4 February 2015
Fifty-third Session, 2nd & 3rd Meetings (AM & PM)

As Commission on Social Development Opens Fifty-Third Session, Delegates Seek Transformative, Inclusive People-Centred Approach to Post-2015 Goals

Building on the dynamic momentum leading up to the adoption of new post-2015 goals, delegates debated ways to fine-tune a transformative people-centred approach to sustainable development that would leave no one behind, as the Commission on Social Development opened the second meeting of its fifty-third session today.

Under the priority theme “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, the Commission began its two-week session with a general debate and a high-level panel discussion that took stock of current and emerging challenges and considered green, inclusive paths to progress.

Since the first World Summit on Social Development in 1995, enormous advances had been made, but challenges remained, said Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivering a statement on behalf of Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs and Secretary-General for the third International Conference on Financing for Development.

While extreme poverty had been halved, more than 1 billion people remained poor, he said, urging the Commission to intensify its resolve to address job insecurity and to promote job creation through its policy guidance to national Governments.  As the Commission was well positioned to leverage the energy generated from the extensive preparations in formulating a post-2015 global development agenda, he encouraged delegates to consider how social policy contributed to achieving sustainable development and how best to integrate social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

Summing up the work ahead, Commission Chair Simona-Mirela Miculescu (Romania) said “our task today is to carry the vision, principles and commitments adopted at the Social Summit into the post-2015 development agenda.  This will achieve a truly transformative, inclusive and socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development.”

Leading up to the expected adoption of the post-2015 agenda in September, she pointed out that the Commission had a unique opportunity to rethink social development in the context of new and emerging challenges, including rapid urbanization, widening inequality, deepening climate change impacts, volatile food and energy prices, the spread of communicable diseases and increased incidents of internal conflicts.  The outcomes of the session would be transmitted to the Economic and Social Council, she added.

Daniela Bas, Director for Social Policy and Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, also underscored that strengthening social policies was central to achieving socially, economically and environmentally sustainable development, as she introduced a package of reports on issues including regional efforts, ageing, the family, persons with disabilities and emerging issues that the Commission would consider during the session.

“It is time to move from rhetoric to the consideration of specific policies and strategies to effectively address some of the more pressing challenges of sustainable development – eradicating poverty, promoting inclusive growth and decent work for all, tackling inequality in all its dimensions, and reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience of disadvantaged and marginalized groups, communities and individuals,” she said.

Hearing updates on the outcomes of international gatherings held at United Nations Headquarters earlier this week, delegates were presented with a range of recommendations.  Reporting on the Civil Society Forum, Margaret Mayce, Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development, urged delegates to explore all options for innovative financing for development, including financial transition taxes; the reallocation of a portion of military spending to the needs of people and the preservation of the planet; adoption of social protection floors; and adoption of a human rights-based approach to development, respecting the Earth’s “fragile and limited” resources.

Presenting the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum outcomes, Aashish Khullar, of Pax Romana, said “youth are and always will be an integral component of development”.  Without their buy-in, the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 development agenda would be difficult to implement.  Unemployment ranked high among their concerns, he said, noting their calls for paid internships, skills training and apprenticeships.  Young people must have a role to play in holding Governments accountable to their citizens.  Furthermore, Governments and the United Nations must act on commitments made to work with youth, by setting up mechanisms to include them in the design, implementation and monitoring of the sustainable development goals.

In the ensuing general debate on “rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, ministers and senior officials reaffirmed their commitment to fulfilling the goals made in Copenhagen.  Many decried the growing inequalities affecting the most vulnerable — young people, persons with disabilities and migrants among them — and described both national and regional efforts to close social development gaps.  Some shared statistics on the percentage of their populations living in poverty, calling for enhanced partnerships to create “a new paradigm”.

In that context, the representative of South Africa, on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, as complex poverty eradication efforts had been undermined by the global economic crisis, food insecurity, climate change and volatile security situations, social policies must focus on job creation.  He urged more investment in health care and education, as well as cooperation through fulfilling official development assistance (ODA) pledges, relieving debt and transferring technology.

The representative of Latvia, on behalf of the European Union, said the “Europe 2020” strategy placed social policies at the core of the Union’s economic strategy for the first time, setting targets for, among other things, raising the employment rate and lifting at least 20 million people out of poverty.

As a member of the European Union, Romania had put social development at the core of its national strategy, said its Minister of Labour, Family, Social Protection and the Elderly.  Recommending other States to do the same, she pointed out that poverty paralysed individual destinies, blocked development and could facilitate an environment for the success of extremist voices and agendas.

The Second Vice-President of Costa Rica said “we need structural change”, as well as efforts that would recover human dignity as the core of every action.  Latin America was dealing with overwhelming inequality associated with extreme poverty, and both public policies and fiscal efforts must address it.  For its part, Costa Rica was formulating public policies that had a cross-cutting human rights dimension.

The Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Iraq said his country was a mosaic of cultural, religious and ethnic diversity.  However, “ferocious” attacks by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) had obstructed policies aimed at building a progressive country.  Last year, Iraq enacted a social protection law, outlining both conditional and unconditional assistance to promote human capital.  Another law for small-scale enterprises aimed to provide jobs and increase worker’s ability to keep up with changes in labour markets.

The Minister for Gender, Children and Social Protection of Ghana, said “social development must be at the centre of our development plans”, pressing Governments to allocate adequate resources.  Ghana was using social protection as a way to address poverty, inequalities and vulnerabilities.  It had built an institutional framework to facilitate coordination, and was developing both a national social protection policy and a social protection floor, to be followed by a related legal framework.  It also had created a national database of extremely poor and vulnerable groups in order to select beneficiaries for interventions.

In other business, the Commission elected by acclamation Do Hung Viet (Viet Nam) and Ronnie Habich (Peru), replacing Ana Peña (Peru), as Vice-Chairs of the fifty-third session.  They joined previously elected Vice-Chairs Amina Smaila (Nigeria) and Janina Hasse-Mohsine (Germany).

The Commission approved, as orally revised, its organization of work, on the understanding that further adjustments would be made, if necessary, during the course of the session.

Also speaking in the general debate were ministers and other senior officials of Chile, Spain, Austria, Philippines, Russian Federation and Turkmenistan.

The Commission will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 5 February.

High-level Panel:  Rethinking and Strengthening Social Development

The Commission then held a panel discussion titled “Rethinking and Strengthening Social Development in the Contemporary World”.  Moderated by Michal Boni, Member of the European Parliament, Poland, the panel included:  Caleb Otto, Permanent Representative of Palau to the United Nations; Richard Jolly, Honorary Professor, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, United Kingdom; Asunción Lera St. Clair, Senior Principal Scientist, Climate Change Programme, DNV GL- Strategic Research and Innovation, Norway; and Priti Darooka, Executive Director, Programme for Women’s Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, India.

Opening the panel, Mr. BONI said that, 20 years after the Copenhagen Summit, three commitments remained unfulfilled:  eradicating poverty, promoting full employment and fostering social integration.  Many people still lived just above the poverty line and market forces alone did not bring about comprehensive answers to social inclusion questions.  Future improvements must be rooted in an understanding of demographic, decentralization and technological trends.  Regional differentiation was a problem, as were fiscal pressures on support systems for older persons, especially where social security was limited.

In terms of development, he said democracies had outperformed autocracies in the consistency of their economic growth.  More democracy meant less corruption, more transparency, more citizen participation and more respect for human rights.  Only civil society was able to guarantee dialogue with Governments and demand from them a social partnership.  Commitments made in 1995 required cooperation among all possible stakeholders at all levels.  Rethinking the social development goals required considering the issue of “access” in the context of equitable income and resource distribution.

Mr. OTTO, said Palau was now a middle-income country, thanks to its tourism industry.  The most important trend impacting Palau was the influx of migrant workers, notably from the Philippines, Bangladesh and China.  In terms of social development, the latest data showed that one-quarter of its people lived below $1.25 per day, a misleading indicator, as well-being had more to do with supporting networks than money.  “We have very strong social networks,” he said.  The “have-nots” might not have dollars, but they had local money, which they used for traditional and cultural events.  In terms of social integration, Palau — a formerly homogenous population — now faced problems dealing with other ethnic groups who had come to the country in search of jobs.

Mr. JOLLY said non-governmental organizations had become part of the United Nations process, contributing vision and pressure to push their Governments to be more active in the international body.  Describing changes since the 1995 World Summit, he said one lesson learned was that a strong foundation for human development was a key to progress, citing Botswana, Republic of Korea, Rwanda and Malaysia as examples.  However, progress reversals were also a reality, as seen in Zimbabwe.  Social development and poverty reduction was now a challenge for all nations, North and South, he said, noting that countries, such as Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom, had implemented austerity plans that had cut social services.  The world could learn from success stories, he said, adding that, today, the North could learn from the South.

Ms. ST. CLAIR said the integration of social concerns into sustainable development, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts was a necessary condition for transitioning to equitable climate resilient pathways.  The road to 2030 depended on the implementation of integrated socio-ecological responses; quantitative indicators; justice and rights principles to prevent negative trade-offs; and public and private partnerships that produced social, environmental and economic value for all.  Emphasizing that climate change was caused — and would be solved — by social action, she recommended that the Commission facilitate the use of accumulated experience and lessons learned.  The ideas had existed for some time and implementation was the next step, she said.

Ms. DAROOKA posed the question as to whether, 20 years after Copenhagen, it was time to “pat our backs” or “accept that we did not get the job done”.  It was true that poverty had been reduced, that there had been developments in how it was understood and addressed, and that elaborate tools were available for mapping progress.  Yet, “the world remains an unfair, insecure and unhealthy place for the majority of people”, she said.  Four of five people lacked access to social security, women comprised 70 per cent of the world’s poor, every second child was poor, and progress was “unacceptably” slow.  Capital had been favoured over labour, while profit-driven agendas had destroyed the environment and alienated millions from their lands.  “We need to prioritize caring and sharing,” she said, defining care as set of values and practices that penetrated all major social institutions.  Genuine development involved increasing peoples’ ability to create a life of dignity, especially women, who must be recognized as rights-holders in economic policies.

When the floor was opened for discussion, participants asked pointed questions on how best to move forward with clear goals that would affect the most progress.  Some speakers described national challenges.  Others stressed the need to restructure global governance, as well as the importance of taking new approaches to emerging challenges, among them the current technological revolution that had eliminated jobs.  Still, others pointed to an absence of political will to carry out the Copenhagen commitments, asking about the vested interests that profited from not carrying them out.  Rich country policies dominated and appeared to stop progress.

Responding to a question on effective investments, Ms. ST. CLAIR said it was important to move towards economies that aimed at creating jobs in “green societies”.  As well, it was also important to bring accountability to the private sector.

Mr. JOLLY, answering a question on reshaping global governance, said the trend since the Second World War had included the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions, which had done a lot of good work.  Yet, ultimately, the institutions conformed to what suited the main economic powers of the time.  A new approach to global governance could be concerned with economic efficiency and be more humane.  Needed was a bold, new vision which took into consideration that the economy was changing, he said.

Responding to questions on the way forward, Mr. OTTO said political will was needed to foster change.  Policies should be coherent and people-centred in order to produce impact.  On climate change threats and resilience, he said the root of the problem must be identified.  Regarding the technological revolution, he recalled riding a train in which no one spoke.  Technology should be harnessed and channelled; otherwise, it could be cause of social disintegration.

Mr. BONI added that both positive and negative aspects of technology must be considered.  Areas that should be addressed included trust pertaining to the protection and privacy of data.

Ms. DAROOKA said there was a shrinking space for civil society which was facing increasing dangers.  Answering questions on monitoring, she said efforts should be placed within existing mechanisms, which should be strengthened.  A social protection floor was needed as it was a foundation for social progress.  In terms of technology, she said people-centred policies would result in more socially beneficial results.

In closing comments, Mr. OTTO urged preparing young people to be less selfish.  The world belonged to everyone.  On vested interests that benefited from the status quo, he said he had been involved in efforts related to the Convention on Tobacco Control and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  One must examine who was protecting the industries that benefitted in such accords.

Mr. JOLLY said the needed global change must build on people’s frustrations, especially vis-à-vis unemployment.  Many countries were asking for debt forgiveness.  When debt was forgiven, it led to impressive economic growth, he stressed, as seen with Germany after the Second World War.  Issues of ageing, gender and the large voting power of pensioners in various countries were some of the pressures that could lead to political change.  “We must look — and hope for — a tipping point,” he said, recalling that it was the United Nations in the 1940s that had led the collection of gross national product data, because it was needed to implement Keynesian employment policies.  More social data collection was critical for spreading awareness.

Ms. ST. CLAIR said poverty had historically been “something to keep outside of city walls”, meaning that “the poor are the others”.  Equality was at the core of Nordic countries’ policies, which in turn, had led to zero or extremely low poverty.  If social aspects were left “up for grabs”, Governments would still be discussing how to achieve sustainable development.

Ms. DAROOKA, to a question on social insurance, drew attention to General Comment 19 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.  The human rights-based approach recognized that development should improve well-being and dignity, providing an inherent monitoring mechanism and procedural guidelines.

Also speaking in the discussion were representatives of Burkina Faso, Pakistan, Brazil, Poland, Romania, Iraq and Philippines, as well as the European Union Delegation.

Representatives of Soroptimist International, World Federation for Mental Health, Commission on Voluntary Service and Action, and International Committee for Peace and Reconciliation also spoke.

For information media. Not an official record.