Statement by Mr. José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the 44th session of the Commission for Social Development
New York, 8 February 2006

Mr. Chairperson,
Distinguished Delegates,
Rt. Hon. Clare Short,

The Commission for Social Development has reached a watershed. This is the last year of a five-year programme of work. It is also the final year of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty (1997-2006).

Today, despite considerable progress, we find ourselves still far short of our goal to eradicate global poverty. Much of the global reduction in poverty has occurred in East and South Asia and the Pacific regions. Yet all other regions have experienced setbacks since 1990. And the scourge of extreme poverty is still entrenched in many individual countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The stark facts speak for themselves: around the world, more than 1 billion people still live in extreme poverty, somehow surviving on less than $1 a day.

We see poverty not only in terms of material deprivation. The debilitating and devastating effects of extreme poverty—on individuals, families and communities—must also be understood in terms of economic and social exclusion and the denial of human rights.

The goal to eradicate poverty—as an ethical, social, political and economic imperative—lies at the core of the comprehensive development agenda which has emerged from UN conferences and summits over the past decade and a half.

The 1995 World Summit for Social Development articulated a holistic policy framework for eradicating poverty, promoting employment and fostering social integration. Its Copenhagen Declaration committed Governments to tackle the root causes of poverty. Member States reaffirmed these path-breaking commitments in 2000, at the General Assembly’s 24th special session. They also made a new commitment: to work with all relevant stakeholders in order to reduce extreme poverty by half by the year 2015. After the Millennium Summit, this commitment took prominent form in the Millennium Development Goals. The world now recognizes the MDGs as key benchmarks for national and international efforts to eradicate poverty and promote sustainable development, in its economic, social and environmental dimensions.

At the 2005 World Summit, Heads of State and Government strongly committed to meet all the internationally agreed development goals, including the MDGs. They underscored the need for urgent actions on all sides, including more ambitious national development strategies and efforts, backed by increased international cooperation. As part of this, developed countries agreed to support developing country efforts through increased development assistance. If met according to existing commitments, this would provide an additional $50 billion a year by 2010 for fighting poverty, half of it to Sub-Saharan Africa. Developed countries also resolved to consider additional measures to ensure long-term debt sustainability for some of the world’s poorest countries.

Many countries continue to face deep-rooted obstacles to achieving poverty reduction. One is the still weak link between economic growth and poverty reduction, itself associated with an array of growing inequalities—in terms of wealth and income, based on gender and ethnic background, and between urban and rural areas. Other obstacles include other major problems that disproportionately affect poor countries, such as the spread of HIV-AIDS and other diseases, and the recurrence of armed conflict.

A necessary condition for poverty reduction and sustainable development is sustained economic growth. After decades of dismal growth performance in most developing regions—particularly in the LDCs— during the past quarter century, some positive signs have emerged. Indeed, current trends indicate that 2004-2006 will show fairly widespread growth in developing countries, a pattern not seen since the late 1960s and early 1970s. During these three years, developing countries will grow, on average, at a rate of 6 percent. LDCs will perform close to the average. And Sub-Saharan Africa will score an unprecedented rate of 5.4 percent. As indicated by our recent report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects—the WESP 2006—some key factors behind this have been the mix of high commodity prices, low interest rates and increasing ODA to the poorest countries. The continuation of this mix will be critical to the sustainability of this positive growth conjuncture.

But growth is not enough. The pattern of growth is equally important—in particular, its capacity to generate decent and productive employment for the poorest sectors of society and its effects on income distribution. As both our WESP and the recent ILO report on employment demonstrate, employment generation has continued to be generally weak in the developing world, despite rapid economic growth. And as our report, The Inequality Predicament, showed last year, income inequality within countries has been rising in the majority of both and developing countries over the past three decades. In many countries, significant income inequalities between rural and urban areas point up the need actively to promote rural development as a strategy for successful poverty reduction. Similarly, in most parts of the world, women systematically receive lower salaries and have less access to paid employment than do men, and unequal school enrolment ratios remain a major element of gender disparity in many countries. These facts remind us, once again, that the “inclusiveness” of economic growth is not an automatic outcome of market forces and should thus be built through explicit public policies.

Foremost among these policies, we should underscore the need for:

  • economic growth strategies that explicitly mainstream the generation of decent and productive employment for the poor;
  • measures to address the growing inequality in income and wealth distribution; and
  • the provision of social safety nets and risk mitigation measures, as part of the long-term effort to build comprehensive and universal social protection systems.

Let me underscore the first element of this policy package. In its Declaration on the 10th anniversary of the Social Summit, this Commission stressed the need for poverty reduction policies and programmes to include specific measures to promote full and productive employment and to foster social integration. The 2005 World Summit also emphasized the central role of employment, not only in the poverty eradication agenda, but also in equitable development and the overall development agenda. The Summit Outcome commits Governments to make “full and productive employment and decent work for all” a central objective of national and international efforts.

Success in driving forward active employment policies—as well as in designing strategies to address income inequality, increase social mobility and build strong social protection systems—depends on the quality of public policies and thus our ability to reverse a troublesome trend of recent decades: the weakening of the public sector in most parts of the world. As I have underscored in my statements to this Committee in previous years, a key issue in this regard is the need to mainstream social objectives into economic policymaking. The social implications of economic policies must be made more central to economic policy-making at the national and international levels. This applies not only to budgets and taxation, but also to trade, monetary and exchange rate policies, and to agricultural, industrial and investment strategies.

The international agenda has recognized also that a crucial element of any poverty eradication and inclusive growth strategy is the establishment of country-driven participatory processes that promote ownership of policies and programmes by all citizens. Women, youth, indigenous peoples, older persons, people with disabilities and other groups with special needs must be given voice. And poverty reduction strategies should promote their representation and empowerment. In short, the poor and the marginalized should not only be subjects but also central actors in the design of inclusive public policies.

This is the context in which the Commission for Social Development will address its priority theme: review of the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty. The Commission’s deliberations and output will be a critical input to the overall review of the decade to be taken up by the General Assembly this fall. They should make a key contribution as well to the work of the Economic and Social Council this summer, with its high-level segment on employment and decent work and its coordination segment on sustained economic growth for social development, including for eradicating poverty and hunger.

The Commission can also see itself as a first mover in another—and, I believe, crucially important—respect. You are the first of ECOSOC’s functional commissions to meet since the 2005 World Summit. The Summit Outcome raises several questions for the commissions in the overall context of UN reform.

The Summit decisions on development and on ECOSOC reform could enable the Council and its subsidiary bodies to operate as a unified system around the single framework of the development goals, in order to drive and monitor their implementation. This new ECOSOC system, with a boosted capacity to deliver for member states and their peoples, is yet to be crystallized. As you know, the General Assembly is deliberating on how to put the Summit decisions into effect. And the Council itself will have some tough decisions to take, too, particularly on its working methods.

It is too soon to tell what exactly will emerge. But one change I hope we would see is a general segment in which the Council could give much more substantive attention to the work of its functional commissions. This means time to address the substantive and coordination issues that emanate from the commissions’ reports, including through interactive dialogue with commission members.

At the same time, the functional commissions need to consider their positions within this new system. The same is true for the Council’s regional commissions and expert bodies.

Partly, this is a matter of reflecting on substantive priorities and potential opportunities in light of the Summit Outcome. We have been thinking about this in the Executive Committee on Economic and Social Affairs (EC-ESA)—and would be very much interested in this Commission’s views and guidance on this front.

With the Summit Outcome, and with the upcoming ECOSOC session, the United Nations as a whole has an opportunity to engage in the debate on employment issues in a much broader and more energetic way than it has thus far. This is the backdrop for the Secretary-General’s proposing employment to you as the theme of your 2007/2008 implementation cycle.

The Outcome Document also suggests a need to bring greater attention to the developmental aspects of social integration and of building inclusive societies, and to integrate in a comprehensive manner the debates on economic and social issues that take place in ECOSOC and its functional commissions with the human rights agenda, helping in turn to underscore the centrality to that agenda of economic, social and cultural rights. And with the establishment of the new Peacebuilding Commission, an opportunity has opened up to link social development more firmly and effectively to peacebuilding.

The Commission will also need to think about how the individual follow-up processes it helps to drive could be geared towards implementation of the comprehensive development agenda—in terms not only of reporting, but also of analytical and policy contributions towards achieving the goals. How will the Commission contribute to ECOSOC’s reformed segments, to the new annual ministerial reviews, to the global policy dialogue and Development Cooperation Forum? How could the Commission contribute to the Council’s response to emergencies and potential threats? And what would all this mean for the Commission’s work programme and for the support it requires from the Secretariat?

These are difficult questions, to which I do not pretend to have any easy answers. It seems clear, however, that the Commission might want to add a standing agenda item on its relations to ECOSOC. And the Commission and Secretariat could make a practice of clearly identifying policy areas requiring the Council’s attention.

Another related angle for consideration here is how the Commission will respond to the Summit’s major emphasis on achieving greater coherence and synergies in the United Nations’ operational, analytical, and normative work, at both country and headquarters levels. This could mean exploring ways to engage the United Nations’ funds and programmes and the governing bodies of the specialized agencies in the Commission’s work. And it could also involve the Commission and the Secretariat clearly identifying their work’s operational implications.

Mr. Chairperson,

I want to assure you that, in all these tasks, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs is eager to support the Commission for Social Development and the entire ECOSOC family of organizations in whatever way possible. Let me thus express my best wishes for a productive and successful outcome of this 44th session of the Commission and extend to you and to all the members of the Bureau my sincere congratulations on your election.