Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks at the Arab regional launch of the Human Development Report 2011

Jan 8, 2012

Abu-Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Your Excellencies,

It is a pleasure to join you this morning to present the 2011 Human Development Report “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All”. I think it is a great opportunity for us to present the Report here in the UAE, a country whose profile has risen tremendously over recent decades and that allows us both, to highlight the challenges and opportunities facing human development in the Arab Region, and also to bring upfront UAE’s impressive human development progress in the last 40 years becoming the highest ranked Arab country and of the Gulf Cooperation Council in the Human Development Index. 

This has been possible not only due to its high per capita income (one of the highest in the world) but also due to your achievements in education and health. It is also especially good to be here as you celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the signing of the constitution establishing the Union of the Arab Emirates as a state, for which I warmly congratulate you.

From a development perspective indeed the UAE story is very interesting. Today this country is among the world’s most modern ones, fully integrated in the world. It has quickly diversifying economic sectors, many of which relate to cutting-edge technology. It has a long-term vision and is proactive in its pursuit of a better tomorrow. And yet it is a country with a strong sense of identity. In this way the UAE reminds that we can participate in globalization and share with others while still taking rightful pride in our heritage.

Your Excellencies,

The global development dialogue has its variety of contours and perspectives. For years the perspective that UNDP has most sought to explore is that of human development. In brief, human development reminds us that people are the wealth of a nation, and that the real objective of development should be to help expand people’s choices and capabilities to lead lives they value, including through an expansion of democratic participation and economic and social development.  This perspective, which was initially developed by the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq, and by Amartya Sen and then carried forward by so many others, has enabled UNDP to look at a range of global development challenges through a unique and powerful lens, always seeking to bring the needs of people around the world into sharper focus. Today, UNDP, the biggest operational UN agency in the ground with programs in over 177 countries and territories, has the mandate to carry this Human Development agenda forward.

The 2011 report is no different from the past ones, and it takes on a central question facing the world in the 21st century, namely, how can development progress continue in ways that will raise living standards for all while being sustainable for future generations to come.

Answering this question is critical because we know that, in turn, by harming the environment, we harm our potential to raise living standards in all countries and for all people – in this generation and also those to come.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, this report is very timely.  We hope it can offer new insights to the international dialogue and inform the policy debates.  The Rio + 20 Summit offers a critical opportunity for the world community to put sustainability and equity concerns at the heart of a post-2015 international development agenda.
The Report’s core argument is that equity and sustainability are inextricably linked and should be seen as two mutually reinforcing objectives.  This is also the message that we should bring to Rio to recommit to sustainable development based on socially and environmentally responsible growth that allows us to accelerate the reduction of poverty and inequality between and within countries.

Last year’s Report highlighted the remarkable gains in Human Development over the last four decades. It showed that tremendous gains have been made in human development, especially when we focus on health, education and incomes as the well-known Human Development Index does. All regions of the world advanced, but one of the very interesting findings was that five of the ten countries which improved most significantly, in relation to starting points, were right here in the Arab region.

While the 2010 Report looked to the past, the 2011 Report is forward looking; it asks whether we can expect that this positive trend will continue, especially among developing countries, and makes a set of projections for how our world will look over the next four decades under different scenarios.

HDR Projections to the year 2050 suggest that if there is no further environmental degradation, the global HDI would be 19% higher by 2050 than it is today –that is more or less what we have seen between 1990 and 2010.  This is our “base case” scenario and also the “best case scenario”.  What’s more, in this best case scenario it is the developing countries which would see the largest gains, with a 24% increase in HDI. Many countries now classified as low in human development would move to levels which today are considered medium or high levels of human development achievement.  

But the Report also has a sobering central message, which is that this scenario is very unlikely to happen unless we take bold steps today to avert future environmental calamities, ensure no further environmental degradation, and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations.
So, the steady advances we have seen in human development around the world could stall and even reverse unless important action is taken.

I understand that this sort of vulnerability has been felt in serious ways by the people of some Arab countries. Many countries have experienced floods in recent years, including Morocco and Yemen. Some have faced droughts leading to exacerbation of rural poverty, and unplanned migration to cities, putting strains on the provision of basic services. Last summer six Arab countries set record high temperatures and power grids were not able to keep up with demand for electricity. Not to mention that this is the most water-scarce region in the world, which has ramifications for everything from access to drinking water, to agricultural and rural development, to food security and to urbanization.

To face these challenges there is lot we can do: Governments will need to play an important role by creating enabling conditions for sustainable development, including promoting public-private partnerships.   

But let me also be clear, national action is not enough, action at the global level is also indispensable.
A coherent policy framework for sustainable development at the global level is needed.  This policy framework needs to be centered on a commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including ensuring gender equality and access to reproductive health services and combating HIV and AIDS, as well as improved trade conditions, and the mobilization of the necessary resources to keep aid commitments and the additionality demanded by climate change and adaptation.

The projections include two worse scenarios that take into account these threats and the risk of policy inaction:

Under the scenario of “environmental challenges,” which includes among others the impact of global warming on agricultural production and environmental challenges related to water, sanitation and pollution, as well as growing inequality and as a consequence the higher probability of intrastate conflict, the increase in global HDI is predicted to be 8% lower than in the “base case” overall.  Under an even more adverse “environmental disaster” scenario, which amplifies the magnitude of the impacts modeled, the global HDI would be 15 percent below the projected baseline in 2050.  

At the same time, we might expect that increasing global inequalities would be mirrored in deepening inequalities within countries as well. Loss in HDI due to inequality in education, health, and income, is highest in low HDI countries and less in very high HDI countries. Although income inequality is high across the globe, this result is driven primarily by greater inequalities in health and education in lower HDI countries than other countries.  An increase in inequality globally, may therefore exacerbate and compound this situation.

The report argues that there is a tight interlinkage between vulnerability to environmental deterioration, and inequality. This is reflected in the fact that around the world it tends to be those groups and individuals who are already disadvantaged who bear the harshest repercussions from environmental deterioration. The poor rely on natural resources for their livelihoods; we know that poverty reduction cannot be sustained if the ecosystems on which we depend are irreparably damaged.   So the poor carry a “double burden” of exposure to environmental risks, both in their immediate home environment from air and water pollution and lack of sanitation, and from such long-term global trends as extreme weather hazards and rising sea levels.

The second key message tells us that major disparities in power shape these patterns of deprivation at the global and local levels.  For example, studies in the United States show that toxic waste facilities are disproportionately located in working class and minority neighborhoods, resulting in harmful effects on health and education. But we also see that empowering communities can have a positive impact on the environment. The Report cites a study of 61 countries which showed that the per capita number of women’s and environmental NGOs is correlated with lower rates of deforestation.

Another key message of the Report is that we will need innovative new approaches to development financing. Estimated funding needs in poorer countries for environmental protection greatly exceed current ODA levels at$130 billion annually. Current funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation stands at only eleven percent of the lower bound of estimated needs, while financing for low-carbon energy production is only two percent of the lowest need estimate.  Available funding for water and sanitation is closer to that required, but this is partly because funding needs are relatively small.  More public as well as private investment is urgently needed and we need to creatively build public-private partnerships and on the spread of clean technologies.

Here Abu Dhabi provides a notable case. With initiatives such as Masdar you are contributing to the global energy revolution which will transform the way we think about power generation, distribution and consumption. By generously hosting IRENA you are helping shape the global institutional environment thorough which the adoption of all forms of renewable energy can be fostered and spread. You are establishing planning frameworks such as the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 which articulate sustainability as a bedrock of future human development. Through these efforts you are working with partners around the world to expand the realm of the possible, not only today but indeed into the future. In the end, these examples here in the UAE showcase the strong linkage between sustainable human development and competitiveness, as a healthy and highly educated society is a necessary condition to compete in the 21st century. Knowledge and technology at the service of green growth will be the formula for achieving dynamic and sustainable growth in the future.  


In closing let me stress:  

1)    Sustainable development is not a choice between continued human development progress and environmental preservation; this is precisely what Rio+20 is about: bringing together the three pillars of development, and for doing that:

2)    We must integrate equity into the design, implementation, and monitoring of policies, at both the global and national levels.

3)     We must help bridge the gap that separates policy-makers, negotiators and decision-makers from the citizens most vulnerable to environmental degradation by increasing accountability.  Giving the poor and marginalized, including women and indigenous people, a voice in decision making processes at local, national and global levels is valuable in and of itself, but it is also a prerequisite for ensuring equitable and sustainable human development.

The Arab Region has taken encouraging steps to promote local and national participation in decision-making. Recent events in many countries in the region show that continuing to develop new mechanisms and approaches for inclusive and accountable governance will be a major policy priority for many Arab countries.

So to achieve equitable and sustainable human development, Arab countries must speed up progress in this direction listening to those most affected by climate and environmental degradation and recognizing that citizens will not judge progress and success by growth and GDP alone, but by the impact development efforts have on their lives and opportunities for a better future.

The Report argues persuasively that the technology is there, good policy models are there, and the resources are potentially there as well, so we need political will to bring these together.  As we move toward Rio+20, we must highlight the urgent need to be bold and innovate in order to prevent further environmental degradation.
I hope this 2011 Report will help us all find new ways to move forward, working together for a better future for all.

The SG’s “Energy for All” initiative is an excellent example of the proposal we are taking forward.  Three goals are proposed to the world:  achieve access to energy for all (1.5B people have not access to electricity), double the efficiency rate and double the contribution of renewables in the energy supply by 2030. UNDP together with other partners of the UN System are working hard to make this a reality.  As you know, UNDP is the largest operational and implementing agency of energy and environmental programs on the ground.

We cannot be a generation having a better world and a better planet than our children and grandchildren. We have a fundamental responsibility and we are accountable for the near future that the coming generations will inherit from us.

We count on all of you to make this possible.

Thank You.

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