Mourad Wahba: Keynote Speech at UNDP China 40th Anniversary Development Dialogue

Posted November 7, 2019

UNDP Associate Administrator Mourad Wahba delivering a keynote speech at UNDP China 40th anniversary development dialogue in Beijing, China

Dear Excellencies,

Esteemed guests, valued partners, colleagues and friends,

We are here tonight to celebrate a landmark anniversary: 40 years since the United Nations Development Programmes’s (UNDP) presence in; and close partnership with China.

Professor Hu described China’s truly remarkable achievements over the last 40 years.

And the “opening up” of China has allowed more than 700 million people to be lifted out of poverty -- the equivalent to almost one in ten people on earth.

We at UNDP are deeply proud to have played a part in supporting China’s extraordinary successes.

We truly appreciate the invaluable experience of our host country in achieving the Millennium Development Goals – this expertise will be also critical with 10 years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The SDGs lie at the heart of UNDP and China’s relationship today -- and tomorrow.

Those 17 Goals represent a global promise to end poverty, reduce inequality and ensure the future of life on earth by the year 2030.

They aim to build a world in which all people prosper -- with the planet protected from the worst effects of climate change, and where we ensure that we leave no one behind.

This also echoes the Chinese government’s goals of ending poverty and to:

“Pursue open, innovative and inclusive development that benefits everyone”.

Today, I would like to reflect on the successes that we have achieved together – as well as the challenges we must overcome and the future opportunities that we must take advantage of.

China and the world’s progress towards the Goals faces a number of major obstacles:

·      At our current trajectory, 6 per cent of the world’s population will remain in extreme poverty by 2030 -- missing our goal of ending poverty in all of its forms, everywhere;

·      Some 1.3 billion people today live in multidimensional poverty – of which more than 600 million are children. In China, four per cent of the population remained in multidimensional poverty according 2014 data;

·      Inequalities within countries are rapidly rising, eroding the social fabric and stoking conflict. Oxfam calculates that just eight people own the same wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region’s combined income inequality has risen by over five percentage points in the last 20 years. Yet SDG 10 – reduced inequality – is critical to achieve the rest of the SDGs. That is because we know that unequal wealth translates into inequality more widely -- from health, to education, to exposure to environmental risks;

·      This brings me to another major challenge the SDGs seek to overcome: our vulnerability to the effects of climate change. The past five years have been, collectively, the warmest since records began and the relentless rise of carbon dioxide levels. We have seen more frequent and more extreme weather-related events. For instance, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, drought now affects one part of China equivalent to the size of Indonesia -- or one sixth of China’s arable land. And this could cost US $47 billion a year in losses, if global temperatures rise by 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This situation calls for a transformation in all walks of life – from the way we work, to how we live, to how we travel, to how we invest, to how we consume.

No country, however big, can achieve this on its own.

But given its sheer size, China will have a significant impact on human development globally.

China’s commitment is critical for the world to meet the SDGs and ensure the sustainability of major endeavours such as the Belt and Road Initiative. There is also a key opportunity for these two long-horizon initiatives to support one another.

In this respect, UNDP believes that opportunities for human progress can outweigh its challenges – if we work together -- and look to the future.

For instance, artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing, 3D printing, and automation hold great potential to build a better world -- if used with the public good in mind.

But if geared to interest groups, they can also exacerbate inequality, intensify conflict, and limit personal freedom.

Thus, UNDP is working to build “21st Century global governance” to help mitigate potential risks from technology, based on more effective digital cooperation, and common values -- such as inclusiveness, respect, human rights, international law, transparency and sustainability.

The complexity and inter-connectedness of these challenges calls for strengthened cooperation between governments -- and also amongst all stakeholders.

We need globally coordinated efforts and accelerated actions by countries, states, cities, civil society, academics, innovators and companies, to turn the SDGs into a shared reality.

UNDP, with a presence in 170 countries and territories, and the UN development system as a whole, are the “natural partners” to support societies, including China, in shaping such inclusive governance.

In terms of the social and environmental pillars of sustainability, we need to focus on a number of particular areas.

Firstly, we need carefully designed social policies that promote sustainable development during demographic shifts and rapid innovation.

A great opportunity is within reach to redesign social policies to be more inclusive, with a focus on vulnerable groups, minorities, youth, people with disabilities and the elderly, amongst others.

·      For instance, as the World Bank points out, countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men. This includes Chinese women -- online recruiter Boss Zhipin found that women earn, on average, 20 per cent less than men;

·      In terms of demographic shifts -- by the year 2050, one in six people worldwide will be over age 65.  In China, it will be just over one in three;

·      And on social safety nets -- there remain vast gaps. These safety nets must include the informal sector and the growing “gig economy”.

Secondly, development must move to a low-carbon path. Climate change is perhaps the greatest “market failure” of our time. The same forces that drive it are also causing biodiversity loss and catastrophic plastic pollution of our oceans and land.

It is also deepening inequality.

Developing countries will bear 75 to 80 per cent of the costs of climate change. This could push 120 million more people into poverty by the 2030 – reversing the massive gains that have been made in recent years.

UNDP’s work to support countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change -- and support solutions from the ground up focuses on:

·      Increasing the scope and ambition of national plans and accelerating their implementation;

·      Mobilizing institutions and resources; and

·      Aligning policies and plans with “climate-smart”, resilient approaches.

Examples of our work include:

·      Increasing resilience to storms in Small Island Developing States;

·      Promoting green businesses in Latin America;

·      The “Bright Africa Partnership” designed to provide solar energy to one million people and create a large number of jobs;

·      The innovative Hydrogen Economy project in China, which UNDP has been working on with the Ministry of Science and Technology, along with seven city governments.

UNDP also researches and advises countries on sustainable financing for the SDGs.

While funding needs depend on the policies pursued, the global financing gap remains large, reaching US $5 to 7 trillion a year by one estimate. Of this gap -- the UN calculates two thirds must come from the private sector.

To support the alignment of the of funds with the SDGs in China, we launched an SDG Financing Platform providing operational guidelines and principles to promote the development and expansion of sustainable finance.

The necessary resources can be found not only in raising funds, but also by reallocating them. Public funds must be carefully disbursed, to maximise their returns in society and the environment.

Policymakers must also generate incentives for sustainable private investments. Indeed, sustainable investing increasingly makes good business sense. As Nordea Equity Research points out -- it can help companies out-perform competitors by up to 40 per cent.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is clear that the future is not what it used to be.

Our new era is increasingly complex and interconnected.

Changes in all respects -- economic, social and environmental -- have accelerated much faster than change in institutions.

Moreover, the past provides ever less guidance over the future.

We must move away from extrapolating from experience, as helpful as it has been until now.

We must adapt, innovate and collaborate to seize the many opportunities that lie ahead of us.

We now stand at a crossroads. It rests upon us to decide what kind of world we will leave to the generations that come after us.

We have come a long way, as evidenced by our celebration of having worked together for 40 years.

We are also here to celebrate the many achievements and successes realised by our host country, China.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank China for its outstanding partnership with UNDP, as well as having the courage and commitment to embrace change -- which started 40 years ago and continues to this very day.

I would also like to extend my deep gratitude to the dedicated and hard-working teams in UNDP China -- as well as in the Chinese government and to all of our partners over these 40 years, who have been part of this remarkable journey. 

The world now faces its own tremendous changes, to ensure development that is sustainable – development that leaves no one behind.

This is perhaps humanity’s hardest test.

Yet China’s people are living proof that even the most challenging development goals can be achieved. Like the SDGs, the transformation of their lives had no precedent.

Instead, China has proven what is in fact possible -- that with careful planning; appropriate policies; informed implementation; and perseverance over decades -- a country that was mostly poor, can become the engine of global growth.

We have come a long way together. But our work is not yet done. Let’s not rest on our laurels.

Let’s raise our efforts, so sustainable development can be an integral part of life --- in every city – and in every village.

A planet that can sustain everyone, and a society that can include everyone -- that is our next destination.

And China will be key in achieving that better future.