It is a great pleasure to join you today, at this annual convention of the International Economic Development Council (IEDC).
I understand that your organization enjoys a diversity of members, representing a wide range of positions and pursuits within government, business, and society, yet with one common characteristic: you all are economic development practitioners.
So I find myself at home here.
In my career, I have shifted from academia to government in my home country of Colombia, and from national concerns to regional ones to the vast global portfolio of economic and social issues that comes with my present post, as a United Nations Under-Secretary-General.
I consider myself a migrant labourer of sorts, but one with his compass always set—like all of yours—on advancing development progress.
The subject of your annual convention this year is the knowledge-driven economy. This is a priority theme at the United Nations, indeed the subject of the 2003/2005 World Summit on the Information Society, in which some of you may have participated.
But I simply cannot pass up this opportunity to present to you what we understand in the United Nations to be our role in development, and to invite you to join us in this effort as an important stakeholder.
To promote sustainable economic and social development has been a fundamental purpose of the United Nations since its founding in 1945. This development objective stands as one of the three pillars upon which our organization is built, alongside human rights, and peace and security. Moreover, development stands in the UN not only as an end in itself but also as essential to constructing a firm foundation for peace and security among all nations and peoples, and for realizing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens around the world.
The work of the UN on the peace and security front may be more readily visible to the public eye. Yet the United Nations' contributions to ideas, policy analysis, and policymaking in the development field clearly rank among the UN's most significant achievements.
I should make clear here that the concept of development has for the United Nations a dual meaning. It refers, first, to progress of developing countries. But it also means the development of societies, in both rich and poor countries, through the realization of economic and social rights and through sustainable development in its three dimensions: economic, social, and environmental. It is indeed to all societies that principles such as gender equity, and concepts such as human and sustainable development apply.
Emphases and priorities in UN development work have shifted over time. Since 1990, the most important expression of our mission has been the global development agenda that has emerged through a remarkable series of UN conferences and summits on development issues.
At Rio, the site of the historic Earth Summit, Heads of State, policymakers, business leaders, and NGOs gathered to take action on issues of the environment and development. Two years earlier, the subject had been the survival, protection, and development of children and "education for all", at New York and at Jomtien, Thailand. Later, at Vienna, it was human rights. At Cairo, population. At Beijing, the advancement of women and their contributions to development and peace. At Copenhagen, the inextricably linked issues of eradicating poverty, promoting employment, and building inclusive societies. And at Istanbul, human settlements. In the present decade, Monterrey has focused on financing for development and development cooperation—what we now call the "global partnership for development". Madrid has focused on ageing. Johannesburg, on accelerating action on the array of international agreements on sustainable development. And Geneva and Tunis, on the information society and, particularly, the contribution of information and communications technology to development.
The agenda produced through these global conferences covers both shared principles and consensus on policy options to address common economic, social, and environmental problems. It also sets out specifically agreed goals and targets to help advance and assess implementation. One of the agenda's most important manifestations—and, in a way, a distillation of all the objectives set—are the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs: eight concrete development targets, covering health, education, the environment, and development cooperation, with the overarching goal of cutting extreme poverty and hunger in half by 2015.
My Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) provides the substantive support to these intergovernmental processes, not least by conducting a wide range of research and policy analysis. As I know from my own experience in government, the UN's normative and analytical work can affect political debate at all levels, informing political party platforms in developing and developed countries and helping to shape the positions and activities of civil society. It can thus also have an effect on national policies and legislation.
Through operational work undertaken by the dozen UN programmes and funds, such as UNDP and UNICEF, and by the UN Secretariat itself, the United Nations helps directly to translate the global commitments made by governments into national policies and actions and to build national capacities for implementation. Through its regional commissions, it works to advance the same global objectives in regional processes, while bringing regional concerns and perspectives to the global level.
The UN also encourages and enables exchange in global and regional intergovernmental forums of national experiences and lessons learned, not unlike the IEDC. And through these forums, the UN's operational activities in development and the development experiences of its member states feed back in, to inform and affect the direction of its research and policy processes.
Each form of UN action—normative, analytical, and operational—takes place across three levels of action: global, regional, and national. No other organization offers such a framework of cooperation for development over as a wide a range of issues, encompassing social issues, population, gender, human rights, macroeconomic issues, trade, finance, technology, industry, drug control, the environment, human settlements, peacebuilding, and more.
In short, the United Nations is well positioned to deal with development challenges in a holistic and comprehensive manner. And it is also well placed to address the links between development and peace.
Let me now take you quickly through four ways that the UN works on development issues.
First is conducting research and analysis on key development problems and policy options.
Let me refer, for example, to two significant reports produced by the UN and aimed at informing and provoking discussions about issues of inequality.
The 2005 Report on the World Social Situation: The Inequality Predicament drew attention to widening inequality over the past three decades, both within and between countries, due to profound changes in the global economy. It showed that growth and income generation do not alone guarantee job creation or the much-needed reversal of the devastating intergenerational transmission of poverty. It revealed a deepening chasm between the formal and informal economies, a widening gap between the incomes of skilled and unskilled workers, and growing disparities in health, in education, and in opportunities for social, economic, and political participation.
With this year's World Economic and Social Survey, the UN intensified the focus on income inequalities among countries. The Survey shows that, over the past quarter century, the world has witnessed a process of "dual divergence": an increasing income gap between developed and developing countries, paralleled by a process of growth divergence among developing countries. The report yielded major findings about the role that the international environment as well as domestic policies play in explaining that divergence. At the domestic level, it examines the role played by countries' patterns of specialization, their capacities to undertake smooth business cycles, and their institutional reforms. The report underscores that institutional reforms encompass more than creating markets and guaranteeing property rights. They can also include creating the regulatory and institutional framework that markets require to function, providing necessary public goods, and guaranteeing the fairness of rules. Furthermore, the report shows that "big bangs" in institutional reform may in fact generate more harm than good, whereas minor and gradual institutional change can have a great impact on growth if it is perceived as initiating a further process of credible reform.
The UN's analytical work can be very action-oriented. For example, as part of the follow-up to Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, the UN has produced a "Blue Book" on Inclusive Finance that sets out practical strategies for helping poor countries gain greater access to a wide range of financial services, currently beyond their reach. The Blue Book also provides reports and recommendations on how better to catalyze private investment and to promote public-private partnerships.
Next, among the UN's ways of work in development, is promoting intergovernmental consensus on guiding principles and solutions to common problems, and forging commitments to specific courses of action.
Let's take an example from last week, when the United Nations held the first global intergovernmental dialogue on migration as an increasingly significant dimension of development, both nationally and internationally. The dialogue has served to dispel some of the many myths about migration. And it has helped shine a light on the development aspects of migration, which comprise a largely positive picture. The dialogue has turned collective attention and imagination to, as the Secretary-General describes it, the ways in which international cooperation can "create triple wins: for migrants, for their countries of origin, and for the societies that receive them".
Now let's take a quite different example, from last month, when years of complex negotiations culminated in the adoption at the UN of the text of a first-ever treaty regarding persons with disabilities. The Convention is a novel human rights instrument, with an explicit social development dimension. It reaffirms the human rights of all persons with disabilities and provides norms and standards for designing, implementing, and monitoring programmes to improve accessibility, personal mobility, and access to inclusive education, health, and employment.
Yet another excellent example of this line of UN work is the Monterrey Consensus, a landmark in elaborating a new approach to development cooperation as a partnership between developing and developed countries, and according to which governments have committed to action on a comprehensive set of issues: from domestic resource mobilization, private resource flows, and Official Development Assistance (ODA) to trade, debt, and the governance of the global economic system. The Monterrey Consensus has served to speed international cooperation for development, from the decisions on increasing ODA commitments and debt relief for the poorest countries in the world adopted last year, to the recent discussions on how to increase voice and participation of developing countries in the IMF and other international financial institutions.
A third avenue of UN action is promoting development at the country level, including by assisting the implementation of international commitments.
In this vein, the UN provides technical assistance across the range of development issues, to help countries confront the practical challenges of putting agreed policies into effect. This work, coordinated through the United Nations Development Group, involves over 20 agencies, funds and programmes, working at the country level. In recent years, their attention has focused on achieving the MDGs, but also on other areas of cooperation, such as UNDP's and DESA's own work on building better governance structures in developing countries, or the well known work of UNICEF on the welfare of the world's children, or the ILO's work on promoting labor standards and social dialogue.
The UN development system was designed by the post-war architects of international organization as a decentralized system, which has only become more complex with the passage of time. We know—sometimes too well—that this is not an easy system to manage. And we are working hard to improve the "coherence" of the actions taken by the array of UN agencies, particularly at the country level, where their activities deal most directly with improving the living conditions of citizens of developing countries.
The work of many of these agencies also links in many ways to the peace and security area, through the activities of the UN country teams on post-conflict reconstruction, involving the reconstruction of public administration and judicial systems, as well as social programmes and economic reconstruction. The creation of the Peacebuilding Commission, whose work has started this year, will sharpen the definition of these activities and help to strengthen the UN's capacity to facilitate a better—and, we hope, decisive—transition from post-conflict reconstruction to sustainable development.
A fourth and indispensable aspect of UN efforts to advance development is helping countries to monitor and evaluate progress in meeting their own development objectives as well as the internationally agreed development goals.
This brings me to the work of UN statisticians, who are engaged in a massive effort to provide a sound statistical basis for international political debate on progress in meeting the internationally agreed development goals—and thus for the formulation and ongoing evolution of effective strategies for achieving them. A remarkable example is the system to follow-up progress on the MDGs, which is coordinated by my Department and involves 25 UN and non-UN agencies.
But let me mention another of the many examples on this front.
In 2005, we produced a report entitled The World's Women: Progress in Statistics, which took a hard look at how well the statistical systems around the world produced reliable data disaggregated by sex. This may sound to some like an abstract, academic topic. But, in fact, the chronic lack of data makes it difficult—in some cases, virtually impossible—to assess conditions and make policy on gender equity without being able to compare figures for men and women, boys and girls, children and adults. Consider this staggering statistic: 83 countries, representing 40 per cent of the world's population—and 87 per cent of the population in the world's least developed countries—do not report deaths by sex and age. Yet these are necessary categories for monitoring such critical development issues as infant and maternal mortality or deaths due to HIV/AIDS.
Statisticians are truly among the unsung heroes in development work worldwide. One of the major roles of the UN in development is to support the global statistical system and to help build statistical capacities in developing countries.
Indeed, as underscored in recent UN debates, the major need right now in international cooperation for development centres not so much on political agreement, which has been well articulated in the international conferences and summits. Rather, the core issue is the so-called "implementation gap". To overcome this problem we need two things: first, a good system for tracking progress in meeting the internationally agreed development goals; and, second, better accountability for keeping the commitments made by the governments of all our member countries through the global conference processes.
While the UN does this in many ways, I would like to draw your attention to two new mechanisms to be launched next year, as part of the agreements reached last year by Heads of State at the 2005 World Summit: they are, the Annual Ministerial Reviews and the Global Development Cooperation Forum.
The Annual Ministerial Review should serve precisely as an accountability mechanism, and should feed in to domestic political debates in all our member states on how they are doing in meeting the commitments they have made through the UN. It will also introduce a novel aspect: a voluntary peer review process. In my view, such a peer review process should eventually become a major instrument for the follow-up of commitments made through the UN, as it is already in other international organizations, including OECD, WTO, and IMF. Quite simply, overcoming the "implementation gap" means that we have to move from traditional follow-up mechanisms to "hard accountability" for the agreements reached by member countries in UN conferences and summits.
In a complementary way, the Global Development Cooperation Forum, to be convened by the UN every two years, will provide the first global platform where all actors involved have an opportunity to engage in a dialogue on the key policy issues affecting development cooperation, in all its forms: multilateral, North-South, and South-South. The Forum could promote mutual accountability of donors and recipient countries for living up to international commitments relating to national ownership, alignment, harmonization, scaling up resources, and the achievement of development results.
This brings me finally to one of the UN's most critical assets—and perhaps its most critical one: its capacity to bring together all the relevant actors and to promote integrated, coherent approaches to reaping the great promise of our shared development agenda. This capacity enables the UN to serve as an unparalleled forum for governments to reach consensus on development issues. But the convening capacity of the UN goes beyond that, to cover also its unrivaled ability to convene and engage, at the global level, other actors, that is, civil society and the business community.
The multi-stakeholder approach is quite elaborate in some cases, such as in the implementation of the commitments agreed at Rio and Johannesburg. This wide range of multi-stakeholder partnerships working for sustainable development at regional, national, and local levels includes, among others, initiatives to implement sustainable water management in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Meanwhile, the global process has a special focus, this year and next year, on the closely connected issues of energy, industrial development, air pollution, and climate change.
Civil society is major actor in these as well as many other partnerships. Civil society correctly views the United Nations as the major global forum, and the UN conferences and summits as the major materialization of global consensus-building. Civil society thus actively participates in all our processes. And we see it as a major actor of the United Nations.
In addition, as you well know, in 1999, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Secretary-General Kofi Annan called for business leaders and the United Nations to "initiate a global compact of shared values and principles", in order to "give a human face to the global market".
The UN Global Compact has since become the world's largest corporate citizenship initiative, with close to 3000 corporate participants from more than 90 countries, representing virtually all industry sectors on every continent. It operates an extensive international multi-stakeholder network, with hundreds of civil society and international labour organizations and UN organizations participating.
The Global Compact was created to fill a perceived void between regulatory structures and existing codes of conduct and standards, and to create a global corporate citizenship platform to imbue markets with universal principles. The Compact was specifically intended to address the widening gap between the outcomes of globalization and the needs of human communities.
As business interests increasingly overlap with development objectives, the need for responsible business practices, as well as cross-sector partnerships, will only become even more important.
The Global Compact promotes "corporate citizenship" by encouraging corporations to contribute to sustainable growth and development, in the first instance, by conducting their business in a responsible manner, according to 10 universal principles in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment, and anti-corruption. But businesses can engage in a variety of ways: through the internal implementation of the principles throughout their organizations; through participating in learning, policy, and partnership projects; through participating in multi-stakeholder dialogues and advocacy events; and through engaging in concrete partnership projects with the UN system on the ground.
All these ventures are based on mutual interest.
My message to you today is that the UN's work in development is multifaceted. We stand proud of our achievements, which are not always recognized, in part because they can be difficult to grasp in the midst of the extended and sometimes confrontational debates that surround the United Nations and of the complexity of our work at the country level. Nonetheless, we continue to be the only world organization able to forge far reaching consensus on issues of development, engaging not only all governments but also civil society and the private sector. Global debates on poverty, gender equity, climate change, and development cooperation have taken place primarily through the United Nations, and they have proceeded in other fora using the terminology that has been generated by the UN debates, such as the concepts of the MDGs, the global partnership for development, or the 0.7 percent of GNI target for development cooperation.
I hope you see in all of this how our UN activities intersect in many ways with the interests and efforts of the International Economic Development Council and its impressive assembly of members.
So let us together move now to a discussion and exchange of views on our shared work in development.