Statement by Mr. Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs to the 39th Session of the Statistical Commission
New York, 26 February 2008

Distinguished Delegates of the Statistical Commission,

I come to this Commission with humility and great respect. This is not only because it is one of the oldest in the United Nations system – older, even, than me. I am deeply impressed by the Statistical Commission’s rich heritage and many achievements.

Over the past six decades, this Commission has truly become the apex of a global statistical system. That system is based on the strong foundation of the national statistical offices and the international agencies. Through your normative work on statistical standards and methods, you have made it possible for the world to access high-quality statistical information, to compare national trends and to understand global trends by aggregating national data for regional or global comparisons.

This work will continue at this session. You have before you proposals for new or revised standards in the areas of national accounts, tourism statistics, industrial statistics and distributive trade statistics. By continuously expanding the inventory of methods, you contribute in no small measure to meeting the heightened global demand for comparable, high-quality statistics. Governments, the private sector, researchers and the public at large demand and deserve comparable and reliable data – for individual countries and for regional and global aggregates.

I encourage you in your effort to strengthen the United Nations response to emerging global issues, through the development of appropriate statistical standards. I particularly welcome the initiatives underway to improve statistical measurement of climate change and its impacts, and of violence against women.

As Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, allow me to share with you how I see “Statistics” fitting into the larger picture of the UN’s work on development, especially in relation to the Economic and Social Council.

Statistics is an integral part of the UN Development Agenda. The UN conferences and summits have led to an unprecedented agreement on a framework of internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals. The challenge now is to step up their implementation, and further strengthen the monitoring of and accountability for progress.

As part of the follow-up to the 2005 World Summit, ECOSOC has adopted a multi-year work programme to enable its functional commissions to fully contribute to its work and thus to enhance the collective impact of the entire ECOSOC system. This year, for example, ECOSOC’s Annual Ministerial Review of progress in implementing the development goals will focus on commitments in the area of sustainable development, with its economic, social and environmental dimensions. Next year, the focus will be on global health commitments.

Through its technical work on development indicators – especially the MDG indicators – this Commission has made a significant contribution to the Council’s work in formulating an appropriate framework for monitoring progress. This year, the Commission will again consider the continuing work on development indicators.

In this broad context, I would like to underline three challenges we must confront. None of them are entirely new. Yet, each will require intensified effort in the period ahead, especially if we are to accelerate progress to achieve the MDGs by 2015.

First, the increase in the number of MDG indicators has, understandably, raised concerns regarding the ability of many countries to produce the necessary data for these indicators. These are legitimate and important concerns. Indeed, in 2006, ECOSOC’s resolution on strengthening national statistical capacity stressed the importance of capacity development, and of improving the global MDG database maintained by the UN Statistics Division, particularly its coverage and the presentation of data and meta-data.

My Department and I are convinced that sufficient investment in building strong national statistical systems and in building capacity for monitoring development progress is absolutely critical. And we are fully committed to help mobilize the necessary support for this from Member States and other development partners.

Second, the network of international statistical offices has become increasingly complex, including specialized agencies and supra-national, regional and international organizations. This offers great opportunities, in terms of specialization and division of labour. Yet, it also poses new challenges and increases the need for effective coordination and cooperation among international statistical partners.

Under the aegis of the Statistical Commission, the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA) has worked harmoniously and tirelessly to promote and facilitate coordination among international agencies. In order to achieve the highest professional standard, the CCSA has enshrined a set of principles governing international statistical activities, which the Commission endorsed in 2006. I am pleased to announce that the Executive Committee of Economic and Social Affairs (ECESA), which I convene, has reviewed and endorsed this set of principles for its member organizations. These include all the UN Secretariat entities engaged in development work, as well as the UN’s research and training institutes.

I am also heartened to see your new agenda item on regional statistical development, with this year’s focus on recent progress in the African region. This provides a foundation for establishing close linkages between regional and global statistical development, and between the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and other international agencies.

The work of the Inter-agency and Expert Group on the Millennium Development Goals Indicators, under the leadership of the UN Statistics Division of DESA, has led to concrete efforts to coordinate data work among agencies. But more needs to be done on monitoring the MDGs. I have asked the Statistics Division to work closely with countries and agencies to improve the sources of data, to reconcile the differences among different sources and to ensure high quality data for the review of MDG progress.

The third challenge I want to mention is an overarching one, of concern to the Statistical Commission for many years now – the accessibility of statistical information to the global user community. In a globalized world, there are great demands and needs for all kinds of statistical data.

I am confident that initiatives such as the Statistics Division’s data web portal, UN-DATA, will significantly help increase access to all UN, national and international databases. I hope support and cooperation will be given to these initiatives, which help bring information to the world. The pooling of data also helps reduce the response burden on Governments, which I understand is a concern for many Member States.

For the continued success of the Statistical Commission, its work must be anchored in its core strengths: its professionalism, independence and technical knowledge. I consider it my responsibility to assist you in retaining your technical focus, so that all stakeholders in the great human cause of development for all can continue to benefit from your unique statistical expertise.

My Department, DESA, is honoured to be part of your proud tradition. Be assured that we will continue to serve and support the Commission with our utmost energy and determination.

Thank you.