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Economic and Social Council
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Climate Change an Issue of Intergenerational Concern Requiring Long-Term
Perspective, Speakers Say in High-Level Political Forum
As the Economic and Social Council wrapped up the first week of its inaugural high-level political forum, speakers tackled questions and strategies of how, on local, national, regional and global platforms, to integrate sustainable development goals into the post-2015 agenda.
Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, moderated the day’s two panels, the first, “Unlocking and reshaping development and enhancing implementation: the regional context”, and the second, “Shaping the forum for post-2015”.
During the first panel, speakers discussed how, on regional platforms, inequality gaps could be bridged between and within countries, as well as how sustainable development goals could be implemented, given the complexity of culture, geography, and history. The interface of local, national, regional and international financial sources was also explored.
Speakers, during the second panel, also addressed what kind of agenda setting the forum should have in promoting integration of economic, social and environmental dimensions, with several pointing out that high-level participation had to be ensured in order to make the forum relevant. Speakers also urged that the goals of sustainable development be achievable, while taking into account the unique circumstances of different countries and regions.
“People do not live their lives in silos”, Martin Sajdik (Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, said in his closing remarks. Giving an overview of the first week of the forum, he noted that what had emerged in discussions was the critical need for structures and practices that would integrate policies.
The discussions that had ensued during the panels, dialogues, presentations, and side events had been informative, and he applauded the “devotion” of the participants. Many speakers called for the forum to be transformative, inclusive and people-centred, and for a long-term perspective be adopted as climate change was an issue of intergenerational concern. Children had, for the first time, participated in the event, which was particularly crucial to the world’s future.
The Economic and Social Council will resume its high-level political forum at 10 a.m. on 7 July.
Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, moderated the interregional dialogue titled “Unlocking and reshaping development and enhancing implementation: the regional context.” Panellists were Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and current Coordinator of the Regional Commissions; Rima Khalaf, Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific; Carlos Lopes, Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Africa; and Andrey Vasilyev, Deputy Executive Secretary, Economic Commission for Europe.
Lead discussants were Shahira Wahbi, Chief, Sustainable Development and International Cooperation, League of Arab States; Mahomed Osmen Casam Mahomed, Executive Chairman, Commission on Sustainable Development, Mauritius; and Daniel Tygel, Operations Manager, Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), on behalf of the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) major group.
OH JOON (Republic of Korea), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, recalled that the General Assembly had stressed the important role the regional commissions had in contributing to the work of the forum. As the post-2015 development agenda took shape, it was essential to acquire an understanding of those regional perspectives in order to attain sustainable development.
Ms. MOHAMMED asked panellists about two regional priorities for the post-2015 development agenda.
Ms. BÁRCENA said the Latin America and Caribbean region’s priorities were eradication of extreme poverty and combat against inequality. About 11 per cent of the population in the region lived in extreme poverty. The goal was to pull them out of that status by 2030. As for inequality, how to close the structural gap between the rich and poor and to redistribute wealth was a key question. There was a need for a new type of industrialization incorporating knowledge and technology in the value chain. In addition, natural resources governance was crucial as loyalties could be reinvested in human capital.
Ms. KHALAF said that achieving social justice by addressing poverty, unemployment and inequality was a priority issue of Arab regions. There was correlation between poverty and lack of social services. Foreign occupation by Israel, which adversely affected social and economic dimensions of development, must end. That inflicted suffering on the people of the Arab world and diverted resources and threatened peace and security. It was vital that regional organizations address issues that were not captured in the global agenda.
Ms. AKHTAR said that in regard to sustainable development, seven priorities had been identified in the Asia-Pacific region, with poverty eradication and inequality the strongest issues that had the greatest potential for transformation. There needed to be a push for stronger, sustainable, inclusive economic growth. As well, there needed to be a promotion of resource efficiency with natural resource management and environmental sustainability. The Asia Pacific region was diverse with five subregions and different growth patterns. Regional integration, driven by trade, was critical and needed to be deepened.
Mr. LOPES said that structural transformation was the number one priority for Africa. That continent produced 80 per cent of the world’s coltan, which was the main component for making cell phones, resulting in the income of $200 million for export. However, Africa had the fastest growing number of consumers of cell phones and the highest number of cell phones in the world. “Yet, this is what we get: $200 million,” he remarked, pointing out that Africa did not manufacture any cell phones. “This is going to change.”
Mr. VASILYEV said that the region had two issues that needed to be addressed — reducing inequality and designing an agenda for sustainable development. Once the details were investigated, a growing inequality was evident. Youth and vulnerable groups were impacted by unemployment, and women, depending on the region, earned 20 to 50 per cent less than men. It was a challenge to change the mindset of high-income countries about increasing their resource efficiency and of poorer countries in developing green economies while still growing.
Ms. MOHAMMED asked panellists about policies needed to implement those regional priorities.
Mr. LOPES said there was a need to reform the models that had existed for five centuries in Africa, such as exploitation of natural resources, poor infrastructure, and absence of economic organizations. The continent must revolutionize its agricultural productivity, the lowest in the world. It could in turn become a major catalyst to eradicate poverty. Africa needed a policy to release the potential of youth for industrialization. The region could be the main provider of solutions to climate change. Africa was not tied to any single technology, a situation that would allow it to leapfrog to green and clean energy technology. It offered a large consumption market.
Ms. AKHTAR said that Asian countries could put an emphasis on growth through macroeconomic and fiscal policy. Inclusive growth was vital to the region. A policy must emphasize social protection, including health and education. Food security required adequate fiscal policy. Progressive taxation could redistribute wealth. Incentives could help foster sustainable green growth and create a low-carbon society. Investment in science and technology innovation was vital.
Ms. KHALAF said that policy must address inequality between men and women, or between religious or ethnic groups. Money had been wasted on untargeted subsidies. New policies could aim for economic restructuring — from the low-value to high-value sector, which could create more jobs. Regional integration could bring benefits. The region should also focus on empowering women.
Ms. BÁRCENA said that there had to be a paradigm shift, while respecting the specificities of each country, to move out of a consumption model which had expanded in different strata but sourced primarily from imported goods. It was critical to establish a series of compacts in several areas, including the need for everyone to get universal social protection. A fiscal compact was also needed, based on progressive income taxing, and the redistributing and reallocating of resources. “We have to do a lot of work, from the cow to the purse, and we have to understand every step in that chain,” she stressed.
Mr. VASILYEV said that the green economy required investments in science, technology, job creation, reform pricing, and a change in consumption patterns. “We need to walk the talk finally. Perhaps the post-2015 agenda could offer an opportunity,” he said. That could be possible once it was profitable to industry and attractive to consumers. Transportation needed to be cleaner and safer, as it was both a great potential and a threat to sustainable development. He also noted that water conventions were needed as most sources were transboundary and needed to be managed from a transboundary perspective.
Ms. WAHBI pointed out that specific elements were present in all the regions, in particular, peace and security, fighting terrorism and the necessity to rebuild infrastructure emerging from conflict. She also noted, among other points, the need for regional integration for sustainability. Technology transfer and sharing should be a prerequisite for sustainable development, as well.
A representative of Zambia said the post-2015 development agenda needed to take stock of common issues facing various groupings within Africa and the need for a new concept of development that addressed sustainable consumption and production.
A representative of Benin called for a shift from the model of scarcity to that of abundance through such measures as South-South cooperation. He sought advice from Latin America as to how Africa could overcome bottlenecks to industrialization.
A representative of Cuba asked panellists to elaborate how the drop in official development assistance could affect middle-income countries.
A representative of the Republic of Korea asked panellists to shed light on issues related to monitoring and assessment of implementation.
A representative of the United Republic of Tanzania said the post-2015 development agenda must take into account the differences of regions, stressing the importance of a differentiated approach. Governance was not only national but also regional and international. The case in point was illicit financial flow. The Doha round of trade negotiations must be concluded.
A representative of the Russian Federation described how his Government was contributing to regional commissions both in Europe and Asia. As a result of integrating markets of the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus, trade had increased 20 per cent.
Ms. MOHAMMED opened up the second round addressing both the implementation of sustainable development and bridging inequality gaps between and within countries.
Ms. BÁRCENA said that economic inclusion was needed and structural gaps between countries and regions should be closed. A huge mobilization of resources and larger financing mechanisms could address that. In her region, foreign direct investments totalled $187 billion, but it was coming to very few countries and sectors, mainly to extractive industries, not manufacturing. Remittances from poor migrants represented $60 billion, which was one third of foreign investments. She said global taxes were in place as a source of funding. Debt-based instruments were also critical, she said, noting the recent situation in Argentina where minority creditors imposed rules on the majority. Latin American Governments were discussing what type of financial security mechanisms could be implemented and expanded. She noted that oil royalties would be instituted and fund education, technology, and health sectors, among others, and, in that regard, the Norwegian model was being investigated.
Ms. KHALAF noted that the Arab States were highly diverse, with some of the richest and some of the poorest countries in the world. External development assistance for the poorest countries was important, but for middle- and high-income countries there were untapped resources. Tax structures did not exceed 15 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Additional taxes related to wealth and dividends could be considered. There was also $39 billion in remittances which went to finance consumption. That increased disposable income but more could be done to channel that source into other areas. Sovereign wealth fund investments were $1.6 trillion, but little was invested in the region. Illicit financial flows of approximately $111 billion flowed out. That hurt the economy twice, through theft from the legal owners and from tax evasion. Once funds transferred out, the base of the economy shrank. Tackling that could not be achieved by only the South. Cooperation from the North and all stakeholders was needed.
Mr. LOPES said that when research had been done to find the real sources of illicit financial flows in Africa, it had identified price fixing. That was something the countries could fix. The study also found that if the same software used by European Customs were utilized, one could see daily what was paid and what the real price was. However, African countries were not using that software. If they did, they would save $60 billion a year. That was more than Africa’s development assistance. Among other sources of financing, he noted that remittances were $60 billion, but they were going straight to consumption and not to development. Noting that there was $1 trillion that could be resourced, the bulk in central bank reserves, he pointed out that reserves had to be in a vehicle approved by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There were no such vehicles in Africa, as other regions were targeted. China had made incredible progress, but it had a lot of savings which it controlled. Africa did not control its saving because its fiduciary arrangements were outside of the continent.
Ms. AKHTAR said that her region required $20 trillion in climate change adaptation as it experienced half the world’s natural disasters. The region had financial potential. The domestic market had tax potential and capital market prospects. It also had a high saving rate and high reserve levels. The region also held more than $7 trillion in private savings, among other. In its efforts to identified new financial resources, Governments were looking at mechanisms to attract pension funds, among others.
Mr. VASILYEV said that he had learned 100 countries, not member States of the Commission, were participating in sectoral areas of work. That reflected the Commission’s global mandate. There were infrastructure gaps due to extreme weather and climate change, and among the less developed countries those gaps were enormous. A focus was on public and private partnerships, which he stressed was not charity, but a contractual arrangement. They were slowly developing standards for health, education, roads, and waste management. Other work was being done on innovative financing for those who had ideas and those who had managerial and financial resources. Trade facilitation was also being focused on for developing countries, establishing standards for dried food, vegetables, and meat, among other commodities. Applying the standards was not rocket science
Mr. TYGEL drew attention to a set of recommendations his organization had compiled. Those proposals included indicators to measure poverty, inequality, development and material and immaterial well-being. He also called for a transition to a “fair, social and solidarity economy”, while stressing the need to adopt a human rights-based approach to development.
A representative of Israel said the representative of the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia blamed her country to distract attention from extremism and terrorism that body had to address. A solution could be found only through direct negotiations.
A representative of Kazakhstan said his delegation actively participated in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals in order to include the priorities of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in the zero draft document.
A representative of Costa Rica felt that a focus on the impact of decreasing development aid on middle-income countries was diluted in today’s discussion.
A representative of Colombia said gross domestic product per capita was inadequate to determine development aid.
A representative of Guatemala said it was important to strike the right balance between virtues of States and those of markets. There had been an overemphasis on markets.
A representative of Pakistan said regional commissions must further enhance capacity training. Sustainable and predictable funding was necessary and donor commitments must be kept. His Government also focused on regional trade enhancement, which had an enormous potential.
A representative of Rwanda stressed the importance of locally generated means of implementation, such as community and voluntary work, including building schools. Those were vital to sustainable growth.
A representative of Benin said that at least 50 per cent of development aid must go to least developed countries. The proportion of people living in poverty was more important than the absolute number of those when determining aid.
A representative of Egypt said foreign occupation of Palestine and practices against them should not be put under the carpet. It affected not only economic and social dimensions of development, but also peace and security. The occupation was a source of terrorism, retaliation and a cycle of violence.
Ms. MOHAMMED then began the third round on monitoring post-2015 implementation, acquiring reliable data and ensuring accountability.
Mr. LOPES said that the Commission did not want to replace national or regional actors in monitoring, but be supportive. Efforts, through the Association of Statisticians and the Commission, sought to improve the statistical data highway, introducing new systems through mobile technology. The regional Commission was also concentrating on its subregional offices to become data centres by 2015. Those centres would ensure a classification of statistical quality. The centres would also track forecasters and rate them the same way as credit rating companies did. Producing a number of indexes and ranking countries in regional integration shifted from political statements to technical ones.
Ms. BÁRCENA said that in the Conference of Statistics of Latin American member States had established working groups, which discuss indicators. The Conference was measuring poverty in countries not on income but on a “basket” of components. Among other efforts, ministers were interacting, using the statistics for the region. South-South cooperation was essential. In terms of medium-income countries, there were structural gaps in education and the environment and a new classification of those countries needed to be developed not only on income but also on loss of official development assistance (ODA) and preferential trade. The conflict between small island developing States and least developed countries made no sense unless viewed globally.
Ms. KHALAF said that the Israeli delegate had not read the report, which in fact did address violence and extremism and their implications. The occupation was looked at from the perspective of development and international law. There was a difference between products made in Israel and those in occupied territories. The report was not about Israel. Only eight to nine pages were on that country out of 200 pages which addressed the Arab countries and their issues. She went on to say that there were gaps in data tables as many countries were not able to monitor their progress to the Millennium Development Goals. Countries also needed to come up with mechanisms on how to measure human rights and social justice.
Ms. AKHTAR said her Commission was involved with monitoring regional progress, with instruments feeding into the Millennium Development Goals port. On a regional platform, the Pacific Island countries had made mutual regional accountable instruments, which were reviewed by the Pacific Island Forum. There were several key elements for accountability and monitoring, including a well-designed simple national framework, enhanced partnerships with the United Nations, and reformed global partnerships with better delivery of commitments and the fulfilment of those commitments.
Mr. VASILYEV said that the Commission had several projects measuring sustainable development. The national averages were good, but differences became dramatic when going into the details. Such analysis was also costly, so it was important to strengthen capacity. In establishing reporting and monitoring the Commission worked with international experts and policymakers, as their recommendations were usually implementable and useable.
Mr. MAHOMED emphasized that monitoring and accountability should place human rights at the heart of any efforts made. Accountability was particularly important. Data should be quantifiable around indicators and national plans of action should be instituted.
Martin Sajdik (Austria), President of the Economic and Social Council, introducing the dialogue titled “Shaping the forum for post-2015”, said that the forum would address new trends and challenges across the three dimensions of sustainable development, while drawing more analysis from science.
Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, moderated the panel. Those speakers included Paul Gulleik Larsen, Coordinator for the post-2015 process, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway; H. Elizabeth Thompson, former Executive Coordinator of the Rio+20 Conference; Janos Pasztor, Acting Executive Director, Conservation, World Wildlife Fund International.
Lead discussants were Leena Srivastava, Honorary Executive Director for Operations, The Energy and Resources Institute, India; Shantal Munro, Executive Coordinator, Caribbean Policy Development Centre; and Michael O’Neill, Assistant Administrator and Director of the Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
Ms. MOHAMMED, recalling the Rio Conference and its main objective of eradicating poverty, asked the panel to describe what kind of agenda setting the forum should have in promoting integration of economic, social and environmental dimensions.
Mr. LARSEN said that high-level participation was needed to make the forum relevant. It should be the United Nations centrepiece of follow-up on sustainable development. Participation of civil society and political sectors was essential. The forum should be guided by sustainable development goals and draw on support from the Organization’s bodies, as well as other institutions. It should identify gaps in structures and be in consultation with all stakeholders and Member States in discussions. To avoid a broad agenda, there needed to be a focus on prioritizing goals. What would be adopted at the upcoming summit must be communicable and capable of being able to reach the overall goal of eradicating poverty, as well as address climate change and environment degradation.
Ms. THOMPSON emphasized the science-policy interface, stressing that the forum should define itself in order that important sustainable development goals be reachable. It could open the space, such as a think tank of good ideas, policy papers, discussion papers and science papers, which would then be fed back into the Organization for consideration by high-level authorities. She noted that the United Nations had become comfortable with country statements rather than active dialogue and a genuine debate of the issue. The forum should have some open platform for that kind of interactive interchange. Further, the national structures needed to converge with changes on the international level. As well, the forum needed to reach out beyond the “converted” to ministers responsible for planning and who viewed sustainability as an environmental issue.
Mr. PASZTOR urged for a better integration of the three pillars. The forum had to be high-level, but be relevant so that ministers would be interested in coming to events. A global sustainable development report had to be based on strong science and be evidence-based. Urging the political forum to avoid turning itself into another Commission on Sustainable Development, he said that it should set the agenda and address emerging issues, assess country performance on sustainable development, conduct a peer review that encouraged States to explain their policies, and share experiences and lessons learned. He also called for ensuring participation of non-State actors from civil society and the private sector, as well as the global scientific community.
Responding to Ms. Mohammed on how the agenda could be shaped, Mr. LARSEN said that goals had to be prioritized and realistic in regards to a country’s capabilities. There was hard work ahead and the proposals on the table were wide and overambitious and, in some instances, utopian. However, the lack of a “headline goal” on good governance was of note.
Ms. THOMPSON said that the forum’s agenda should reflect its multidimensional mandate and be inclusive of participants. The United Nations should use its convening power, enabling all stakeholders and civil society to have global reach. The report was another critical tool once a set of sustainable standards was developed so that a yardstick could then measure all countries. That would enable countries’ statuses and their best practices to be used for planning. However, many countries struggled with reporting mechanisms, and if Member States were faced with another set of reporting requirements the forum could be faced with difficulty in engaging those countries.
Ms. SRIVASTAVA said the forum should delegate some tasks to relevant United Nations bodies to focus on addressing potential alignment problems. The forum should review commitments of donors and performance of support mechanisms. National Governments should establish a committee on sustainable development consisting of various stakeholders.
Ms. MUNRO stressed the importance of coherence at the national level regarding the three dimensions of sustainable development. The challenge would be to deliver focused and targeted interventions, despite the ambitious and all-encompassing agenda. As for their implementation, appetite existed for establishing new institutions, but such proposals must be considered carefully.
Mr. O’NEILL said three keys were inclusivity, coordination and partnership. The forum could bring a broad range of potential stakeholders together on cross-cutting issues. The forum could be useful to identify issues requiring coordination. As such, South-South and triangular cooperation could be beneficial.
Ms. PAULINA NYBRATT SANDIN, representing the children and youth major group, said there needed to be a stronger institutional mechanism to support the forum, such as Secretariat assistance and the creation of a dedicated bureau. The forum should leverage technology and social media to include those who could not come to New York. It was vital that there be participation by major groups. The forum should issue a declaration independent of the Economic and Social Council.
A representative of Zambia highlighted the need for the efficient use of resources. It was time to adopt a more robust, efficient and coordinated approach. He pointed out that one pillar of sustainable development was missing in the name of the Economic and Social Council.
A representative of the Philippines said her country established the national council on sustainable development in 1992 consisting of Government agencies and other stakeholders, including civil society. It was important to invest in the capacity of communities as human capital was a key driver for economic growth.
The representative of Ethiopia asked about the critical limitations of the Commission on Sustainable Development. He questioned about the engagement of the United Nations agencies in streamlining their activities, in particular with the agencies on the ground. How could they help Member States in incorporating sustainable development?
A representative of the European Environmental Bureau, speaking for the non-governmental organizations major group, supported the changes being made in the sustainable development agenda. She underscored several points, including the world not living on “the accounts of the global South”, the respect of planetary boundaries and the merging of the sustainable development goals with the post–2015 agenda. However, she expressed concern that efforts might fall back to the modality of development aid, instead of being based on human rights.
The representative of Switzerland said that the promotion of the three dimensions was at the heart of the forum. It was the home and platform for follow-up. However, it also needed to be flexible and allow for discussions. Its work and guidance needed to be supported with strong science.
The representative of Germany said that the forum must take into account the link between sustainable development and the eradication of poverty. A strong review mechanism would require the active participation of Member States. It was politically relevant to attract high-level participants. The forum would play a key role in driving the sustainable development agenda.
Ms. THOMPSON responded to concerns revolving around modalities addressing issues and ensuring broad participation, saying that a lot would have to do with the forum being a learning body, rather than as how things were done before. With a wide and comprehensive mandate, the extent that it could engage Governments and how to determine what had and had not been done should be addressed. The Commission for Sustainable Development had an insufficient peer review system and did not have a system for accountability.
Mr. LARSEN said that mutual commitments and resources were at the core of the global partnerships being discussed. Norway stood by its commitments and delivered upon them. Domestic resource mobilization would still be the main source for ensuring sustainable development and eradicating poverty at the national level. Regarding the former Commission, it was more a question of the lack of political interest and commitment to sustainable development. However, the Commission had been very good on stakeholder participation.
Mr. PASZTOR emphasized that high-level must be “really high-level” for all three dimensions. The accountability framework was important. Non-State actors and Member States should also have commitments and a baseline to measure framework. Reviews had to have multi-stakeholder commitments on the country level, using common indicators, and include whether and how reporting had been made. Strong tracking systems on financial commitments and their delivery and policy also needed to be available in a transparent manner. In regard to alignment and coordination, a lot was happening in Member States and the forum could be where it all came together in a transparent way. The Chief Executive Board was there to support the sustainable development agenda, but it was important they come to the forum to say what they were doing.
Mr. O’NEILL said that there would be more joint projects, such as “Delivering as One”. It should be possible to extend that initiative. Resilience and vulnerable frameworks needed to work together, including at the country level. There had been extensive discussion at the recent Chief Executive Board meeting on those matters, making the United Nations system more fit for purpose on a country level. That would continue to be a priority for all United Nations bodies, and the system needed to continue to get clear messages from Member States as to what they would like to see under that heading.
A representative of the children and youth major group sought responses to their proposals.
Mr. SAJDIK, Economic and Social Council President, responded to Zambia’s delegate by saying that the Council was created in 1945 and reflected priorities at that time. There was no environmental question. Reforming a United Nations body was extremely difficult.
Mr. SAJDIK acknowledged the many stakeholders from every sector had participated in the forum, making the programmes and discussions informative. Giving a summary and overview of each day’s events, he noted how the forum could be shaped for its tasks beyond 2015.
It was critical, he said, that efforts going to completing the Millennium Development Goals solve the urgent needs and crises and make environmental changes. Building on Rio+20, the forum must be transformative, inclusive and people-centred. Inequality needed to be addressed as well. A long-term perspective needed to be adopted as climate change was an issue of intergenerational concern.
He said that actions implementing the agenda should be strongly supported by the international community. The business and corporate sectors had a critical role, but they needed to be brought into the efforts in a greater capacity. Furthermore, to ensure countries were willing to take action, there should be a common vision, purpose and trust.
He also said that traditional donor relationships needed to be transformed. Good governance, women empowerment, economic stability and decentrality were critical to building resilience. Innovative funding and financing were also needed. But financing was only one part. Knowledge needed to be shared. More so, structures and practices to integrate policies were critical as “people do not live their lives in silos”. Policies must become fit for purpose for the post-2015 agenda. Thanking all the multi-stakeholders and participants, he acknowledged the participation, for the first time, of children, which was particularly moving and crucial to the world’s future.