New York

11 April 2016

Secretary-General's remarks at opening of the Forty-Ninth session of the Commission on Population and Development [as delivered]

This is a landmark session of the Commission on Population and Development – the first since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda.

I am pleased to welcome so many leading experts from around the world.

We urgently need your technical skills and your policy guidance.

This Commission has a proud tradition of focusing on people. You address issues related to the timeless opening words of the United Nations Charter: “We the Peoples.” 

This focus is rooted in the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action. And it was reaffirmed in the Framework of Actions for its follow-up beyond 2014 and subsequent review conferences. Above all, people are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The issues on your agenda are central to the Sustainable Development Goals.

This transformative vision calls on all countries to be able to identify the vulnerable, to help them and to review progress.

We all understand that people can never be reduced to mere numbers. At the same time, statistics are essential for tracking progress. When people are not counted, they are excluded.

To live up to the commitment to leave no one behind, we have to make sure everyone is counted.

That is why I welcome your focus on strengthening the demographic evidence base for our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Governments will have to gather census data and use it to understand demographic change. That will help them develop effective plans.

When I was born, my parents didn’t record the date of my birth. Families were understandably worried that babies would not survive. Therefore, they waited until they are sure that these babies are able to survive. That’s why my passport date of birth is actually different from my real [one].  My wife’s birth date is also different.  Sometimes, the difference in year, and for me, the difference is in month -- that happened a long time ago.  I understand that in some countries that kind of practice still persists.  All births and deaths must be registered. All countries should have archives of these records – and guarantee the rights of citizenship and identity to all.

Data is also critical to public health. Countries need reliable data systems that track the changing patterns of illness and causes of death. This can help to optimize where to deploy health workers. And when epidemics strike, these data systems can make a life-or-death difference in the response.

The SDGs are fundamentally focused on equality. Population data and analysis are critical to ending inequalities, helping people who are hard to reach, and ushering in a life of dignity for all.

Sustainable development demands securing sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women and young people. When people are empowered, we can achieve economic, social and environmental justice.

We live in a world of great wealth and abject poverty.

The sharp contrasts and deep divides are reflected in demography.

Many countries have empowered women and men to make their own decisions about the timing and spacing of their children. Where this leads to lower birth rates, countries can benefit from a demographic dividend by providing education and other opportunities, especially for youth.

At the same time, very low fertility levels in some countries are causing population decline. Rural areas are being de-populated, and losing their economic vitality.

In other countries, where reproductive health care is lacking, fertility rates remain high. These countries struggle to match the pace of population growth with an expansion of economic output, infrastructure and services.

In some parts of the world, the workforce is ageing and the number of retirees is increasing. This is causing a financial strain. Countries struggle to provide health care and pensions. Some governments have responded by raising the retirement age and expanding opportunities for older persons to participate and have an active life.

On the other end of the age spectrum, the world now has the largest generation of young people in history. They constitute a potentially major force for progress.

To unleash their potential, we need to invest more in education, opportunities and services for youth.

The United Nations is proud to support efforts to put all people at the heart of development. This is the spirit of the 2030 Agenda.

One of the most dramatic population trends of our times is mass displacement.

The numbers are astronomical. Some 60 million people are displaced either within countries or internationally. Thousands of desperate migrants are dying on dangerous journeys.

I have met with migrants and refugees around the world. They are survivors and strivers. They are eager to contribute to their host communities. With the right policies, we can address the challenges and optimize the benefits. We can facilitate migration that is safe, orderly and regular.

The World Humanitarian Summit next month in Istanbul will bring leaders together to agree on a core set of actions that will chart a course for real progress.

Then on September 19th, just one day before the general debate, the General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting to address the challenges of large population movements.

We are mobilizing leaders to foster a spirit of global solidarity and encourage the sharing of responsibilities. This will benefit everyone.

Governments dealing with the major demographic trends on your agenda need scientific evidence, rigorous analysis and unbiased policy advice.

More than ever, Member States in all corners of the world require the kind of guidance that this Commission has offered for more than half a century.

With your engagement, we can rise to the challenges and harness the opportunities associated with population change.

Thank you for your leadership and commitment.