Third Committee of the General Assembly

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

Delivered by Mr. Thomas Stelzer, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Co-ordiantion & Inter-Agency Affairs

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to address the Third Committee today.

I congratulate you, Mr. Chairman, and other members of the Bureau, on your election.

As the Committee opens its session, the world is still struggling to recover from the economic crisis.

Many countries are battling the prospect of a double-dip recession.

Uncertainty about the future of the global economy remains high.

Food emergencies are once again affecting millions of people in Africa.

The crisis hit the most vulnerable groups hard, putting at risk the social pillar of sustainable development.

Many countries are grappling with increases in unemployment and poverty, especially among the youth, while contending with fiscal consolidation, austerity measures and a lack of social protection.

This is why it is so important to continue to strengthen social development even in hard times. In the preparatory process of the Rio+20 Conference, there is growing recognition that social development has been a missing link in our efforts to achieve MDGs and sustainable development.

Mr. Chairman,

This Committee has an opportunity to examine the underlying causes of a still unfolding social crisis and mobilize the necessary political will to deal with it.

We have not even yet seen the full effect of this crisis.

Consequences take years to manifest.

The threat of a double-dip recession and the growing demand for fiscal retrenchment intensify the already serious situation.

For example, the impact of the crisis on youth has been severe.

Youth unemployment is at an all-time high, especially among the indigenous people.

Social protection for children and the elderly has been weakened as a result of cuts in public expenditure for health care, education and training.

Older persons saw the value of their life savings dwindle. Meanwhile their employment opportunities shrank as a result of the financial and economic crisis.

We all know that the effects of the crisis have been manifold.

However, it particularly hurts the poor and groups who are over-represented among the poor, indigenous peoples, persons with disability, youth and older persons.

As a result, social inequities, which have been a threat to social stability, to economic and social development, have been on the rise.

Growing social inequities are like a time bomb; left unaddressed, they will tear apart the moral fabric of our society and undermine prospects for social development, which is a critical pillar for sustainable development.

Mr. Chairman,

The international community must tackle the worsening social crisis with a sense of urgency and with firm political commitment.

Successful policies are those that do not overlook the fact that economic policies have social implications.

Successful policies are those that promote economic and social development together with human rights protection, more and better jobs, social cohesion and less inequality.

It is imperative to stay on this path and understand the fundamental links between social and economic policies.

Sustained, equitable and inclusive growth must have a strong social pillar.

No development path leaving billions of people in poverty, hunger and social exclusion will be sustainable.

As Secretary-General of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (or Rio+20), I sense a growing agreement on the need to strengthen the social pillar.

Countries realize that we must create economic growth that is inclusive, equitable and that generates more and better jobs.

Doing so requires fundamental social changes that the United Nations, and this Committee in particular, can help foster.

We must figure out how to effectively integrate social and economic policies.  This is absolutely necessary for a people-centered recovery and long-term sustainable development.

With this in mind, let me list a few relevant points:

First, in the current economic climate, it is important to maintain our commitments to poverty eradication and social justice. We must retain and strengthen social objectives, not diminish them.

As countries try to control fiscal deficits, they must also safeguard growth-enhancing social expenditures.

Second, experience has shown that job creation is paramount. As policy responses to the concurrent crises are developed, jobs are needed for inclusive recovery and poverty reduction.

Third, the establishment and expansion of a social protection floor is also imperative.

Such a floor protects people from extreme poverty and deprivation.

And it functions as an automatic stabilizer by supporting aggregate demand during economic downturns.

Furthermore, this floor will facilitate a shift to green economies by providing a safety net to people who lose their jobs in the process.

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished delegates,

As you know, we will gather in Rio for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20next June.

Rio+20 will be a landmark opportunity to integrate social concerns with the economic and environmental pillars of sustainable development. We know that a green economy must support poverty eradication. That is why we continue to explore – throughout the preparatory process and in numerous regional meetings underway – ways in which a green economy can create jobs for the poor and sustainable livelihoods. In fact, Member States have highlighted a number of emerging issues for priority attention at Rio, and green jobs and social inclusion tops the list.

Through your deliberations and policy recommendations, this Committee can play a key role in mobilizing political will and in promoting the integration of social and economic policies.

Since the Committee met last year, young men and women have been central actors of a broad-based social movement.  They are calling for better opportunities and decent work.

The International Year of Youth has helped raise the awareness of the importance of increased commitment and investment in youth… and increased youth participation.

I see additional promising opportunities ahead, and I would like to point a few out.

First, on 31 October, we will launch the 2012 International Year of Cooperatives.

Cooperative enterprises help generate employment and income; they are therefore able to contribute to reducing poverty and inequality.

Cooperatives are also widely accessible and enhance social inclusion.

I encourage Member States to establish national committees to use the International Year to promote cooperatives.

I also encourage you to support a plan of action that strengthens cooperatives.


One way to strengthen the social pillar, as well as to promote closer integration of social and economic policies, is by addressing issues related to social groups.

Last year the General Assembly decided to organize a high-level plenary meeting in 2014 – to be known as the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

The World Conference is an excellent opportunity to bridge the implementation gaps in addressing the rights and priorities of indigenous peoples.

I urge Member States to include indigenous peoples’ voices and their participation at all stages of the Conference.

I also hope the Committee’s deliberations will generate continuing support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This year, the Assembly will also consider options for a High Level Meeting on Disability and Development. The meeting will be held at the 67th session of the General Assembly, in 2012.

The proposed High-Level Meeting is expected to address the urgent need for the participation of persons with disabilities in all aspects of development processes.

I call upon Governments, in cooperation with other stakeholders, to realize the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Mr. Chairman,

Preparations for the observance of the twentieth anniversary of the International Year of the Family, in 2014, are underway.

I strongly encourage Governments to support this preparatory process. Let us consider innovative ways to integrate social and economic policies so that families world-wide benefit.

This year also saw two substantive sessions of the open-ended working group of the General Assembly focused on strengthening the protection of the human rights of older persons.

The continued and increased support of Member States from all regions to this discussion is crucial.

And the integrated policies we seek should put an end to the invisibility of older persons on the global development agenda.

Mr. Chairman,
Distinguished Delegates,

You have a serious responsibility to address persistent and new challenges to social development, in particular the issue of growing social inequities.

New realities require us to find new paths.

I urge you to guide our collective efforts to strengthen the social pillar of sustainable development now and in the years to come.

My Department and I will do our best to facilitate the important work of your Committee.

Thank you.