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Urgent Need for “New Deal” in Equality and Sustainability

Analysis by Jacques N. Couvas

ISTANBUL, Mar 26 2012 (IPS) - The pressing need for a global “new deal” to foster sustainable development and reduce inequalities was the conclusion of the 2012 Global Human Development Forum, a new initiative by the United Nations, held in Istanbul from Mar. 22-23.

Rebeca Grynspan, associate director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) chaired the 2012 Global Human Development Forum in Istanbul. Credit:  Fatih Cevik

Rebeca Grynspan, associate director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) chaired the 2012 Global Human Development Forum in Istanbul. Credit: Fatih Cevik

The event, which was hosted by the Turkish government and financially supported by Denmark, gathered 200 government ministers, civil society activists and development experts from several continents.

At the end, the delegates unanimously adopted an Istanbul Declaration, which calls for cross-sector action and collaboration to offset disparities and preserve natural resources for future generations, while recognising the need for continuing growth of emerging economies.

“It is time for a new vision comprising the three dimensions of sustainable development—social, economic, and environmental—and for putting people at the centre of development,” said Rebeca Grynspan, associate director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), who chaired the Forum.

“This requires the synergistic integration of sustainable development policies that are fully coherent and complementary. Development must be with and for the people, equitable, inclusive, and human-rights driven. We believe that this should be the basis for the work at the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012,” she added.

The declaration is formulated around four key issues, deemed of critical importance by the delegates.


First, that economic growth and environmental sustainability, rooted in universal values and social justice, should go hand-in-hand; that such coexistence will need additional funding, for which civil society and the private sector should form partnerships; that women play a vital role in human development, if they are given opportunities to access education, healthcare, the labor force, and decision-making processes; and that good governance for sustainable development, at global, regional, national, and local levels is paramount to the success of the project.

The Forum recognised that progress has been achieved among poorer nations in the economic realm, but this has been to the detriment of sustainability of the environment.

“As the (U.N.’s) Global Sustainability Panel report underscores, by 2030 the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, given the projected population growth and consumption patterns,” Grynspan told IPS . “Moving towards inclusive and sustainable development is not simply a ‘moral’ imperative; it is in fact the only development possible,” she affirmed.

The report also showed that in 61 developing countries studied, the higher the number of women and environmental NGOs per capita, the lower the rate of deforestation, indicating that female concern for nature, coupled with expert knowledge by NGOs, would benefit the preservation of natural resources.

The Forum’s conclusions come at a time when the U.N. is of the belief that the human race is moving in the right direction. An analysis published in 2010 by the UNDP in the context of the 20th anniversary of its Human Development Report highlighted the advancements made in the past four decades in human development.

According to the authors of the report, the poorest countries improved their overall human development index (HDI) by 82 percent, twice the global average improvement. It claimed that people are healthier, wealthier and better educated than ever before, with the gap in development narrowing.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), another U.N. initiative whose final evaluation is due in 2015, seems to be on the right track, with the World Bank estimating that its goals for increasing the number of people who live above the extreme poverty level and have access to safe water have already been met.

On the other hand, the U.N.’s conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) last May, also in Istanbul, came to the sad conclusion that the number of nations below the poverty line doubled in ten years, instead of being halved.

One of the reasons evoked for the failure of the LDC programme has been the lack of quantitative targets and unequivocal performance measures, coupled with endemic corruption in the poorest countries of the world.

“To create an incentive for change, better measures will certainly be needed,” agrees Gryspan. “The (U.N.) Global Sustainability Panel noted that many argue ‘if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed’. As we discussed this week at the Forum, new metrics of progress in the public and private sectors are needed, which reflect more holistically the value we ascribe to human development and the environment. Rio+20 must provide impetus to a new sustainable development index or a set of indicators to enhance the current Human Development Index,” she concluded.

The Forum stopped short of proposing concrete action, limiting its declaration to identifying the challenges for future human development and calling on the public and private sectors to address them. Suggestions before and during the meeting to implement innovative financing solutions, through the levy of taxes on international financial transactions and airfares, were not incuded in the final text, which effectively leaves Rio +20 responsible for tying up the loose ends.

Academics and industry captains have already expressed scepticism as to whether new taxes would be realistic, at a time when the United States is not yet out of its recession and China’s economic growth is slowing down. Both countries are likely to intensify, rather than reduce, their appetite for energy in the coming years.

Both China and the U.S. also play a significant role in income ditribution inequalities. At a televised debate last year, Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, voiced concerns about the gap in income and wealth amongst U.S. tax payers: one percent of the U.S. population earns more than 50 percent of the country’s lowest-income households.

In China, the average income of the richest 10 percent of the urban population was 8.9 times that of the poorest 10 percent in 2009, compared with 2.9 times in 1985, according to a consumer study conducted by a Chinese scientific magazine in December.

 
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