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Volume 17, No.02 - February 2013
Empowering people for social change
Promoting empowerment of people will be at the core when the Commission for Social Development convenes for its 51st session. “Empowering individuals and social groups requires a comprehensive set of policies and institutions. From education and health care to economic and social policy, activities that seek to empower people are expected to increase opportunities and improve people’s quality of life”, said Ms. Larysa Belskaya, Vice-Chair of the Commission’s Bureau.
Chaired by Ms. Sewa Lamsal Adhikari of Nepal, the Commission will meet from 6 through 15 February in New York with a focus on this year’s priority theme, “Empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all”.
Ms. Adhikari described this upcoming session as crucial, given that the world community is now following up on the Rio+20 Conference, as well as preparing for the MDGs review, post-2015 development agenda and the design of sustainable development goals (SDGs).
She also pointed to the important track record of this functional commission, established by the Economic and Social Council in 1946. ”The Commission has been playing a key role in shaping social policies,” Ms. Adhikari said, pointing to one of its achievements at the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen in 1995, when it “identified poverty eradication as one of the three mutually reinforcing and interdependent pillars of social development.”
Report features input from expert group meeting
Preparing for this event, the Secretary-General has submitted a report, exploring the linkages between empowerment and poverty eradication, full and decent employment for all, social integration, as well as sustainable development. The report also features input and recommendations from the expert group meeting, which was held in New York last September on the empowerment theme.
Leading up to that meeting, DESA and its Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) opened an online forum on Facebook to collect input and questions on empowerment from across the globe. And the engagement level was high. “The questions were sound, they were provocative, they reflected concerns,” said John Mathiason of Cornell University, commending the engagement and participation on Facebook and Twitter.
“One interesting thing about empowerment is that you got to engage participation. When people both looked at Facebook and made their presentations on Facebook, Twitter and the survey, they were actually demonstrating that you can have empowerment of people who are far away,” Mr. Mathiason added.
Opportunities for civil society to contribute
The Commission plans to organize its work in three main forums: the general debate, panel discussions and side events. There will also be many opportunities for civil society to contribute.
A Civil Society Forum will be convened on 5 February under the theme “Civil society: Promoting empowerment of people to achieve the goals of social development” as it relates to the priority theme of the Commission, as well as to the discussions associated with the preparation of the post-2015 development framework.
Held a day prior to the opening of the Commission, the Forum has set a tradition of bringing together prominent civil society actors, representatives of Member States and officials of the United Nations to reflect on a key issue relevant to the work of the current session. It will present its conclusions to the Commission at its opening session. In addition, more than 30 side-events, covering a range of relevant topics in regard to social development, will be organized during the Commission.
During this session, the Secretariat will make a room available to NGOs for briefings and other events.
Social groups in focus
In addition to the empowerment theme, this session will “provide an opportunity to exchange views on other important key issues, such as disabled persons, youth, ageing, family and others”, Ms. Adhikari said, referring to the provisional agenda which will feature discussions on several different plans related to various social groups. The Commission also plans to review several reports of the Secretary-General on each of these issues as well as on emerging matters.
”This is a very good opportunity for the Commission to highlight and visualize not only the need for vulnerable groups to be empowered, but to contribute directly to the ongoing discussion that the General Assembly, ECOSOC and other relevant bodies of the UN are going to have with regards to the upcoming 2015 agenda for development,” said H.E. Mr. Carlos García González, Vice-Chair of the Bureau.
The work of the Commission can be followed on the website of DSPD, where visitors can find links to all the documentation produced ahead and during the meeting. Statements made by delegates will also be made available online as the meeting takes place.
With the arrival shortly of government representatives and civil society to UN Headquarters in New York, the stage is set for the important work of the Commission to begin. A vital platform for shaping future policies, it will help promote people’s empowerment across the globe.
The importance of empowerment for development has also been underscored by DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo. As experts met last September to prepare for the Commission, he stated, “empowerment is critical to poverty eradication and to development. Indeed, I would even say that any long-term solution to poverty must start with empowerment.”
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Getting the data right for global development
Statistics play a vital role as the world community works to enhance development across the globe. Health, the economy, the environment and the Millennium Development Goals; these are just a few of many areas measured and analyzed. On 26 February, the UN Statistical Commission will convene to assess how this work can be further improved to meet new and emerging challenges.
“We are again looking forward to strong participation from Member States. As in past years, we expect about 140 countries to be represented by their experts from the capital, making the Statistical Commission a truly global forum on official statistics,” said Sabine Warschburger, Statistician in DESA’s Statistics Division, who has been coordinating the preparations for the Commission and its many side events for a number of years.
Established as a functional Commission under the UN Economic and Social Council in 1947, the UN Statistical Commission is the highest decision-making body for international statistical activities, especially when it comes to setting statistical standards, the development of concepts and methods and their implementation at the national and international levels. It also oversees the work of DESA’s Statistics Division.
As the World Statistics Day was celebrated a few years back, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the important role of the Commission, saying that it “has created international methodological standards and guidelines in virtually every area of statistics. It has played a key role in helping governments strengthen their statistical reporting, making data more available and comparable across countries and regions than ever before.”
Linking socio-economic information with geographic locations
This year, the Commission will discuss 13 agenda items including the implementation of the fundamental principles of official statistics; environmental-economic accounting; environment statistics; national accounts; international comparison programme; international trade and regional statistical development in Africa. An additional 16 items will be presented for information, including education, employment, integrated economic statistics as well as development indicators.
Developing a statistical-spatial framework in national statistical systems is this year’s topic of the Commission’s annual in-depth review, which is usually carried out by a Member State. Previous themes have included population and housing censuses, a review of gender statistics, quality assurance frameworks, climate change, employment, education, industry and social statistics. The National Statistical Office of Australia has this year taken the lead in preparing the in-depth report, containing proposals on future work to develop a statistical-spatial framework.
Statistical-spatial information helps advance all development aims, as it links statistical and socio-economic information to a location, bringing much improved understanding and relevance to the data collected. It thereby promotes informed decision-making and policy analysis both at the local and global level.
Need for measuring well-being, progress and sustainability
One of the most anticipated topics this year is the role of statistics in measuring progress within the field of sustainable development. In the Rio+20 outcome document “The Future We Want”, a call was made for broader measures of progress to complement GDP, while asking the Statistical Commission to work on this together with other UN entities and relevant organizations. This mandate presents an increased responsibility for the statistical community to improve existing frameworks and develop new approaches to capture the complex interaction of the economy, society and environment, and address the need for measures of well-being, progress and sustainability.
To help explore views on how the Commission can best respond to the Rio+20 mandate, the Monday High-Level Forum will be devoted this year to the theme of Official Statistics’ Response to the Rio+20 Mandate for Broader Measures of Progress. It will provide a forum of stocktaking and knowledge-sharing among National Statistical Offices (NSOs) and international organizations.
The Commission will address the implementation of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) Central Framework, which has been adopted as international statistical standard by the Statistical Commission in 2012. It will also consider endorsing the revised Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics (FDES 2013) and a plan for its implementation. The main objective of the FDES 2013 is to guide countries to establish and develop their environment statistics, organizing the data into a structure of six different components.
Elements covered are (i) environmental conditions, quality, and their changes due to human influence; (ii) the availability and use of the environmental resources in production and consumption; (iii) the generation, management and disposal to the environment of pollutants and other residuals from production and consumption; (iv) the occurrence and impacts of extreme events and disasters; (v) the quality of human settlements and environmental health; and (vi) the social and economic measures for the protection and management of the environment.
The System of Environmental Economic Accounting (SEEA) together with the FDES will help strengthen the measurement of the environmental pillar of sustainable development and the integrated calculation of the environmental, social and economic pillars.
The financial crisis in 2008/2009 revealed the interconnectedness of all economies and showed the economic and financial vulnerabilities of nations based on their cross-border relations. This topic is now discussed under the item on international trade statistics. It covers emerging policy needs for new statistics on international trade, including statistics on multinational enterprises and foreign direct investment, and indicates new initiatives in the measurement of global value chains and trade in value added.
It also expresses concern at the lack of coordination among the many task teams operating in this field and proposes the development of an overarching framework for international trade and economic globalization to ensure consistency in methodology, data compilation and data dissemination and the development of an appropriate mechanism for coordinating this process.
Regional perspectives and fundamental principles
Over the past five years, the Commission has reviewed the progress made in the area of official statistics in all five regions – Africa; Asia and the Pacific; Europe; Latin America and the Caribbean Countries; and Western Asia. In 2008, Africa had kicked off this regional theme and the cycle was completed in 2012 with Europe being presented, when the Commission decided to keep this important regional perspective. Time has therefore come to put spotlight on Africa again, featuring an exhibition as well as two seminars on the census and vital statistics and on agricultural statistics.
The Commission also intends to submit the 10 Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics to the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly for endorsement, following a global survey on their implementation and the creation of a new preamble.
Big data and more
“In 2012, the Commission session was supplemented by a record number of 60 side events. It’s my understanding that this makes the Statistical Commission one of the largest and busiest events held at UN Headquarters,” said Sabine Warschburger, also explaining that a similar number of side events is expected this year.
One of the events is “Big Data for Policy, Development and Official Statistics”, arranged on 22 February and taking a closer look at the fundamental change to the nature of data caused by the arrival of the Internet, mobile devices and other technologies. In addition to delegates from National Statistical Offices, participants will include representatives from Google, Amazon Web Services, SAS, UN Global Pulse and OECD.
Other side events through learning centres and lunchtime seminars will focus on the newly revised Framework for the Development of Environment Statistics, the SEEA Experimental Ecosystem Accounting, the implementation of the SEEA Central Framework and Trade and Business Registers and will take place on 25, 26 and 27 February.
The vast range of topics and the many side events being arranged, bear testament to the crucial role statistics play for nations worldwide. The Secretary-General has previously also stated, “statistics are a vital tool for economic and social development, including our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. For development to succeed, we need data collection and statistical analysis of poverty levels, access to education and the incidence of disease. Statistics are a central consideration in justifying almost every aspect of budgets and programmes that enable hungry children to be fed or that provide shelter and emergency health care for victims of natural disasters.”
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New ECOSOC President elected
Ambassador Néstor Osorio of Colombia was elected to serve as President of the Economic and Social Council on 28 January. DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo thanked the outgoing President, Miloš Koterec and congratulated Mr. Osorio on his new role, stating that the Colombian’s leadership came during a period of transition crucial for the future of the planet.
Addressing the event at UN Headquarters in New York, Mr. Wu further stated, “As we chart a course towards sustainable development, the transition that lies ahead of us is not optional, but is inevitable. Our planet simply cannot sustain nine billion inhabitants aspiring for higher standards of living, if we remain entrenched in our unsustainable consumption.”
Citing that 2013 would be “a very important year” for the Council with regards to development issues, Mr. Wu said, “we are now moving from the collection of proposals and ideas, towards important negotiations. I am confident that His Excellency Mr. Osorio will use his leadership so that ECOSOC takes full advantage of these opportunities.”
The newly elected ECOSOC President also took the stage underscoring the important work for the Council moving forward. “Maintaining an intense commitment to the Rio+20 follow-up work is surely a crucial part of walking the talk we had in Rio. Another involves remaking the Council a more effective body – a major and constructive actor on the global stage,” Ambassador Osorio said, also outlining concrete proposals for reform.
“The ECOSOC plays a crucial role in the pursuit of our goal of making the world a better place. So today I will address the task that has been entrusted to me with the utmost commitment and spirit of cooperation and respect. I am sure I will count on the full support of all of you with the goal of continuing working together to build a better future and prosperity for future generations,” he concluded.
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