Helen Clark: Speech at Cawthron Institute on “Bending Without Breaking: Building Resilience for Sustainable Development’

Aug 21, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Cawthron Institute 2013 Visiting Lecture

“Bending Without Breaking:Building Resilience for Sustainable Development’

Nelson, New Zealand
8 pm
Wednesday 21 August 2013


I thank the Cawthron Institute for inviting me to give the 2013 Visiting Lecture.

Since its founding nearly a century ago, the Cawthron Institute has become a leader in the field of sustainable management of natural resources. The work done here on aquaculture and coastal and freshwater ecosystems is of considerable significance for sustainable development.

At the United Nations Development Programme, we work across the economic, social, and environmental strands of sustainable development. We are very focused on how to help countries build resilience to the shocks which can throw development into reverse. A natural disaster not anticipated and mitigated, for example, can wipe out years of progress for families, communities, and nations. One needs to think no further than the devastating impact of a series of hurricanes and of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, or of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami around the Indian Ocean rim. Even where resilience is high, as in New Zealand, natural disasters can still exact a devastating toll on human life and local economies and societies.

But shocks and setbacks don’t only result from natural disasters: they may also come from economic, social, or political crises and civil strife, or from conflict across state boundaries, Building resilience to shocks in general is critical for sustained and sustainable development. In my address this evening, I will:

•    outline the principles guiding UNDP’s approach and how they translate into practice;

•    advocate for priority to be given to addressing resilience-building and tackling vulnerabilities in the post-2015 global development agenda which is currently under consideration.

But first, some working definitions of sustainable development and resilience …

The UN began making the link between economic and social development and environmental protection in 1972 when its World Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm. The conference outcome presented development as a cure for and not the cause of environmental problems, and it connected the problems of poverty with environmental degradation.

In 1987 the Brundtland Commission, named after its Chair, Gro Harlem Brundtland, three times Prime Minister of Norway, went a step further, defining sustainable development as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. This is the definition of sustainable development which remains the most commonly used to date.

The concept of resilience originates from the scientific community, particularly from the study of ecology, with the definition provided by ecologist Crawford Stanley Holling in 1973 often cited. Holling defined resilience as “a measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables”.

Resilience also has a foundation in the discipline of psychology and in understanding how individuals cope with stress and adversity. Coping could take the form of people “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or the experience of exposure to adversity could produce a “steeling effect” leading to better functioning than might otherwise be expected.

As economic, social and environmental systems are constantly interacting, it makes sense to consider resilience for sustainable development in an integrated way. The hybrid concept of “social-ecological resilience”, popularized particularly by Brian Walker and David Salt , considers the interactions of humans and ecosystems in “socio-ecological systems”. This field of study focuses on the resilience, adaptability , and transformability  of such systems.

The social-ecological resilience approach has been used to explore how communities such as mountain herders, lowland farmers, or coastal fishing communities are adapting to changes in weather patterns by identifying future risks, modifying their practices, and/or seeking alternative livelihoods.

At UNDP we have viewed building resilience as a transformative process with the potential to strengthen the capacity of people and their communities, countries, and  institutions to anticipate, prevent, recover from, and transform in the aftermath of shocks, stresses, and change.

In the broader sense, building greater resilience contributes to sustainable development by emphasizing the conservation and regeneration of ecosystems, not their depletion; by fostering risk-sensitive rather than growth-at-any-price development; and by promoting cross-sectoral and multidisciplinary approaches, rather than working in silos.

Current Challenges to Sustainable Development

Before commenting further on the importance of resilience for advancing sustainable development, let me reflect on the scale of the challenges to sustainable development across its environmental, economic, and social dimensions. This century, our world has experienced multiple crises which have tested capacities for resilience across the board. Advanced countries are not immune – New Zealand and Japan have suffered greatly from major earthquakes, and unemployment in Southern Europe is at horror levels, particularly among young people.

•    Overall, on the economic front, fallout from the global financial crisis which began in the markets of some advanced economies continues to be felt, both in those economies, and in developing ones too. The IMF last month reduced its global growth forecasts. The current slow-down in the BRICS is significant, given their importance in the global economy.

The financial crisis not only impacted on the volume of and receipts from exports of goods and services from developing countries, but also on investment flows and remittances, and now on Official Development Assistance (ODA) levels too. Slower growth results in less domestic and other revenue for investment in the virtuous cycle of development through education, health care, social protection, and infrastructure.  

In the world’s 56 low-income countries  there was a reduction in government budget revenue in 2009 of close to ten per cent of pre-crisis levels, and a further fall in 2010.

•    On employment, at the global level the ILO estimates that more than 34 million workers lost their jobs with the onset of the recession of 2008, and an additional 185 million workers joined the ranks of the working poor who subsist on under US $2  dollars a day.  Despite a moderate pick-up in output growth expected for 2013–14, the number of unemployed worldwide is projected to rise by 5.1 million in 2013 to more than 202 million, and by another three million in 2014.  

The world is now facing a major jobs crisis as large numbers of young people reach working age in a world with already high unemployment. Six hundred million more jobs are need in the next fifteen years just to keep unemployment at current levels.

•    Persistent and high levels of inequality are also holding back development progress, and severely straining social cohesion in many countries. At the household level, inequality can stand in the way of both access to credit and of accumulation of the assets which help build resilience to shocks. Rising inequality is now preoccupying not only sociologists and government policy-makers, but also global corporate leaders convening in Davos and elsewhere who see the fundamental challenge it poses to existing economic and social systems.

•    On the environmental dimension of sustainable development, we see traditional production and consumption patterns having had and still having a highly detrimental impact on our planet.  We run the risk, over time, of exceeding planetary boundaries in a number of areas – not least in our climate ecosystem.

Glaciers on every continent of the world show a noticeable decrease in volume ; water stress is impacting on the production of staple crops like corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans on which so many people depend; heat waves, droughts, floods, and violent storms are becoming more frequent and more severe ; and nearly forty per cent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded.  We appear to be witnessing a disturbing amount of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, threatening the very foundations on which life on Earth depends. With rising temperatures and higher rainfall for example, diseases like malaria and dengue fever are extending their reach beyond where they used to be endemic.

•    Notwithstanding the environmental, economic, and social strains the world is experiencing now, it will need to produce to meet the needs of at least two billion more people by 2050. The United States National Intelligence Council estimates a population of 8.3 billion by 2030, and a need by then for “35 per cent more food, forty per cent more water, and fifty per cent more energy”.   

The impact of shocks and sustainable development challenges on the poor

As a rule of thumb, the poorest people suffer the most when shocks occur, and that suffering can only increase with climate change. UNDP’s 2008 Global Human Development Report estimated that failure to deal with climate change would consign the poorest forty per cent of the world’s population to a future of even less opportunity.

The International Panel on Climate Change’s projections indicate that an increasingly dry and hot climate in Sub-Saharan Africa will make its land less viable for agriculture, by reducing the length of growing seasons, lowering yields, and thereby shrinking incomes.  West-Africa’s Sahel region and the Horn of Africa have experienced exceptionally severe droughts in recent years, weakening the traditional resilience of their people.

Early last year, I visited Niger with the UN Emergency Relief Co-ordinator and saw for myself the disturbing impact of the severe drought there. The Sahel region is an extremely vulnerable agro-ecological zone, which in a normal year, depending on the specific location, gets between 200 and 600 mm annual rainfall. Recurrent, more severe conditions test the families and communities dependent on the land to the limit. Yet there are ways to build greater resilience to these challenging conditions, to which I will refer shortly.

Responses to extreme weather events in the Sahel have been complicated by poor governance and weak institutions; outright conflict – as seen in Mali over the past year and a half;  a growth in national and transnational crime and terrorism; weak rule of law; and fast growing populations. The result is a web of complex national and regional crises which have exacted a devastating toll on populations, particularly on women, children, and the elderly. As we speak, more than half a million people from the north of Mali are still displaced inside or outside the country, having fled their homes when conflict erupted last year. Across the Sahel, it is estimated that eighteen million people suffered from food insecurity in 2012. Building resilience to shock and crisis in the region will be about far more than adapting to extreme climate events – establishing peace, effective governance, and the rule of law are very much part of the solutions.
Putting Resilience at the heart of Sustainable Development – some examples:

Tackling the complex challenges faced by the Sahel requires comprehensive approaches which strengthen resilience to a range of shocks, both to make development progress and to sustain it. As I just emphasized, these approaches need to be based on establishing the rule of law, effective and responsive governance and institutions, and human rights. If there is traction on these fundamentals, there will be greater traction on the sector-specific policies which build the resilience of agriculture; the capacity of education, health, and social protection systems; and attempts to reverse ecosystem degradation.

I take considerable heart from developments in Niger, despite all the challenges it has faced since the devastating drought of 2009/10. The government in office at that time did not respond early enough and did not seek international support. That created much greater hardship. That government was then removed by military action, and a new government was elected after a relatively short spell. A new early warning system for drought was installed, and it worked - enabling the government to give advance notice of likely severe food shortages in 2011 and to rally a response. Both the government and its development partners began taking a range of actions to build food security and greater resilience. Notwithstanding the conflicts in Mali, Libya, and northern Nigeria on its borders, Niger has stuck to its programme of putting the fundamentals of greater resilience in place. It deserves the ongoing support of international partners to lock in these gains for the long term.
Another good example of where resilience-building has been incorporated into development efforts comes from Mozambique. In 2000 the country was battered by cyclone-related flooding. It left 800 people dead and 650,000 people displaced. In total more than 4.5 million Mozambicans were affected.

Seven years later floods of similar magnitudes hit Mozambique again. This time, however, the death toll was 29 people, and the numbers of people displaced were significantly lower at around 70,000.

So what had changed?

The answer is simple: Mozambique’s resilience had been strengthened through a comprehensive disaster risk reduction strategy. The government had provided leadership and articulated a clear strategic vision. UNDP and other partners had provided variously support for institutional, policy, and capacity development, and for strengthened infrastructure. Emergency response systems were also improved. Civil society organizations and the Red Cross movement worked in communities and with local governments and the UN on local preparedness.

In these ways, Mozambique moved to anticipate future disaster, and to respond to crises emanating from it. State institutions and local governance structures were better prepared and had more coherent response strategies. Self-help efforts by communities played vital roles in saving more lives than any external intervention could have done. The society now takes far less time to respond to and recover from such events.

The Mozambique example shows how a resilience-based approach can reduce the impact on development of even a major disaster by anticipating and preventing its worst effects.
In essence, building resilience is about risk-sensitive development. It is about a process of positive adaptation for the periods before, during, and after shocks. It is about building capacities to “bounce back”, or even to “bounce forward”, rather than lapsing into greater vulnerability.  Effective governance and social cohesion are important elements of that.

Strengthening resilience to adversity has long been a priority in New Zealand. From our comprehensive social protection system put in place in the wake of the Great Depression of the 1930s; to the work of our Earthquake Commission, our building codes, and other planning around seismic risks; and to  our comprehensive civil defence systems linking communities and levels of government, we have developed many coping mechanisms which enable us to bounce back from shocks. It goes without saying that the rule of law and effective institutions have underpinned our resilience.

So What Principles underlie Building Greater Resilience for Sustainable Development ?

At UNDP, we base our work on building resilience for sustainable development on six principles:

1.    Respect for context – There is no one-size-fits-all template. Development needs to be based on analysis of the specific context. Just as no two systems or organisms have exactly the same properties, and their resilience cannot be built without proper understanding of their properties, nor do any two nations or communities.
2.    Respect for National Ownership – This puts developing countries themselves in the driver’s seat. The role of development partners is to provide the catalytic support which will help national strategies succeed.

3.    Need for Integrated Approaches – Narrow sectoral approaches come nowhere near building resilience to shock and adversity. Risk of any kind has many dimensions and calls for comprehensive responses. Focusing on only a part of a system and preparing only for a single outcome won’t work.

On a broader scale, this calls for integrated approaches to sustainable development, and more coherence in policy making, planning, and budgeting when tackling complex challenges. It also often calls for cross-border, regional, and global strategies.

4.    Promoting knowledge-sharing and awareness-raising. As we know from our New Zealand experience, empowering people with knowledge and the capacity to act can overcome or significantly mitigate adversity from natural hazards - notwithstanding great scale and magnitude.

Putting this principle into action in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, national and international partners, including UNDP, joined forces on disaster preparedness following the devastating forest fires there in 2008. As part of those efforts, students in more than 380 elementary schools across the country now learn about crisis management strategies from a computer game which is part of the school curriculum.

5.    Need for long term engagement and planning – strengthening resilience does not happen overnight, and recovery from severe crisis of any kind can take time. Through UNDP’s continued universal presence in developing countries, we demonstrate our own commitment to stay the course – and in the aftermath of crisis to help countries to build back better.
6.    Partnerships – strengthening resilience requires partnerships between government institutions, communities, and neighboring states, – and, for many developing countries, with development partners. It requires co-ordinated action across the spectrum from emergency relief to recovery and ongoing sustainable development. The current interest in building resilience can also build a bridge between humanitarian and development actors. Some of the major international donors like USAID, the European Union, and Britain’s Department for International Development are now earmarking a portion of their humanitarian budget for building resilience. There is acute awareness of the growing costs of having an ambulance parked at the bottom of the cliff when a fence isn’t built at the top.

At what levels does resilience need to be built?

•    among individuals: by supporting overall well-being, and building social and work skills, and leadership capacities. Strong social protection systems help a lot.

•    in communities: by building sustainable, high-functioning social networks and safety nets, organizations and associations; and having diversified livelihoods and local economies with broad participation.

•    in economies and institutions of government: by reducing macro-economic vulnerability, and by building inclusive and accountable governance and institutions which make full use of available knowledge and technology and can organize in an effective way.

•    in strengthening ecosystems resilience: by conserving, maintaining, and restoring natural ecosystems.

Some priority areas for resilience-building for sustainable development:

1.    Resilience through climate change adaptation

The International Panel on Climate Change defines resilience in the context of climate change as relating to “the amount of change a system can undergo without changing state”.  Adapting to climate change is a process through which resilience is built, as adaptation will reduce the impact which a changing state has on a system.

As I noted earlier, the far-reaching effects of climate change do hit hardest those with the fewest resources and the least capacity to prepare for, plan for, and withstand climate crises. Helping those populations to build resilience in the face of climate change is essential for sustaining development.

UNDP is very active in this area, including by assisting countries to strengthen their institutions, systems, and policies to tackle climate change and attract climate finance.

Through a Japan-funded, UNDP Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP), we have supported twenty countries on the African continent to integrate climate change into national development policies and plans, to ensure that resilience to a changing climate is at the core of development action.  In Morocco, the programme improved access to climate data and gave new insights into oases’ vulnerability to climate change; in Namibia, community-level initiatives on water harvesting and food security led to more diverse, productive, and resilient agricultural production; and in Ethiopia, training and research contributed to the development of the country’s impressive Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy.

2.    Resilience through reduction of risks from natural hazards

An estimated 95 per cent of natural hazard-related deaths occur in developing countries. Eighty-five per cent of people exposed to such disasters live in countries with medium to low levels of human development, where the impacts of such disasters compound existing poverty and inequality. Strengthening resilience through disaster risk reduction is essential for sustaining development progress there.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), for every dollar invested in minimizing disaster risk, about seven dollars will be saved in economic losses from disasters.  Investing in disaster risk reduction is smart development, as the New Zealand experience illustrates so well.

Bangladesh, has prioritized building resilience to disasters, and UNDP is proud to have been a partner in its efforts. When Cyclone Sidr hit the country in 2007, 4,000 of the nine million people affected died. That was 35 times lower than in 1991, when a similar-sized cyclone hit the country and 140,000 people died.

Another success story can be found in Indonesia. Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which claimed more than 126,000 lives in the country, the Government made major policy changes to address disaster risk, including by establishing local disaster-risk management agencies in all high-disaster risk areas. Indonesia is now recognized as having some of the best policy and institutional capacity for large-scale disaster risk reduction and recovery in South-East Asia.

Successful promotion of resilience through disaster risk reduction calls for comprehensive approaches. Traditionally, the priority has been to strengthen institutions, such as national disaster management authorities, and the legal and regulatory frameworks. But whole-of-government approaches are needed at all levels to mainstream risk reduction into planning for infrastructure, and broader economic and social strategies. Community response capacity is vital too – I will comment further on that shortly.

3.    Resilience through social protection

Strengthening resilience through social protection systems shields the most vulnerable from the worst effects of shocks, and helps prevent irreversible development setbacks. These are the steps which many of today’s developed countries, like New Zealand, took in the wake of the Great Depression and World War Two. Social security systems were a key factor in lifting and sustaining our levels of human development.

During the food, financial, economic, and climate crises of recent years, such systems – where they were in place - proved their value in today’s developing countries. Studies suggest that where social protection schemes were already in place when the global financial crisis hit, they helped the poor cope better with its impact - for example, by enabling families to continue to pay for food, education, health, and other costs.

Brazil, for example, was one of the last economies in the world to be hit by the financial crisis of recent years, and one of the first to begin recovery from it. An important reason for that was the coverage and depth of Brazil’s social protection programmes.  The total value of cash transfers to families under these programmes stood at nearly 8.9 per cent of GDP by 2009.  The estimated value of the countercyclical impact of these initiatives is 0.7 per cent of GDP in 2008-09, more than double the impact of tax cuts over the same period.

The International Labor Organization estimates that basic social protection programs are highly affordable, with costs ranging 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 – has effective access to comprehensive social protection systems for themselves and their families. Changing that so that social protection can contribute to building resilience must be a global priority. There is discussion at the international level of the concept of a universal social protection floor, with a Commission appointed by the ILO and headed by former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, producing a report on this two years ago.

4.    Resilience through social cohesion

Resilient societies are characterized by high levels of social and civic trust. That gives them a capacity for tolerance and dialogue which can help resolve differences amicably.

It takes hard work to establish these attributes in any society, let alone in those wracked by conflict and violence. Yet, without such capacities for tolerance, fragility can overwhelm the institutions and systems of a society.

A classic demonstration of the importance of building resilience based on greater social cohesion can be seen when looking at the violence which followed Kenya’s 2007 elections. Communities where there was cohesion across ethnic groups experienced far less violence than did those without it.  UNDP had been associated with the establishment of local peace committees. Where they were functioning, the peace either held during the wave of violence in the country in 2007, or was able to be re-established quickly when violence broke out.

 One might also observe that in Egypt extreme political polarization and a lack of national social cohesion have complicated the already complex process of political transition under way since January 2011. Unless a capacity for political dialogue and reconciliation is developed urgently there, the immediate future looks bleak with little prospect of sustained economic recovery or of social peace and stability.

Social networks and connections are very important in responding to natural disasters, and they play an important role in co-ordinating recovery at the community level.

For instance, after Hurricane Mitch hit parts of Honduras in 1998, an important role was played by the Comité de Emergencia Garifuna (CEGA), a women-led group supported by UNDP through the GEF small grants programme.

The group first concentrated on establishing “tool banks” to facilitate the reconstruction of houses and buildings. After the most pressing needs of local communities had been met, the focus shifted from disaster response to disaster management and preparedness, including through forest conservation, and incorporating sustainable agricultural practices for hillside farming. Their efforts extended to tackling poverty and malnutrition, diversifying income sources, protecting cultural heritage, and promoting gender equality and youth leadership – all aimed at strengthening the resilience of the community.

Following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, a Comité member travelled to Tamil Nadu, India to share their experiences and lessons learned with women survivors; in turn, many women from India have been invited to Trujillo, Honduras, to learn best practices in community resilience. Members of the Comité have also shared their experiences with women in Haiti and Chile. In 2004 the Comité received the Equator Prize, which is awarded every two years to 25 outstanding local initiatives which work to advance sustainable development solutions for people, nature, and resilient communities.

5.    Gender-Responsive Resilience

Building resilience to shocks is not a gender-neutral exercise.  Women, girls, men, and boys have distinct needs and vulnerabilities, which shape the ways in which they experience shocks, as well as their ability to prepare or recover from them.  In most countries where there are significant gender disparities, women and girls are particularly vulnerable to the impact of disasters, resulting in, for example, higher mortality rates.  

More broadly, the incidence of gender-based violence – including rape, human trafficking, and domestic abuse – is also known to increase dramatically during and after conflicts and natural disasters. Women and girls suffer disproportionately from the indirect consequences, including from the breakdown of law and order, destroyed infrastructure, increased disease prevalence, and reduced access to health care, food, and water.   

Where women are economically disadvantaged, it is more difficult for them to build resilience to crises. This issue is compounded by the fact that post-crisis economic recovery assistance frequently goes towards employment projects in areas traditionally dominated by men – for instance, debris removal, construction, or the rehabilitation of public infrastructure and public works.  Women, on the other hand, often experience an increase in unpaid domestic work in post-crisis settings, in order to serve as caregivers or to provide their households with water or food.  

Recovery processes, however, can offer opportunities to transform social structures and promote greater gender equality and increased resilience at the household and community levels. UNDP’s post-crisis recovery support often begins with emergency employment schemes which play an important bridging role by providing work and income for vulnerable populations, including for women.  In 2012, our emergency employment schemes benefitted more than 186,000 men and women in fifteen countries and territories affected by crisis.    On average, forty per cent of the beneficiaries of these schemes were women.  For example:

•    In Ethiopia in 2012, 14,000 or so people affected by severe drought were employed under UNDP work schemes. They rehabilitated community infrastructure, with a special focus on structures for disaster risk management, like water storage facilities. Thirty nine per cent of those employed were women. As well, 165 female-headed households severely affected by drought were provided with training and support to start businesses.

•    In Somalia, 5,700 young men and women from conflict- and drought-affected areas received both temporary work and training to rehabilitate water catchments and farm land, as well as to rebuild roads. 33.5 per cent of the beneficiaries were women – not enough, but in the circumstances undoubtedly a step forward.

A Way Forward: Promoting Resilience as a Cross-cutting Theme for Global Sustainable Development Agendas

The scale of global challenges to sustainable development which I commented on at the beginning of this address is daunting, but my overall message is a positive one: that humankind is capable of overcoming those challenges if we put our collective minds to it.

•    Taken as a whole, the world population today is healthier, wealthier, and better educated than ever before. As the 2015 target set for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) approaches, the world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and has achieved gender parity in primary education between girls and boys. Overall, many fewer lives are being lost to poverty, hunger, and disease.

•    Progress has also been made on key environmental objectives. Global conventions on climate change, biodiversity, and desertification, all a legacy of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, have come into effect; over 98 per cent of ozone depleting substances has been phased out; and the coverage of protected areas has been expanded.

•    The Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA), launched in 2005 mobilized the world around specific actions which helped strengthen the resilience of countries and communities in the face of disasters. This ten-year framework sets out what is required from governments, multilateral organisations, regional institutions, disaster experts, and other actors, to reduce disaster loss.

•    In the economic sphere, with more co-ordinated action and dialogue among major economies through the G20, and with the IMF responding to the global crisis and its aftermath in a more pragmatic way, we are seeing better management of a global financial crisis than there was in the 1930s – when there was very little at all.

But we live in a world where volatility is the new normal.  Shocks and crises stemming from economic, political, climate, food, and energy risks are ever more frequent. We have to build greater resilience to all of that to advance sustainable development. This will require renewed commitment and co-ordinated and coherent action by all countries.

This was well recognized by the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability in its 2012 report “Resilient People, and Resilient Planet: A Future worth Choosing”.  The Panel called on countries to build up and enhance resilience by strengthening social protection systems, disaster risk reduction, and adaptation to climate change.

This perspective is also echoed in the recent report of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the post-2015 global development agenda.

At the 2012 Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, world leaders agreed to work on defining sustainable development goals for a global development agenda beyond the 2015 target date of the Millennium Development Goals.

Now, as the international community engages in a process to define the post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals, it is important to ensure that building resilience and addressing vulnerabilities and inequalities is put at the heart of that agenda.

Building resilience at every level - by empowering individuals, supporting communities, improving governance, developing institutional capacities, and protecting ecosystems - can bring about better and more sustainable development results.

To achieve this:  

•    We will need commitment to partnerships and long term engagement – resilience and sustainable development are not achieved quickly, and better results come from working collaboratively than in isolated silos.

•    funding for development needs to be renewed and rebuilt. It needs to be less compartmentalized, ad hoc, and project-focused. A financial system for sustainable development which is fit-for-purpose must leverage and blend public and private funding sources, both domestic and international, so that they complement each other.

•    strong national leadership complementing national ownership of development strategies is needed. Drive and determination at the national level gets results – witness the way in which Rwanda, a least developed country, has made good progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

The debate on what follows the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at the end of 2015 is well underway. A new global development agenda offers a big opportunity to prioritize building resilience and addressing vulnerabilities and inequalities. UNDP has helped to facilitate a huge global consultation on what the new agenda might look like. In that, more than a million people have now shared their views on how they want the world to be. The evidence and perspectives from these consultations are being made available to UN Member States to inform their negotiations on the new agenda.  

Building resilience has been a theme in a number of the consultations. In St. Lucia, in the Caribbean, for example, there was a call for approaches to resilience not to be confined to mitigation to and recovery from the shocks of disasters, climate change, and ecosystem degradation, but to extend to economic shocks too.

The global consultation on food security and nutrition highlighted the need to increase the resilience of agricultural and food systems and livelihoods, especially to the effects of climate change and possible political and economic shocks. In the global consultation on conflict, violence and disasters, resilience-building was identified as a way of strengthening informal institutions and networks and empowering marginalized and vulnerable groups.

Discussions on the post-2015 development agenda and sustainable development goals will continue over the next two years. All who care about our shared future need to be engaged, and be part of the movement for a new, unified, and universal agenda which builds resilience, eradicates poverty and inequality, and provides for truly sustainable development.


Throughout this lecture I have argued that applying a resilience lens to all aspects of development is critical for advancing sustainable development.

•    Resilience-focused approaches offer opportunities to build development from the bottom up, from both a concern and a deep respect for the people who are the most resilient in the face of crisis – those who are facing and confronting it.

•    Building resilience also offers an opportunity to find synergies among the wide range of humanitarian and development actors. The challenge is for each of us to draw on our comparative advantage and commit to collaborative responses in this time of limited resources.  A good initiative has been the formation of a Political Champions for Disaster Resilience group, co-chaired by the British Secretary of International Development and me, and involving major development and humanitarian actors. We visited Haiti this year as part of our advocacy campaign for a focus on building disaster resilience.

•    There is notable progress in the application of a resilience-building approach to development – not least in the field of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation – but as I have suggested in this lecture, we need to go much further in building resilience to a wider range of shocks – economic, social, and political.

•    The world has already made significant progress on reducing poverty. Without coherent strategies and action now for sustainable development which puts resilience at its centre, we could lose the battle to eradicate poverty as hard-won sustainable development gains are wiped away by a series of shocks.

•    As I have emphasised, it is important that resilience-building is recognised in the post-2015 development agenda. I hope that New Zealand and New Zealanders with our successful experience of disaster risk reduction, and of social protection schemes which have helped build resilience to a range of shocks, can offer support to this approach.

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