5 February 2015
Fifty-third Session, 4th & 5th Meetings (AM & PM)

As Commission for Social Development Continues Session, Speakers Call for Next Generation of International Targets to Uphold World Summit Goals

“People-centred” development, brought to prominence at the 1995 World Summit on Social Development, remained especially critical today, as Governments, civil society and the United Nations itself worked to finalize the next generation of international targets meant to improve peoples’ lives, the Commission for Social Development heard, as it moved into day three of its fifty-third session.

“We can continue to hold the trust of the people of the world only if we make their needs our priority,” said Juan Somavía, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Interregional Policy Cooperation, quoting from the World Summit’s Declaration and Programme of Action, as he delivered a keynote address via video link from Santiago, Chile.  He recalled a feeling of hope in the 1990s, saying that the cold war had come to an end, and policies that had created middle classes in the United States, Europe and Japan were being questioned amid social imbalances, inflation and debt.

Also at that time, he said, countries had begun tackling social problems by examining root causes and structural elements that required change, an approach used in the creation of the Millennium Development Goals.  Those targets, however, had “come from the top down”, conceived by the United Nations, World Bank and others.  They had become a sectoral, rather than a multidimensional, exercise.  If the same fate befell the sustainable development goals, they risked losing the trust of their most important constituents:  people.

Following his remarks, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the World Summit’s placement of people at the heart of development had helped to reorient thinking by recognizing that growth alone was not enough to improve human well-being.  Growth must be judged not simply in terms of quantity, but of quality.  “The year 2015 must be a year of global action,” he said.  “We are the first generation that can wipe out extreme poverty.  We are the last generation that can address the worst impact of climate change.  Let us reaffirm our commitment to promoting social development and social justice and building a better, more sustainable world for all,” he asserted.

In moving forward, Acting President of the General Assembly Denis Antoine (Grenada) said the three main focal points of the so-called Copenhagen Declaration — poverty eradication, full employment and decent work for all and social integration — should remain priorities in the new development framework, as 1 billion people still lived in extreme poverty.  Assessing progress and implementation gaps would help create a new agenda that left no one behind.  The Commission’s current session could provide valuable insight to that process, he said, emphasizing that the principles of the World Summit were as relevant as ever and should be built upon.

Broadly agreeing, Commission Chair Simona Mirela Miculescu (Romania) said the Summit’s emphasis on people-centred development remained “largely underestimated”.  The Copenhagen Declaration recognized that sustainable development required the balanced integration of economic development, social development and environmental protection, which were interdependent and mutually reinforcing.  “This legacy continues to provide us with important guidance amidst the formulation of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda”, she emphasized, adding that “we must focus on ways, not only to stimulate greater social progress, but to maintain it over time”.

Economic and Social Council Vice-President Oh Joon (Republic of Korea) said the increased attention to social development issues since the World Summit had helped to guide their integration into law and policy.  Yet, some commitments remained unfilled or unevenly so at best.  Rethinking social development required creativity to embrace new ways of looking at old patterns.  The coming months would be crucial.  By endorsing a unified vision for the post-2015 agenda, States would give renewed significance to the World Summit.

Rounding out the opening remarks, Ib Petersen (Denmark) said the World Summit — held in Copenhagen — had been, at the time, the largest gathering of world leaders anywhere.  Solidarity and inclusive social development were defining elements of both Danish society and its engagement with poor countries.  More broadly, he said, inclusion must be integral to both national and international efforts to improve people’s lives.  “We need to build more inclusive societies in all of our Member States,” he said, ones that also included unemployed youth, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and others at risk of marginalization.

The Commission then held an interactive panel discussion under the theme, “Social development:  From Copenhagen to the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  Five panellists examined countries’ success in realizing their Copenhagen commitments — especially as related to political will and financing — also addressing the obstacles to their implementation.  They looked at the major global problems that social policies would need to address over the next 15 years, describing ways to implement the new development agenda.

The Commission then held an interactive panel discussion under the theme, “Social development:  From Copenhagen to the Post-2015 Development Agenda”.  Five panellists examined countries’ success in realizing their Copenhagen commitments — especially as related to political will and financing — also addressing the obstacles to their implementation.  They looked at the major global problems that social policies would need to address over the next 15 years, describing ways to implement the new development agenda.

In the afternoon, the Commission continued its discussion of the priority theme, “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, in which participants highlighted effective strategies for promoting well-being, as well as obstacles hampering their efforts.  Twenty years after the World Summit, some said, results had not met expectations.  Vulnerabilities across the board were becoming more acute and the poor were bearing the brunt.

Speaking in the discussion were ministers, senior officials and representatives of:  Mozambique (on behalf of the African Group), Nicaragua, Argentina, Finland, Switzerland, France, Belarus, Nepal, Cuba, South Africa, Viet Nam, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Japan, Turkey, Mongolia, Pakistan, Colombia, Italy, Iran, Sweden, India and Bulgaria.

Also delivering a statement was a representative of the International Committee for Peace and Reconciliation.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Friday, 6 February, to continue its fifty-third session.

Panel:  “Copenhagen to Post-2015 Agenda”

Elizabeth Thompson, Senior Adviser to the Secretary-General's Sustainable Energy for All initiative, was the moderator.  Panellists included:  Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya and Co-facilitator of the Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda; Lenni Montiel, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia and current member of the Club de Madrid; Ahmed Alhendawi, Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and Margaret Mayce, Chair, NGO Committee for Social Development.

During the interactive discussion, the moderator and participants asked both broad and specific questions that ranged from obstacles to achieving goals to bridging the income gap.

Mr. KAMAU, responding to a question on the risk of diluting the objectives with the 17 broad goals in the new agenda and what tools were needed to implement them, noted that the Millennium Development Goals were great but they fell short of the current global challenges, including prosperity, inclusion and protecting the planet.  All the skills and experience should be brought towards working for a common goal.  The means of implementation was key.  The only missing ingredient now seemed to be the political will, he said.  He ensured participants that the deadline would be met and a sustainable development agenda would ready in September.

In regards to who benefitted from the goals, he said the future had to be about people, the planet and prosperity.  In addressing the issue of concentration and sharing of wealth, he said current markets were damaging people and the planet.  Governments and markets needed to be held in check so they did not continue as they had over the last six decades.  To a question on how to develop the concept of structural solidarity among countries that would lead to more sustainable development, he said people across the planet must join together in seeking common goals.  The world was evolving rapidly and goals must be positioned to take advantage to that transformation and that change.

Mr. MONTIEL, answering a number of questions about financing, said that issue had been a permanent struggle since the 1960s.  There seemed to be a consistent lack of political will to “do the right thing”.  Among the major elements that the World Summit had addressed was to agree on the “20/20 Initiative”, whereby donor and relevant partner countries agreed to allocate at least 20 per cent of official development assistance (ODA) to social development.  The capacities were there to make the right decisions, but worked remained to be done, he noted, adding that the fundamental responsibility for social development was that of national Governments.

He went on to say that during the last year, in parallel to post-2015 agenda discussions, delegates had also addressed financing for development.  National Governments should promote economic growth, even though that task was not easy.  In the interim, issues must be addressed, including corruption and illicit flows of financial resources and other pressing concerns.  One of the keys struggles in the United Nations had been the debate about the commitment to contribute 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to ODA.  National Governments must take responsibility to the commitments they had made.

Mr. TÜRK, when asked if there was indeed a lack of political will, said the evolution of the World Summit, the Millennium Development Goals and the ensuing process had seen a post-cold war “honeymoon” era of expectations for change in the 1990s that led to the new millennium, new commitments and a mobilization of financing for development.  The Monterrey Consensus had demonstrated that there was a sense of positive competition between donor countries to contribute to the implementation stage. 

In response to related questions, he said there was no substitute to a Government’s role in policymaking.  Yet, not enough progress had been made in that regard, he observed, adding that the Club of Madrid had taken steps to identify groups to ensure inclusion.  In terms of norm-setting, results had been seen in view of reducing actual poverty had neglected the fact that 80 per cent of the world lived on less than $10 a day, according to a Johns Hopkins University study.

Mr. SOMAVÍA, joining the discussion via video link, addressed questions on achievement gaps and implementation.  He said national implementation depended on international agreements.  The basic obstacle to social development, as it was discussed at the Summit, was globalization that had been occurring without a moral compass.  The notion of needing universal social protection was not picked up as a common goal.  Instead, an instrument was produced emphasizing the need for all States to have a social floor.  When the financial crisis occurred, it was clear it that there could be a pending social crisis.  Between 1999 and 2008, a rise in the number of countries ratifying International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions reflected States’ strong desire to implement labour policies.

To a query on successful economic growth, he said to change the growth pattern of a country, success must be viewed through a lens of job creation and social protection.  The role of finance in the global economy also must be addressed.  Finance created wealth, not jobs.  The United Nations should agree that each society needed a social protection floor, which had a fundamental economic aspect:  it produced aggregate demand and consumption.  That was an investment that benefitted an economy through its people.

Mr. ALHENDAWI, to a question on the challenges the world would face in the next 15 years and how they affected young people, said unemployment and under-employment were the biggest challenges, citing ILO data showing that 600 million jobs must be created in that time.  There must be shift from job creation to job invention.  In some countries, a person would be taxed from day one for starting a new business. “Let’s not make it ‘mission impossible’ to create a job,” he said, urging a focus on life-long learning and citing, by way of example, his own studies in information technology, which today, had become outdated.

The challenges for the 600 million people living in conflict zones were even more complicated, he went on to say.  On the issue of participation, he said he worried about young people’s engagement in politics.  They did not vote or join political parties.  In fact, only 2 per cent of people under the age of 30 were parliamentarians.  Responding to a question on how youth could be engaged, he said national efforts should take into account demographic dynamics in their planning.  During deliberations on the post-2015 agenda, participants had aimed at identifying what should be done.  It would be interesting to compile a list of what should be avoided.  Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals, there was an unofficial “Goal 9”, which was awareness of the need to have a global set of goals.  As a result, now, there was a sense of a global ownership of a global contract for humanity.

Ms. MAYCE, to a question on civil society’s role in pressuring Governments to sustain political will, raised a question in turn, about the price of inaction.  Political will had not been as rigorous as it could be.  “The documents are wonderful,” she said.  “There really isn’t anything else to say.  The great burning question on part of civil society is:  why hasn’t more been done?”  Inequalities were greater today than at any point since the Second World War.  The needs of people were paramount for Governments.  As civil society, “we bring those needs to you”.  To bridge the trust gap, it was the role of civil society to bring people’s “lived reality” to the Government.  That should be the only reason participants were here today.  It was the only way political commitments could move forward with intention and integrity.

She said, addressing a question on income disparity, that a recent paper demonstrated that 1 per cent of the world’s population possessed 80 per cent of its wealth.  In addition, lobbying funds spent by pharmaceutical firms was far greater than the amount dedicated to the Ebola crisis, she said, underlining the need to examine that issue.  Finance for infrastructure and resiliency was key for sustainable development.  Moving forward, she asked Member States to address the issue of who benefited from poverty and insecurity.

Also speaking in the discussion were representatives of China, Nigeria, Chile, Iraq, Burkina Faso and Sudan as did a representative of the European Union.  A representative of the Transdiaspora Network also spoke.

General Debate:  “Rethinking and Strengthening Social Development”

The Commission then resumed its general debate on the priority theme, “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, in which participants highlighted effective strategies for promoting well-being, as well as obstacles hampering their efforts.  Twenty years after the World Summit, some said, results had not met expectations.  Vulnerabilities across the board were becoming more acute and the poor were bearing the brunt.

In that context, several speakers outlined efforts to eradicate poverty — the overarching goal of development.  The representative of Nicaragua said her Government would allocate 56.7 per cent of its general budget for social spending, especially health and education, in efforts to lower poverty.  It also would ensure that people had access to healthy food by providing credits for small food producers.

Similarly, the representative of Argentina described a policy in which 3.5 million children in need received 644 pesos monthly; disabled children received 2,100 pesos.  The policy had helped reduce poverty among children under age 18, in part by requiring them to attend school and undergo health checks.

The representative of Mozambique, on behalf of the African Group and aligning with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that, going forward, the African States must ensure that their priorities found “credible expression” in the new development agenda.  African countries faced multiple constraints in fighting poverty, especially stemming from concurrent food, energy, climate, financial and HIV/AIDS crises.

In the area of employment, speakers agreed that the goal of full employment ranked among the biggest challenges, with some noting that the number of unemployed people around the world had grown from 157 million in 1995 to 202 million in 2013.  Decent work was the backbone of economic security, some said, but it should be supported by social security.  Others praised recent efforts by the Group of 20 to bring more women into the workforce.  Switzerland’s representative advocated life-long learning and aligning skills training with market needs.

The representative of Belarus said his Government was supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises and creating jobs tailored to the green economy.  The approach was enshrined in national plans and the European Commission’s proposal for sustainable development.

On the issue of social inclusion, speakers noted that inclusion was defined as opportunity for all people to participate in society.  “A vibrant society is rich in social capital,” said the representative of Finland, noting that her Government — among other European Union and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) members — would take the lead in supporting the creation of social protection floors in low- and middle-income countries.

The representative of Nepal highlighted his country’s focus on inclusive and sustained growth through programmes to ensure participation for women, children, girls, persons with disabilities, senior citizens and ethnic minorities.

In a similar vein, the representative of Egypt said family issues should be considered in the context of each country’s cultural and other values.  With that in mind, he announced that yesterday Egypt, Qatar and Belarus had launched the Group of Friends of the Family.

A youth delegate from Bulgaria called for an inclusive sustainable development agenda, with young people involved in negotiations.  Social inclusion of young people, in particular those with disabilities, was still a huge challenge worldwide.  Youth should be part of building “the world we want”, she stated.

For information media. Not an official record.