Rebeca Grynspan: Lecture at the Global Leadership Studies Programme

Jul 10, 2012

Lecture at the Global Leadership Studies Programme by
Rebeca Grynspan
United Nations Under-Secretary-General and
Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme
The Future We Want:
A New Development Framework centered on equity and sustainability
10 July 2012, University of Tokyo


It is an honour and a great pleasure to deliver this lecture here, at the University of Tokyo, as part of the Global Leadership Studies Programme, and I thank Professor Fumiaki Kubo for his kind introduction.  

The topic of my lecture today, The Future We Want: A New Development Framework Centred on Equity and Sustainability, draws on recent global discussions at the United Nations and others, on ensuring that the development trajectory we are pursuing, as an international community, is sustainable and equitable. 

Indeed, the first part of the title “The Future We Want”, is borrowed from the title of the outcome document adopted in Rio de Janeiro, just two weeks ago, at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20.  

Allow me then to explain the second part of the title of my lecture and take time to   define the terms:  development; equity; and sustainability.  This is important since many times we use the same terms with different meanings and implications!

  • Development

First, let me then start by saying that UNDP argues that development is about far more than what is captured in the GDP and therefore by income and growth, and that development must lead to tangible and positive changes in people’s lives.  Inspired by the work of Amartya Sen and others, since 1990 when we launched the first Human Development Report, UNDP has defined human development as the process of allowing people to choose lives they value. Development, we propose, is about enlarging people’s choices and capabilities, including through an expansion of democratic participation and economic and social development, enabling people to live long and healthy lives, to be educated, and to have a decent standard of living.  And we argue that people must be at the centre of development efforts – not markets.

And yet, still today, many countries and leaders are judged more by the rates of growth of their economies rather than by their ability to reduce chronic hunger, educate young people, foster social cohesion, increase opportunities for women or generate employment. This must change. And will only change if we adopt metrics of progress which match our priorities.  I will return to this at the end of my lecture, and discuss briefly how UNDP is spearheading an initiative on ‘measurement beyond GDP’ using our human development index (HDI) as a starting point to incorporate the things we value.

  •  Equity

Second, for UNDP equity is intrinsic to the concept of Human Development.   It is about ensuring that no one is denied the ability or opportunity to live lives they value because of their gender, their ethnicity, their age, because of disability, or any other factor, including the generation in which they happen to be born or the continent in which they find themselves. It is about the process and the results. So it is not only about equality of opportunities or and equitable process, but also about whether our policies lead to equitable outcomes for different groups – to greater equality. For example, a new measure was introduced in 2010 to capture the degree of differences in the distribution of achievements between women and men. The Gender Inequality Index looks specifically at women’s reproductive health status, their empowerment, and labour market participation relative to men’s and helps rank countries not only by their human development progress ‘on average’ but looking at gender disparities.

 Promoting greater equity as I said before is part of the Human Development paradigm and therefore also a value proposition, but at the same time, evidence suggests that promoting greater equity, leads to better development outcomes for people and communities and even for growth! Indeed, the upcoming Human Development Report 2012 will present evidence showing that human development achievements are on average lower for countries with higher inequality.  Former research also suggests important implications for growth and stability.

For example, a recent UNDP report includes a chapter on "Income Inequality and the Conditions of Chronic Poverty" which asserts that: "High and rising inequality also reduces the likelihood that economic and social policies fostering inclusive growth and human development will be delivered and implemented. For instance richer groups may secure economically inefficient advantages such as regressive taxes or an allocation of public funds for their own interest rather than for that of the country." 

In addition, a range of leading thinkers, from Nobel Laureate and economist Joseph Stiglitz to sociologists and political scientists such as Robert Putnam, postulate that more unequal societies, where levels of trust and social cohesion are low, are less likely to invest in public goods and infrastructure that will reduce inequalities – such as conserving the environment, public health, or improving education systems. Such investments are critical for the well-being of current but also future generations – showing how inter-generational and intra-generational equity are interrelated objectives, and should not be viewed as competing goals. 

  • Sustainability

Thirdly, the term sustainability entered the development discourse in 1987, when the Brundtland Commission, named after its Chair, Gro Harlem Brundtland, three times Prime Minister of Norway, defined sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

At the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, world leaders agreed that “human beings, at the centre of sustainable development, are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.”   For UNDP, sustainability is about advancing human progress in an equitable manner and within the boundaries of nature, building resilience to climatic and other disasters and shocks. 

Fundamentally, we believe that sustainable development is about interconnecting the economic, social and environmental objectives which can be and are best pursued together, we need to go away from trading off economic, social, and environmental objectives  against each other.  As the UNDP Administrator said quoting the results from different scenarios built in the HDR launched by UNDP in 2011, entitled “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All”:

“In the worst case scenario (presented in last year’s global Human Development Report), the toxic combination of rising inequality exacerbated by growing damage to ecosystems would slow human development progress to a crawl, and even see it regress in vulnerable countries. That would dash the hopes and aspirations of many people …who have so much to gain from rising living standards and more opportunities. It is also a recipe for a fractious and troubled world.”

This is what Rio+20 was about, this is the new framework we all need to build and put in practice for a better future, so let me now move to comment on  three interconnected processes that are ongoing today, at the global level, which are relevant to our discussion today and that intend to address the challenges outline above:

  • Accelerating progress to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the 2015 target date.  These eight goals - on poverty alleviation, women’s empowerment, health, education, among others – helped galvanize and focus development efforts on what really matters: people.  
  • Implementing the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio +20, which took place a few weeks ago.  This conference signaled a shift in the development discourse focusing on sustainable human development and the integration of the economic, social, and environmental pillars. It set the foundations for new Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Deciding on a post-2015 development agenda, which must be shaped by the first and second processes and built from an understanding of the successes and lessons learned from implementing the MDGs, while reflecting today’s new political, economic, and social realities.  This decision must be based on broad-based consultations with a range of stakeholders and Japan has already taken a leadership role in this.  Japan established an informal “post-MDG Contact Group” aiming at producing solid recommendations to formal international discussion.  To date, three successful meetings have been held in NY, Mexico and Tokyo since November 2011.

My lecture will focus on these three interconnected processes, and on how the UN, with Japan and other partners involved, are moving these forward. I will  first make an assessment of the MDGs achievements and lessons learnt,  then proceed to discuss the outcome of Rio+20 and finally, I will briefly touch on UNDP’s work, and the efforts to build  a new measure of development progress based on our Human Development index, which takes into account the principles of equity and sustainability.  

First, an assessment

People across the globe are healthier, wealthier, and better educated than ever before.

So first we must recognize and celebrate the good news and progress that has been made to date on the MDGs.  I highlight a few:

  • The global targets on halving extreme poverty and expanding access to improved water sources have been met.
  • The numbers of children who die annually before their fifth birthday declined from 12.4 million in 1990 to 8.1 million in 2009.  This means nearly 12,000 fewer children die each day.
  • There has been significant progress in combating malaria and tuberculosis, and the numbers of people receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS increased 13-fold from 2004 to 2009.  
  • Some of the poorest countries have made the greatest strides in education.  For example, Burundi, Rwanda, Samoa, Sao Tome and Principe, Togo, and Tanzania have achieved or are nearing the goal of universal primary education. And across the globe we are close to reaching gender parity in primary education.

But we are still a long way from achieving some very important goals and targets, including empowering women and girls and reducing maternal mortality. In 2010, an estimated 287,000 women died during childbirth, with 85 per cent of these deaths occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.  And although across the developing world the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births (called the maternal mortality ratio) decreased from 440 in 1990 to 240 in 2010, on average the maternal mortality ratio is still 15 times higher in developing regions as compared to developed regions. 

And looking at specific countries, the disparities are even more dramatic. 
For example, in 2008 in Japan, there were 6.8 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births whereas in Malawi there were 1,140 maternal deaths and in Afghanistan, the worse ranking country that year, 1,575 deaths per 100,000 live births. The goals referring to sanitation and environment are also an example where more progress is needed.

And many still live in extreme poverty, even where economies are rapidly growing.  Indeed, according to the latest global poverty statistics for 2008 we have, 1.28 billion people still lived on less than $1.25 a day.  With an additional 1.18 billion people living on less than $2 per day, too many people remain vulnerable to poverty.

It is important to also highlight that progress has been uneven across regions and within countries, and although we can see a reduction in poverty in all regions the main achievements have been experienced in East Asia, where extreme poverty fell from 77 per cent in 1981 to 14 per cent in 2008, with China accounting for the largest proportion of this decline.  Similarly, progress was made in South Asia where poverty fell from 54 per cent in 1990 to 36 per cent in 2008, however the largest number of poor, 571 million, still live in this region. In Sub Saharan Africa population growth exceeded the rate of poverty reduction during this period leading to an increase in the absolute number of people living in poverty – from 290 million in 1990 to 356 million in 2008. 

Progress towards other MDGs has also been uneven both between regions, and within regions and countries and civil society has highlighted that issues around equity, and an explicit examination of the distribution of progress, must guide future development efforts. I agree.

The credibility of any future goals depends on how well we meet the current ones and thus critical to emphasize that accelerating progress towards achieving the MDGs by our target date must remain a top priority.  A message I hope Japan and others will take forward is that it is critical that the international community does not lose its focus and momentum on achieving the MDGs by the 2015 deadline, while seizing the opportunity to design a well-crafted framework for the future.

And accelerating progress at a time when the world is still experiencing the consequences of multiple crises of recent years - economic, social, environmental, and political – is a challenging task.

After an uneven economic recovery from the global economic and financial crisis of 2008, the global economy now faces intensified downside risks and uncertainty. The world economy has entered a new period of turmoil as global output growth decelerated significantly over 2011, and people across the globe are worried about the prospects for themselves and their families. 

In its Global Employment Trends 2012 report, the ILO alerts that the world faces a serious jobs challenge and widespread decent works deficits. The ILO warns that the world must rise to the challenge of creating 600 million productive jobs over the next decade to generate sustainable growth and maintain social cohesion. And this is just one area of concern.

As we have seen from uprisings across the Arab world which led to the fall of a number of regimes, and continue to this day, political, economic, and social concerns are interconnected.  People have taken to the streets of towns, and cities to demand reform. They have called for fairness, justice, and dignity, for the right to have input into the decisions which impact on their lives, and for their human rights to be upheld. They want the opportunity to work, to be educated, to have decent services, and are risking their lives to shape a better future for themselves, and their families. No doubt, political and economic exclusion,  were at the heart of this movements.

But as Japan knows all too well, a better future requires not only that we live at harmony with one another- we must also live in harmony with nature.   Natural hazards - from floods, to earthquakes, to droughts - have led to a number of large-scale disasters in recent years. The Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami is a case in point.  Famine in the Horn of Africa, is another.  

A recently released UNDP report Towards Human Resilience: Sustaining MDG Progress in an Age of Economic Uncertainty concluded thatincreasing numbers of natural disasters, volatile commodity markets, footloose foreign capital, and unpredictable sources of development finance were making it more difficult to pursue integrated and farsighted policies for sustainable development.

Growing uncertainty and exposure to risk can overwhelm already poor households, forcing them to adopt coping mechanisms with adverse long-term effects, such as withdrawing children from school, cutting back on health care, or foregoing potentially beneficial opportunities. This can mean the unraveling of human development gains which have taken years to achieve.

Indeed, these challenges which threaten to stall, or even reverse, progress remind us that development is a process, not an endpoint.  Efforts must be sustained and communities must be supported to build resilience to the shocks they are exposed to.  This is at the heart of the new development framework and why UNDP’s tag line is “Empowered lives. Resilient nations.” 

One fear I have is that in this climate of uncertainty, citizens and governments will turn inwards in an effort to try to shield themselves from the ‘contagion’ effect of such social, economic, and environmental crises.  But this would be a mistake.  Our world is truly interconnected: the challenges we face, from climate change, to infectious disease, to violence and famine, respect no national borders, and the future we want must be one based on a communal vision. A future for everyone, everywhere.

If we reject our common humanity, and fall into the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’ where none of us take responsibility for preserving our global public goods, we will collectively fail not only ourselves, but also our children.  

Japan, is a notable example of a country which has experienced much hardship, but has shown solidarity to others in need, and in a spirit of true partnership is contributing to building resilience and sustainable development.

Despite the massive demands for reconstruction following the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the Japanese people have repeatedly demonstrated that even at times of great internal crisis, they will not turn their back on the needs of those less fortunate across the globe. 

Just weeks ago at Rio+20, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba demonstrated Japan’s commitment, once again, by outlining three specific initiatives toward creating a “Green Future” for our planet, namely:

  • the “Future City” initiative, to help create sustainable cities;
  • a support facility to help countries transition to a green economy, including the “Green Cooperation Volunteers”, pledging $3 billion to developing countries over the next three years for cooperation on renewable energy and committing to link 10,000 experts on environmental technology and policy; and
  • an additional $3 billion over the next three years in support to developing countries in the field of disaster risk reduction.  

This is truly commendable.  And I would like to recognize everyone in this room - students, current and future leaders of Japan - for calling on your government to continue to offer support, through bilateral, as well as South-South and Triangular co-operation, for the achievement of development objectives. 

Japan was joined by many others at Rio who also made important commitments – financial and otherwise.  Allow me to briefly talk about the significance of Rio for moving the sustainable development agenda forward, highlighting some of the key outcomes and areas that we must build on.   

Rio+20 – A shift in discourse

Forty thousand people gathered in Rio de Janeiro for Rio + 20 – including some 100 Heads of State and government, representatives of non-governmental organizations, the private sector and civil society.

This was the largest UN gathering ever, reflecting the importance and scope of the global challenges we share. In the 20 years since the first Rio Summit in 1992, many have come to understand the threat that social inequities, economic volatility, and environmental degradation pose to the prosperity of their communities, cities, and countries.

Leaders agreed that sustainable development is not some far flung idea – but rather an opportunity to coherently advance social justice, economic opportunity, and environmental sustainability – improving the lives of people as well as the eco-systems they depend on.

Of course, it is also important to acknowledge the disappointment voiced by many civil society groups and international NGOs, who have suggested that the outcome document adopted in Rio did not go far enough.

But we see the glass more than half full.  We must view the outcome of Rio + 20 as a foundation on which to build the concerted action needed – not an end point. It has renewed essential commitments, affirmed fundamental principles, and reflects broad agreement among 193 UN member states that sustainable development is the only viable path forward.

Some of the highlights, which can steer us on a better development path for the future include:

  • Member states agreed to establish Sustainable Development Goals that should be coherent with and integrated into the UN development agenda beyond 2015.  They also agreed that these should be universal goals, no longer a “developing countries only” agenda. The UN will be working closely with Member States to help develop the SDGs and post-2015 development agenda in a coherent way, ensuring an inclusive and consultative process and providing tools needed to measure their success.
  • Rio formalized the establishment of the Sustainable Energy for All initiative, a unique global partnership including all relevant stakeholders, from academia to industry, with 50 countries expressing their desire to participate.  The Secretary General also launched a new initiative – the Zero Hunger Challenge – to address food security and malnutrition.
  • Rio created a dynamic space for new partnerships and new engagement for stakeholders of all kinds to contribute to development dialogues and outcomes.  For the first time in history, citizens all over the world had the opportunity to weigh in on the actions they would like to see world leaders agree to, through the Rio Dialogues. We believe this has set a unique precedent for how to engage civil society, academia and the public at large going forward and enhance the inclusion and transparency of UN conferences and summits.  At the same time, with 700 concrete commitments registered at the Conference from governments, business, industry, financial institutions and civil society, amounting to $513 billion in funding, Rio saw an unprecedented level of commitment.
  • The Brazilian Government and UNDP launched the creation of Rio+ Centre, the World Centre for Sustainable Development, which will facilitate research and the exchange of knowledge and best practices, bringing together a broad range of partners, including governments, international organizations, civil society, think-tanks and academia, and the private sector. 

For Rio+20 to matter, implementation must now be paramount. Our efforts at UNDP are therefore increasingly aimed at:

    • Uniting fragmented local, national, & international development actors behind nationally owned development objectives, including through MDG acceleration plans which focus disparate efforts on advancing progress toward lagging MDGs.
    • Facilitating the exchange of know-how & partnerships including through south- south and triangular cooperation and the newly established Rio+ Centre. Increasing numbers of diverse development actors need ways to learn from each other’s experience.
    • Enabling governments to innovate and identify what works. Governments, on their own, may not use public funds to undertake the pilots and studies and evaluations needed to identify what works. Development assistance can enable them to do this.
    • Helping countries attract private sector financing to scale up what works, including to expand access to sustainable energy through the Secretary-General’s bold initiative, to expand access to all by 2013.  We are supporting a number of countries to develop low-emissions development plans – to achieve national development goals while lowering current or future carbon emissions. Importantly we also support them to fund these plans by accessing complex and dispersed sources of climate finance.
    • Supporting countries to plan for disasters and avoid the worst impacts of economic shocks, including by establishing affordable social protection systems and investing in areas where the poor live & work in ways which boost incomes, generate employment and stimulate domestic demand.  The UNDP Administrator was in Japan just last week, at The World Ministerial Conference on Disaster Reduction in Sendai City, to highlight the importance of building resilience and the capacities of people and communities to withstand shocks.  She recognized the leadership and generosity of the Japanese government, which as I mentioned earlier pledged $3 billion for disaster reduction to developing countries over the next three years.   

Beyond GDP: measuring progress that matters

Finally, UNDP is working to help establish an alternate measure of development progress, to help us measure what really matters and provide an evidence base for policy-making.  

Economic growth is a very important part of human development, but it is only a part.  It is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  And yet, as I said before,for most of the 20th Century, economic growth – measured through things like GDP per capita – was the dominant measure of progress used by most societies. 

But there is growing recognition – including by the very people who developed GDP – that measures of economic growth are inadequate.  Indeed, the Rio outcome calls for “broader measures of progress to complement GDP in order to better inform policy decisions” and requested the UN to launch a “consultative programme of work building on existing initiatives”.

The Human Development Index, presented in the first UNDP Human Development Report is a tool we use to measure and monitor trends in human progress. This simple index – a composite of income, longevity, and education - has helped communicate a complex story of expanding people’s capabilities and freedoms across time and between nations, through a clear and simple number.

UNDP believes that the Human Development Index could also be a starting point for designing a more comprehensive measure of sustainable development.  Recent Human Development Reports have successfully added new indices in an endeavour to capture nuances of human development better and reflect income, health, education, and gender-based inequities. We also presented another way to measure  poverty not only by income but by reflecting its multi dimensionality.  

At Rio, UNDP presented the work that has begun to explore options for an adjusted HDI which could capture more dimensions of sustainable development.  Different options are being explored and we are reaching out to experts to create an index of sustainable human development. This is not an easy task, fraught with technical and political challenges – but we believe it is a necessary one.

Some of the basic building blocks needed to come up with a suitable measure include decisions on how to:

  • adequately connect current choices with the choices of the next generation, to ensure that the right to current development is achieved without reducing the choices available to future generations;
  • measure the use of environmental resources taking into account planetary thresholds;
  • link local and global resource use, taking into account the challenges at different levels. For example, a country may have plenty of water resources, enabling the country to live within its local limits, but those limits may exceed global ones and therefore be unsustainable.


There is a growing global consensus that our patterns of production and consumption are pushing the planet past its natural boundaries – in terms of climate, biodiversity, oceans and more. But sustainable development is also  about creating jobs, reducing inequality, expanding peoples voice and eliminating poverty.  

Going forward, the new development framework will require us to weave together the three strands of development - economic, social and environmental- and place equity and sustainability at the center, in order to create the “future we want”, the future that every person wants.

We hope then that the citizens of the world and not only Governments and multilateral institutions take action.  That means YOU… the need to get involved and participate in the global citizenship that has emerged in the 21st century.  In my meetings with youth around the world they tell me they are tired of being told that they are the future….that they want to also be THE PRESENT.  I agree.  But that is not only a right, it is also a responsibility.  So let me put some of my hopes for a better future also in YOUR hands!!!!

Thank you.

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