Remarks by Helen Clark at The Hague

30 Aug 2009

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
On the occasion of an event organized by the Netherlands Chapter of the Society for International Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
“Between Now and 2015: Moving the Development Agenda Forward”
Monday, 31 August 2009
The Hague

I am delighted to have the opportunity to address staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

It is also a pleasure to be with members of the Dutch chapter of Society for International Development, which I know is one of the leading networks working around the world to promote development and social change.

The Netherlands’ longstanding partnership with UNDP is essential to our organisation, and one which I look forward to strengthening further during my tenure as Administrator.

UNDP greatly values the Netherlands’ significant contributions. In 2009 the Netherlands is the biggest contributor to our core resources. This, together with the Netherlands’ willingness to commit for a four-year period to those core resources, helps provide UNDP with an adequate and predictable funding base. That enables us to plan ahead and deliver lasting results.

I believe that we both benefit from our partnership. UNDP works in programmatic and geographical areas where the Netherlands is also focused on making a difference for the better.

As I have been saying in my meetings in The Hague and to other partners, bilateral resources for development can have a bigger impact when they are joined with those of other donors, and centered on a common strategy. 

For some time now, our world has been grappling with concurrent crises, all of which impact on developing countries most adversely. From the international recession, to climate change, to the influenza pandemic, to recent experiences of high food and fuel prices, global problems abound. They reflect our interdependence, and they require global solutions.

More than ever we need a reinvigorated multilateral system which can tackle international challenges, and help deliver improved living standards for the poorest and most vulnerable people and nations.

More than ever in today’s world, our neighbours’ problems are our problems too.

We all benefit if developing countries have vibrant economies, are well governed and peaceful, have educated and healthy populations, and can support the fight against climate change by pursuing low carbon routes to development.

It is in all our interests that the eight Millenium Development Goals, with their promise of a better tomorrow for billions of people, are achieved, representing, as they do, basic development benchmarks.

I know that this is a difficult time to be pursuing our development mission.

Yet, even in this tough economic environment, it is still possible – and indeed more important than ever - to be pursuing the MDGs and promoting sustainable development.

Indeed, without concerted efforts now, it is feared that the global recession could undo hard-won development gains in many countries, at the very time when we need to accelerate action to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

Many developing countries, especially the poorest, have been faced with stagnating or falling economic growth, with their trade and investment levels down, and with shrinking remittances coming in. This leaves them less able to respond to the additional burdens posed by the recession.

Clearly, the recession and other crises have made achieving the MDGs tougher than before.

Yet, until now, there has been progress to report.

According to the latest data on the MDGs, the global target of reducing by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015 seems likely to be achieved.

The world is also edging closer to providing universal primary education, although too slowly to meet the 2015 target.

Deaths of children under five have declined steadily worldwide — to around 9 million in 2007, down from 12.6 million in 1990. That is still far too many avoidable deaths, but the downward trend has been positive.

To be sure, serious challenges remain. 

No country in sub-Saharan Africa is on course to achieve all the MDGs.

An additional 1.4 billion people still require access to improved sanitation if the 2015 MDG target is to be met.

The goal towards which there has been least progress so far is that which seeks to improve maternal health. That speaks volumes about the low status of women in too many countries – something UNDP, like the Netherlands, is committed to addressing.

What we should not accept, however, is that the MDGs were simply “stretch” or aspirational targets which were not seriously intended to be met.

The MDGs were meant to be achieved. They can still be achieved. And it is in all of our interests that they are achieved.

What is needed now is dedicated leadership at all levels, sufficient and predictable committed resources for development, and long-term and integrated development strategies which bring climate change considerations into the center of how we go about our work. 

Within UNDP, and through our role in co-ordinating the UN development system at all levels, we are working to mobilise support for achieving the MDGs.

The Netherlands is also a leader and advocate in this regard, with the MDGs forming the centerpiece of your government’s development policy.

Of course no single actor can achieve the MDGs, or promote sustainable development, or tackle the global problems we face.  We need all actors to contribute - the multilateral system, donors, NGOs and the private sector - and developing countries by giving MDG achievement and sustainable development a central role in their development strategies.

It will also greatly assist MDG achievement if donor pledges on Official Development Assistance materialize.

The Government of the Netherlands is to be commended for providing 0.8 per cent of its GNI to ODA. The Netherlands is one of the world’s most generous donors. I hope that your impressive effort can be maintained, and emulated elsewhere.

In the course of the international financial and economic crisis, massive counter-cyclical fiscal stimuli and financial bailouts have been provided to shore up some of the richest economies on the planet.

Developing countries, which stand to bear the heaviest burden of the recession, do not have deep pockets to dip into to cushion the blow of the recession to their economies.
 
At UNDP, we have been helping developing countries to analyze the impacts of the recession on their people. We are advising on policy responses and on approaches to social protection. We assist with resource mobilization, and we work in parallel with other multilateral agencies and the International Financial Institutions.

Right now, we believe that more ODA, along with more fiscal space and support for developing countries from the International Financial Institutions, is vital.

It will help immensely, for example, if the G8’s Gleneagles commitments, first made in 2005, and since regularly restated, including in Italy in July, are delivered on. That would mean a doubling of aid to Africa by next year, over 2004 levels.

UNDP and the IMF have been working closely with African countries to develop “Gleaneagles Scenarios” on the development results which could be obtained with ODA scaled up to the levels pledged by the G8. We will soon begin a process of seeking resource mobilization around these country specific scenarios.

It is also to be hoped that the upcoming meeting of the G20 at Pittsburgh will consider how to assist low income countries through the recession.

While the Pittsburgh agenda is likely to be forward looking on the basis that the international financial system has stabilized, it is important not to overlook the needs of the poorest countries which are still in crisis.

Utilized soundly, more assistance would allow governments in such countries to preserve their budgets for basic services during the recession, and sustain the progress which has been made towards the MDGs.

A particular focus of mine as UNDP’s new Administrator is to connect our work on poverty reduction and the MDGs with that on the environment and sustainable development.

Economic growth is vital for meeting the MDGs and for promoting development more broadly. But we only have one planet to live on. We must make sure that the way we live, grow, and develop is consistent with keeping our ecosystem in balance.

Of special concern now is climate change. Scientists tell us that we have about ten years left in which to prevent a rise in greenhouse gas emissions which could cause catastrophic and irreversible climate transformations and impacts.

The Netherlands itself would be adversely affected by a rise in sea levels if those devastating consequences were to occur. But without sufficient action, the brunt of the impact would be felt by poor and vulnerable people in developing countries, whether they be in the drylands of Africa, the deltas of Asia, or in the world’s small atoll nations in the great oceans.

Climate change also risks undoing so many of our interventions in development. The World Bank now estimates that up to forty per cent of development financed by ODA or concessional loans is sensitive to climate risk.

Tackling climate change therefore requires action on a broad front – from investing in clean technologies and green jobs, to ensuring that local leaders have the knowledge and tools to make the right decisions, and bringing climate change considerations and adaptation into the center of all our development planning and strategies.

In May your Minister of Development co-chaired an OECD development and environment high-level meeting. The agreements reached there, with their emphasis on the importance of integrating climate change adaptation into development co-operation and supporting developing countries to tackle climate change, are an important step forward.

While climate change presents great challenges, finding solutions to the problems also presents opportunities for developing countries.

The new climate change deal must be a development deal, delivering significant resources for investments in adaptation and for providing the know-how and technology to make a low carbon route to development possible.

A new climate change agreement should help us simultaneously reduce emissions, leading to less carbon-intensive production and consumption processes; address energy poverty; and help reignite global economic growth, including setting the world’s poorer countries on an inclusive and green path out of poverty.

This could make an enormous contribution to sustainable development and achieving the MDGs. Addressing climate change, generating economic growth, and attaining the MDGs are mutually supportive goals.

UNDP has significant expertise in the areas of climate change and sustainable development. We are supporting programme countries to respond to the challenges they face, including by developing the capacity to access carbon finance.
 
Peace, security and good governance are also pre-requirements for long-term sustainable development.

New found stability is quickly undermined if development does not rapidly follow.

In countries emerging from disaster and conflict, UNDP undertakes early recovery programmes and helps lay the foundations for development and stability.

I acknowledge with great appreciation that, as part of its new multilateral development strategy, the Netherlands has selected UNDP as the focal point for its crisis prevention and recovery efforts. 

Your support for our work in this area, including your significant contributions to the Thematic Trust Fund for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, is very important, and allows us to implement activities supporting rapid progression from humanitarian assistance to recovery.

I saw examples of such work for myself in both Liberia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, and elsewhere, UNDP helps to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate former fighters; supports communities to rebuild their livelihoods; and promotes the rule of law. We are also active in helping to tackle sexual and gender-based violence, which causes so much devastation, destruction, trauma, and despair

We believe that our efforts to reduce poverty and tackle tough environmental challenges are likely to be more successful and enduring where governments themselves are more transparent, responsive, and accountable.

UNDP’s work in promoting better governance extends to strengthening justice sectors, supporting decentralization processes, and contributing to making human rights institutions more effective in close to 100 countries. We are also a major player in supporting election processes, including that in the recent weeks in Afghanistan.

There, UNDP provided support to the Independent Election Commission which took the lead in managing the elections. This was a significant shift towards national ownership and delivery, and was made possible by the concerted efforts of partners – including UNDP and the Netherlands - to develop Afghanistan’s national capacity. Clearly the process still had its flaws – and it took place in a hugely challenging environment, including in locations where people literally risked their lives to vote.

At UNDP, capacity building and development must be at the heart of what we do.  Our strategic plan guides us to support interventions which will have a system-wide impact – at the national or sub-national level - and are aligned with national development strategies.  This is very much in line with the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness and the Accra Agenda for Action.

Across all areas of our work we seek to empower and raise the status of women. This is not only a MDG in its own right, but is also essential to the achievement of all the other MDGs. Development cannot succeed if  fifty per cent of the population do not enjoy equal rights and opportunities.

In my role as Chair of the UN Development Group, I must also focus on encouraging the different parts of the UN development system to work in a co-ordinated way, building on recent reforms and initiatives. I am confident that at the principals’ level of our funds, progammes and agencies, there is a strong commitment to work together, and as leaders we need to see that followed through at all levels of our organizations.

We must jointly pursue greater efficiency and effectiveness in how we work, and learn to prioritize more. Accountability and transparency to programme countries and to our donors are also critical.

My visit here to The Hague early in my tenure as UNDP Administrator demonstrates my commitment to ongoing and close dialogue with the Netherlands and to enhancing our work together in support of our common development objectives. I hope we can continue to count on your strong support.

Thank you.