Press Releases

         16 November 2004

    Global Anti-Poverty Goals ‘Powerful Instrument of Mobilization’, Says Deputy Secretary-General in Copenhagen Address

    NEW YORK, 15 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette’s address to  the Danish Council for International Development Cooperation in Copenhagen,  12 November:

    It is a pleasure and an honour to be with you today. Denmark has long been a source of inspiration in the work for development worldwide, both in your consistently generous allocation of official development assistance, and in your innovative and visionary approach to both policy and practice. I am glad to have this opportunity to speak to you about the opportunities and challenges we face together.

    All of us involved with development have an unprecedented global agenda in the Millennium Development Goals, drawn from the Millennium Declaration -- adopted by all the world’s countries four years ago as a blueprint for building a better world in the twenty-first century.

    It is an agenda which has helped galvanize global action around critical challenges. I am sure that I don’t have to remind this audience what the goals are, but I will mention them nonetheless:

    -- To halve extreme poverty and hunger by the year 2015;

    -- To make primary education available to all girls and boys;

    -- To ensure gender equality;

    -- To reduce child and maternal mortality around the world;

    -- To stop and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis;

    -- To strive for environmental sustainability; and

    -- To work towards a global partnership for development in terms of aid, trade and debt relief.

    I don’t know how the goals were received here in Denmark, but I know that, at the beginning, they were viewed with considerable scepticism in some quarters. What good was another set of goals, when so many had been ignored before? Yet, they have turned out to be an extraordinarily powerful instrument of mobilization. An increasing number of developing countries are articulating their development strategy around the MDGs. Donor countries, the international financial institutions and the United Nations, probably for the first time ever, all have a shared vision of where we want to go and a commitment to work together to get there.

    The MDGs do not pretend to capture the totality of the development process or the desired outcomes. Nor do they, in and of themselves, guarantee coherence among the various actors of development. But they do provide a basic framework which greatly facilitates the choice of priorities and instruments.

    Above all, MDGs are useful because they are simple and because they speak about things -- health, water, education -- that everybody can understand and relate to. Anybody can grasp why they matter, and have an idea as to whether his or her country and the world is doing enough to achieve them.

    So, how is the world progressing in meeting these goals? As we survey global development trends, we see a mixed picture.

    On the one hand, across many parts of the developing world, happily there have been real development gains -- especially in Asia.

    As a result of the rapid progress in reducing poverty in the world’s two most populous countries -- China and India -- the developing world as a whole is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015: a powerful demonstration that rapid progress can be made.

    For these and other countries that are achieving high rates of sustained economic growth, the MDG challenge is to ensure similarly fast progress in health, education, and environmental management -- and to make this progress extend to even the most remote or disadvantaged communities.

    At the same time, many middle and lower-middle income countries have struggled to sustain economic growth in recent years, and have seen little progress in poverty reduction. For these countries, the key lies in adopting better domestic policies to foster sustained economic growth. That includes expanded health, education and infrastructure services -- with particular attention to equity of access.

    The other side of the development trend story is quite different -- the one that depicts the situation in poorer countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, and least developed countries in other regions. It is an unfortunate fact that most of these countries tend to be making the least progress towards the MDGs. Indeed, many of them appear stuck in a poverty trap.

    Here, where the needs are greatest, the challenge lies not only in ensuring good governance, maintaining a sound macroeconomic environment and fostering an enabling environment for the expansion of a job-creating domestic private sector. It lies equally in ensuring substantial investments in areas such as education, health, agriculture and infrastructure, in order to create the conditions for long-term economic growth.

    Although the lack of progress in most poorer countries should be a source of concern to us all, we should also draw hope from the fact that some among the poorest, such as Mozambique and Viet Nam, are making real progress. With the right strategy and the necessary financial support from outside, even the poorest can achieve the Goals.

    Overall, it is clear that progress on meeting the MDGs has been uneven at best. There is no time to lose if the poorest countries that are falling behind are to reach the Goals by the target date of 2015.

    Much hinges on the high-level event at the United Nations in September next year, when world leaders will meet for a five-year review of implementation of the Millennium Declaration.

    The date of 2005 is critical, because to set a clear course in the right direction, we need at least a decade of steady promotion of the right policies and priorities with the right level of resources to back them. The deadline of a five-year review will, we hope, act as a stimulant -- obliging Governments to take tough decisions between now and September next year.

    Let us be clear: in many ways, the task in 2005 will be much tougher than it was in 2000. Instead of setting targets, this time leaders must decide how to achieve them. This is obviously a determination governments will have to make, but I believe action would need to include some major elements:

    First, we must enable and encourage every country with extreme poverty to formulate and pursue an MDG-based national strategy anchored in the 2015 targets and time frame. United Nations country teams, international financial institutions and civil society as well as donor governments should support each government in detailing the necessary policies and public investments required to meet the MDGs.

    Developing countries themselves need to commit to sound policies and good governance. It is comforting to see developing country leaders embracing this crucial component of any MDG strategy. Initiatives like NEPAD need our support and encouragement. But there is no one-size-fits-all in this business. Each country must design a strategy that fits its own circumstances. It will be important to understand how the pursuit of one goal impacts on the achievement of the others and design the strategies and outside support accordingly. To take an obvious example, in countries that have a high prevalence of AIDS, success in preventing the further spread of the disease and providing treatment to those affected will have a determining impact on the achievement of all the other Goals.

    Second, the commitments made at Monterrey and elsewhere must be honoured. If the poverty trap of low-income countries is to be broken, directing the lion’s share of additional aid to poorer countries is critical.

    Significant additional resources need to be invested in support of MDG strategies. Many interesting ideas are being discussed on new ways of generating the resources needed to meet the MDGs -- the so-called new and innovative sources of financing. I believe all these ideas deserve careful consideration and, if agreement can be found on even one significant new sources of financing, we will all rejoice. But I am sure Denmark would agree that there is no obvious substitute for an increase in the more traditional source of financing, namely, official development assistance (ODA).

    After a long period of stagnation and even decrease, we are finally seeing a meaningful increase in the overall volume of ODA. And if countries make good on the promises they have made, we will be approaching the $100 billion mark by 2010, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This is very encouraging indeed, but the projected increase is still not quite large enough or rapid enough to fully fund the Millennium Development Goals. I am convinced that filling the gap is within our collective capacity, if there is the will to do so.

    I also believe that further action is needed on the debt front, since the level of indebtedness remains, in many cases, incompatible with the need to allocate resources for the MDGs. Delivering debt relief to developing countries does not, however, translate into sufficient resources for these countries to attain development goals, and it must therefore be seen as complementary to ODA flows for development.

    Third, we will need to complete the Doha Development Agenda for trade negotiations in a timely fashion. To achieve sustained economic growth, developing countries need access to the world’s largest markets. The weaker ones also need assistance to be able to take advantage of these markets and sufficient time to adjust to the opening of their own markets.

    Fourth, we must mobilize global science and technology in support of the MDGs. More resources and international collaboration are needed for research on the health burdens that affect the poor, on improved agricultural technology specific to the ecology in poor countries, on giving all people access to modern energy, on mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, and on better management of biodiversity.

    Fifth, all of this is unlikely to happen without full ownership and broad participation, in developed and developing countries alike. The MDGs are a collective endeavour. Just as grass-roots organizations in the developing world need to be engaged in the formulation of MDG strategies and their implementation, so do the citizens of developed countries and their non-governmental organizations need to actively support the efforts and feel a share of responsibility.

    For the world to agree on such measures in less than 12 months from now, we need to embark on a serious global political discussion without delay. I know we can count on Denmark’s active participation in that endeavour.

    As you know, renewal of the United Nations has been one of the Secretary-General’s key priorities since the day he took office. Since the first round of reform, initiated in 1997, one of his goals has been to ensure that the UN system works better together -- at country level and at headquarters -- and that it focuses on “what matters”.

    As a result of the first round, the Resident Coordinator system was reinforced and new planning instruments -- the Common Country Assessment and the UN Development Assistance Framework -- were developed. The UN Development Group came into being and with it, a much stronger leadership from headquarters to ensure coherence in the guidance provided to the field.

    The second package of reforms, launched in 2002, aimed to refocus our work on reaching the Millennium Development Goals -- by giving new impetus to joint programming and by better linking resources to results.

    Where do we stand today, after two waves of reforms?

    I think it’s safe to say that through the MDGs, we have, for the first time in the UN’s history, a unifying operational framework for the development work of the UN.

    We have made progress in our programming tools in order to support governments in the development of their priorities, policies and plans. This is often done in close collaboration with the Bretton Woods institutions. The MDGs now provide a central point of reference in the preparation of many Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers and in the UN’s unified response to national priorities -- the UNDAF, to which I just referred.

    Denmark is one of those major donors which called for further improvements in our development activities. You have stressed the need for improved approaches to better marry our work and instruments with countries’ own realities and priorities; to make our efforts less fragmented; to avoid duplicating or competing with each other; and to ensure the efficiency, efficacy and capacity that governments expect from us.

    We have heard you and we agree with you. We are committed to pursuing our efforts to further harmonize our operations and rationalize our programmes in the field. Just 10 days ago, the Chief Executives Board for Coordination, which brings together the executive heads of all UN organizations, agreed to move forward on a number of fronts -- to work for more unified country programmes; for better collective use of UN assets in the field, through, for example, better arrangements for sharing knowledge; and for increased support for the Resident Coordinator, so that he or she has well-defined responsibilities and adequate capacity to exercise his or her responsibility on behalf of the entire UN system.

    In the UN, we have recently agreed on a system of harmonized financial reporting for donors. But we also need to work more closely with bilateral donors to reduce the burden of assistance on recipient countries. Some progress has been made, and Denmark has been at the forefront. But more needs to be done. If we truly support national programmes, strategies, and ownership at the recipient level, we should also move more effectively towards a unified or even a single reporting system per recipient, for all bilateral and multilateral partners.

    But allow me to add that the way donors fund us is part of the problem. Agencies that are obliged to compete with one another for funding on a year-by-year, project-by- project basis, cannot possibly coordinate optimally with others, perform to their full potential, or sustain the level of trust necessary for real coherence. For us to be more effective in these areas, we need to be able to rely on more predictable core funding, with fewer earmarked contributions.

    Denmark is also making a major contribution to our efforts to better address the link between development and security -- for example through its work on the economic and social aspects of societies in post-conflict transition. We applaud the initiative of the Government of Denmark to convene the Copenhagen Seminar on Civilian Crisis Management last June, which brought together members of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change with leading experts to discuss ways of strengthening UN capacity in this field.

    We know that this is an area which is crucial to the future credibility of our Organization. And increasingly, in countries coming out of conflict, the urgency of the situation compels us to pilot new ways of providing support.

    A major challenge here lies in designing truly integrated strategies that effectively weave together the various dimensions -- political, security, human rights, humanitarian and developmental -- on which we have to act for sustainable progress to be achieved. Both the UN Secretariat and Member States -- in particular, the Security Council -- have drawn lessons from past experience, but we still have some way to go to improve our performance. In particular, we need to do better in linking political processes to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.

    One very useful innovation in this regard is the Post-Conflict Needs Assessment exercises, which are now conducted with national authorities, together with the Bretton Woods institutions, the European Union and key donors. This, in turn, provides a national results framework and gives the international community a basis for resource allocation, as well as a periodic progress review. We have just seen an example of this in Liberia, which led to donor resources being

    re-allocated from over-funded to under-funded areas.

    When planning peace-building missions, our Departments of Political Affairs and Peacekeeping Operations are working ever more closely with UN Funds and Programmes. And in countries where we have peacekeeping missions, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General often serves as resident coordinator or humanitarian coordinator.

    We expect that the report of the High-Level Panel, due in just a few weeks, will recommend further ways to coordinate our peace and security efforts with our work for development. I am sure it will have benefited from Denmark’s input.

    In his address to the General Assembly last year, the Secretary-General said that the UN was at a fork in the road. The relative serenity which prevailed at the time of the Millennium Summit was shattered by the 11th of September 2001, the difficult and divisive debates about Iraq, the spread of terrorism and the fear of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For hundreds of millions of people however, the biggest threats to their security is the persistence of civil conflicts, poverty, disease and the degradation of the environment in which they live.

    Confidence in the ability of the United Nations to face these challenges successfully in the years ahead has weakened in all parts of the world. It is vitally important that this privileged instrument of multilateral cooperation be strengthened and support for its central place be restored. I believe action is required on three fronts.

    First, the international community must rally around a common commitment to collective security. The system of collective security on which the UN Charter is based has served humanity well -- but it needs to be updated if it is to help our world deal with the new threats we face. That requires a common assessment of what those threats are, and some meeting of the minds on the principles we should apply to meet them. Many questions need to be answered.

    How can States protect themselves against international terrorism and halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction? And what is the responsibility of the international community, in the face of massive violations of human rights inside a State? What role should military force play in these efforts, and when is the use of force permissible? Who should decide, and who should authorize?

    The second thing we need is vigorous action to make a real dent in the problems of extreme poverty and hunger, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation, and endemic or infectious disease. In the Millennium Declaration, and at key world conferences since then, promises have been made by developed countries to support developing countries that make reforms.

    If the developed world does not keep these promises, we will all be worse off. After all, a world in which billions live in poverty and see little hope for a better future will never be fully secure, even for its most privileged inhabitants. And a world mired in deadly conflict will not be advancing towards greater opportunity for the world’s poor. The cause of development and the cause of peace are inseparable.

    That brings me to the third thing our world needs to do. We must update our institutions of global governance to make them more legitimate, and sharpen our tools to provide a collective response.

    That means, among other things, reforming the principal organs of the United Nations -- including the Security Council, the composition of which reflects a world that has long since vanished. It means tightening our non-proliferation and anti-terrorism regimes, and strengthening our capacity to support peace-building missions. It means giving developing nations a bigger voice in the decisions of international bodies. And it means strengthening the relationships between the United Nations and regional organizations.

    The High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, put in place by the Secretary-General to provide him -- and Member States -- with concrete proposals on these and other questions, will submit its report in a few weeks from now. In March, the Secretary-General will present his own report, which will review progress in the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, including the MDGs, and offer his views on the way forward. And in September next year, world leaders will gather once again in New York, five years after the Millennium Summit. That meeting will be a real opportunity for them to unite around a shared vision of collective security, to renew and deepen their commitment to forge a global partnership for development, and to take decisions to renew the United Nations.

    The Secretary-General can help generate ideas. But the vision and political will to turn them into reality must come from Member States. After all, the UN is not him, and it is not me. It is the Member States. It is you.

    Denmark has a long history of dynamic and enlightened support for the UN. On all the issues facing us in the run-up to September 2005, Denmark’s voice will matter. I hope you will show the same leadership that you have demonstrated on so many issues in the past. As a member of the Security Council starting in January, Denmark will acquire special responsibilities as well as an enhanced capacity to exert its influence. I have no doubt that you will do so with a view to strengthening multilateral cooperation and the United Nations.

    I am grateful to all of you for listening to me today, and now I very much look forward to hearing your perspective.

    Thank you very much for your attention.

    * *** *