Entrepreneur Urges Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Benefit of All in Second Committee, Economic and Social Council Joint Meeting

GA/EF/3477-ECOSOC/6871
11 October 2017
Seventy-second Session, 11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)

Entrepreneur Urges Leveraging Artificial Intelligence for Benefit of All in Second Committee, Economic and Social Council Joint Meeting

Delegates Debate Eradication of Poverty, Development Issues in Afternoon Meeting

New technology would be central to achieving development goals, with artificial intelligence (AI) leveraged to process data on health, commerce, communications and transportation, entrepreneur Stephen Ibaraki told a joint session of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) and the Economic and Social Council today.

In that regard, stakeholders needed to work together to gauge opportunities and ensure technology would benefit all, he emphasized, addressing a panel discussion on “the future of everything — sustainable development in the age of rapid technological change”.

Machine learning and AI had already replaced human cognition through algorithms, assistance, augmentation, automation and autonomous intelligence, he noted.  Those advancements would mean a $16 trillion increase in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.  Similarly, gains from AI would boost GDP by 55 per cent from 2017 to 2030 and, in 2030 alone, 58 per cent of GDP would come from consumer attitudes, he said.  Every region could benefit from AI, with the largest predicted to be China and the United States.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed concurred that technology could enhance food security, reduce waste and help local economies grow.  However, she warned that many nations would need more than just those benefits, urging the international community to form partnerships in ensuring equal technological access.

Addressing the plight of less developed countries, FarmDrive co-founder Rita Kimani stressed the need to examine root problems and tools available in assessing the best technology to use.  Her organization had learned that access to finance was among the biggest challenges for small farmers, who had no smart phones.  They used tools they already had — basic mobile phones — to send messages to the FarmDrive platform.

Presentations were also made by Hanson Robotics Chief Executive Officer David Hanson, Harvard University’s metalLAB Faculty Director Jeffrey Schnapp and Columbia University Professor Emeritus of Public and Environmental Health Dickson Despommier.

During an ensuing discussion, speakers emphasized the importance of universal technology access and its ensuing benefits, as well as the risk of negative robotic “values” and cultural personalities.

The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) representative asked the panel how the global community could achieve its goal of universal and affordable access to the Internet by 2020.  Mr. Ibaraki said public-private partnerships must be strengthened through outreach from all multi-stakeholders, especially in least developed countries.

In a similar vein, Mauritius’ representative asked how economic gains would “trickle down”, reducing poverty and ensuring technological accessibility.  Mr. Ibaraki responded that technology would continue to evolve and eventually the challenge would solve itself, as AI would likely appear in all devices.

The representative from Global Pulse underscored the urgency of addressing risks, as AI had “as much potential for good or harm as nuclear energy”.  Mr. Hanson said the international community must continue to use all available tools without waiting for regulation, but Ms. Kimani stressed that human needs must be at the centre of conversations.

Likewise, the representative of Sierra Leone asked how producers would prevent them from acquiring the “worst of human values”, while ensuring culturally relative personalities.  Mr. Hanson replied that technological producers would include abstract reasoning in artificial intelligence, and empower machines to understand consequences of their actions.

“It comes down to love,” he said, adding that technology producers would create algorithms to move artificial intelligence and computing towards wisdom and “super benevolence”.  Culturally, his robotics had a wide diversity characterized by different skin tones and cultural values.

In an afternoon session, the Second Committee took up poverty eradication, stressing the need for increased employment, resource mobilization, investments in education as well as health and global financing.

Ecuador’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said good economic performance in African countries over the last two decades had failed to reduce poverty or create jobs.  Some 22 per cent of Africans lived on $.70 to $1.25 per day, while 25 per cent lived on less than $.70 per day.  Expressing concern over the lack of employment, he noted that 203.8 million people would be unemployed by 2018.  More economic opportunities were needed, along with increased mobilization of resources and adequate means for developing countries to implement policies and programmes.

Cambodia’s representative stressed the need to expand economies and invest in education and health, noting that his country had diversified exports to curb its reliance on the garment, tourism and agricultural industries.  Cambodia’s achievements in poverty reduction had been driven by robust and equitable macroeconomic growth, with strong checks on inflation, increases in agricultural production, and improved infrastructure.

Speaking for the Group of Least Developed Countries, Bangladesh’s representative said poverty in his group of States had fallen from 43.6 per cent in 2008 to 36.3 per cent in 2013.  However, levels of extreme poverty remained high in the group, with countries growing at the slowest pace of economic expansion since 2000.  Inequality in income, wealth and opportunities plagued those States, he said, while conflicts, climate change, diseases and economic “shocks” continued to thwart them.  Stressing that global support through financing was vital, he said he looked forward to improvements in official development assistance (ODA), trade and foreign direct investment (FDI).

At the onset of the meeting, Secretary-General’s reports were presented by Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), on women in development (document A/72/282); Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on implementation of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty 2008 to 2017 (document A/72/283); and Navid Hanif, Director of the Office for Support and Coordination in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on human resource development for the twenty-first century (document A/72/292).

Also speaking were the representatives of Belize, Maldives, El Salvador, Israel, China, Philippines, Singapore, Iran, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Cambodia on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Tonga, Iraq, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ethiopia, Venezuela, Cuba and Malawi.

The Committee will meet again on Thursday, 12 October, to conclude its debate on poverty eradication.

Opening Remarks

MARIE CHATARDOVÁ (Czech Republic), President of the Economic and Social Council, said artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of things changed the way the international community worked, obtained information, made bank transactions and networked.  She said AI was at the heart of online search and translation services, e‑commerce recommendations, real traffic prediction and self‑driving cars.  However, the international community did not yet know its global impact.  The long‑term consequences of deep technological changes were unknown, she stated.  AI could accelerate progress, but also would pose a range of complex challenges, including ethical questions, human rights issues and security risks.  “These questions will need to be addressed if we want our fellow citizens to embrace technological change rather than perceive it as a threat,” she said.  Public response, at national and global levels, was lagging technological progress, thus she urged for better understanding of science and technology for development.  “Let us not forget that many places around the globe still lack basic access to electricity and to a networked infrastructure,” she said.

SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia), Chair of the Second Committee (Economic and Financial), noted that his country was a small nation with few natural resources and a limited internal market.  Yet the size of the country and enterprising spirit of the people had been a huge advantage in building up an information society with high quality services.  When Estonia started building its information society about two decades ago, many in his country had no access to the Internet or the devices to use it.  It required vision and strong leadership to invest in and adopt the information technology route.  Both the public and private sectors understood the need to invest in positioning Estonia as an information society and integrate e‑governance solutions as they were created.  Turning to the use of technology in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, he said it would be vital to address security concerns and privacy.  People would only use e‑solutions if they were safe, trustworthy and convenient.  Innovative technologies offered unprecedented opportunities for implementing the Goals, but also required managing the risks of those technologies.

AMINA J. MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary‑General, said technological progress must be well managed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  She urged the international community to engage in partnerships to leverage the power of technology equitably.  New technology could enhance food security, reduce waste and help local economies grow, among other advancements.  In Zambia, the first virtual farmers market was piloted.  Seed planting drones were tested and indirectly helped to mitigate climate change.  Mobilized construction changed how roads were built and monitored across Africa and the developing world.  Technology should not be used as a “silver bullet”, she said.  Highlighting recent technological events hosted at the United Nations, she stressed that creativity and imagination of youth must be nurtured to create new solutions and reach the Sustainable Development Goals.  The international community must also protect workers and help them adjust to technological advancements, close the digital divide and avoid exacerbating inequalities through proper education and training.  Engaging Sofia the robot, she asked how the United Nations could ensure that all people benefited from technological advancements.  In response, Sofia stated that AI could produce results with fewer resources.  Thus, AI could be leveraged to distribute the world’s existing resources, such as food and energy, in a more equitable manner.

Panel Discussion

JENNIFER STRONG, Moderator of the discussion and Host of the Wall Street Journal’s “The Future of Everything” podcast, said today’s event aimed to show how technology was shaping society.  Adding that she herself was not a technologist, she said it was all too easy to let someone else decide how technology affected our daily lives.  But leaving technology to others would be neglecting the great challenges of the time.  With her programme, she had assumed the responsibility of standing in for people who did not understand.  Through storytelling, she hoped to bring more voices into the conversation, as if technology belonged to all.

DAVID HANSON, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Hanson Robotics, said he hoped he could assist in connecting technologists and humanitarians in deciding how technology could benefit all.  His company made machines that were fundamentally human.  They took the nano properties of human soft tissue and produced mobile, social robots.  As art forms like animation had brought wonder and delight to the world, robotics could perform a similar service.  However, it was important to understand what it was like to be human.  By making AI grow up among humans, perhaps robots could really care about people and become alive.  There was a revolution at work today in the field of bioengineering, which had just begun to see the implications of work that would change the world.  He stressed that robotics must make machines reflecting the best people could be, humanizing robots as animated characters.  The goal was to make living robots that were truly ethical and could make the world a better place.

STEPHEN IBARAKI, serial entrepreneur and founding managing partner of REDDS Venture Investment Partners, said due to the rapid progress in AI, technological advancements would be central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  AI could be leveraged to solve humanity’s challenges by processing data on health, commerce, communications, transportation and more.  Thus, stakeholders must work together to evaluate opportunities and ensure such advancements would benefit all of humanity.  AI and machine learning already replaced human cognition through algorithms, assistance, augmentation, automation and autonomous intelligence, he continued.  Those advancements would result in a $16 trillion increase in gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.  Similarly, the gains from AI would result in a 55 per cent gain in GDP from 2017 to 2030, and in 2030 alone, 58 per cent of GDP would come from consumer impacts.  He said every region could benefit from AI, with the largest beneficiaries predicted to be in China and the United States.  The impact of AI would be apparent in economic, cultural and social disruption.  For example, such advancements could track poverty through satellite imagery and poverty mapping from space.  Machine learning could extend medical care through remote diagnosis and the enhancement of transportation resources.  AI could serve as a key resource in curbing greenhouse gas emissions and further promoting the development of smart cities.  As every sector would be affected, he encouraged the international community to consider liability rules, ethnical conduct, transparency and open partnerships.

RITA KIMANI, Co‑founder of FarmDrive, questioned whether robots would make a difference to rural farmers in her home country of Kenya.  It was necessary to take a step back to look at the root problems and real challenges one was attempting to address.  What were the challenges of communities and could technology be used to solve them, she asked.  Her organization had learned that access to finance was among the biggest challenges for small farmers.  So it looked at how technology could assist farmers in obtaining credit.  That was done by looking at simple revenue data from farmers, using it to assess the risk and then determining whether they could have credit.  In the case of those farmers, it was important to focus on the real problems and be aware of a community’s culture.  Small rural farmers, for example, had no smartphones, so a device they could use had to be found.  In the end, they used a basic mobile phone to send messages to the FarmDrive platform, using a tool they already had access to.

JEFFREY SCHNAPP, founder and faculty director of metaLAB at Harvard University, said the international community should not narrow the scope of our technological conversations.  He said robots come in all shapes, sizes and forms and have already transformed economic production.  Robotics and AI were already part of the everyday world, outside of warehouses and production plants.  He underscored that technological advancements augment the human experience.  Smart vehicles, for example, were used to map cities and inform urban development.  As shifts into those augmented realms, the international community must consider how information and data would be used.  The use of data would pose one of the greatest challenges, and the international community must leverage such information responsibly.  There was a trend, he continued, to treat algorithmic knowledge as a form of public knowledge and it had become part of our social and cultural lives.  As a result, educational institutions must reshape themselves and the international community must encourage lifelong learning.  Humanity must prepare and understand our relationship with the “world of devices” as digital tools, smart devices and the intensity of connectivity would continue to have greater impact.

DICKSON DESPOMMIER, Professor Emeritus of Public and Environmental Health, Columbia University, stressed that all people in the world needed to eat and drink.  The difficulty was in getting adequate supplies to them.  Sometimes, there was not enough rain to fill reservoirs and sometimes the food that was grown was raided by animals or destroyed by adverse weather.  Noting that eliminating hunger was among the primary goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, he said it could be accomplished if the global community tried hard enough.  The world was now faced with rapid climate change and its consequent effects on health.  The cause was primarily deforestation as well as the use of fossil fuels.  Deforestation — which had mainly occurred to clear land for farming — took away the ability of the Earth to take back carbon it had fed into the atmosphere.  Noting that farming was 10,000 years old and traditional, he said no one wanted to break with that practice.  Rather than human clearing of land, a tsunami in Japan had trashed 5 per cent of its farmland in one hour.  In that case, the solution was indoor farming — vertical multi‑story farms, rather than one‑level greenhouses.  Countries were now adopting this alternative, led by Japan, and were producing great quantities of food.  Other countries using vertical farms included Singapore, China and Germany.  The advantages of vertical farming were that it was year‑round, used 70 to 90 per cent less water and could be established anywhere in the world.

Interactive Discussion

Ms. STRONG asked Sofia what the United Nations could do to support innovation to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Sofia responded that leaders must work together to build an equitable, standard infrastructure.

The moderator next asked the panel about the historical precedent of technological innovation.  Mr. IBARAKI said the implications to labour would result in a period of disruption and chaos, but economic and social benefits would manifest in the long‑run.  Mr. SCHNAPP responded that social panic around automation was recorded throughout the history of industrialization, and would be repeated with the development of AI and robotics.  So far, evidence had shown that technological advancements would not fuel job loss, but may fuel inequality.  To address that concern, the international community must do more to ensure adequate skills and capacity‑building.

The representative from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) asked how the global community might achieve its goal of universal and affordable access to the Internet by 2020, including in the least developed countries.  Mr. IBARAKI responded that public‑private partnerships must be strengthened through outreach from the United Nations.  The enhanced engagement of all the multi‑stakeholders would be required to accelerate that goal, particularly in the least developed countries.  Mr. SCHNAPP responded that the international community must urgently acknowledge broadband access as a civil right.

The representative of Nigeria asked how technological advancements in the labour markets might impact youth unemployment, particularly in Nigeria and sub‑Saharan Africa.  Mr. HANSON responded that the technological community was actively engaging Africa in research and through open robotics programmes.  He said that such initiatives were producing significant results and supported the production of low‑cost, open source tools and resources.  Such opportunities also created welcoming environments for entrepreneurship and infrastructural developments.  Ms. KIMANI said the international community must continue to address the root causes of inequalities, while also responding to technological advancements.  Mr. IBARAKI said the investment community considered Africa the greatest new opportunity on a personalization and localization basis, thus the region would continue to see greater investments, particularly around financial services and education.  Mr. DESPOMMIER said there was great interest in establishing indoor vertical farming, which would not require significant changes to skillsets.  Thus, AI in developing communities could enhance agriculture.

The representative of Mauritius asked how to ensure that economic gains would “trickle down”, reduce poverty and ensure technological accessibility.  Mr. IBARAKI responded that the greatest growth would be seen in Africa, including through investment and representation in scientific communities.  In terms of accessibility, technology would continue to evolve and eventually the challenge would solve itself, as AI would likely appear in all devices.

The representative of Sierra Leone asked how producers would prevent robots from acquiring the “worst of human values”, while ensuring culturally relative personalities and values.  Mr. HANSON said his company was working to improve deep learning through pattern extraction.  In doing so, technological producers would include abstract reasoning in AI and empower machines to understand the consequences of their actions.  “It comes down to love,” he continued.  Technology producers would create algorithms that moved AI and computing towards wisdom and “super benevolence”.  In terms of cultural design, he said his robotics have a wide cultural diversity as characterized by different skin tones and cultural values.  Mr. IBARAKI said agreements in the European Union Parliament addressed liability, employment and ethical conduct.  Global science associations and other related reports also addressed those concerns, as well as threats to humanity’s existential existence.

The representative of Brazil said access should not only be shared with consumers, but also with producers of technology.  Greater consideration should be given to developing countries as they could play a significant role in innovation and technology, including by strengthening intellectual and financial systems.  She said that other problems may not require technological solutions, but rather political ones.  Thus, the international community must not forget human responsibilities to global challenges.  Additionally, greater consideration should be given to defining who decides ethics and values.  In that regard, she noted the use of robotics and technological advancements for military use.  As a final comment, she reinforced the importance of privacy rights with respect to innovation.  Mr. IBARAKI said that the United Nations would remain a key facilitator in those discussions, and that overall, the scientific community was encouraging broad dialogue in that regard.  The open source movement and talent crowdsourcing would continue to be widely accessible, he said.  Mr. SCHNAPP reiterated that the open source community was an open community and that most operating systems were open source.  Mr. DESPOMMIER noted a media laboratory which was working to enhance vertical farming, and the information from which would be open source.  Mr. HANSON said blockchain would help to decentralize economic initiatives and facilitate entrepreneurship.

The representative of Zambia urged that the international community continue dialogue on such issues, while ensuring a global governance system which incorporated universal codes of conduct.  Regarding job loss, he said many economies were based on low cost products, many of which would be replaced by new innovations.  In that regard, he asked how Governments might tax labour, given that humans would be replaced by robotics.  Mr. IBARAKI said taxation had already been addressed in many high‑level discussions.

The representative of South Africa asked about the future of human beings, and how to combat the unequal division of benefits.  Mr. IBARAKI said there would be a coexistence of robotics and humans.  Concerning job loss and governance, innovation would create new opportunities.  Mr. SCHNAPP said there was a diversity of opinions on how tools and technologies would interact and that they would be shaped by disparate belief systems and social values.

The representative of the United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development asked about the digital divide, while the representative of Global Pulse asked how to mitigate the risks of smart technologies in a manner that ensured that data was properly managed and utilized.  The latter underscored the urgency of addressing risks, as AI had “as much potential for good or harm as nuclear energy”.  In terms of human rights, he urged for a stronger governance approach to innovation.  Mr. HANSON said the international community must continue to utilize all available tools without waiting for regulation.  The value of automation, he continued, was that it managed resources efficiently, thus the democratization of technology would benefit mass production and lower costs.  Mr. IBARAKI said more consideration should be given to technological assessment and skills building.  The unintended consequences of innovation must also be addressed by all stakeholders.  Ms. KIMANI reiterated that human needs must be at the centre of conversations.  Ultimately, the international community must achieve a good balance between innovation and policy.  Mr. SCHNAPP said the international community must create a universal code of values while ensuring proper leadership to decide upon ethics and values.  Mr. DESPOMMIER said ethical considerations should not prohibit innovation, thus more open dialogue would continue to be necessary.

Concluding Remarks

Ms. STRONG questioned what the global community could do to ensure more people were empowered to take advantage of new technologies.  It was also difficult to know if the world was on the right track with certain technologies and how they could be used to increase productivity.

Mr. ZHENMIN said the world was at a critical juncture, faced with unprecedented challenges and unique opportunities for a challenging future.  Technology was the main driver of economic growth and could be revolutionary in transforming societies.  AI could bring a new industrial revolution, which would be fundamentally different than previous ones.  The influence of technology on the future was not preordained but could be influenced by proactive policies to embrace and direct it, ensuring that gains were broadly shared.

Ms. CHATARDOVÁ said the potential for grass‑roots initiatives in the field of agriculture and food security were truly inspiring as the international community sought avenues to accelerate progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda.  Likewise, AI‑enabled solutions in the mobility and transportation sectors would go a long way in making cities more sustainable.  Yet, there were also risks associated with those new technologies, and a need to bring regulation to issues that were so far largely ungoverned.  There was more to learn about the impact of AI on societies at large and its potential to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. JÜRGENSON said the quest for innovative solutions to the complex challenges of the time should be particularly inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and imagination of young people around the globe, using data as their generation’s natural resource.  The benefits of technological progress and innovation to all people remained far from clear.  However, the 2030 Agenda offered a vision that could help in navigating rapid technological change.

Presentation of Reports

LAKSHMI PURI, Assistant Secretary‑General and Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN‑Women), introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on women in development (document A/72/282).  She said the 2030 Agenda sought to promote gender equality and empowerment of women and girls as a Sustainable Development Goal in its own right.  The imperative of the gender‑responsive implementation of the Agenda was the task in front of the international community.  Gender equality strategies needed to be fully integrated into national sustainable development frameworks to promote greater policy coherence.  Adding that a central commitment of the Agenda was eradicating poverty, she noted that close to 800 million people still lived in extreme poverty around the world.  Most were in informal employment and many were women.  Vulnerability was the hallmark of informal employment, lacking health or safety regulations, benefits like health insurance, pensions and other social protection.  Such work failed to meet the criteria of decent work.  Recent estimates indicated that 600 million new jobs would need to be created by 2030 to keep pace with the growth of the global working age population.  Focus was needed on young women’s entry into the labour market, including in the areas of science, technology and innovation.

DANIELA BAS, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on the Implementation of the Second United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty 2008 to 2017 (document A/72/283).  She said a survey was circulated by the United Nations to track progress and remaining challenges in addressing extreme poverty.  Recommendations from the report emphasized the need for the United Nations system to maintain momentum in the context of the 2030 Agenda.  Despite the international community continuing to make progress in poverty eradication throughout the second decade, the Millennium Development Goal targets remained only partially met.  Since 1990, around 1 billion people were lifted out of extreme poverty, however the report noted uneven progress.  Although extreme poverty dropped, poverty levels remained high in many least developed countries.  Growth had not been sufficient to meet the needs of the growing labour force, particularly in countries with large youth populations, and gaps remained in addressing undernourishment and lack of education.  Lessons learned included the importance of social policy, adequate macroeconomic policies, investment in agriculture and infrastructure, rural development and policies to build resilience and empower people living in poverty.  She emphasized the importance of partnerships and reassurance mobilization and called for greater attention to poverty eradication programmes in the national context.  The international community must continue structural transformation by driving inclusive industrialization, combating inequality, promoting decent work, investing in education and health care and improving women’s participation in the labour market.

NAVID HANIF, Director of the Office for Support and Coordination in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, introduced the Secretary‑General’s report on human resource development for the twenty‑first century (document A/72/292).  He said human resource development was fundamental to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda.  Currently, employment trends painted a challenging picture due to decreasing jobs in some sectors, which was compounded by vulnerable employment in many developing countries.  Rapid advancements in science and technology innovation were transforming economies and societies.  Organization of work and production were changing because of globalization.  Stressing that education, training and skill development were at the core of human resources, he said there was an urgent need to improve them.  National institutions must adapt, especially in education, training and social protection system development strategies, which must be informed by stakeholder engagement and policies.  The United Nations provided policy advice in implementing the Agenda, and would continue to do so, although technological changes were shaping its ability.  Investment was needed in the Organization’s own workforce, putting people at its centre.

General Discussion

The representative of Nigeria asked Ms. BAS for policy prescriptions for development and poverty reduction in rural areas, especially in Africa.  Ms. BAS said the international community must go through a structural transformation of how to conceive rural areas and work with them in an integrated manner.  That would mean how work would be perceived and created in rural areas, including farm and non‑farm economies.  She said innovative solutions must be compatible with the environment and respect the dignity of the people.  She stated that she would be happy to provide additional information on best practices.  Ms. PURI, responding to the same question, said the Commission on the Status of Women would be focusing on women’s empowerment in the context of rural development.  That would be an important aspect of how one could address poverty, inequality and the rural‑urban divide.  States should create in rural areas the necessary infrastructure, such as electricity, education, transport, financing and telecommunications.  Sustainable agriculture and the farm economy should address eradicating poverty, creating jobs and meeting the needs of young people.  She said such efforts would limit the uncontrolled growth of urban areas, as young people would have an incentive to stay in rural areas.

DIEGO MOREJÓN-PAZMIÑO (Ecuador), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said there was no way to overemphasize the relevance of poverty reduction to developing States.  It was worrisome that more that 767 million people continued to live on less than $1.90 per day, he said.  The international community made progress in eradicating poverty, as 10.7 per cent of the world’s population was extremely poor in 2013 and 9.1 per cent of the world’s population was poor in 2016.  Despite good economic performance by African countries over the last two decades, that growth was not translated into poverty reduction or the creation of adequate jobs.  In fact, 22 per cent of Africans lived on between $.70 and $1.25 per day, while 25 per cent lived on less than $.70 dollars per day.  He also expressed concern about the lack of productive employment and decent work, as 203.8 million people would be unemployed by 2018.  In that regard, he called for the creation of more economic opportunities, increased mobilization of resources and adequate means for developing countries to implement policies and programmes.  He expressed concern that the progress for women and girls remained unbalanced, and recognized that women were key contributors to the economy and combating poverty.  Stressing that human resources development was at the heart of economic, social and environmental development, he emphasized that health and education were at the core of human resources development.

RY TUY (Cambodia) spoke on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and aligned himself with the Group of 77.  He said his region remained committed to eradicating poverty through integrated approaches that addressed the development gap, rural development, community empowerment, engagement of stakeholders and partnerships with the private sector.  He highlighted the successful implementation of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity and the initiative for ASEAN integration, which connected States socially and economically, facilitated trade and reduced development gaps.  Since 2004, his region had implemented a series of framework action plans for rural development and poverty eradication.  He expressed concern that official development assistance (ODA) disbursement had remained low, thus he urged developed countries to fulfil their commitments and ensure support to developing and least developed countries.  He said international cooperation on financing, innovation and technology transfer would also accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.  Besides ODA and debt relief, he said developed countries should open global trade markets to developing countries and refrain from protectionism.

LOIS MICHELE YOUNG (Belize), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and associating herself with the Group of 77 and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that hurricane devastation in Barbuda and Dominica had underscored the interconnected vulnerabilities of the State and individual.  Farmers had lost their crops.  People had lost their livelihoods.  Economies, with productive sectors — agriculture and tourism — were virtually at a halt, she said.  While the Caribbean had improved its diagnosis of the complexity of the poverty problem, it had been far less progressive with its solutions.  Emphasizing that each State had a responsibility to align its plans with the 2030 Agenda, she said that the United Nations must not attempt to prescribe solutions at the domestic level.  Simply put, the needs of Caribbean countries far exceeded their means.  The added high debt and exposure to climate change only increased the region’s vulnerabilities.  The Caribbean had to work with its partners to develop financial instruments appropriate for loss and damage.  “Development is not linear,” she said, adding that the new multidimensional perspective on poverty should signal a “step change” in the response.

SHAMEES AHSAN (Bangladesh), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries, recounted the progress that had been made on poverty eradication in the last decade, citing it had fallen from 43.6 per cent in 2008 to 36.3 per cent in 2013.  However, levels of extreme poverty remained high in least developed countries and therefore remained a major concern.  Pointing out the vital role of economic growth in poverty eradication, he lamented that least developed countries were growing at the slowest pace of economic expansion since 2000.  Inequality in income, wealth and opportunities remained high in those States while conflicts, climate change, diseases and economic “shocks” continued to impact them.  To strengthen efforts, least developed countries must overcome structural impediments to enhance productive capacity and encourage the participation of women and children in poverty solutions.  Greater attention should be given to the agricultural sector, he continued, without neglecting the potential of the industrial sector.  Global support through financing was also vital and, in that regard, he looked forward to the implementation of ODA, trade and foreign direct investment (FDI).  Access to technology was also essential for development.  Finally, he stressed the importance of international support in addressing the severe impacts of climate change and natural hazards.

Ms. ZAHIR (Maldives), speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States and associating herself with the Group of 77, said that increasingly frequent and more intense weather events had reversed any sustainable development gains made in eradicating poverty.  Such events, in addition to the 2007 to 2009 global financial and economic crisis, put small island States further in debt.  There was limited space to diversify economies as such States that largely relied on tourism, agriculture and fisheries.  All those industries faced great harm from climate change and thus faced great volatility.  Her region’s limited resources went towards rebuilding rather than sustainable development, and any gains were further reversed by other aspects of climate change including warming ocean temperatures, sea level rise and acidification.  Her region also faced numerous unfair financial arrangements that placed countries at greater disadvantage in the global market, including illicit financial flows, unfair trade practices and taxation challenges.  Although statistics showed that many small island developing States experienced high economic growth rates, such growth did not result in sustainable job creation.  Due to those challenges, her region was left with high indebtedness.  “The odds are stacked heavily against us as we desperately try to not only meet our various international obligations but also to provide safe, productive and fruitful living conditions for our citizens,” she stated.  Gains around empowering women and girls were also set back, however she reiterated her region’s commitment to the advancement of gender equality.  She implored Member States to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.  She also called for international financial institutions to evaluate their criteria for access to financing, and urged the Secretary‑General to ensure that small island developing States were taken into account in all reform efforts.  Finally, she called upon all partners to meet their ODA.

HECTOR ENRIQUE JAIME CALDERÓN (El Salvador), speaking on behalf CELAC and associating himself with CARICOM, said eradication of poverty and sustainable development with social, economic and financial inclusion were challenges requiring global, regional and national efforts.  The irreversible eradication of poverty was a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development and ensuring equal opportunities of progress for societies.  Sustainable development must include groups in situations of vulnerability so that no one was left behind.  Equity, social and financial inclusion and access to fair credit were central to ensure overall access to justice, citizen participation, well‑being and a dignified life.  He stressed the need to improve the mechanisms of regulation, supervision and control of the international and regional financial systems to promote an international financial environment conducive to implementation of the 2030 Agenda, considering that the mobilization of national resources was insufficient in achieving economic growth which would contribute to sustainable development and promote mechanisms of justice and social inclusion to eradicate poverty.  He also highlighted the positive impact of facilitating and increasing intraregional trade in food for food and nutrition security.  Finally, he recognized the relevancy of South‑South and triangular cooperation, complementary to North‑South cooperation, as well as ODA to increase national capacities, improve food and nutrition security and encourage the exchange of good practices.

ORLI GIL (Israel) said that eradicating poverty required promoting capacity‑building and not solely resorting to aid.  Developing countries faced many of the same challenges that Israel struggled with in its early years.  In that context, Israel continued to provide technology and training to nations facing desertification, water scarcity and water desalination.  Today, Israel reused 95 per cent of the water it consumed for agricultural purposes.  She said Israel was working with Governments, civil society, academia and the private sector to create innovative solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda.  Israel also offered courses to instructors from developing nations.  It viewed the involvement of women and young people in the workforce as a prerequisite to poverty eradication.

LU YUHUI (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, said the international community must accelerate efforts to eradicate poverty by 2030, including through domestic development.  He urged for enhanced development cooperation through the establishment of new international relationships.  He said all countries should support the United Nations, World Bank and other related institutions in their efforts for poverty eradication, and in that regard, he stressed the importance of North‑South and South‑South cooperation.  He encouraged all Governments to enhance support to developing countries and bolster in depth regional cooperation, including through pragmatic cooperation in agriculture, green energy and infrastructure among others.  He also urged the international community to promote an equitable financial order to ensure that developing countries would be enabled to improve their infrastructure, connectivity and integration into supply and value chains.  China remained committed to poverty eradication, he said, noting that more than 600 million people in the country had been lifted out of poverty.  Over the past 60 years, his Government provided 166 countries and international organizations with ODA and dispatched more than 600,000 personnel to assist with humanitarian aid.  His country also furthered initiatives for debt cancelation and would continue to deepen its cooperation and support to developing countries.

MARIA ANGELA PONCE (Philippines), associating herself with the ASEAN and the Group of 77, said that economic growth alone did not lead to poverty eradication.  Despite being a middle‑income country, 8.23 million Filipinos were still subsistence poor.  She noted the importance of ensuring that women and girls achieved their full potential and were given equal opportunities especially in contributing to the workforce.  It was critical to empower women to participate in the labour market.  The Philippines national plan outlined strategies in improving access to childcare services, formulating policies that promoted work‑life balance, providing retraining services for women and enhancing maternal and paternal benefits.  She called on the United Nations to continue to mainstream gender and poverty elimination in their plans.

ANGELA NG (Singapore), associating herself with the Group of 77, the Alliance of Small Island States and ASEAN, said that social safety nets were essential to achieving sustainable development.  “Every Singaporean must be able to stand on their own two feet and live a life of dignity,” she stressed.  Jobs, family support and an empowered civil society were all crucial for communities to grow and prosper.  She emphasized the importance of life‑long learning and training to ensure that citizens were equipped with the necessary skills in changing workspaces.  Poverty was multidimensional, she continued, emphasizing that Singapore’s social safety net encompassed health care, housing, education, a mandatory comprehensive social security savings plan and income supplements for low‑wage workers.  Singapore’s social service officers were also empowered to exercise flexibility when providing aid to low‑income individuals and families, which helped tailor assistance to their needs.

JAVAD MOMENI (Iran), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that his country placed people at the heart of all development and had taken numerous steps to eradicate poverty.  Women were key contributors to the economy and the Government was working to create an enabling environment for them to become equal partners and beneficiaries of development.  Underscoring the link between poverty and peace, he added that the United Nations system should continue to coordinate its support to developing countries in their efforts to fight poverty.  The proclamation of a third United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty would enhance those efforts.

HA THI THANH HUYEN (Viet Nam) said that poverty eradication was at the heart of development efforts.  In the last 30 years, more than 40 million Vietnamese people had escaped poverty.  That success was attributed to economic growth that created more and better jobs.  Yet challenges remained, as poverty persisted among ethnic minorities, and rural and mountainous populations.  Viet Nam was also among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change impacts, including sea level rise, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones.  Natural hazards had caused average annual economic losses estimated at 1‑1.5 per cent of GDP in the last two decades.  To maintain the gains in poverty reduction, Viet Nam had to find comprehensive solutions that minimized trade‑offs.

Ms. ALMEHAID (Saudi Arabia) said her country attached great importance to the Sustainable Development Goals, and had placed a great deal of focus on empowering women.  One of the most important aspects of those efforts included bringing more women into the workforce.  The percentage of working women in the country had increased from 22 to 30 per cent, which had resulted in 1 million new jobs for women.  Saudi women were an integral part of society — they had been elected to local councils, participated in official delegations at international and regional conferences and were fully integrated in the diplomatic corps.  Further, a woman was currently the head of the Saudi stock exchange, which was the largest in the Middle East.  There were now more than 30,000 business women in Saudi Arabia, she noted, adding that women represented some 52 per cent of college students.  As a result, Saudi Arabia had expanded scientific departments to accommodate the influx of women studying in that area.

MAHLATSE MMINELE (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that poverty remained the greatest global challenge and its eradication was a compulsory requirement for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda.  To eradicate poverty in developing countries, those countries needed a fair chance as well as policy space to develop their economies, in order to bring about transformative sustainable development.  Member States should also demonstrate their will by committing to a rules‑based, non‑discriminatory multilateral system that would address systematic imbalances.

TLHALEFO BATSILE MADISA (Botswana), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Africa Group, said that the pace of job creation remained inadequate in relation to the growing labour force.  His Government had made poverty eradication its top priority through social protection programmes that targeted the destitute and orphans.  He called on various development partners to continue assisting developing countries in terms of technical aid and capacity‑building, particularly in the areas of science and technology.  He reiterated that Africa had lagged behind all other regions in using information and communications technology (ICT).  While major challenges remained, Botswana had made significant progress to empower women and would remain committed to ensuring that no women and girls were left behind.

Mr. HENCKERT (Namibia) said that his Government had put in place several policies to protect workers, including minimum wage for key industries, safety standards and adherence to suitable environmental practices.  All primary and secondary school children had the right to free basic education, he said, pointing out that his country was undergoing a demographic transition, which presented an opportunity to leverage the large number of young workers to help build the economy.  The classification of Namibia as an upper‑middle‑income country was problematic, he said, because that did not take into account the huge income disparity between the rich and the poor.

Mr. TUY (Cambodia), associating himself with ASEAN, the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, he stressed the need to improve the quality of life for all citizens by investing in education and health, and diversifying the economy.  Outlining ways to increase Cambodia’s GDP by 2025, he noted that diversifying exports would help to deviate overreliance on the garment, tourism and agriculture industries.  Cambodia’s achievements in poverty reduction had been driven by robust and equitable macroeconomic growth.  That included strong checks on inflation, significant increases in agricultural production and productivity, and strengthening and improving infrastructure.  International support was still welcomed, he said, noting that ODA played a significant role in contributing to the success of the 2030 Agenda.

MAHE’ULI’ULI SANDHURST TUPOUNIUA (Tonga), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Alliance of Small Island States, said that issues such as health, education and economic growth were all of importance for his Government.  As such, he said that various strategies and policies had been put in place to support those areas including human resources development and poverty eradication.  Programmes that improved education and training, addressed non‑communicable diseases by promoting healthy lifestyles and formal services that helped the most vulnerable, including the elderly and disabled, were now all in place in Tonga.  Further, strengthening women’s economic empowerment and ensuring equal access to full and productive employment and decent work were other areas of concern and had been bolstered thanks to support from the European Union and various civil society initiatives.

Mr. ALKHAFAJI (Iraq), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, said his country’s poverty rate had dropped to about 13 per cent in 2013 due to falling oil prices and the occupation by ISIL, which had led to unprecedented displacement of the population.  Iraq’s development plans extended to 2030 with a view to eradicating poverty by increasing wages and reducing disparities in pay between men and women.  Iraq granted loans to help the poor create new businesses and small‑scale projects, he said, emphasizing that more assistance was needed from the international community to alleviate poverty due to the country’s unique circumstances.

MAYTHONG THAMMAVONGSA (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) associating himself with the Group of 77, the Group of Least Developed Countries, and ASEAN, saying that reducing extreme poverty and overcoming other daunting development challenges would not be possible without further strengthening international development cooperation.  In that connection, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic called on development partners to scale‑up financing for United Nations operational activities, he said, adding that the Government attached great importance to eradicating poverty and to rural development, he said, calling attention to his country’s particular development challenges due to the prevalence of unexploded ordnance.

Mr. TAMALGO (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said that in 2016, his country had adopted a national socioeconomic plan for the period 2016‑2020 with a view to transforming the domestic economy through a favourable industrial environment and reform of the education system.  The Government had also promoted competitive industries, thereby strengthening productivity and the marketing of agricultural products.  Structural changes included improved urbanization, a lower birth rate and falling child mortality.  Ultimately, the effect of the national strategy would be the creation of 50,000 decent jobs per year, he said.  The strategy would also reduce demographic growth to 2.7 per cent by 2020, accelerate human capital and reduce negative consumption patterns.  Burkina Faso would continue its efforts to mobilize its natural resources to finance that strategy, he said.

CHRISTINE KALAMWINA (Zambia), associating herself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Group of Least Developed Countries, recalled that for more than a decade, his country had been on a path to realizing its Vision 2030 of becoming a prosperous middle‑income country.  However, persistently high national poverty levels remained at around 54.4 per cent, despite strong economic growth.  The situation in rural areas was even worse, with poverty estimated to be around 76.6 per cent, she noted.  The number of vulnerable households had also taken an upward swing, with people lacking access to such essential basic services as health care, education, water and sanitation.  In that context, the Government of Zambia had committed to reducing the national poverty rate by 20 per cent by 2021.

LEULESEGED TADESE ABEBE (Ethiopia), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, said the progress made in eradicating poverty was uneven across and within regions, adding that 35 per cent of the people in least developed countries could still be living in poverty by 2030.  The Government of Ethiopia continued to coordinate development efforts with political commitment, and as a result of its efforts, the national economy had registered double‑digit growth through three consecutive national development plans.  Poverty had declined from 45 to 22 per cent, and per capita income had grown from $377 in 2009 to $794 in 2016.  Ethiopia had also undertaken legal and policy measures that had attracted special attention to the economic empowerment and political participation of women and girls, he said.  Reducing poverty by generating decent and productive jobs while consolidating the pace of structural transformation would remain among the top development priorities, but national efforts would not succeed without a revitalized global partnership and an enabling development environment.

RAFAEL DARÍO RAMÍREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said poverty was the result of the unjust and exclusionary economic model that had prevailed in recent decades.  Capitalism had never placed human beings at its heart and had doomed millions of people to lives of poverty.  Foreign occupation, political and economic destabilization, colonialism, war and the international financial system were the real obstacles that must be overcome if poverty was to be eradicated, he emphasized.  The world’s richest minority continued to benefit from that unfair world order, while its poorest people remained marginalized and excluded, he said, underlining the need to change the world economic order in order to ensure that everybody benefited, rather than a select number of elites.  Measures of poverty should take levels of inequality into account from the perspective of economic, social and citizen rights, he said.

GONZALEZ PENA (Cuba), associating himself with the Group of 77, CELAC and AOSIS, said the current international economic order was deeply unjust and unsustainable.  It had the increasingly profound effect of marginalizing many nations in the global South.  Hunger, extreme poverty, illiteracy, lack of sanitation and premature death remained constant in many countries, and more than 80 per cent of the world’s population survived on less than one dollar a day, he said, adding that one billion people lived in extreme poverty.  Those statistics stood in stark contrast to data on the developed world, he noted.  Cuba believed firmly in South‑South cooperation and international solidarity, sharing its modest resources with other nations through international cooperation, he said, emphasizing that humanity’s survival would depend on social justice, equality and respect for the rights of all peoples.

LOT DZONZI (Malawi), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Group of Least Developed Countries, expressed concern that poverty remained a hurdle to sustainable development, despite the progress made in reducing poverty numbers from 17.8 per cent of the world population in 2008 to 10.7 per cent in 2013.  In Africa, levels of extreme poverty remained very high despite the drop in the proportion of people living on less than $1.90 per day from 44.8 per cent in 2008 to 39.2 per cent in 2013.  Malawi’s poverty rates had exceeded 70 per cent in 2013, he recalled, adding that it had made great strides in reducing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS as well as maternal and child mortality.  However, challenges remained in unemployment, particularly for young people, he said.  Addressing them would require consistent and reliable resources that would facilitate technological diversification, economic expansion and increased industrialization, he emphasized.  The Government promoted women’s participation at all levels, and embraced the need to improve their terms and conditions by facilitating reconciliation with unpaid care work and eliminating gender discrimination in the labour market.  He also urged inclusive action to address issues relating to water, energy, resilient housing, sustainable consumption and production patterns as well as sustainable ecosystems and partnerships.

For information media. Not an official record.