2 July 2008
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS CONFERENCE ON NATIONAL VOLUNTARY PRESENTATIONS TO ANNUAL MINISTERIAL REVIEW


AT HIGH-LEVEL SEGMENT OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL’S 2008 SUBSTANTIVE SESSION


Coordinated action was needed immediately if the Millennium Development Goals were to be met by 2015, a number of country representatives said at a Headquarters press conference today as the high-level segment of the Economic and Social Council began its two-day Annual Ministerial Review.


Jean-Louis Schiltz, Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs of Luxembourg, emphasized that his country had joined the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in reaching the internationally agreed 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product to official development assistance, and was committed to reaching 1 per cent in the future.


Encouraging other countries to join the “0.7 club”, Mr. Schiltz noted that, while Ireland, Belgium and Spain seemed quite on track to do so, last year’s global official development assistance figures were much lower than those for the previous year, a trend that was not in line with international development commitments, including those made in 2005 at the Gleneagles Summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations.  It was therefore time to “ring the alarm bell”.


The overall objective of the Annual Ministerial Review is to assess progress made in the United Nations development agenda, including the Millennium Development Goals, as defined by a series of landmark conferences and summits held since the 1990s.  During the national voluntary presentations being made today and tomorrow, four developing and four developed countries will outline progress made and challenges faced in their efforts to meet development goals and targets.


Mr. Schiltz said no new financing commitments were needed; rather, previous commitments must be translated into hard facts.  “It is time for all countries of the northern hemisphere to live up to their commitments.  Millions of people living in the so-called developing countries simply cannot afford to wait for another year.”  Development cooperation enjoyed broad public and civil society support in Luxembourg.  The country’s development assistance was geographically concentrated in 10 partner countries on three continents and thematically focused on education, health, water and sanitation, as well as good governance, environment and gender.  Multi-year agreements were made with partner countries to ensure predictability.


Other speakers accompanying Mr. Schiltz were Andrew Steer, Director-General of Policy and Research in the Department for International Development of the United Kingdom; Ilkka Heiskanen, Deputy Director-General in the Foreign Ministry of Finland; and Yuri Shokamanov, State Secretary in the Agency of Statistics of Kazakhstan.


Mr. Steer stressed the importance of recommitting at the midpoint to the target year for attainment of the Millennium Goals, saying “We owe it to each other to learn from each other and to hold each other accountable.”  In addition to this week’s Review process, there are further chances to do so at international meetings in Accra and Doha later this year, as well as the series of events around the Secretary-General's high-level meeting on the Millennium Development Goals scheduled for New York on 25 September, which would seek to restore political leadership on that issue.


He said that, in laying out his country’s experiences tomorrow, he would highlight successes and lessons learned about “doing development right”.  Among the most important lesson was that sustainable development began at home.  The United Kingdom had committed to a 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions, making it the first country to have undertaken legally binding commitments to make such cuts.  It had also created a development ministry dedicated solely to reducing global poverty, which would not only coordinate development assistance, but also inculcate poverty reduction strategies into all United Kingdom policy, including trade, migration and environmental policy.


Mr. Heiskanen said the eradication of poverty could only be achieved through sustainable development, which must in turn be economically, socially and ecologically sustainable.  Because Finland’s development policy particularly emphasized ecological sustainability, the country was in a position to share lessons learned in the fields of rural and agricultural development, renewable energy, water use and forestry.  While the national presentations would only allow Finland to share its experiences, the Council’s substantive session as a whole afforded the donor community the chance to meet directly with the recipient community.  “Here we can listen to our partners on what we have to do and how to do it.”


Mr. Shokamanov said his country was focused on human development and had for many years used a reporting process to coordinate Government policy, reduce poverty and invest in human capital.  After the adoption of the Millennium Declaration in 2000, Kazakhstan had incorporated the Millennium Development Goals into its national policies.  As a transitional country, it had leveraged the spirit of those Goals that had already been met to spur further development.  For example, tomorrow’s presentation on universal primary education would illustrate how national programmes had focused on raising enrolment at the higher education level.  Kazakhstan was also developing a new midterm strategic plan for 2010-2020 that would target all the Millennium Goals.


Asked why official development assistance had declined so much from 2006 to 2007, Mr. Schiltz said the decline was due partly to the end of several debt-relief schemes that had not been replaced.  European Union member States that had committed to provide 0.51 per cent of gross domestic product by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015 were the first group of countries to have made such a commitment.


Responding to a question about the biggest development challenges, Mr. Steer said development in general was a very complicated process, but there had been a revolution over the last two decades which had resulted in a better understanding of what worked and what did not.  More people had been lifted out of poverty in the last 25 years than in the previous 400.  Even in the area of water supply, which had not been a great success, there had been bigger increases in the last decade than there had been in any other 10-year period.


“What we’ve learned is that leadership is the most important issue,” he said.  Donor countries must align their support with the needs and strategies of recipient countries, helping them refine their plans where necessary.  The “old-fashioned” idea of expatriates “parachuting” in with solutions had been “found just not to work”.


Mr. Schlitz concluded by emphasizing that the biggest challenge lay ahead -- meeting the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.


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For information media • not an official record