested support, which demonstrates the Initiative’s appeal.  

Some examples of success:

  • During my recent visit to Uruguay I saw first hand how, with the support of PEI, changes to waste management, including through the so-called Packaging Law, have contributed to wide ranging benefits. In addition to improving the efficiency of waste management systems and recovering more solid waste, jobs, which formerly were in the informal sector, have been formalized. Child labour has been banned and salaries have increased. The processing of the waste is safer and cleaner.
  • In Malawi, the PEI and national partners supported an economic assessment of the cost of environmental degradation, with the aim of changing perceptions and motivating the design and implementation of new policies by making the economic case for them.  The assessment valued the annual loss of natural resources at 5.3 per cent of GDP (191millUSD/pa). That provided government policy makers with the impetus needed to start a process of fiscal reform for sustainable natural resources management.

The PEI has also been instrumental in acting as a catalyst for linking different stakeholders and partners around key policy objectives:

  • In Lao PDR, for example, PEI has helped establish a partnership and policy platform to promote sustainable foreign direct investments.  A key output has been the draft National Strategy for Private Investment Promotion and Management 2020, which aims to increase transparency in decision making and put in place incentives for FDI which will contribute to the country’s sustainable development overall.
  • In Botswana the PEI is linked to a World Bank initiative which focuses on developing improved macro-economic indicators for important natural resources, including on accounting for energy and water. Working with the National Statistics Office, the aim is to ensure that national development planning and budgeting is conducted on the basis of robust economic analysis about the status of natural resources. The initiative has demonstrated that enhancing governance capacity and providing technical tools can be important drivers of institutional change.


The PEI is an excellent example of how the comparative strengths of UNDP and UNEP can be successfully leveraged to get results on the ground. By combining UNDP’s operational expertise and experience and wide in-country presence, with UNEP’s normative role and wealth of knowledge on environmental management and sustainability, the two agencies complement each other to the benefit of the countries we serve.

The strength of the PEI approach also resonates with UNDP’s Country Offices, as shown by the fact that UNDP is increasingly putting more of our core resources behind such efforts.  Our global partners, national governments, and in-country bi-lateral donors are also increasing their support.  This represents a significant commitment to making sustainable development happen.

In closing, let me reiterate that UNDP is fully committed to this joint initiative with UNEP, and we look forward to strengthening our collaboration with all partners to expand our work for the period 2013-2017. 

Today’s event has showcased numerous country achievements where integrated solutions bring about multiple wins across the three strands of sustainable development.  Let Rio+20 provide the impetus to learn from these successes, and expand our reach.  

UNDP Around the world