Rebeca Grynspan: “Applying democratic governance to achieve sustainable human development”

Mar 26, 2013

Keynote Remarks for Rebeca Grynspan
Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and
UNDP Associate Administrator
“Applying democratic governance to achieve sustainable human development”  
128th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU),
Tuesday 26 March, Quito, Ecuador

President of the IPU, Hon. Abdhalwahad Radi,
Secretary General, Anders Johnsson,
Hon. Fernando Cordero Cueva, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador,
Speakers of Parliament,
Honorable MPs,
Parliamentary Development Practitioners;

I am delighted to join you for this, the one hundred and twenty eighth Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (not many organizations in the world can count 128 fruitful gatherings like IPU!).

We at the United Nations Development Programme have long understood Parliaments to be essential dimensions of effective, inclusive and democratic governance. This understanding and our work with parliaments around the world has benefited from a history of close collaboration and partnership with the IPU.

Let me especially thank President Hon. Radi Abdhalwahad and Secretary General, Anders Johnsson for a very insightful and meaningful collaboration, we really appreciate and value the perseverance and effort made as well as the contribution to UNDP performance in this field!

Today, in UNDP we are proud to support the work of one in every three parliaments worldwide. Our efforts aim to enable parliaments to realize their full potential as drivers of development. Last year at the IPU’s 126th Assembly in Kampala, I had the privilege of joining the IPU Secretary-General to launch the first ever joint IPU-UNDP Global Parliamentary Report. The Report offers specific strategies and lessons for MPs looking for ways to meet public expectations and improve relations between parliaments and citizens – in this era of rapid-change and instant communication. The Report has been welcomed by national parliaments and development actors around the world –many of whom organized events and helped support its translation.

Our focus here at this Assembly is on how parliaments can be drivers of the kind of development citizens and people around the world want. The kind of development that generates decent work, is responsive and accountable, and enhances the well-being of all people – both in this generation and the next. The theme of this Assembly and the extensive research carried through our Human Development Report clearly establishes that economic growth, while essential, is not enough. As Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen,  founder of the human development approach put it, “human development is concerned with advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live".

Ecuador, with its call to build “Una nueva forma de convivencia ciudadana, en diversidad y armonía con la naturaleza, para alcanzar el buen vivir, el sumak kawsay” as enshrined in its constitution, is an appropriate setting for this discussion and a clear contribution to development thinking. I thank the President of Ecuador’s National Assembly for his introduction and for hosting this event.

Our UNDP´s Human Development Reports have maintained that people represent the real wealth of nations.

Development is about expanding the capabilities of people to live lives they value for this and for future generations.  Healthy, prosperous and educated people in a framework of sustainable development are the real drivers of development in their countries and communities.

Despite the huge challenges we face, the last decade has brought remarkable improvements in people’s lives. With far-sighted and effective leadership, including from those gathered here –progress can be accelerated and expanded to those who have been left behind.

IPU, UNDP and the parliamentarians of the world have a huge opportunity to advance sustainable human development. We can help to put in place an ambitious and achievable post-2015 global development agenda which reflects an inclusive vision of the world we all want to live in. Together, we can bring evidence and experiences to implement what Member States expressed at the turn of the century, in the Millennium Declaration, “to strengthen the capacity of all countries to implement the principles and practices of democracy and respect for human rights, including minority rights”.

Opportunities for sustainable human development

UNDP’s 2013 Human Development Report, launched by the UNDP Administrator just a few weeks ago in Mexico City, found that since 1990, all but two countries  have made notable improvements in their human development scores. This reflects significant advances in education, health, and income across the globe especially in countries with low or medium scores in human development.

In its focus on the Rise of the South, the Human Development Report highlights that the countries in the South are now driving global economic growth and progress, lifting hundreds of millions of people from poverty, and propelling billions more into a new global middle class. Developing countries are also increasingly trading, investing, spreading technology and exchanging know-how, with other developing countries.

The Report argues that the transformation of many developing countries into dynamic major economies with growing political influence and innovative social policies has already had a significant positive impact on human development progress.

In assessing the success of a number of rapidly progressing countries, the Report identifies three drivers:

  • a strong, proactive state focused on development;
  • countries successfully tapping global markets while simultaneously pursuing inclusive growth; and
  • innovative social policies which prevent setbacks and expand opportunity.

In this respect the experience of LAC, including Ecuador, is a good example of growth accompanied by reductions in poverty and inequality with a clear movement towards sustainable development and increasing care for the environment. Rapidly developing countries are concluding that environmental degradation and social inequities represent significant barriers to growth and human development.

With just over 1000 days to the 2015 target date for achieving the MDGs, there is still much urgent work to do.
It is not time to stop! There is no doubt that the MDGs have made a difference by establishing human development priorities that galvanize action on the ground, by countries and their international partners, impacting the lives of billions.

The MDGs demonstrate that a broad, clear and bold vision can generate grass-roots engagement, mobilize resources and bring diverse actors to common cause. Enormous progress has been made. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty, on under $1.25 per day, is now half of what it was in 1990 and the world is within reach of seeing every child, girls and boys, enrolled in primary school. Considerable progress has also been made to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB; expand access to improved water sources; and improve the living conditions of slum dwellers. Millions of people around the world are escaping extreme poverty and living healthier lives with hopes for a better future.  Some of the lowest income countries have made the greatest strides.

But, as the Human Development Report stressed positive trends will be difficult to sustain without new approaches and new solutions. The Report identifies four particular challenges:
-enhancing equity, including on the gender dimension to overcome what we call “the tyranny of averages”, extra effort is required to achieve the MDGs precisely in the groups that suffer exclusion, discrimination and vulnerability due to their race, ethnicity, gender, residence, disability, or sexual orientation.

- improving governance –giving citizens greater voice and participation;
- confronting environmental pressures;
- and managing demographic change.  

As national elected officials, many of you will have struggled first hand with how fragile development gains can be in the face of shock and adversity. In 2011, the total global cost of natural disasters alone was more than US $380 billion - translating into millions of lost jobs and livelihoods. Environmental degradation at levels currently experienced - fundamentally threatens the prosperity & well-being of us all. As spelled out in guidance note prepared for this Assembly, “beyond a certain point, a growth-centric economic model undermines its own foundations in the natural world”.

Member States at the Rio +20 Conference last year acknowledged this reality and agreed that human development and environmental sustainability must be addressed as two sides of the same coin. At Rio UNDP called for a discourse that emphasizes the triple wins (instead  of emphasizing the tradeoffs) through integrated approaches that link poverty eradication, social equity, and environmental sustainability agendas together.

Expanding renewable access to energy and improving sanitation systems are clear ways to generate environmental benefits while raising productivity and improving the lives of poor women and men now and in the future.
But for this to happen, we need to rescue the value of “Politics” with capital “P” Effective and democratic governance is the glue that holds together the 3 pillars of sustainable development and can turn environmental threats into economic and social opportunities.

Moreover, better and more responsive governance will likely not just be needed but also demanded by citizens.

The Human Development Report projects that by 2030, today’s developing countries will be home to more than four-fifths of the world’s middle class.  And a growing middle class means a growing number who expect better education and health care, better services, and who demand more effective and accountable governments.

As policy-makers and leaders of your communities, parliamentarians are central to advancing sustainable development. MPs can spur action, by implementing ambitious policies and budgets, compliant with sustainable development priorities. MP’s can translate international commitments into national legislation, and monitor the progress of policies and laws. Parliaments need sufficient capacities to perform these roles effectively and efficiently.

Sustainable development will require stepped up collaboration between North and South and more representative global governance mechanisms. Little can be achieved to confront our increasingly global challenges, unless all nations are willing to act.  IPU and UNDP have an important role to help facilitate this collaboration through learning, exchange and cooperation among parliamentarians, like we have done with the Annual Parliamentary Hearings and iKNOW\International Knowledge Network of Women in Politics.

For the 2015 agenda this cooperation becomes all the more critical. Come 2015 there will be much unfinished business. Projections suggest that in 2015 almost 1 billion people will still live in extreme poverty. Many still will not have clean water or improved sanitation. Many will still be suffering from hunger, malnutrition, the burden of preventable ill-health, gender discrimination, and more. Whether or not global MDG targets are met, such suffering is inconsistent with the vision for dignity, equity, democracy, freedom, peace, and prosperity of the Millennium Declaration. 

A post-2015 agenda built from the bottom up 

The post-2015 framework can be seen as the next stage of implementation of the vision of the Millennium Declaration, while fully reflecting the new consensus reached by Member States in Rio+20, that sustainable development goals should be made “coherent with and integrated into the UN Development Agenda beyond 2015”.

To rise to that challenge, the international community must agree on a reinvigorated and transformational global agenda.

The UN Development Group last week released a joint report, The Global Conversation Begins: Emerging Views for a New Development Agenda revealing the findings to dates.

More than 300,000 people have, thus far, contributed their ideas and perspectives on the post-2015 development agenda. This includes 130,000 people who have participated in national dialogues held in 83 countries, and some 100,000 people who have voted for their development priorities on MY World, the UN survey for a better world. Eleven thematic consultations have convened face-to-face meetings. 

I know through the good work of the IPU, many of you have shared your own views and perspectives The IPU consultation ahead of the Assembly meeting here is echoed in an unprecedented number of UN fora and consultations.

At its Annual Parliamentary Hearings at the United Nations this December, the IPU addressed the theme, of “parliamentary approaches to conflict prevention, reconciliation and peace building”. A few weeks ago, I was able to pick these themes up in Helsinki at the Global Post-21015 Thematic Consultation on Conflict, Violence, and Disaster. I also thank the IPU for their support and collaboration for the Global Thematic Consultation on Governance. The contributions of the IPU and members of parliaments in the final meeting of the Post-2015 Governance consultation early this month in Johannesburg have helped put on the table the need to further strengthen the capacity of parliamentarians to respond to the needs of citizens. UNDP remains committed to this work. The evidence is clear. A strong legislature is an unmixed blessing for democratization and public accountability.

Citizens participating in consultations all over the world share the IPU and participating MPs emphasis: Honest and responsive government was the third most frequently selected priority among the 100,000 people who have voted thus far.

“The Global Conversation Begins” Report mentioned above concluded that one of the overarching messages emerging from the consultations so far - is to get on with the entire Millennium Declaration – including its focus on democratic governance. Many participants are looking for stronger forms of accountability in the new development agenda.

Many constituencies, including parliamentarians in South and Southeast Asia, as well as civil society in countries such as Morocco, for example, ask that the new agenda be aligned with human rights standards and accountability mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review.

People are also telling us the MDGs are yet very relevant. Education and health are the top rated priorities. At the same time they are demanding a more ambitious, universal and transformational development agenda which addresses imbalances and root causes.

This suggests the relevance of the task given to you here at the 128th IPU Assembly, to identify new ways to move from “unrelenting growth to purposeful development” which improves the lives of people. UNDP thinks that changing the way we measure progress can help a great deal so to consider ways new measures and approaches can help move beyond the mono focus on gross national product and income– to get to what really matters in people’s lives, can be an important contribution to be made by the international community, at the end what we measure matters, matters to parliaments and to Governments.  We take decision based on the information we are given, the sooner we get  information in a systematic an periodic way that allows us to take the right decisions towards sustainable development, the sooner we will be able to start to transform the world towards sustainable human development .  

In this respect we hope you yourselves and your constituencies will engage in the post-2015 agenda. The exciting and novel bottom-up process now in motion, holds the promise of a mobalised and empowered citizenry which can help also of us achieve the world we want.  


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