Helen Clark: Lecture at Kwansei Gakuin University “Challenges and Opportunities in Implementing the New Global Agendas”

Dec 15, 2016

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals seek to eradicate poverty in all its forms, and to create a more peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable world.

Thank you for inviting me to deliver this lecture at Kwansei Gakuin University. Your motto, “Mastery for Service”, is most appropriate to our times. Our world faces many challenges – and it needs the talent and commitment of professional, ethical, and globally-minded graduates educated here at Kwansei Gakuin University to be engaged in finding and implementing solutions.

The good news is that United Nations Member States have agreed on ambitious agendas which, if implemented, would tackle the obstacles to sustainable development. UNDP’s mandate is highly relevant to these agendas, and the generous support it receives from Japan and other nations helps it to support developing countries to implement them.

So: what are the big agendas?

•    In September 2015, world leaders agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals. These seek to eradicate poverty in all its forms, and to create a more peaceful, inclusive, and sustainable world. The SDGs are big and bold – as they need to be.

•    In March 2015, the Sendai Framework was agreed here in Japan at the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. It built on the Hyogo Framework agreed in Kobe in 2005. That was ten years after the 1995 Kobe earthquake – a deep tragedy which faculty, staff, and students of Kwansei Gakuin University at that time witnessed. The new framework promotes risk-informed development, aiming to save lives and limit damage from disasters.

•    Then there is the Addis Ababa Action Agenda agreed at The Third International Conference on Financing for Development, agreed in Ethiopia in July 2015. It sets out a realistic approach to development financing - which needs to draw on all possible sources of funding: public and private, domestic and international, and also environmental as well as developmental. Climate finance, for example, is fast emerging as a major source of funding for developing countries.

•    There is the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change reached at the UN climate change conference in December last year. The Agreement was a major milestone in the global effort to tackle climate change. The fact that it took less than a year to be signed and then to enter into force is testament to the unprecedented global momentum for climate action which we are currently witnessing.

This year:

•    The World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May reached consensus on how to improve support to the tens of millions of people now caught up in crises, disasters, and forced displacement. Over 65 million people are now estimated to be forcibly displaced - almost one in every 113 people globally, either as refugees, internally displaced people, or asylum seekers. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says it knows of no precedent for this level of displacement.

•    The New Urban Agenda, adopted at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador, in October is about building inclusive, safe, and resilient cities. More than half (54 per cent) the world’s people now live in cities – up from 34 per cent in 1960. Another 2.5 billion are likely to be living in cities by 2050, with most of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. How our cities are governed will matter more than ever before.

These new agendas all call for transformation in the ways we think about and do development.

First, there is a significant lift in ambition: the 2030 Agenda, for example, is about ‘getting to zero’ – by eradicating poverty and hunger entirely and by ending the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

More than three quarters of a billion people, mostly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, continue to live in extreme poverty on under $1.90 a day. Ending that poverty will require tackling persistent inequalities and discrimination. It will require growth which is inclusive of all - women, young people, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and members of minorities of all kinds.

Second, increasing resilience to shocks is at the core of the new agendas. Those shocks could be economic, social, health, disaster, or conflict-related. All such shocks can drive people back below the poverty line if we don’t act to mitigate them – and in many cases we can act to limit the risk of a shock occurring.

The scale of weather-related disasters of recent years is the face of the foreseeable future as climate change intensifies. Even if the high ambition of the Paris Agreement is realised – that is to keep the global temperature rise to below two degrees, and ideally to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, above pre-industrial levels - we can expect worsening weather for decades to come. We must do everything we can to support countries to adapt to this outlook, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.

Third, for the first time explicitly, the global development agenda is clear that achieving sustainable development requires peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all, and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels. The 2030 Agenda says: “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development”.

Achieving the SDGs will be especially challenging for the 1.4 billion people living in fragile contexts – a number which is forecast to grow to 1.9 billion by 2030.

Conflicts like those ongoing in Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia set human development back many years. They also create fertile breeding grounds for illicit trade and organised crime. Radicalization and violent extremism flourish in such settings.

It’s important to address root causes of violence and fragility, and not just the symptoms. Last month I visited El Salvador, which is facing a scourge of armed violence. Criminal gangs there make the lives of people miserable and dangerous in many places. Persistence of poverty at scale is a significant problem, as it is in neighbouring Honduras. Creating opportunities for young people, supporting community leaders, bringing the services of the state to communities, tackling corruption, and effective policing are all part of the answer. The problems cannot be resolved overnight, but, with determination, they can be overcome in time.

Fourth, meeting the goals of all the new global agendas requires the mobilization of unprecedented levels of development finance. All sources will need to be drawn on – to repeat, as the Addis Ababa Action Agenda points out, public and private, domestic and international, and developmental and environmental finance are all needed.

So what else will it take to achieve the 2030 Agenda and other major agendas?

1.    Strong national leadership is needed – and it is being given. Around the world, governments are giving priority to mainstreaming the 2030 Agenda into national plans and policies. Some of the most inspiring actions on SDG implementation are coming from countries which face many challenges. Somalia, for example, has been preparing its first national development plan in 34 years – and it is being aligned with the SDGs.

2.    The commitment to leave no-one behind has to be achieved.

Income disparities and discrimination in laws and social norms must be addressed, with special attention given to the needs of the following:

- Women: globally, women are more likely to be unemployed or engaged in unpaid work than are men. In some regions, the unemployment rate of women is more than double that of men. In sub-Saharan Africa, UNDP estimates that gender gaps in the labour market were costing the continent as much as $95 billion per year between 2010 and 2014. Investing in women and girls is both the right thing to do - and the smart thing to do.

- Young people: today’s generation of young people is the largest the world has ever known. One in every three people alive today is under the age of thirty. Around ninety per cent of young people are living in developing countries, mainly in Asia and Africa. Developing countries can reap an enormous demographic dividend – if investments are made in youth potential and creating opportunity.

- Urban populations: many of the world’s poorest and most marginalized people now live in cities. Globally, the number of people residing in urban areas is projected to increase from 3.9 billion (54 per cent) in 2014 to 6.3 billion (66 per cent) by 2050. In the same period more than half of Africa’s population will have become urbanised. This trend presents both opportunities and challenges. How rapid urbanization dynamics are managed will have an important impact on whether inclusive sustainable development for all can be achieved.

- Refugees, internally displaced people, and migrants. More people are forcibly displaced today than at any time since World War Two. Many of them are fleeing conflict, and need shelter, health care, protection, and livelihoods. Their children need education.

The lack of opportunity in some regions is also fuelling large movements of people. Without doubt, there are both push and pull factors, with many labour market sectors in advanced economies having a heavy reliance on migrant labour. Planned and orderly migration benefits both source and destination countries by filling labour market gaps and providing remittances.

- Older people: By the middle of this century, people over the age of sixty are expected to outnumber those under the age of fifteen. In many developing countries, older people are among the poorest in the population. They may be exposed to great risks and insecurity, and there may not be mechanisms in place to protect their rights. Putting in place adequate social protection must be a priority for fast aging societies.

3.    Tackling climate change.

If successfully implemented, the Paris Agreement will bring about a transformation in economies and societies. In tackling climate change, we can also create jobs, improve public health, foster innovation, protect vital ecosystems, and preserve the planet’s precious water resources – among many co-benefits. This will take many years of hard work and massive investment – so the sooner rapid action is taken, the better.

4.    Applying all the lessons learned in implementing the Millennium Development Goals, particularly on joined up approaches across sectors and silos.

The challenges the world faces cannot be addressed in silos – we need “whole of government” and “whole of society” approaches. What presents as a health crisis, like maternal mortality, may well have its roots in forced early marriage, girls being withdrawn from school, lack of transport to health facilities, and/or an inability to pay for care. Broad groups of policymakers and stakeholders must come together to find and implement solutions.

5.    Broad coalitions around the SDGs are needed.

Achieving the SDGs requires domestic resource mobilisation and private investment on a large scale.  Traditional development assistance can help drive that, and Japan is a leader in this respect.

Take, for example, Japan’s commitment to Africa’s development, through the series of TICAD (Tokyo International Conference for African Development) conferences since 1993. The sixth TICAD was held in Nairobi in August, and drew over 6,000 participants from governments, business, international organizations, and civil society.

Japanese businesses responded to their government’s call, and came to Nairobi in large numbers. This is important – the call from Africa is for investment at scale in infrastructure and productive sectors which will drive diversification and transformation of the continent’s economies.

6.    Exploiting new sources of finance.

The development financing landscape is dynamic and fast evolving, with many new finance providers – public and private - emerging. South-South Co-operation is growing in importance, across concessional financing and grants, and complemented by trade and investment.

A number of developing countries are exploring and using new financing instruments, such as green bonds, blue bonds, diaspora financing schemes, and development-oriented venture capital.

While traditional forms of development financing such as Official Development Assistance (ODA) will remain crucial, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable countries, ODA must now be used in catalytic ways to build both capacities and the potential to leverage much greater volumes of financing. Take for example:

•    the OECD-UNDP collaboration on “Tax Inspectors Without Borders”, which supports developing countries to build their tax audit capacity to boost domestic revenues; and

•    UNDP’s Biofin work which help countries identify their spending on biodiversity, where the gaps are, and how to fill them.

7.    Focus on development effectiveness.

While the volume of development finance clearly matters a lot, it must also be effectively deployed.

Two weeks ago, the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation met in Nairobi. UNDP and OECD staff the Secretariat for this initiative. The 2016 progress report shows that development partnerships have become more inclusive. Transparency has also improved, with UNDP and others in the United Nations system being among the leaders.

In other areas, however, there is a way to go:

•    the proportion of untied bilateral aid has only slightly reduced;
•    progress in strengthening developing countries’ systems is uneven;
•    use of developing countries’ public financial management and procurement systems remains infrequent;
•    developing countries continue to suffer from a lack of predictability of support; and
•    information on development co-operation flows is incomplete.

What is UNDP’s role in achieving the new global agendas

Thanks to the generous support of donors like Japan, UNDP has a presence in more than 170 countries and territories. Its work is well aligned with the 2030 Agenda – across poverty eradication; reducing inequalities; supporting democratic governance; improving environmental sustainability; reducing disaster risk; prioritising gender equality and women’s empowerment; addressing the social determinants of health; and supporting emergency development initiatives in communities caught up in crises.

Working with other UN agencies, UNDP is supporting countries to mainstream the SDGs into their national plans, policies, and budgets, and to identify options for accessing finance. Countries are also asking for support to build their capacity for data collection and analysis, and for raising awareness of the SDGs across their societies.

UNDP aims to be the very best it can be in supporting countries to achieve their national goals and the new global agendas. We count on Japan’s continued support in this important work.


The challenges our world faces include entrenched poverty and inequalities, protracted conflicts and forced displacement, economic and political uncertainty, an urgent need to adapt to socio-economic and demographic shifts, and, increasingly frequent and dangerous natural disasters – including those caused by climate change.

These challenges call for bold approaches to building a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. Thanks to the far reaching global agreements concluded this year and last, there are good roadmaps for inclusive and sustainable development. The alternative is a world characterized by even more turmoil and instability than the one we know today. That is avoidable – and that is why it is imperative to build support for implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and all other major global agreements designed to make our world a better place for all its people.

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