Amid widening inequalities both within and among countries, delegates in the Commission for Social Development today tackled the perceived trade-off between economic growth and social progress, debating ways to design policies that could improve overall well-being without sacrificing the productivity that allowed their communities to flourish.
The Commission continued its fifty-third session with a panel discussion on “Emerging issues: Contributions of Social Development to the Transition from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals,” in which five experts identified areas where social policies could directly and indirectly promote economic and environmental benefits. Sustainable development, they agreed, required economic growth, as well as opportunities for the maximum number of people to share in it.
Commission Chair Simona Mirela Miculescu (Romania), in her opening remarks, pointed out that social challenges were no longer contained within borders. Rather, they spread rapidly beyond, into other countries and regions. “We are no longer able to tackle these increasingly complex and inter-related challenges in a traditional sectorial manner,” she said. The links among the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development should be more fully explored.
With that in mind, panellists presented a range of perspectives on the matter, with Raymond Torres, Director, Research Department, International Labour Organization (ILO), pointing out that countries sometimes set aside social pursuits, despite that they could support growth. Advancing both tracks would entail a change in income distribution, which some interests might oppose, he observed. Growth constrained by social and environmental considerations could be unleashed through good policy design and international coordination. “It’s not easy, but it can be done,” he stated.
Panellist Elliott C. Harris, Director of the New York Office of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Secretary of the Environment Management Group, added that earning opportunities for the poor were often linked to the natural environment. As such, any policy to combat poverty required considering the natural assets on which they depended. Fostering activities in areas where the poor were represented, as well as policies that protected the assets on which they depended, would inherently integrate sustainable development objectives into economic growth.
Along similar lines, panellist Laura Maria Crăciunean, Associate Professor at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Simion Barnutiu Faculty of Law, Romania, stressed that inequalities such as poverty were not “accidents of nature”. They stemmed from actions and omissions by institutions charged with upholding human rights and human dignity. The sustainable development goals, by integrating human rights into their actions, would allow for coherence, monitoring and accountability.
In the afternoon, the Commission opened its general debate on the “Review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”, with participants emphasizing the need to include in the post-2015 development agenda dialogue with a number of vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities and youth. Many speakers described innovative actions taken in that regard, with some recommending further regional and global efforts to narrow development gaps. Others stressed that providing basic social services was a weapon in the fight against poverty and exclusion in many areas, including health, water, education, housing and full employment and decent work.
Delivering statements in the debate were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Latvia (on behalf of the European Union), Ecuador (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Iraq, Burkina Faso, Russian Federation, Thailand, Republic of Korea, Brazil, Colombia, China, Qatar, Viet Nam, Dominican Republic, Cuba and El Salvador. Youth delegates from Romania and Georgia also spoke.
Speaking today were representatives of the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation for Family Development; Universal Peace Federation; Help Age International; and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Council of North and South America.
The Commission on Social Development will reconvene Monday, 9 February, at 3 p.m.
Panel on Emerging Issues
The Commission opened the day with a panel discussion on “Emerging issues: Contributions of Social Development to the Transition from Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals”.
Moderated by Sarah Cook, Director, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), it featured presentations by: Gabriel Rivera Conde y Castañeda, Head of Strategic Projects Unit, Office of the Presidency and President of the Specialized Technical Committee of the Information System of the Millennium Development Goals of Mexico; Georg Fischer, Director for Analysis, Evaluation, External Relations in the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion at the European Commission; Laura Maria Crăciunean, Associate Professor at Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Simion Barnutiu Faculty of Law, Romania; Raymond Torres, Director, Research Department, International Labour Organization (ILO); and Elliott C. Harris, Director, New York Office, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Secretary of the Environment Management Group.
Mr. CONDE Y CASTAÑEDA said that in Mexico, indigenous peoples’ assimilation over 200 years meant that they were no longer acknowledged as indigenous, although social and economic discrimination against them persisted in rural areas. In the 1950s and 1970s, poverty had dropped amid economic growth, with policies designed to integrate indigenous people into the national culture. Today, Mexico was a global manufacturing leader, but it also lacked sufficient services and rights. As such, Congress had proposed to fund non-contributory universal pensions for people over age 65 and unemployment benefits. Social protections covered the whole population. The Council for Policy Evaluation for Development had created a multidimensional poverty index, whose data could be disaggregated by territorial and social groups. A poverty strategy was being designed whose outcome would be assessed by an autonomous body.
Mr. FISCHER discussed the “Europe 2020” strategy, which envisioned a “sustainable, smart and inclusive” European economy, the first big test of which had been the sovereign debt crisis. As it had to be practical and operational, the European Commission President had proposed 10 priorities linked to sustainable development. In the European Union, 24 million people were unemployed, 9 million more than in 2008. Some 120 million people were at risk of poverty or exclusion, and half of the unemployed had been so for more than 12 months — constituting 5 per cent of the labour force. The definition of poverty also was different than elsewhere. Unemployment differences between the region’s south and north were higher than ever, with trends suggesting that gap would take a long time to close. Going forward, job creation should enhance worker productivity and engagement, while social protection systems must encourage employment and skills training.
Ms. CRĂCIUNEAN said poverty, hunger and other inequalities were not “accidents of nature” but rather actions and omissions of institutions and other actors charged with upholding human rights and human dignity. There was a need to adapt actions to challenges. Gaps in the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals revealed what actions could be improved. The sustainable development goals could be better achieved by valuing community and initiatives within existing Governmental structures. Where the Millennium Development Goals had failed to take into account human capital — and as such, human rights — the sustainable development goals, by integrating human rights into their actions, would allow for coherence, monitoring and accountability. A human rights-based approach to them would contribute to human-centred sustainable development. Human rights must be seen as both the means and ends of sustainable development, and be based on dignity. The human rights framework of accountability and monitoring should be used, while cultural rights should be more visibly integrated into the post-2015 agenda.
Mr. TORRES said the social dimension of sustainable development could facilitate economic and environmental benefits. Developing countries had gained policy space, making them sources of policy innovation. However, 758 million people worldwide still earned less than $2 a day and youth unemployment was three times higher than that for adults. Inequalities were wide or rising in a majority of countries, threatening social stability. The decent work agenda was central to sustainable development because economic diversification provided broad-based development that foreign direct investment and trade alone could not. As to why the social dimension had not been carried out, despite that it did not necessarily damage the economic dimension, he said pursuing both would entail a change in income distribution, which some might oppose. Another reason was the perceived trade-off between growth and social gains. In cases where economic growth was constrained by social and environmental considerations, issues could be addressed by good policy design or international coordination.
Mr. HARRIS said growth could be equitable if it led to faster income growth among poor people than the wealthy, and if accompanied, at times, by redistributive policies. The earning opportunities of the poor were often linked to the natural environment. As such, any policy to combat poverty required considering the natural assets on which they depended. Fostering activities in areas where the poor were represented, as well as policies that protected the assets on which they depended, would inherently integrate sustainable development objectives into economic growth. Countries also must connect environmental goods and services with national economic and social indicators. Improved living standards were linked to the adoption and dissemination of technology. But most relevant technology was not owned by Governments, raising the question of how to make it available and accessible to those needing it but lacking the means to purchase it, and further, how to do so in a way that did not undermine the incentives to pursue innovation.
In the ensuing discussion, delegates agreed that economic gains tended to benefit a small portion of society and thereby stoke social tensions. The multidimensional nature of poverty meant that social concerns must be tackled. Social policies could support broader economic and environmental goals, one speaker said, outlining interventions — some designed for meeting the Millennium Development Goals — that delivered solutions for all three pillars. There were trade-offs, others said, asking how to address the needs of the “losers”.
Mr. TORRES, to a question about the transition to formal employment, said it was important to consider the heterogeneity of the problem, as well as the registration of existing production units and undeclared work. The answer hinged on who represented the informal economy: it was not easily represented. On the downsizing of public services, strengthening the social dimension required judiciary, labour and social protection institutions and civil servants. As for where to find the funds to consider human capital, he pointed to Malaysia, which had become a middle-income country through the wise use of natural resources. It had taxed those resources as a way to broaden its economic base and invest in human capital.
Mr. FISCHER, when asked about unemployment in Europe, said there were huge differences among countries. The debt crisis had reduced economic growth and increased unemployment, but there were other structural reasons for why unemployment was higher in some places. To a question by Botswana’s delegate on how to address the unemployment of highly educated youth, he said low- or uneducated people were far more affected by unemployment. In European countries, the highly educated were more able to help themselves. The type of help they needed was different than those who lacked education and skills. To a question by Zimbabwe’s representative on the varying definitions of poverty, he said there was no good alternative to defining it on a national basis. However, it was also valuable to have a few common elements across countries, such as income. “Relative poverty” was now relevant for countries outside of Europe. He emphasized access to basic services in that context, which were equally relevant for advanced and non-advanced countries.
Mr. CONDE Y CASTAÑEDA, to a query on investing in human capital, cited the importance of strong anti-trust regulation, which allowed for the promotion of healthy competition and employment. Combating corruption and promoting human rights were also essential, as was a progressive tax framework, which would foster the creation of a social protection system.
Ms. CRĂCIUNEAN, responding to a question about measuring and monitoring human rights, cited judicial, quasi-judicial and political methods. For example, States Parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights must submit a report to the related committee. In its evaluation, the committee used three types of indicators that had been agreed among lawyers, economists and political scientists: structural (related to the constitutional and legal settings of a human right), process (related to actions taken in the monitoring period), and outcome indicators (related to results achieved).
Mr. HARRIS, to a point that economic concepts did not value the same factors considered by social policies, urged assigning value to them. On the decent work agenda, he added that a green job was likely more decent than a brown one, in part because it was less likely to be phased out. It also more likely involved healthier labour standards.
Also taking part in the discussion were the representatives of Iraq, Armenia, Dominican Republic, Chile, and Finland, as well as a representative of the European Union.
Representatives of the United Nations Association of the Dominican Republic, Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, Congregation of Notre Dame — UNANIMA International, and Commission on Voluntary Service & Action also spoke.
General Debate: “Review of Situation of Social Groups”
The Commission held a general discussion on the “Review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups” during which many participants emphasized the need to include in the post-2015 sustainable development agenda dialogue with a number of vulnerable populations, including persons with disabilities and youth.
Describing innovative approaches and creative action in that regard, some delegates recommended further regional and global efforts to narrow development gaps by fostering inclusion. When discussing development issues, it was important to include marginalized groups, said the representative of Latvia, speaking on behalf of the European Union. For its part, the European Union and its member States had taken measures to address a range of concerns, including the rights of persons with disabilities, youth unemployment and family-related issues. Discrimination had no place in the European Union and should have no place beyond its borders, she said, adding that the group would endeavor to ensure no person was denied universal human rights and basic economic opportunities.
Providing an example of the results of investing in social development, the representative of Ecuador, speaking for the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States, said today the region was reaping the benefits of committing to a people-centred agenda. Given that hunger and poverty were among the worst forms of human rights violations, the task of eradicating them was truly a global job, he said, calling for renewed commitment from Governments and societies. To progress, international cooperation and fulfilling the commitment to allot 0.7 per cent of States’ gross domestic product (GDP) to official development assistance (ODA) were essential, he said. Providing basic social services was a weapon in the fight against poverty and exclusion in many areas, including health, water, education, housing and full employment and decent work.
Some speakers shared new approaches to reach targeted groups. The Deputy Director of the Family Policy Division of the Republic of Korea’s Ministry for Gender Equality and Family said ongoing efforts reached persons with disabilities and youth. Among them, the Government planned to implement policies to empower youth and help juveniles “addicted” to the Internet and smart phones to “go into rehab” by establishing youth activity safety centres to create an environment to strengthen their creativity. Another programme was tailored for school dropouts, she said.
Yet progress in social development in some countries was being severely threatened by the scourge of armed terrorist groups, some speakers told the Commission. The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant/Sham (ISIL/ISIS) was posing an increasingly grave danger to existing development efforts and was triggering forced migration, said Iraq’s Minister for Labour and Social Affairs. Goals of peace, health and prosperity were central to his country’s national action plan, but ISIL had placed an additional burden on the Government in its ongoing efforts to bolster development, which included a range of initiatives that targeted marginalized populations, from building orphanages to protecting workers. He and other speakers from affected States called on the international community to help Iraq in its efforts to combat terrorism.
Reflecting a grim situation in Africa whereby youth were joining armed groups such as Boko Haram, Burkina Faso’s Minister for Youth said unless young people were educated and trained for decent sustainable work they would remain vulnerable targets for terrorist recruiters. To stem that threat, he said the Government had launched a range of innovative projects, including drop-in centres, moral and civil education programmes, capacity-building for youth groups and support for young entrepreneurs. Despite economic constraints, Burkina Faso had boosted social development with a view to improving the quality of life for vulnerable groups.
Several young delegates, including those from Georgia and Romania, also weighed in on issues concerning them, with some speakers calling for more effective public funds for education that was responsive to the job market.