Twenty years after the landmark “Copenhagen Summit”, speakers in the Commission for Social Development today called for transformative public policies that supported a rights-based vision of a world which uplifted living standards for society’s most neglected while recognizing the vast differences among countries’ abilities to bring about that worthy goal.
Concluding debate on the priority theme, “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world”, delegates from around the world decried that the goals of the 1995 World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen — eradicate poverty, create full employment and foster social integration — remained unfulfilled. Instead, unequal wealth distribution had grown more acute, with data showing that 1 per cent of the world’s population owned nearly half of the wealth, while the poorest owned less than 1 per cent. The twentieth anniversary was a reminder that lives were intertwined by different social forces.
Against that backdrop, they described national measures aimed at fulfilling their populations’ basic needs: access to health, education and decent work, as well as the realization of individual rights and freedoms. Their efforts, many said, must be coupled with enhanced — and appropriate — international cooperation that targeted intergenerational poverty. Economic growth without improvement in peoples’ well-being would only increase vulnerability and social tension.
“Social development cannot be ensured in a vacuum,” said Bangladesh’s representative. “While policy formulation and implementation at the national level are vital for development, enhanced international cooperation is a prerequisite for sustaining national efforts.”
On that point, Zambia’s representative called for coordinated international policy guidance in implementing both local and global social development programmes, as did the representative of the International Labour Organization (ILO), who emphasized that the world did not need to choose between creating jobs and growth, on one hand, and stabilizing the climate on the other. Countries’ employment and social protection policies interacted, thus contributing to global macroeconomic performance, she said.
Along similar lines, the representative of El Salvador urged transformative national policies that fostered equality and human rights, citing her own country’s “Living Well” strategy, which enshrined social, cultural and environmental dimensions of well-being into its growth plans. In turn, cooperation must be based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and afford an alternative to the traditional financing-for-development model.
Outlining another approach, an observer for the Holy See said poverty could be eradicated by focusing on the family, society’s most natural safety net, offering intergenerational support. Social development policies must address not only economic and political needs, he said, but the spiritual and ethical dimensions of each person.
Rounding out the discussion, a representative of the non-governmental organization, Triglav Circle, said the social contract between Governments and their people envisioned in Copenhagen had become a dream of idealists today. And yet, it remained the only realistic response to today’s problems. Social development required an equitable world economy, a shared global political culture and action informed by the pursuit of the common good. Correcting power asymmetries was not only right but necessary for strengthening that contract at national and local levels.
Also today, the Commission concluded its debate on the “Review of relevant United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups”, with speakers focusing on youth, families and the ageing population as drivers for development and necessary partners in ensuring the success of the post-2015 goals. Highlighting national challenges and achievements, delegates underlined the importance of inclusive societies. Several speakers, including from Honduras and Argentina, provided an overview of national progress in reaching social groups.
Recognizing the critical role of families, the Philippines’ delegate said their cross-cutting qualities not only spanned youth, the elderly and the disabled, but also wove through interrelated development and human rights issues. Highlighting national efforts to improve conditions for a range of social groups, he emphasized the importance of the new generation, underlining that “all the work we do today will amount to nothing if we do not involve youth in the discourse and decision-making process. It is youth who will continue to do the work we do today.”
Other speakers focused on the world’s senior citizens, including the Chief of Social Integration, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), who pointed out that older persons in that region faced a disproportional risk of poverty and social exclusion due to age-based discrimination and non-flexible working arrangements, in particular women. The Chair of the Economic and Social Council’s Working Group on Ageing said the forthcoming third review and appraisal of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing was an opportunity to advance their social integration and broad-based participation in development. She said that she expected the new development agenda to incorporate both the challenges and opportunities of an ageing world.
Speaking in the debate on the priority theme were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Cameroon, Malta, United States, Indonesia, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Sudan and Malawi, as well as youth delegates from Kenya and Belgium. A representative of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) spoke as well.
A representative of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also spoke, as did representatives of the following organizations: International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Baltic Sea Forum.
The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 3 p.m. Friday, 13 February, to conclude its fifty-third session.