Helen Clark: Speech at the 34th Kirchentag 2013 on “Making development work for people and the planet”

03 May 2013

“Making development work for people and the planet”

Hamburg, Germany, 3 May 2013

It is indeed a very great pleasure to join Chancellor Merkel on this panel at the 34th Kirchentag here in Hamburg.

This great event, drawing many tens of thousands of people from across Germany and around the world, is truly a festival of ideas. It provides a place and space for questioning, reflection, and challenging the way things are and the way things could be.

Over more than sixty years the Kirchentag has advanced ideas of freedom, peace, and environmental stewardship – helping to shape debates and inspire action in Germany and beyond.

Never before have the bonds between us as citizens of one planet mattered so much. We face transnational challenges which cannot be resolved by each country acting alone. In my view, the greatest of those challenges lie in the environmental sphere, where the consequences of the way we have developed can be seen in significant ecosystem degradation – to our climate, our forests, our oceans, our drylands, and more. That degradation is having the greatest impact on our world’s poorest people who depend very directly on the health of ecosystems for their sustenance.

We also see how the impacts of other human-made crises are felt around the world; for example, how the financial crisis emanating from some markets in the north had global reach, with its ripple effects still felt to this day in uncertainty in the Eurozone, high unemployment – particularly for youth, and more subdued growth rates in emerging and developing economies too.

Our global challenges don’t stop there – grinding poverty, conflict and armed violence, and the lack of resilience of so many to natural disasters are taking their toll. Therefore, as we set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty worldwide, we must also acknowledge that achieving that is about far more than just lifting incomes – it is about lifting human development overall and building a world where people can live free of both fear and want.

In development, I often say we are in the hope business. We see the needs. We see the barriers. But we also see ways forward. We have to believe that just as the decisions and actions of humankind have brought us to where we are today, so we are also capable of making development work for both the planet and its peoples. Leadership and vision at every level – including from the faith and civil society organisations of our world - can help us build a more equitable and sustainable common future.

There is awareness now, at the global level, and at the national level in both developed and developing countries, that the move to sustainable development is overdue. The challenge is to convert good intentions into concrete action which makes a difference.

Last year the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development called for urgent action to put our world on a more equitable and sustainable development path. Countries agreed that the systems and behaviours which exacerbate poverty and inequalities, exclude women and place many others on the margins of society, and are bringing our planet to the brink of its boundaries must change. We are all called on to pursue integrated approaches to sustainable development, which see economic and social progress as entirely compatible with safeguarding ecosystems. The goal must be to make the transition to green and inclusive economies and societies.

I am reminded of the last time I had the pleasure of speaking at the same forum as Chancellor Merkel. I was Prime Minister of New Zealand and had been invited to share my country’s vision for a carbon neutral future at the annual conference of the German Council for Sustainable Development in 2007. The existence of the Council reflects Germany’s own resolve to work across sectors to deliver a national sustainable development strategy. I recall discussing ways to develop renewable energy, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, and promote clean technologies.

All that resonated well in Germany, a nation which itself developed with a heavy carbon footprint, but now leads the way in making the transition to sustainability. It is good news that the renewable share of Germany’s energy mix doubled between 2006 and 2012.

This suggests to me that with bold leadership and farsighted policies, countries can make the transitions required to become more sustainable. Indeed it is essential that we do so, to avoid the nightmare projections for global temperature rise from materializing.

The consequences of such a rise would see citizens in developed countries funding ever more elaborate flood defence systems, compensating their farmers for lost crops, and adjusting their thermostats to cope with heat waves.

But shifting weather patterns and more extreme climate events in sub-Saharan Africa mean that as more crops fail, more people go hungry, and more girls spend less time in school and more time collecting water. Visiting the Sahel last year, I saw at first hand the human suffering repeated severe drought brings. Put simply, development goes into reverse.

Poor people and poor countries are disproportionately vulnerable to global warming - yet have contributed little to the problem. That is unjust.

I do believe that the developed world has a particular historical responsibility to tackle climate change. It should radically reduce its own emissions of greenhouse gases, and it should also strongly support poor countries to strengthen their resilience to a more erratic climate and pursue low emissions development.

Many developing countries are taking bold initiatives. Ethiopia, for example, with its far sighted Climate Resilient, Green Economy Strategy, has set out to invest US $150 billion over the next two decades to become a carbon neutral, middle income country by 2025. At the climate change negotiations, we see least developed countries making ambitious proposals for reductions in their greenhouse gas emissions.

Such transformations to sustainability need catalytic support, including through official development assistance and specific climate finance. Germany’s support for Green Climate Fund “readiness” indicates that it recognizes the importance of building the capacity of poor countries to access and deploy climate finance. Through its development assistance, Germany also supports the energy sector in sixty countries; for example, helping expand electricity access in rural Rwanda through micro-hydropower, and working with India to develop energy efficiency standards.

Germany’s efforts are consistent with the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative, which aims to:

  • achieve universal access to modern energy services;
  • double energy efficiency by 2030;
  • double the contribution of renewable energy in the global energy mix by 2030.

In support of these goals, my own organisation, the UN Development Programme, is able to act as a bridge between governments, international financial institutions, private investors, and development actors, supporting countries to sequence reforms, strengthen their legal and regulatory capacities, and attract and use financing.

Achieving sustainable energy for all not only has environmental benefits. It also enables children to study at night, health-clinics to store needed vaccines, and women to be freed from backbreaking chores and life-threatening smoke from wood-burning stoves, thus creating a platform for better and more productive lives. In these ways, sustainable development approaches can tackle poverty and inequality too.

A renewed global development agenda

Our world has seen unprecedented progress on almost every dimension of human well-being. Because bad news sells, we don’t often hear of the successes, but in my job I have the privilege of seeing them for myself.

In 2000, leaders from most of the UN’s Member States went to the Millennium Summit in New York and signed the Millennium Declaration.  I was one of them.

What followed was to influence the course of global development for the next fifteen years: the launch of the Millennium Development Goals, which targeted poverty reduction, education, gender equality, reduction of deaths from preventable causes, improved water and sanitation, and environmental protection.

With fewer than a thousand days left before the MDG target date of 31 December 2015 is reached, we see many results from the global partnership to achieve the goals. The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and has achieved parity in primary education between girls and boys.

Spending on vaccines, bed nets, and nutrition has helped push child mortality rates in sub-Saharan countries down by 41 per cent. Children under five years old are now more likely to survive in almost every country in the world. In 2010 there were 21 per cent fewer people newly infected by HIV than there were in 1997.

Without question, development assistance focused on achieving the MDGs has played a role in these successes, along with leadership and action by developing countries.

But plenty of challenges remain: reducing hunger and poor nutrition, poor sanitation, and high maternal death rates have proved to be among the most difficult MDG targets to reach. As well, the global figures on MDG progress mask large disparities within and across countries.

Projections suggest that in 2015 almost one billion people will still live in extreme poverty. Many still will not have clean water or improved sanitation. Many will still suffer from hunger, malnutrition, the burden of preventable ill-health, gender discrimination, and more. Whether or not global MDG targets are met, this is inconsistent with the vision for dignity, equity, freedom, peace, and prosperity agreed by world leaders in the Millennium Declaration in 2000.

To finish the unfinished business of the MDGs, to advance wellbeing and address new global challenges, the world needs a reinvigorated global development agenda beyond the MDG target date of 2015.

Much effort is going into that right now, through global and national consultations to get the views of both peoples and governments on what the agenda should look like.

Over 400,000 people around the world have taken part, including through virtual discussions, surveys, and social media tools. Early analysis confirms that people’s ambitions for our common future are high.

In general, the importance of finishing the unfinished business of the MDGs is being affirmed, including through eradicating extreme poverty and ending hunger. As well people are calling not only for the expansion of services, but also for improving their quality – for example, by ensuring that children both attend school and actually learn something while there, and that having an improved drinking water source means having drinkable water.  

People are also calling for better governance and more transformative and integrated approaches to achieve sustainable development. The post-2015 agenda is an important opportunity to acknowledge planetary boundaries and define a safe operating space for a sustainable global economy and society – recognizing that our development efforts will be undermined if we don’t protect the one planet on which we all depend.

The global community engaged in development co-operation is now larger and more committed than ever before. A new, clear, and easily communicated agenda can inspire us all to greater efforts.

While the global financial crisis and its lingering financial turmoil have dimmed the prospects of many countries, it is not an excuse for a collective failure of imagination. What the world needs more than ever is a common vision of what can be.

That means building equity and sustainability not only into our policies and budgets, but also into our value systems. These should be guiding principles for decision makers at all levels, from government policy makers to each of us in our organisations, businesses, work-places, and homes.

Here, faith-based organizations and fora such as the Kirchentag, have an important role to play in reminding us to focus on what really matters to us as human beings in search of wellbeing.  Trusted by vast numbers of people the world over, faiths shape attitudes, and can help tip the scales in favor of inclusive and sustainable approaches.

Many faith-inspired groups and leaders are already part of the drive to achieve the MDGs, foster peace and reconciliation, and advocate for climate action. In many countries in Africa, for example, faith-based organizations are estimated to provide from thirty to seventy per cent of health care and education services. Uniting the inspiration and motivation people draw from their faith with practical measures to end suffering, injustice, and environmental degradation, can be a powerful driver of change.

Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner and seminal thinker behind the human development paradigm, has suggested that our common future may well depend on our ability to expand the “boundaries of justice”, so that economics are no longer divorced from social and environmental considerations, and policy-making is no longer divorced from shared principles and conscientious reflection. Such a vision, which I share, can certainly make development work for both people and our planet.

Leadership
Helen

Helen Clark became the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme on 17 April 2009, and is the first woman to lead the organization.

More