Helen Clark: Informal meeting of the Executive Board on Rio +20

Sep 9, 2011


I welcome the opportunity of this informal session to discuss with members of the Executive Board the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, and UNDP’s contributions to both the preparatory process and the implementation of the conference outcome. I look forward to hearing your views and discussing how we can move forward together.

Much has happened since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 which set a forward looking agenda for sustainable development. Rio+20 is a unique opportunity to review progress on that agenda, examine the gaps in it and new needs, and reach agreement on how to move ahead. 

It is also an opportunity to overcome fragmented approaches to development by promoting integrated decisionmaking across the economic, social, and environmental pillars of sustainable development.

Development which is truly sustainable for present and future generations will safeguard ecosystems while also enabling economic and social progress. That progress cannot be sustained if the ecosystems on which our very existence on this planet depends are irreparably damaged. UNDP’s cross-sectoral approaches to these issues enables it to make a useful contribution to the preparation of Rio+20 and its outcomes.

UNDP and Rio+20’s Objectives

The Secretary-General, has made sustainable development a top priority for his second term in office.The agencies, funds and programmes of the UN system are actively engaged in supporting his agenda and the preparations for Rio+20. Common positions are being developed in advance of the 1 November deadline for submissions on the zero draft of the Outcome Document. The aim is to have a UN Strategy for Rio+20. Individual organisations are also submitting ideas from their perspectives, under the auspices of the High Level Committee on Programmes of the UN´s Chief Executive Board.

At UNDP, we are committed to working collaboratively with our sister organizations and partners to support a global transition towards a more sustainable future. Sustainable development is an objective for the developing and developed worlds alike. The role of the UN development system is to support developing countries making that transition, by helping mobilize knowledge, expertise, and resources.

The Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication

High on our agenda is working with partners to support transitions towards low-emission development pathways, and to safeguard the environmental resources and eco-system services which are critical for livelihoods today and development prospects tomorrow. Alongside that we promote equitable and inclusive approaches to growth, with a strong focus on decent work and on more opportunities for women, youth, and others who currently experience marginalization.

A green economy which works for the world´s poor could be expected to display the following characteristics.  It would:

    • maintain growth while reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the economy as a whole, and promote job creation and other economic opportunities in sectors where the poor seek to build their livelihoods;
    • generate more public revenuesto enable investment in quality services, to which the poor would have equitable access;
    • retain biodiversity and eco-system services, while also maintaining the livelihoods of the poor and other communities who depend on them;
    • promote equitable access to energy and its efficient use; and
    • build resilience to environmental and other risks.

In the field we have good examples of solutions which integrate these dimensions. The “Multifunctional Platforms” – or simple engines – deployed in villages in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali and Senegal (UNDP, 2010) have created new opportunities for women to earn income. That has also brought health and education benefits to their families. The time women spend on grinding domestic chores has been reduced. Over time there should be a shift to sustainable energy sources for these engines.

In general, we see off-grid green energy sources having good potential to provide poor people with access to energy, while also offering new employment opportunities where supported by micro-credit and the capacity to build small enterprises.

Providing access to clean energy is critical for achieving green growth, and sustainable human development. It also accelerates progress on the MDGs.  Universal access to modern energy services is achievable by 2030, and UNDP will work with partners to apply proven and innovative solutions to reach that goal. Political leadership and commitment, investment in infrastructure, institutions and capacity development, and scaling up proven energy models are required. We see energy as a key area for strong outcomesat Rio, which we hope will back energy solutions integrating the three pillars of sustainable development.

UNDP has much programme experience which supports advancing energy access while also meeting other goals – such as in empowering women, youth, and marginalized groups, encouraging job-rich growth, and building the capacities of policy-makers and leaders to work forequitable and inclusive development.

An Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development

The second theme of Rio+20 deals with institutional frameworks for sustainable development. To me, that suggests a need within the multilateral system to strengthen co-ordination, institution building, and strategy development at and between all levels –the global, regional, national, and local.

At Rio, member states could agree on ways of improving the institutional architecture. That could lead to a stronger and less fragmented multilateral environmental pillar, but that is only part of the solution. Considerations need to be given to an intergovernmental mechanism which can integrate the three pillars of sustainable development.

When the UN was established, the Economic and Social Council was given a mandate for the overall co-ordination of UN system activities in economic, social, and related areas. Despite several reforms aimed at strengthening its role, however, ECOSOC has yet to develop to its full potential in the way the UN’s founders originally envisaged. 

Perhaps Rio+20 and the need for a stronger multilateral mechanism for sustainable development gives an opportunity to rectify that. ECOSOC could be given a strengthened and broad co-ordinating role across the three pillars of sustainable development. 

That would need to be complemented by better co-ordination of the many UN agencies which are already working on aspects of sustainable development, and that is a function for the UN Development Group.

The aim must be to ensure that across the sustainable development spectrum the normative and analytical work of UN agencies is well co-ordinated to deliver advice, responses, and solutions which do integrate economic, social, and environmental concerns.  The challenge is to connect knowledge and best practice with action and delivery.

In the UN development system, through UN Country Teams, and through our global and regional programmes, we need to be able to provide coherent, sequenced, and integrated services to developing countries to support them making the transition to a green economy which is inclusive and equitable.

UNDP is hoping for an outcome from Rio+20 which stresses the importance of country ownership and the need for coherent delivery of the services of the UN system at that level. Strategic and well focused UNDAFs will play a big role in the formulating of the support we give in-country.

Thus, Rio+20 can also be a catalyst for re-energising the UN reform and coherence agenda. In UNDP´s role as lead agency in co-ordination of the UN development system, we are prepared to invest our full energy in this endeavour.

National preparations

Support for national preparations is a high priority for UNDP. Together with DESA, we are working to support national preparatory processes in a growing number of countries, to ensure that all three strands of the sustainable development process are fully engaged. As resources become available we are assisting financially where there is the greatest need. We hope to mobilize sufficient resources to support at least seventy countries, but to date have been able to raise only ten per cent of the estimated resources required for this task.

Civil Society and the Major Groups

Civil society must also play a crucial role for Rio+20 to be successful.  At the 1992 Earth Summit the Rio Principles and Agenda 21, confirmed the vital part civil society must play in attaining sustainable development.  The current difficult economic times are hampering the active engagement of many of the groups which contributed so much to the success of Rio92 and subsequent major conferences. Yet it is important that these groups have voice in Rio+20´s processes.

UNDP will seek to engage with all sectors of the sustainable development community to ensure that there is broad stakeholder participation in Rio+20.  We are working closely with the Regional Economic Commissions and reaching out to actors in development and social organizations.

The MDGs and the IADGs  

Despite shocks and setbacks, many countries are making impressive progress towards the MDGs. There is still time to achieve the goals globally by 2015, by implementing the commitments made at last year's MDG Summit. But sustaining MDG progress is a challenge, as will be making further progress in the fight against poverty beyond 2015.

At Rio+20, the international community could address head-on the key challenges which will determine whether development progress will be undermined in coming years by unsustainable policies and practices, or whether progress  can be accelerated and extreme poverty eradicated through the application of more inclusive and equitable, and environmentally responsible development models.

Thus, Rio2012 could also help us all come to a shared understanding of the key issues and principles which could guide the formulation of internationally agreed development goals beyond 2015. It goes without saying that from UNDP's perspective, such principles must include equity, and inclusion, and environmental sustainability.

Already there are a number of ideas around about what some refer to as Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  We look forward to contributing to the discussion of what such a set of goals might look like, to whom they might be directed, how they might work in the context of MDG achievement, and when they might be set.

Within UNDP, we are already looking closely at how we can provide thought leadership as well as substantive support to governments in this area, and we will stay actively engaged in this discussion as it unfolds.


UNDP is committed to being an active participant in the Rio+20 process, and to delivering and facilitating a vision for sustainable development in which equity, sustainability, and inclusiveness are secured for all.  For this to be possible we will need to work closely with Member States and particularly with you, the members of our Board.

I look forward to our discussion during this session, and hope it can contribute to a shared vision for equitable, inclusive, and sustainable human development.

UNDP Around the world