Informal Roundtable: Cooperative Enterprises Build Another World: Contributions to Sustainable Development on the Occasion of the Launch of the International Year of Cooperatives

Opening Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Three interrelated events will take place at the United Nations in 2012.

We will mark the International Year of Cooperatives and the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. And we will also host the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio +20.

These three events are interrelated in their ultimate goals of poverty eradication, inclusive growth and human well-being within a sustainable development context.

At the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, we have been working hard to promote this people-centered approach.

Our goal is to advance development for all, especially the most vulnerable.

To this end, we must strengthen integration and balance among the social, economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development.

Cooperatives are one such way to achieve this goal.

And the International Year of Cooperatives emphasizes both the promotion of the cooperative model and capacity-building for cooperative enterprises.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, Heads of State and Government pledged to eradicate poverty, promote full employment and foster social integration to achieve stable, safe and just societies for all.

They adopted the Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action for Social Development, which recognized Cooperatives as strategic allies in achieving internationally agreed development goals.

This commitment remains true today.

Cooperatives have been an important means to turn that commitment into reality.

Cooperatives improve opportunities for income generation, help diversify economic activities and increase productivity in low-income and poor communities. In particular, they assist with the provision of financial and technical assistance.

Today, cooperatives have cemented that role – they are the largest providers of microfinance services to the poor.

Historically, cooperatives were founded in times of economic hardship.

This fact is a testament to their capacity to alleviate the effects of such crises.

Even more importantly, cooperatives have proven themselves resilient in difficult times.

In the wake of the 2008-2009 global financial and economic crisis, financial cooperatives proved to be more resilient than their commercial counterparts.

Cooperatives have also been noteworthy for their contributions to rural development and agricultural productivity across both the developed and developing world.

It is estimated that more than 50 per cent of global agricultural output is marketed through cooperatives.

Across Europe, cooperatives account for some 60 per cent of the processing and marketing of agricultural commodities. They also hold 50 per cent share in the supply of inputs.

And in Brazil, for example, in 2009, 36 billion dollars in export revenue was gained from agricultural cooperatives.

Cooperatives are also reliable stewards of our environmental and natural heritage on which their economic and productive activities depend.

Furthermore, cooperatives are gaining a new relevance in many urban contexts.
While developed economies faltered with the effects of the recent recession, cooperatives saw their membership numbers increase.

Urban consumers have turned to cooperatives for low-cost alternatives. Workers have turned to cooperatives seeking stability and greater voice. And the unemployed are increasingly recognizing the added value of cooperative strategies to entrepreneurial endeavors.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The year 2012 may mark an important turning point for social development policy at national and international levels.

As you know, only four years remain to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Stakeholders will begin soon discussing a post-2015 development agenda. The outcome of Rio +20 is likely to play a major role in shaping this agenda.

One of the two themes of Rio +20 is a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Cooperatives have an important role to play in the transition to a green economy. They offer a business model with comparative advantage in creating socially inclusive and environmentally sound economic practices.

For example, a large part of the green economy transition requires radical shifts in the supply and provision of energy.

In some countries, including large economies, cooperatives account for some 40 per cent of electricity distribution..

The relationship of cooperatives to the supply and provision of sustainable energy sources is a crucial one.

We must leverage this potential.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As we embark on the roundtable discussion to follow, let us not lose sight of one question that I deem central to our discussion:

How can cooperatives be best utilized to advance a people-centered approach to sustainable development?

I raise this question because at the heart of cooperatives is the well-being of people.

I look forward to your rich discussions and to your concrete proposals.

Thank you.