Clark: Follow-up Meeting on the Millennium Development Goals in Tokyo, Japan

Jun 2, 2011

Opening Remarks for Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and Chair of the UNDG
on the occasion of the Follow-up Meeting on the
Millennium Development Goals in Tokyo, Japan
2 June 2011, 9:30am


I join the Secretary General in thanking Japan for holding this follow-up meeting to the MDG Summit. I also thank Prime Minister Kan Naoto for his extensive efforts to advance global development, including the MDGs.

It is indeed a testament to Japan’s commitment to development that we gather here so soon after the unprecedented and devastating disasters which hit Japan. Perhaps it is in these times of crisis that we can clearly see our shared humanity and the many connections which make our fates intertwined. I hope that the extraordinary leadership of Japan on global solidarity at this time will serve as a model for us all as we step up the international effort to achieve the MDGs over the next four years.

Implementing the MDG Summit action agenda

Since 2000, the MDGs have served as a rallying cry for governments and peoples around the world. Without doubt, significant progress has been made. On average, people almost everywhere live longer and healthier lives, are better educated, and endure less poverty than ever before. According to the World Bank’s 2011 Global Monitoring Report on the MDGs, half of the countries now falling short of the MDG targets are not far away from them.

A lot is known about the policies and approaches which have driven MDG acceleration in many countries. That evidence helped shape the Action Agenda which Member States unanimously adopted at last year’s MDG Summit. In re-committing themselves to the MDGs Member States were inspired by the many success stories from around the world, and believed that the MDGs could be achieved.

Yet we are all aware of the obstacles in the way. Progress towards the Goals and targets has often been slow and uneven. Achieving the MDGs requires addressing the underlying bottlenecks blocking progress, and action to reach those who are marginalized in their societies. Following the MDG Summit we need to redouble our efforts to tackle these issues.

The Summit outcome document gives us a guide on how to proceed, and the UN itself is helping to take it forward in many ways. For example, as the Secretary General mentioned, we are helping many countries implement the UN Strategy for Women and Children’s Health, and are helping many others to expand food security for the most vulnerable.

There is also the MDG Acceleration Framework, which has been endorsed by the UN Development Group as a useful tool. It enables governments and development partners, within established national processes, to identify and systematically prioritize the bottlenecks blocking MDG progress, and then devise ways to overcome them. It works by breaking down silos between sectors, MDGs, and disciplines, in favour of an evidence-based, cross-sectoral, and problem-solving approach.

Fourteen countries have employed the Acceleration Framework since last year; of those, ten have arrived at their own detailed action plans, and six are now in the process of implementation, with the others expected to follow shortly. Thirty more countries have requested UN support to use the Acceleration Framework.  At this afternoon’s session we will hear from countries using this approach, and about how it helps to break through the barriers to MDG achievement.

An agenda for accelerating and sustaining MDG progress

The steps developing countries and development partners take now to accelerate MDG progress need to position us all for a more ambitious development agenda beyond 2015.

Both the human development approach championed by UNDP and the human security approach championed by Japan can help guide us forward, ensuring that we have a common direction through to 2015. Both tell us that development is inherently about expanding the capabilities and opportunities of people to live lives they value and improve the prospects of their communities.  

Within this framework, I suggest two reinforcing ways in which development actors can be more effective, uniting the strands of our work to accelerate and sustain MDG progress: 
First, we need to aim for much more catalytic impact from development assistance across the board.  Narrow sectoral strategies must be replaced by a focus on the drivers of transformational change and by maximising the synergies across different strands of development work. For example:

  • We need to back interventions which will have the greatest multiplier effects across the MDGs. UNDP identified a range of these in its 2010 International Assessment of what it would take to achieve the MDGs. Initiatives which empower women are a powerful driver of progress across the Goals. Similarly, expanding access to energy can simultaneously help keep children in school, enable health services to function over longer hours, and free up women’s time from backbreaking domestic chores.
  • We need to emphasise institution building and system strengthening. More attention needs to be paid to capacity development, which, so often remains “behind the scenes”. For example, it is important not only to build health clinics, but also to get the   systems and incentives in place to ensure that health workers are paid on time, supplies get to where they are needed, and quality standards are met.
  • We need to support sustainable models of economic growth which reach the poor, generate domestic resources for development, and grow countries’ capacity to trade.
  • We need to ensure that the climate finance of the future is accessible to poor countries, and that the adaptation and mitigation it helps to fund supports ongoing human development and progress too.
  • We need to back initiatives promoting security, peace, and development. The 22 states currently the most far away from achieving the MDGs are in – or are emerging from - armed conflict. For enduring peace to be established, countries need effective national justice and security systems, dispute resolution mechanisms, social cohesion, and development.

Second, to accelerate and sustain MDG progress, we have to focus on equity and inclusion.  Development efforts must reach those who have not been able to benefit from the growth and development of their countries. Ethnic and linguistic minorities, and indigenous people, for example, fare worse in most MDG indicators. Taken together, those groups make up a sizable proportion of the world's poor. MDG progress must reach them too; as it must reach women and girls.

Advances in gender equality and the empowerment of women have been too slow on all fronts—from education to inclusion in political decision-making. People with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDS, faith minorities, and rural populations are also less likely to benefit from development progress in their countries. This must change.

Economic growth per se does not necessarily result in poverty reduction, and poverty reduction does not automatically equate with a reduction in inequality. Both inequality and poverty reduction need to be specifically targeted, if development progress is to be broadly based and to create the social cohesion and sense of national purpose which helps drive transformation.

Social protection systems are also vital for maintaining development traction in the face of external shocks, whether they be natural disasters, recession, or rising food or fuel prices. Rather than being a burden on budgets, effective social protection is a critical investment in sustaining MDG achievement.


I have spoken of some of the ways in which our shared development agenda can be more effective, in line with the Japanese concept of kaizen which represents a continuous process of improvement. All of us working on development can continually improve what we do, learn from our own experiences and those of others, and apply lessons learned to increase the impact of what we do in ways which suit specific contexts.

By working together in partnership to advance catalytic and equitable policies and initiatives, we can support countries to achieve the MDGs and advance towards more sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous futures for all. We at the UN look forward to working with all stakeholders to achieve that.  

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