An Assessment & Update of Global Sustainable Development

Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Noeleen Heyzer gave an address to the 2013 Bangkok Conference Global Dialogue on Sustainable Development providing an assessment and update of global sustainable development efforts.

Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning.

Introduction

It is my great pleasure to join you by video for the opening of this important Global Dialogue on Sustainable Development, and to share with you an assessment and update of global sustainable development efforts.

Allow me to start by thanking the organizers for convening this event at a pivotal moment.

Just days ago, world leaders met in New York, for the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly. They made it clear that sustainability will be both the global guiding principle, and the operational standard, of the post-2015 development agenda.

Sustainable development today covers many issues and priorities – but was perhaps best explained by the 1987 Brundtland Report, as “development which meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) made the reduction of extreme poverty the primary target of global development, with additional goals for social development and environmental sustainability. But despite substantial progress, that work remains unfinished, with just more than 800 days left to the 2015 MDG deadline.

We must do everything in our power to achieve the MDGs, with a big final push to the end of 2015. At the same time, however, we must acknowledge that the world has radically changed since the MDGs were first agreed.

Economic power has shifted, inequality is rising in rich and poor countries alike, and new technologies and global threats have shaped a world where cross-boundary concerns and cooperation have become ever-more critical.

This changed world demands a new vision, a different approach, and a more responsive global development framework. It requires a rebalancing of development, in which economic growth, social justice, and environmental stewardship are integrated, equally important, and mutually reinforcing.

In other words – to build on the achievements of the MDGs, to leave nobody behind, and to expand our common vision, will require global, regional, national, and local commitment to a post-2015 future centered on sustainable development.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Changing Mindsets for Sustainable Development

It was the Irish playwright, and Nobel Laureate George Bernard Shaw, who once said: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Success and sustainability in the next phase of global development depends on changing mindsets, approaches, and behavior. That is why this conference is so important – because building the future we want starts not only with Governments but ultimately with every one of us.

Your role in this transformation is vital – as the leaders of our business communities, our academic and training organizations, and our institutions of civil society. Unlike the MDG process, the shift to a more sustainable development future has to be universal, consultative, and ultimately based on the power of lasting partnerships.

We must be clear about this transformation: placing sustainable development at the heart of our agenda must not, in any way, lessen the focus on ending poverty. In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon: “Poverty eradication is […] indispensable […] for sustainable development. […] No person should go hungry, lack shelter or clean water and sanitation, face social and economic exclusion, or live without access to basic health services and education. […] Upholding human rights and freeing people from fear and want are inseparable; it is imperative that we do more to act on this basic truth.”

So this conference is really a call to action – to better understand the once-in-a-generation opportunity which now exists for us all to shape the future we want, and to agree on the steps of concrete collaboration which each of us will contribute.

In the discussion today, ask how your company or institution can specifically contribute to this global partnership. Can your experience and expertise in business be used to mobilize and manage development resources? Can your management schools and training departments prepare leaders better-equipped to make sustainable choices? Can our universities and academies provide the research and analysis to best track progress and inform policy changes?

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

4 Building Blocks of a Sustainable Development Agenda

In his Report to the General Assembly on MDGs and post-2015 development, the Secretary-General outlined four building blocks which must be in place for the sustainable development agenda to succeed.

First: A far-reaching vision anchored in human rights and universally accepted values – especially the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Millennium Declaration.

Second: Concise goals and targets to realize the priorities set by the agenda.

Third: A global partnership for development to mobilize means of implementation.

Fourth: A monitoring framework for tracking progress and mutual accountability mechanisms for all stakeholders.

We need genuine global partnerships, based on trust and not on conditionality. This is particularly critical for some of the most important development challenges, including the need to rebalance trade, manage speculative flows of finance, ensure food security and livelihoods, secure appropriate development financing, promote technology transfer, and create conditions for fair trade.

Partnership among different stakeholders is also extremely important. For example, business has to be part of the solution. The business community cannot regard social and environmental concerns as external to their business.

Modern business management should seek not only to increase market share, but to increasingly widen the market itself. In an age of diminishing resources, falling demand and shrinking revenues, the interests of our ‘bottom billion’ are the interests of business’ bottom line.

We cannot afford to race to the bottom on labour standards, industrial safety or environmental protection. We cannot allow loss of lives of workers, or for toxic pollution to simply be shifted from developed to developing countries. People from around the world are asking for a new social contract for sustainable development, between the state and its people, and between the state and the market.

Civil society and academia must be partners in these solutions as well – helping to hold governments and business accountable, to insist on ethical, inclusive, and sustainable action benefiting both people and planet.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Update on Global Processes

It’s important to understand the context of this conference, as part of the extensive regional and global processes underway to define the global development agenda after 2015.

You may be aware, for instance, of the work already done by the UN Task Team on the Post-2015 Development Agenda; the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons; the contributions of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network; the UN Global Compact; and the range of global, regional, and national consultations.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Royal Thai Government for its strong commitment to advancing Asia-Pacific leadership on sustainable development – especially following the philosophy of sustainable economy developed by His Majesty, the King of Thailand. Just last month, the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) supported the Royal Thai Government in convening a very successful Asia-Pacific Ministerial Dialogue on the move from MDGs to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. It was the first regional Ministerial-level event following the release of the Report of the High-level Panel, and it brought together Heads of State and senior ministers with representatives from civil society, the private sector, international organizations, and UN agencies. Adopting the landmark ‘Bangkok Declaration’ as its outcome, the Ministerial Dialogue reflected on key lessons from the MDG process, and shared Asia-Pacific perspectives on the transformative shifts needed to advance sustainable and inclusive development. The need to address inequalities, to mobilise partnerships with business and civil society, and to properly finance sustainable development objectives were amongst the most important of the discussions.

Even more recently, at a Special Event for Heads of State and Government, convened by the President of the UN General Assembly, two weeks ago in New York, it was decided that the 69th session of the General Assembly, in 2014, will launch the negotiations to adopt the post-2015 development agenda. This will involve a transparent intergovernmental process to include inputs from all stakeholders, including civil society, knowledge institutions, local authorities, and the private sector. It will culminate in a global Summit for Heads of State and Government, in September 2015, where the post-2015 development agenda will be formally adopted.

In other words – there could not be a more important time for this Conference, and for all of us to make our voices heard.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

In conclusion, ending extreme poverty, through sustainable development, is possible in just one generation – this generation.

However, no community or country can tackle these sustainable development challenges alone. To succeed will require governments, business, and people to embrace a new spirit of human solidarity, shared responsibility, and mutual benefit.

Only together will we build the sustainable future we want. I believe that today’s conference provides an excellent platform to discuss and exchange views on sustainable future as well as sustainable development practices among various stakeholders.

Let us together create the world of which we can truly be proud - for ourselves, for our children, and for generations yet unborn.

I wish you the very best for the Conference, and look forward to your conclusions, recommendations and partnership in building the future we want.

I thank you.

A video of the Executive Secretary's delivery of this message is available here