Volume 18, No.03 - March 2014

Feature articles

Securing reliable data for development


“Statistics is shaping our understanding of the world,” UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo said as he addressed last year’s Statistical Commission, underscoring the fundamental role that data plays for development. On 4-7 March, the Commission is gathering for its 45th session, bringing together official statisticians from all corners of the world. The event kicks off already on Friday 28 February with a day-long seminar on Managing the Data revolution, followed on 3 March with a high-level forum to mark the 20th Anniversary of the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

“The Statistical Commission has been instrumental in the establishment of a global information infrastructure. The Commission has managed to provide methodological guidance to countries, and ensure the international comparability of our data,” Mr. Wu said as he participated at the 44th session.

With representatives from some 140 Member States gathering at UN Headquarters in New York, the schedule is packed with many important agenda items aimed at ensuring that the global statistical community is responding to current and emerging challenges. This includes developing a solid measuring framework for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

“Statistics is shaping our understanding of the world”

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

Other issues for discussion and decisions before the Commission, which has now been in existence for 68 years, include the implementation of the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, its working methods and measures of progress. A wide range of additional topics will also be in focus including environmental-economic accounting, international trade and economic globalization statistics, disability statistics, big data and modernization of statistical systems, gender statistics, international migration statistics and environment statistics, and many more.

Guiding the work of global statistics

There is also cause to celebrate a milestone event. On 29 January, the UN General Assembly endorsed the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, a set of ten principles that codify the fundamental values and principles that govern the statistical work in order to produce reliable high-quality statistics in support of analysis and decision making. Since 1994, these principles have stood the test of time, guiding the production and dissemination of all official statistics around the globe.

To mark this endorsement as well as to celebrate the 20th anniversary, UN DESA’s Statistics Division is organizing a High-Level Forum on Official Statistics – UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. Taking place on 3 March, the event will highlight the genesis of these principles, their initial adoption and the recent endorsement by the General Assembly. It will also look at their continued relevance as well as past, current and future challenges to their implementation.

Reviewing working methods and assessing progress

In addition to reviewing its working methods, the Commission will also assess broader measures of progress, including the prospects for and the way forward towards a technically solid and globally agreed set of measures of progress. It will also examine existing proposals for a post-2015 development framework, elaborating the need for an integrated and technically robust measurement approach and identifying critical elements for the implementation of a new monitoring framework.

“Being innovative is one of the fundamental challenges of our profession because we are measuring the world and the world around us is changing continuously in so many areas,” said Stefan Schweinfest, Acting Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division, in an earlier DESA News interview.

“We also need sustainable statistics to support sustainable development”

Stefan Schweinfest
Acting Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division

“In statistics […] there are no short cuts, there are no quick fixes,” Mr. Schweinfest said. “I am always saying, we are not taking pictures, we are actually making a movie, so when we talk about sustainable development, we also need sustainable statistics to support sustainable development,” he added.

Managing the data revolution

In addition to the regular programme of the Commission, more than 60 side events are scheduled to take place, making the Statistical Commission one of the largest and busiest events held at UN Headquarters. Kicking off already the week before, one of the events arranged by UN DESA’s Statistics Division on 28 February, puts a spotlight on “Managing the data revolution”. The term “Data Revolution” was introduced by the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons to underline the urgency for more and timelier data to monitor progress of the post-2015 development agenda.

Other events will take a closer look at food security, agricultural and rural statistics and new strategies for a gender data revolution. Common metrics on sustainability with the business sector in the post 2015 development era will also be highlighted, as will disability measurement and how to improve data collection and analysis on aging for social policies formulation, monitoring and evaluation.

The Commission, UN DESA’s Statistics Division along with statisticians from across the globe will continue their important work, collecting data and ensuring that the international community has reliable information to move towards a sustainable post-2015 development agenda.

The central role of their work, as well as the importance of supporting capacity building efforts around the world, has been stressed by Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo. “Sustained efforts are critical to build and maintain statistical capacity in developing countries. These efforts, together with sound statistical institutions, infrastructure and operations, should remain at the heart of our development agenda,” Mr. Wu said as he addressed last year’s Statistical Commission.

Follow @UNStats and #UNStats2014 for updates on the work of the Commission.

45th Session of the UN Statistical Commission
DESA’s Statistics Division
DESA News interview with Stefan Schweinfest, Acting Director of UN DESA’s Statistics Division

Celebrating forests for sustainable development

Forests are essential for the survival of people everywhere. They are also at the heart of sustainable development. In 2012, the UN General Assembly declared 21 March as the International Day of Forests to “celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests and of trees outside forests”. A wide range of special events will celebrate the International Day of Forests 2014.

Nearly 1.6 billion people worldwide depend on forests for their livelihood, food, fuel, shelter and medicine. The International Day of Forests is an opportunity for people around the world to celebrate their unique personal relationship to forests and trees in their communities.

As policy makers deliberate on defining the post-2015 UN development agenda, the Day further provides an opportunity to highlight the vital role of forests in providing economic safety nets for the poor and vulnerable, in food security and nutrition, in public health, in the provision of freshwater and in building resilience of communities.

During the month of March 2014, the United Nations Forum on Forests Secretariat (UNFF) in UN DESA, will arrange a series of activities to celebrate the International Day of Forests at UN Headquarters in New York. The celebrations will feature a week-long series of screenings of award-winning forest films, a two-week exhibition of award-winning forest photographs and children’s art and a special half-day event on 21 March, which will be broadcast live via UN Web TV.

Special event: International Day of Forests 2014

The special event on 21 March, taking place at 10 am – 1 pm in the ECOSOC Chamber at UN Headquarters, will feature a panel discussion highlighting inspiring women who are making a difference for forests and sustainable development, as the 2014 International Day of Forests coincides with the 58th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58).

Thought leaders, from forest heroes to film makers will share their inspiring stories of action for forests and sustainable development. The UNFF Secretariat awarded Forest Hero awards in 2012 and 2013 to celebrate “unsung heroes” who champion efforts to sustain, protect and manage forests. Film clips and film makers from the 2011 and 2013 international forest film festivals will also provide a compelling visual journey to diverse forests, as part of the event.

Forests photo and art exhibition

The two-week exhibition of award-winning forest photographs and children’s art will be on display on 17-28 March at UN Headquarters. The International Forest Photograph Award was launched in 2013 by the UNFF Secretariat in UN DESA to honor efforts that visually capture the unique connection between forests and people everywhere. Over 400 entries from 39 countries competed to win. Young students vied with professional nature photographers to showcase a personal and often extraordinary perspective of forests. The exhibit features 21 winning photographs.

In 2011, as part of the celebrations of the International Year of Forests, the UNFF Secretariat partnered with the Gabarrón Foundation to hold an international children’s art contest, with the theme of “Celebrate the Forests.” The contest challenged children and youth between the ages of 5 to 14 to use the power of imagery to increase awareness of the many benefits of forests. Over 300 children’s paintings from 27 countries competed in 2011 contest. The exhibit features 8 posters of winning paintings.

In addition, the exhibit will also feature posters of the 2013 winners of the Forest Heroes awards (from Brazil, Rwanda, Thailand, Turkey and the United States), and International Forest Short Film festival.

Forest Film Festival screenings

Film screenings, to be held from 17-20 March at 1:15-2:30 pm at UN Headquarters, will provide a window to unique and personal stories of how forests underpin sustainable development around the world from the unique biodiversity of the Amazon, to inspiring stories of landscape restoration in China and Rwanda.

The curated films from the 2011 and 2013 UN International forest film festivals feature community leaders who have inspired change through innovative approaches to afforestation and reducing land degradation. The film festivals were organized by the UNFF Secretariat in collaboration with the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, to honor the creative efforts of filmmakers who visually capture what forests mean to people.

UN DESA’s United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) Secretariat was designated by the General Assembly to facilitate the implementation of the International Day, in collaboration with FAO, Governments, and other members of the Collaborative Partnerships on Forests and international, regional and subregional organizations as well as relevant stakeholders, including civil society.

For further information on the International Day of Forests, visit the website of the UN Forum on Forests

Moving development agenda forward through people’s empowerment

“There is consensus on the need to adopt an approach to development that integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions of development in a balanced manner. People’s empowerment is increasingly recognized as fundamental to achieving sustainable development, and new technologies, as well as policy approaches have emerged to make this a reality,” said Sewa-Lamsal Adhikari, Chair of 52nd Session of the Commission for Social Development.

After ten days of work, the Commission completed its 52nd session on 21 February and approved six draft resolutions, which will now be sent to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) for adoption.

As this session ended, so did the two-year cycle of the review and policy meetings held under the priority theme of “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all.” During the course of its session, the Commission convened a high-level panel discussion, as well as a general debate on the subject of empowerment.

Empowerment in focus

Among the six draft resolutions, the Commission turned its attention to the subject of inclusive, equitable and balanced approaches to overcoming poverty. The draft resolution on promoting empowerment calls for improving access to employment, quality education, water and sanitation, health care and social protection. Transparency and accountability, good governance and civic engagement were underscored as core elements of an empowering approach to policy-making and policy implementation.

“We live in a world of growing inequality, not only in wealth, but also inequality in power. The Commission has the responsibility, as well as an opportunity, to re-affirm the role of empowerment as an insurance against growing disempowerment and inequality. It is only if we support people’s right to have a voice throughout the policy making process, that the social protection policies and human rights frameworks can be made real,“ said John Gaventa, Director of the Coady International Institute, following the high-level panel discussion.

“The Commission has the responsibility, as well as an opportunity, to re-affirm the role of empowerment as an insurance against growing disempowerment and inequality”

John Gaventa
Director of the Coady International Institute

Several Member States shared their good practices and successful policy measures at the national and regional levels. They highlighted the importance of empowerment in accelerating the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, as well as in ensuring that the post-2015 development agenda is truly people-centered.

Social drivers of sustainable development

The panel discussion took a closer look at emerging issues, emphasizing the importance of approaching sustainable development from a social angle, which is an essential process towards formulating an inclusive post-2015 development framework. This kind of approach allows policy-makers to move beyond addressing immediate social issues and to understand the role of social factors in the sustainable development processes.

Several civil society representatives also took the floor during the Civil Society Forum, arranged the day before the opening of the Commission. Jose Nuñez from ADT 4th World, underscored the importance of the human component in assistance programmes for those living in poverty. “Good programmes need to treat people like human beings. They need to treat people with empathy. (…) We have to find ways to build meaning for people if they are going to have success in life,” Mr. Nuñez said.

When it comes to improving the work of the Commission, participants had several suggestions for future sessions. Fabio Palacio from ADT 4th World, talked about the need for including the people living in poverty in future discussion on social issues. “If we are speaking about empowerment, without hearing those who live in poverty, we are actively disempowering them,“ Mr. Palacio said.

Social groups and post-2015 development

The Commission held general discussions on issues related to various social groups, such as youth, older persons, families, and persons with disabilities. It also reviewed the report of the Special Rapporteur on Disability and urged Member States, UN agencies and others to view accessibility as a means, as well as a goal of inclusive sustainable development. Member States also shared their experiences addressing youth employment challenges and participants also highlighted the renewed emphasis on youth in the work of the United Nations.

Age-based discrimination, active aging and moving away from a medical/welfare approach to a rights-based one, were among the issues debated in the general discussion. The delegations highlighted the need to advance discussions on an international legally-binding instrument to protect the rights of older persons.

“The post-2015 development agenda calls for a single development framework with poverty reduction and sustainable development at its core”

Wu Hongbo
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General

Civil Society participants highlighted the Declaration on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, urging Member States to strengthen family-oriented policy-making at all levels. Family poverty, children’s well-being, reconciling of work and family life and gender equality remain a concern for many countries. Proposals were also voiced to include a family focus in the post-2015 development agenda.

The post-2015 development agenda was a recurring theme throughout the discussions. The importance of integrating all dimensions of development when moving forward, was also underscored by UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, as he addressed the Commission. “The post-2015 development agenda calls for a single development framework with poverty reduction and sustainable development at its core. Development, however, will only be fully sustainable when its economic, environmental and social dimensions are integrated in a balanced way. It is therefore vital that we discuss how social policy can support the economic and environmental changes that lead to sustainable development,” said Mr. Wu.

The Commission decided that the priority theme for its next two-year period will be “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”.

All relevant information on the work of the Commission, background notes, official documents and statementsare available on the website of UN DESA’s Division for Social Policy and Development