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Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and chair of the UN's High Level Committee on Programmes (HLCP)

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Brasilia, 24 October 2011-Izabella Teixeira, Minister of the Environment, Brazil; Ambassadors Vera Machado Barrouin and Luiz Alberto Figuerido; Jorge Chediek, the UN's Resident Coordinator in Brazil; senior government officials, ladies and gentlemen,

UN day marks the day when the UN Charter was ratified and brought into force after World War II.

It is perhaps worth recalling some of the preamble to that Charter as the world heads towards Rio+20 in June next year.

. to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind

. to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small

. to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained

. to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

In short, it is about people and our shared, common humanity: it speaks of fundamental human rights and of justice; it underlines obligations arising from treaties and the imperative of social progress.

The Charter is as relevant today as it was over 60 years ago in terms of its intent and its aspirations.

What does need changing is the implementation of the ideals and aims in a world markedly similar yet markedly different from that of 1945, not least geopolitically and not least in terms of humanity's impact and presence on the planet.

When the Charter was agreed, the world population stood at 2.3 billion despite the terrible losses of World War II.

By 1992, when world leaders convened in Rio for the Earth Summit, it stood at 5.5 billion, sometime next week the seventh billion person will be born.

. 1.5 billion additional people in just 20 years, that 26 per cent increase is equal to the entire population in 1900

. Seven billion people who each have fundamental human rights

Right to Development

Seven billion people who also should have "equality of opportunity for all in their access to basic resources, education, health services, food, housing, employment and the fair distribution of income".

A point underlined in Article 8 of the 1986 UN Declaration on the Right to Development, some 40 years after the UN Charter was established.

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,

It is perhaps the Right to Development that should be in the upper minds of a new generation of world leaders in terms of the challenges but also the opportunities when they meet at Rio+20.

The ongoing financial and economic crisis that emerged in 2008 can be a distraction or it can be an engine for transformational change, indeed it in many ways already is.

The deregulation of the banking sector in many countries in the late 20th century is being challenged as having been at best imprudent.

Some are also questioning the phenomenon of globalization itself, but it is not globalization per se that has brought large parts of the global economy to the brink.

Rather it has been the way financial capital has been flowing in recent years, unfettered and unchecked and all too often invested in speculation rather than in innovation, social progress and what one might term 'the real economy'.

Trade, regulated under the World Trade Organization, has assisted in lifting millions out of poverty in Asia and Latin America.

But the unregulated financial markets have delivered the Right to Development for the few at the expense of the many, the gap between rich and poor has widened.

Currently 1.3 billion people are also unemployed or under-employed and over the next ten years or so another half a billion people will be coming onto the labour market looking for work.

The young are already carrying a disproportionately high burden in this respect.

In many countries of North Africa and the Middle East youth unemployment hovers at around 23 to 29 percent or higher.

The youth employment crisis isn't confined to any region or just developing countries - in the Eurozone, youth unemployment has jumped from 14 percent to 20 percent in the past few years, and in some countries, the number is even higher.

In Asia, youth are 4.7 times more likely to be unemployed than adults. In some parts of Africa, youth unemployment can be as high as 70 percent.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, there has been an increase in the share of teenagers engaged in informal sector employment, rather than formal sector, since the economic and financial crisis of 2008 according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Globally, youth account for a quarter of the working age population but account for 40 percent of unemployment.

Even in countries where youth employment may seem encouraging, simple statistics can mask the reality.

The ILO estimates that 152 million young people, or about 28 percent of all the young workers in the world, worked but remained in extreme poverty in households surviving on less than US$1.25 per person per day in 2008.

The Right to Development is also being impacted by a development path that either under-values natural capital or considers it value-less-despite it representing close to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor in some communities and countries.

And the Right to Development is also being impacted by the externalizing of costs such as pollution. 2.5 million people die prematurely from outdoor air pollution annually and millions are exposed to toxic mercury pollution linked with gold mining and other industries.

Before and after the ratification of the UN Charter, many institutions have been established and many creative instruments developed to address the social and environmental norms and standards deemed necessary in a civilized and progressive world.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) which I have the privilege to head will be 40 years old in 2012 for example. The International Labour Organization pre-dates the UN charter itself and last year UN Women was established.

In some areas, trade for example, the international community does meet the aspirations of "justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law".

But all too often in respect to social protection and environmental sustainability, accountability is found wanting whether it be climate change or biodiversity loss.

As a result the Right to Development, in its full and comprehensive sense, today remains for the majority a dream rather than a reality.

And it will continue to be that way on a planet of over nine billion people by 2050, unless a family of over 190 nations can find the leadership, courage, creativity and cooperative strategies to implement sustainable development and the landmark provisions and agreements of the past 60 plus year including those of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992.

RIO+20; an Institutional Framework

Your Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,

Rio+20's two themes are a Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and an institutional framework for sustainable development.

How might world leaders and ministers, in partnership with business and civil society be the architects of a new and evolved framework next June, one that accelerates and implements wide-ranging social progress over the 21st century.

Within the UN and beyond there has been a great deal of brainstorming and perhaps I could share a few ideas-these circle around reformed governance at the global, regional and national level because they are all parts of the complex jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put in place.

Firstly governance at the national level

In many countries, public understanding, public participation and thus public support for sustainable development and the necessary policy strategies remains low.

Governments, as a first step, could consider increasing their investment in terms of funding and time to boost societal involvement in the aims and objectives of Agenda 21, agreed at Rio 1992.

Ministries or agencies responsible for social and environmental issues also need strengthening and to achieve perhaps parity with those responsible for finance and economy.

Governments might also wish to consider establishing inclusive advisory bodies to review and monitor a country's progress towards agreed sustainability goals.

Secondly, regional governance

Regional intergovernmental organizations including the UN Regional Commissions could play an important role in fostering and assessing implementation of sustainable development among their members.

Indeed regional intergovernmental organizations could if fully supported be the enabling bridge between global and local policies aimed at achieving sustainable development.

Thirdly, governance at the global level

I think we are all aware that a measure of skepticism as to whether the UN is able to meet the contemporary needs of a community of nations has entered the global debate.

But there are abundant examples of the UN's value added when member states perhaps put aside the narrow issues that often divide in favour of the larger areas that unite us all.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a good example as is the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer; a treaty that enjoys universal ratification.

That said, there is an urgency to fast forward UN reform in order to reflect the complexity of the world in the 21st century and rise to the sustainable development challenge.

One issue that needs to be perhaps addressed is the perception within and outside the UN that development is only about assisting developing countries.

The fact is that there is no country in the world, developed or developing, that has achieved sustainable development on any reasonable indicator whether it be poverty eradication or sustainable consumption patterns.

The UN has a great deal of scientific, technical knowledge and other skills in this domain that need to be put at the service of all member states.

This is going to require a reconfiguration of the way UN agencies and programmes operate together and with countries and regions.

There is evidence that this can be done in order to make the UN as a whole operate more effectively and more efficiently including by organizing cross-agency collaboration on complex and cross-sectorial issues.

. The Transition Group, supporting governments on designing the Green Climate Fund is one

. Another example would be the Social Protection Floor initiative of the ILO in which a wide range of UN agencies are now collaborating

. Or Global Pulse, the UN Secretary-General's recent technology and data initiative

. Or the UN's Environmental Management Group on greening economies in which 40 agencies, including the Bretton Woods Institutions, are participating.

Others examples are the groupings of UN entities in order to respond to complex development issues in specific fields such as UN Energy, UN AIDS, UN Water and UN Oceans.

There are also other more fundamental proposals being discussed in the run up to Rio+20 designed to achieve better coordination and effectiveness.

These range from reforming the ECOSOC; establishing a Sustainable Development Council along the lines of the Human Rights Council to establishing a Global Economic Coordination Council and a UN or World Environment Organization.

Time will tell which, if any, of these proposals will flourish between now and next June.

Beyond GDP

But one of the key roles of any new institutional framework for sustainable development needs to be not only a decisive way of implementing what has been including the agreed including the financing, but also a rigorous monitoring and measure of success; nationally and globally.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is an indicator of economic transactions and activity; it is in many dimensions silent on human well-being and social equity: it no longer reflects the science, the knowledge and the needs of a more complex world

The elements of a new indicator are being vigorously discussed and debated and there are indeed many building blocks that can assist in the construction of a more inclusive and wide-ranging indicator.

For example the Human Development Index; the ILO's Decent Work indicator and the UN System of Integrated Environmental-Economic Accounting which in 2012 will have established an international standard in this area.

The UN, including UNEP is also working closely with the OECD on its Measuring Progress of Societies initiative.

Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,

The world is passing through a moment in time where we are at one of those proverbial crossroads where some tough and transformative choices need to be made.

One recent writer has termed it a 'system re-set'.

The world has gone through similar moments; the banking crises and railway infrastructure investment bubbles of the 19th century and the Great Depression of the early 20th century.

In part as a result of leadership at the highest level and in part because of human capital and human innovation, the world did not end.

Indeed some of the greatest prosperity the world has ever known emerged after the Great Depression and many of the extraordinary inventions that we enjoy today such as the telephone and radio emerged out of the crises of the late 19th century.

It is time again for leadership and for justice and a new pact with the global public for social progress that can sustain the lives, livelihoods and hopes of this and future generations.

. A time for a Right to Development that takes the long view than the Right to Get Rich Quick.

The last two or three years have been marked by fear, harsh words and for some a sense of powerlessness in the face of the global financial crisis and other challenges; climate change for example.

But it has also been an extraordinary time of intellectual debate and discussion, in which a wide array of creative and constructive ideas have been emerging across governments, academia, NGOs and business and within the UN on a fresh way forward.

RIO+20 is now increasingly providing the food for thought, the fuel and the focus for this global reflection and sense of endeavor that can transform a sense of fin de siècle into a new and optimistic moment for civilisation .

Brazil, the host country in 2012 and the host of the Rio Earth Summit, is very much part of that fertile debate in terms of positive and powerful outcomes for net June and I would like to congratulate the President and her government alongside the companies and the people of Brazil for their leadership and commitment.

Could Rio+20 represent a moment in time where ideas, directions and values linked with common humanity, that have been maturing since the UN Charter was born; fully flourish, finally bear full fruit.

Achim Steiner on the Occasion of UN Day


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