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Keynote Address By Dr Noeleen Heyzer At The International Consortium For Social Development

Keynote Address By Dr Noeleen Heyzer, Social Scientist, And Former Under-Secretary-General Of the United Nations, At The 19th International Symposium Of The International Consortium For Social Development (ICSD 2015) On 7 July 2015, 4.30pm, SIM University

Sustaining Social Development In The 21st Century

H.E. Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Republic of Singapore;
Prof Tan Ngoh Tiong, Dean, School of Human Development and Social Services, SIM University; 
Prof Barbara Shank, President of the International Consortium for Social Development; 
Ladies and Gentlemen; 

  1. It is a great honour for me to join you today at the opening of the 2015 International Symposium for Social Development. Let me first congratulate Prof Tan and SIM University for hosting this important event in Singapore. The presence today of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance shows the importance Singapore has given and continues to give to people-centred development and to strengthening the social fabric of our society. By investing in people and the well-being of society, Singapore has transformed itself from a colonial Third World entrepot to a prosperous First World City State. 
  1. This symposium is taking place at an important time. 
  1. 2015 is a milestone year for Member States and Peoples of the United Nations – a year of global action for inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. It invites us to look at what we have achieved, and what remains to be done in promoting social progress, social inclusion and social justice. Hence, this symposium gives us an opportunity for reflection on the social progress of our countries, the contemporary challenges of social development in the changing landscape of the 21st Century, and contributes to the road ahead as 193 Member States of the United Nations are shaping a transformative sustainable development agenda post 2015 to end poverty, provide human dignity to all, and protect our planet. 
  1. In 1995, 20 years ago, the World Summit for Social Development was held in Copenhagen. The largest ever gathering of world leaders at the time reached an important consensus. It was agreed that we must place human beings at the centre of our development efforts in the spirit of the first three words of the UN Charter, "We the Peoples". The Member States pledged to make the conquest of poverty, the goal of full employment and the fostering of social integration the overriding objectives of development. This consensus has helped shape our development pathway to the present day.
  1. The objectives of Copenhagen 1995, set deep roots in decades of development thinking and practice, driving policies and actions at the national and international levels, including with regards to the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Also, already in 1995, Member States were clear that sustainability should be an integral part of development efforts, recognizing that to secure social progress we must also give due attention to the nature of economic development and environmental protection.
  1. Where are we on our development journey?
  1. Progress has been made. A smaller proportion of the world's population now lives in extreme poverty compared to 15-20 years ago. More people live longer and healthier lives. We have seen important advances in health and education. The Asian region has already achieved the MDG on the reduction of extreme poverty. It is also an early achiever on other MDGs, including access to safe drinking water; gender parity based on school enrollment; and reducing the prevalence of HIV and TB. In addition, Asia has made achievements beyond the MDGs due largely to the Asian miracle which generated shared prosperity through the developmental role of the state and the market investing in people-centered development, creating middle class societies by reducing poverty and addressing inequalities through job-led growth; through quality health and education; and building the productive sectors of the real economy, including through technological and social innovations.
  1. However despite our achievements, Asia-Pacific countries still account for the bulk of world's deprived people, including more than 60% (or 763 million people) of those living in extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day); nearly 70% of underweight children under the age of five; and more than 70% (1.74 billion people) of those without proper sanitation. There are wide variations between our sub regions and between and within countries in terms of MDG achievement. There are also variations across goals, with many countries and sub regions of Asia making slow progress on the reduction of child and maternal mortality. It is clear that despite the MDGs, we still have a great deal of deprivation and insecurity. Hence, the MDGs are unfinished business in Asia and the Pacific and we are in a race against time to achieve this basic human development agenda. I believe that much can still be accomplished with a last big push to accelerate progress by the end of 2015.

Challenges In A Changing World

  1. Our world has changed since the MDGs were adopted in 2000 and will continue to change by 2030. We are becoming more urban, more middle class, older, more connected and mobile, more interdependent, more vulnerable and more constrained in our resources and planetary boundaries. The path ahead is neither easy nor does it require simply doing more of the same. In my view, there are five challenges we must urgently address if we hope to sustain social progress in a changing development landscape:

Increasing Wealth Inequality

  1. Experts have been observing that there is relative wage stagnation for "the bottom billion". Inequality is rising rapidly due to wealth and asset concentration as increasingly profits are made through the financial channels rather than in the real economy. There are glaring social inequalities, including access to basic social services and inequality of opportunities. The form of inequality generated today can threaten the "unfinished agenda" as the current inequality makes it more difficult to reduce poverty and increase social upward mobility. The rising inequalities and disparities within and between countries could alter the political and social fabric of our region. It could intensify existing inequities and tensions along the fault lines of ethnicity, religion, geography, and gender, and exacerbate discrimination against women and girls.

Precarious Jobs and Lives

  1. While many parts of Asia are upbeat and modernizing, many countries and communities fall short of their potential because of the precariousness of jobs and the inability to generate secure and meaningful lives for too many people. With "Factory Asia" producing cheap goods for the world market, "the right to work" often sacrifices "rights at work". This has led to the precariousness of work, as we saw with the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh two years ago, killing 1,138 garment workers, mainly women.
  1. The informal economy is also expanding as employment growth in the formal sector has been less than the economic growth rate. Formal sector work is becoming increasingly casual, flexible, outsourced, unregulated and contract based. In Thailand, in 2010, informal employment accounted for 63 per cent of total employment, in Indonesia 66 per cent, Philippines 75 per cent and Vietnam 85 per cent. This has real implications for workers, most of whom are women, migrants from rural or low income countries in terms of security of employment, conditions at work, and health and safety concerns.
  1. In addition to precarious jobs, the world faces a humanitarian emergency. Wars, conflicts and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since records began to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. According to the 2015 UNHCR report, the number of people forcibly displaced at the end of 2014 had risen to a staggering 59.4m compared to 51.2m a year ago and 37.5m a decade ago. The increase represents the biggest leap ever seen in a single year. This situation is likely to worsen still further as more people are forced into precarious lives linked to the inability of the international community to work together to stop conflicts, and to build and preserve peace.

Changing Demography

  1. Rapidly changing demographic trends are also affecting employment and human well-being. The challenge is how our economic systems can accommodate the emerging youth bulges appearing in many countries. Between 2012 and 2020 almost 1 billion young job seekers are expected to enter the job market making job generation urgent. Currently, global unemployment remains high after the 2008 global financial crisis that has hurt the real economy. Our youth are bearing the brunt. 73 million young people are looking for jobs. Young people are three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. Many more are trapped in jobs where they are objects of exploitation. When young people become frustrated and angry at the glaring lack of opportunity, they are more likely to lose faith in governments and in institutions. In many parts of the world, this leaves young people marginalized, increasing their vulnerability and exposure to the criminal economy, including that of trafficking and people smuggling as we have seen recently in the fishing industry, and in the crisis at sea in Europe and in Asia.
  1. Related to this lack of opportunity today is an alarming growth in extremism and receptivity to radicalization by people, especially the young, who feel discarded and that they do not belong. The principle and practice of social integration – acceptance and inclusion, respect for diversity, the peaceful coexistence of cultures and communities – are increasingly under threat in today's world. Delegates at the World Summit for Social Development 20 years ago affirmed that poverty eradication, full employment and social integration were closely interlinked. This rings even more relevant and true in today's world.
  1. Another critical issue related to changing demography is who will support the care economy in aging societies. In countries with rapidlyaging population, the challenge is how care will be provided and organized for this aging population which is expected to reach 2 billion by 2050. It is also about our social protection systems, our care services and opportunities for the elderly in the labour market. Unless both the State and the private sector invest in the care infrastructure, women will be expected to carry the burden of care, at great person cost, as extended family support systems are under stress because of migration and urbanization, and the increasing need of two income households to maintain a middle class lifestyle.

Managing Our Eco-systems

  1. We have one planet to share. Therefore climate change and threats to our eco-systems are perhaps the most important long-term challenges facing humanity this century and beyond, affecting every person, irrespective of country or income. Our challenge is clear: reduce poverty, increase shared prosperity but leave a smaller carbon footprint. This requires a paradigm shift in the ways goods are made, food is grown and energy is generated. Worldwide, industrialization and urbanization account for over half the world's intensive use of natural resources. Cities are responsible for about 70 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Managing our eco-systems must therefore mean designing more compact, energy efficient, eco-friendly livable cities besides changing our systems of production and consumption. It means that our industrialization and urbanization need to be less reliant on fossil fuels to keep global temperature increasing to less than 2 degrees centigrade. Asia’s long-term growth and future prosperity will depend on how efficiently we use natural resources as Asia's urban population is expected to double to 3 billion by 2050. A shift to a more people centred, planet sensitive development will depend on how we respect the planet's eco-systems and progress to a low carbon growth future but one that is high on poverty reduction, decent jobs and income security. This is the defining challenge of the 21st Century.
  1. Asia has a large stake in the well-being of the planet as it has many of the world's most climate exposed territories and is the most disaster prone region of the world. A person living in Asia Pacific is four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than someone living in Africa, and 25 times more likely than someone living in Europe or North America. In fact 75 per cent of global disaster fatalities occur in Asia. In 2011, economic damages and losses from disasters in the region total more than USD 293 billion. Coupled with economic shocks, disasters can wipe away years of development gains, increasing economic, social and political vulnerabilities. In this "new normal" a major shock such as the recent financial crisis or natural disasters quickly become a cascade of crises. In such a world, we need more than economic growth to seriously address new risks and vulnerabilities. We need to build resilience into the fabric of how society functions.

Weak Governance In An Interdependent World

  1. We have become more mobile with linked destinies. We are linked in the globalizing world by much more than our economies and trading systems. We breathe the same air; we pollute the same air. Contagious diseases like MERs or Ebola do not need a passport—they are problems that do not stop at borders. Terror, transnational crimes, human trafficking and people's smuggling, the trade in arms and drugs do not heed borders, nor recognize nationalities. Our global and regional institutions and governance systems are not designed to respond to these emerging transnational risks.
  1. At the same time, the current international financial sector is not seen by many to serve the needs of the real economy nor help manage and mitigate risks. This has resulted in the 2008 financial crisis that is still affecting people regarded as "too small to matter". Yet, this state of affair is not inevitable. The financial sector when better regulated has played an important role to support the real economy, including financing of SMEs, physical and social infrastructure, green investments and affordable housing.
  1. In several countries, the deterioration in the quality and credibility of national political and economic institutions illustrated by rising corruption, unresponsiveness of State institutions to the well-being of their people along lines of identity, and institutional capture by powerful interest are likely to become constraints to equitable human progress. Yet, and trust and accountable governance are essential and fundamental elements of human well-being, social cohesion, stability and development. It is about how leaders, public institutions, the private sector and citizens relate to each other, in mutual accountability, to bring about development to improve people's lives and to care about our planet's eco-systems on which our survival depends.

The Sustainable Development Agenda: A Call For Action To Transform Our World

  1. We are here today because we know that the world we have is not what it should be. Our world is facing multiple challenges and crises and many of our systems are at breaking point, overwhelmed and unable to prevent and respond effectively to the numerous emergencies. We are here today because we have once in a life-time opportunity to act in order to prevent new problems, to find solutions to our multiple vulnerabilities, and to renew our world to be what it can be. We all agree that to do this we need transformative change affecting all sectors of our societies, our governance systems, and our partnerships. It is therefore not surprising that "Transforming Societies" is the theme of this year's international symposium held today. Transformation is also the watchword of the Sustainable Development Agenda that is being finalized by the 193 Member States of the United Nations this September at the General Assembly.
  1. We are living in an interdependent globalizing world where our economic, social and ecological systems are intertwined and countries are striving to develop a forward- looking, progressive agenda that places both people and the planet at the centre of global development efforts. Under the working title "Transforming Our World", it is a universal, integrated and human-rights based agenda for a social transformation that simultaneously addresses economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship and highlights the link between peace, development and human rights—an agenda that leaves no one behind, and a win-win proposition for both nations and people.
  1. This post-2015 development agenda with its set of new sustainable development goals presents an historic test and challenge for the international community and national institutions. It is a universal call to action to transform our world by:
    - Committing to a universal approach, with solutions that addresses all countries and all groups;
    - Integrating sustainability in all activities, mindful of the economic, environmental and social impacts;
    - Ending Poverty and addressing inequalities in all areas, agreeing that no goal or target be considered met unless met for all social and economic groups;
    - Ensuring that all actions respect and advance human rights, in full coherence with international standards;
    - Addressing the drivers of climate change and its consequences;
    - Expanding our global partnership for means of implementation to maximum effect, and full participation, including multi-stakeholder, issue-based coalitions; and
    - Anchoring the new compact in a renewed commitment to international solidarity, commensurate with the ability of each country to contribute
  1. The economic and social transformation that we seek deals holistically with extreme inequality and social exclusion, decent work and the care economy, and environmental sustainability. These are the priorities of human sustainability and social development in the 21st Century. Realising them is our only road to dignity and the future we want by 2030.
  1. How ever this agenda for renewal will only succeed in giving people meaningful, secure and dignified lives if there is bold leadership and moral courage at every level of society to ensure implementation and accountability. This is an urgent call to action for each one of us so that we can leave a better world for our children.


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