Thank you, Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I join the President of the Economic and Social Council in welcoming you to this meeting.
These are challenging times.
The world is still reeling from the financial and economic crisis. The path to recovery has been slow, fragile and uneven. Rising debt levels, growing inequality and social exclusion are real concerns. Devastating natural disasters and the impacts of climate change continue to jeopardize development gains.
Let us make the most of the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio, which will take an integrated approach to these challenges.
Recent spikes in food and energy prices are also putting at risk the progress we achieved over the past decade in lifting millions of people out of poverty. The food situation is precarious: the FAO food price index is at its highest since the inception of the index in 1990. Millions of people in developing countries have been driven into poverty.
We must also recognize the important political and economic implications of the historic developments in North Africa and the Middle-East. While these are still unfolding, the events have already highlighted once again the nexus between poverty, unemployment, inequality and stability. Inclusive, democratic, honest governance is a crucial part of our quest for social justice and human dignity.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
We must respond to these challenges by charting a course for truly sustainable and equitable development.
Your timely discussions today and tomorrow will focus on four critical areas: the Millennium Development Goals, the least developed countries, middle-income countries, and global economic governance. Let me take them each in turn.
First, the MDGs.
Progress has been uneven. More investments are needed in job creation, food security, health, clean energy, infrastructure and climate adaptation.
One main message of last September's Summit was the need to strengthen the global partnership for development.
That partnership is not just about aid, important as that is. It calls for debt relief, as well as access to essential medicines and technology, including information and communications technologies.
The partnership also requires an open trading system that does not put developing-country goods and services at a disadvantage. I call again for a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round of multilateral trade negotiations. Aid for trade is vital, but will do little good if global markets are blocked or intrinsically unfair.
The partnership for development also emphasizes mutual accountability. I am pleased to report that the UN system is making good progress on developing an Integrated Implementation Framework to help us uphold our commitments. I count on all other partners to uphold their end of the bargain.
Second, let me turn now to the LDCs.
The world's poorest countries continue to confront significant levels of poverty and hunger. They are among the most vulnerable to climate impacts. And since they spend up to 75 per cent of household income on food, they are also disproportionately susceptible to price shocks.
Two months from now, the fourth UN Conference on the LDCs in Istanbul will provide an opportunity to respond to their plight. I urge all countries to participate at the highest level. Help us adopt a programme of action that can generate tangible results.
Third, the needs and development concerns of middle-income countries do not always attract the attention they should.
But it is the middle-income countries that, to date, have led the recovery. Their impressive performance follows decades of admirable efforts to diversify exports and gain higher market shares for high-technology goods.
Yet, despite notable reductions in poverty levels, many middle-income countries face rising inequality, the persistence of extreme poverty, and a lack of adequate social security systems. Further efforts are needed to improve safety nets and economic security.
Fourth and finally, ladies and gentlemen, we must all work together to strengthen the role of the United Nations in global economic governance.
That means identifying the comparative advantage of the relevant institutions.
It means making our own UN bodies and other stakeholders present here today more efficient, effective, accountable and representative.
It means more coherence and partnerships. In times of austerity, it means doing more with scarce resources.
And it means continuing to strengthen the United Nations from within.
Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
In a volatile and changing world, we must not disappoint the many millions of people who look to us, and our organization, for help and reassurance. Let us respond to the full spectrum of their aspirations -- economic, social, environmental, democratic. Let us listen to their voices, today and tomorrow.
I wish you all a productive meeting.
Thank you very much.