Rebeca Grynspan: Opening speech at the first Global Human Development Forum

Mar 22, 2012

Opening speech by Rebeca Grynspan
UN Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Administrator of UNDP

At the first Global Human Development Forum

Istanbul, 22-23 March 2012

Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr. Ali Babacan,

Minister of Development of Turkey, Mr. Cevdet Yilmaz,

Minister for Family and Social Affairs of Turkey, Ms. Fatma Sahin,

President Tarja Halonen,

Ministers and Members of participating Governments,

Mr. Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General, UN Industrial Development Organization,

Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office Mr. Khalid Malik and colleagues from UNDP and the UN System,


Distinguished Colleagues and members of the press,

Dear Friends,

I am delighted to open the first Global Human Development Forum on behalf of UNDP, and to be among such a renowned group of thinkers and doers from developing and developed countries, spanning civil society, the private sector, governments and international organizations. 

At the outset I would like to thank the Government of Turkey for their hospitality and initiative in hosting this Forum.  Over the years Turkey has hosted a number of important global conferences and events, contributing to the development of the concept of human development. Indeed it was here in Istanbul, in 1985, that 50 distinguished thinkers, brought together by UNDP, prepared the “Istanbul Statement on Development: the human dimension.”  More recently, Turkey has become a vocal advocate for Least Developed Countries (LDCs).  . As UNDP, we have a long and very solid partnership with the Turkish Government in pursuing the sustainable development agenda that increasingly emphasizes green growth, inclusiveness and equality.

I would also like to thank the Danish Government, represented here by Undersecretary for Global Challenges Mr. Tomar Anker Christensen, for their generous support towards this meeting and also for our longstanding partnership on Development.

With only three months until world leaders meet in Rio for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, this Forum is particularly timely and important.  It provides a unique opportunity to debate the messages we want to take to Brazil, reflecting on what we have learned since the Stockholm Conference in 1972 and the Earth Summit in 1992.

I am particularly delighted that some members of the Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability are here, as I believe that the findings and recommendations of their Report, as well as the analysis in the 2011 Human Development Report on Equity and Sustainability, offer a wealth of valuable insight to develop concrete, constructive, and action-oriented suggestions for moving forward. So thank you to the Co-Chair of the High-Level Panel and Former President of Finland, Ms. Tarja Halonen and to its Executive Secretary Mr Janos Pasztor and your team for being here today.  Most importantly, these reports issue stark warnings:

  • First, that our current global development model is unsustainable; and
  • Second, that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action. 

We must recognize that high-carbon, unequal growth will undermine itself by breeding social unrest and violence, blocking the talent and initiative of so many, and by destroying natural habitats critical for livelihoods. We need a new paradigm of growth and a new approach to the political economy of sustainable development.

And it is urgent not only because of the threats of the future but also because we want to sustain the gains of the past and build on them!

The 20th anniversary Human Development Report in 2010 looked back 40 years  and highlighted the remarkable gains in Human Development over the last four decades. It also showed that the poorest countries improved their overall HDI by 82 percent, twice the global average improvement narrowing the human development divide.

Overall, the report stated, people are healthier, wealthier and better educated than ever before. 

Since 1990, the baseline year against which we measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), millions of people have been lifted out of income poverty. According to the last World Bank estimates we have already met the global targets of halving the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and without sustainable access to safe drinking water.  The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, both boys and girls.  And today we have 40 per cent fewer deaths from tuberculosis, and 30 per cent fewer deaths due to malaria, as compared to 1990.  New HIV infections have been reduced by 21% since the peak of the epidemic in 1997 and estimates suggest that treatment has averted 2.5 million deaths since 1995.

Yet, we must  recognize that aggregate figures disguise some inconvenient truths: striking inequalities persist across and within countries; the progress shown in extreme poverty are not being seen in the poverty figures where progress has been much slower, and our ecosystems are under considerable stress, increasing the vulnerability of those left behind and of those recently been lift out of poverty.   

As the Global Sustainability Panel report underscores, by 2030 the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy,  and 30 per cent more water given the projected population growth and consumption patterns.

Moving towards inclusive and sustainable development is not simply a ‘moral’ imperative; it is in fact the only development possible.  

That is why the Global Sustainability Panel report and the 2011 Human Development Report argue that progress in human development cannot be sustained without bold action today. Future generations will not be able to live as prosperously if the ecosystems on which they depend are irreparably damaged, and if inequities leave our societies unstable, unproductive and unjust.

Indeed the 2011 HDR includes projections to the year 2050, and through complex modeling, produces three different scenarios that can help guide policy-makers. Under the unlikely scenario of no further environmental degradation, the “base case” or in this model “best case” scenario, the global HDI would be 19% higher by 2050 than it is today.  But under the other two scenarios, which incorporate environmental threats, including the impact of climate change, and growing inequality,  progress could  be reversed specially for lower HDI countries.

A key message of both the Global Sustainability Panel Report and the HDR is that while environmental risks such as climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and natural disasters affect all members of society, the most vulnerable and poor are disproportionately affected.   Poor households, which often depend on natural resources for their livelihoods, carry a “double burden” of exposure to environmental risks, both in their immediate home environment from air and water pollution, and from such long-term global trends as extreme weather hazards and rising sea levels.  They also have the least resources to ensure resilience. 

We have advance in our understanding but still not  won the battle that development is not  only about economic growth,  that sustainability needs to bring to the environmental dimension the economic and social objectives for green, inclusive and resilient growth,  that development must be people-centered, promoting rights, opportunities, choices, and dignity.  That we need to empower women, youth and communities.

Economic growth, poverty reduction, social development, equity, and sustainability are not competing goals to be traded off against each other, but are interconnected objectives - most effectively pursued together.  I agree with Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff, that “it is possible to grow and to include, to protect, and to conserve”.

Evidence suggests that empowering people and communities can have a positive impact on the environment as well as in social and economic development. The HDR, for example, cites a study of 61 countries which showed that the higher the per capita number of women’s and environmental NGOs  the  lower the rates of deforestation. And the Global Sustainability Panel report highlights the explosive growth of social networking technologies and the potential of “crowdsourcing” platforms to enable more collaborative, participatory, and transparent decision-making. 

So I am happy that this range of stakeholders is represented at this Forum and look forward to the discussions today and tomorrow: from the broader ones on the principles of equity and social justice to the more technical ones on measurement.  So let me finalize with the following thoughts:  

Both the Report of the Global Sustainability Panel and the 2011 HDR, and the message sent by the SG make a strong case for better integrating the economic, social, and environmental dimensions for sustainable  development.  20 years ago in Rio these same three pillars where clearly stated as well so…what is needed in Rio+20  to accelerate progress towards an integrated action framework?

I think that a basic condition is that the participation in Rio will reflect the different constituencies. At the end the answers can only emerge through inclusive dialogue and partnership. I see the environmental community very energized, a very welcoming development, but will like to see the social community, the private sector, and other partners mobilized as well and actively participating.   

2. We need to be clearer on the formulation of the action plan so the 3 dimensions will be visibly included in the areas chosen, the Secretary General’s initiative on Energy for All is a good and important example of how to integrate the environmental, social and economic pillars and at the same time engage diverse actors - from energy companies to community groups to make the most of the triple win opportunity presented by energy.

Another example of a scalable triple win potential is the establishment of integrated systems for social and environmental protection and risk reduction  – and no doubt food security.
The discussion on the green economy continues as well and we hope coherence will be reached.

3. To tackle complex and interrelated global challenges, countries need fair, effective and responsive institutions and governments capable of identifying, implementing, and financing policies and programming for sustainable development s –n’. So, sufficient attention must be paid in Rio to the imperative of strengthening local capacity, mobilize civil society and improve the governance framework– so that governments can identify and incorporate such initiatives within their strategies, legislation, and budget processes.  The role the UN can play on this in partnership with the international community should be emphasis.

4. Our ability to act is also dependent on adequate financing. Global capital and local resources must be mobilized and used catalytically, if we are to make good on commitments sustainable development and transition to climate resilient and low-carbon models.

It’s important that leaders in Rio understand that not only is more financing for development possible, but the way in which it is generated can - in itself - help to rebalance and reset the global development agenda and regenerate the global environmental commons. Much has been discussed about a global tax and it is a very important discussion, but more should be done on reductions in environmentally damaging subsidies, and the adoption of sustainable procurement policies that offer great potential, for example. ODA must also be used wisely to access larger pools of development finance.

I look forward to the module on Innovative Financing for a Sustainable Future.

5. Stepped up south-south and triangular co-operation - and other mechanisms to exchange what we learn and better connect policy-makers and science - and technology with innovators are essential for our success.

6. We know from the success of the MDGs to engage citizens and spur action - that easily understood goalposts make good incentives. So there is growing enthusiasm for evolving from the MDGs towards the SDG. 

But for this it is important to make the MDGs a success. Even as we begin the conversation about what the post-2015 development framework will look like and how the SDG will converge with the post 2015 framework–– every effort must go into achieving the goals we currently have - sustainably and equitably.

7. To incentivize change, better measures will be needed. The Global Sustainability Panel noted that many argue “if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed”. As we will discuss in the days ahead, new metrics of progress in the public and private sectors are needed which reflect more holistically the value we ascribe to human development and the environment. Rio+20 must provide impetus a new sustainable development index or a set of indicators expanding on the Human Development Index., the Fitusii, stiglitz and Sen commission, and the new methodologies and efforts that have been developed to include the environment in the national accounts.   

Within this framework for resetting the global agenda in Rio, I am confident that over the coming two days we can generate concrete proposals for achieving equitable, sustainable, human development. At the end of this conference we want to agree to an “Istanbul Declaration” – a declaration that will have a genuine influence in Brazil. I also hope that this Forum will help establish new partnerships across sectors, and that you will take these discussions and this declaration home to capture the imagination and interest of a much broader audience.  

Thank you.

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