D.T. Lakdawala Memorial Lecture - Why Equity and Sustainability Matter for Human Development

Mar 17, 2012

New Delhi - UNDP Administrator Helen Clark delivered the 12th D.T.Lakdawala Memorial Lecture on ‘Why Equity and Sustainability Matter for Human Development’ in New Delhi today.


I am honoured to be invited to give the D.T. Lakdawala Memorial Lecture here in New Delhi.

Professor D.T. Ladkawala was one of the India’s most distinguished scholars whose contributions to poverty measurement and public finance have guided India’s planning processes. My colleague, UNDP Regional Director for Asia and Pacific, Dr. Ajay Chhibber, had the privilege of working with Prof. Ladkawala at the Indian Government’s Planning Commission.

My topic today focuses on the importance of equity and sustainability as drivers of human development. It is important to acknowledge at the outset the significance of India’s contribution to the concept and discipline of human development. One of India’s own sons, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has made and continues to make a seminal contribution to the human development paradigm. I also wish to acknowledge the contribution of Professor Sen’s great friend and colleague, the late Mahbub ul Haq, who was the driving force behind the launching of the Human Development Report. Over the past seventeen years, more than seventy human development reports have been produced in India, at national, state, and local levels. Building on this experience, and on UNDP’s long partnership with India on human development reporting, the Government of India and UNDP have announced this week that we are working to establish an International Centre for Human Development. This centre of excellence will focus on south-south learning and be a knowledge hub and provider of technical support.

This centre should also be seen in the context of the Partnership Framework Agreement signed by India and UNDP this week. The agreement provides the basis for scaling up and strengthening engagement between India and UNDP in supporting other developing countries to achieve their human development priorities. The new partnership will draw on India’s own national development experiences; on its substantial development engagement with South Asia and its growing engagement with Central Asia and Africa; and on UNDP’s global knowledge networks, decades of development experience, and universal presence in developing countries.

Taking the opportunity of Rio+20 to promote equitable and sustainable human development

In three short months from now, global leaders will take decisions at the Rio +20 conference in Brazil which could significantly influence the trajectory of human progress.

They meet – as the High Level Panel on Global Sustainability established by the United Nations’ Secretary General has suggested - at a period which can be classified as both the best of times, and the worst of times.

Since 1990, the baseline date against which we measure progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. The world is within reach of seeing every child enrolled in primary school, and many fewer lives are being lost to hunger and disease. The global population as a whole is healthier, wealthier and better educated than ever before.

Yet the aggregate and average figures also disguise some inconvenient truths : that ending poverty is a vast and unfinished agenda; and that inequality is increasing in many countries1. The multiple crises which have gripped the world in recent years have exacerbated these challenges, and have shown our planet’s economic, social, and eco-systems to be under considerable stress.

Just as the Earth Summit set a new direction for our world twenty years ago, so, now, current development models should be reexamined to see what works, why, and where we can and must do better. Rio+20 can play a significant role in rebalancing and resetting the global development agenda.

As we look towards Rio+20 and beyond to the development framework which will succeed the Millennium Development Goals, the question being asked is : What do we want our common future to look like ?

One response was captured in a recent speech by Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff. From now on, the President said, “we want the word ‘development’ always associated with the term ‘sustainable’.” Further, she said “we believe that it is possible to grow and to include, to protect, and to conserve”.

I agree with President Rousseff. Not only is it possible to grow and to include, protect, and conserve at the same time, but also truly equitable and sustainable human development requires that we do so.

Doing so requires going beyond trading off between the three pillars of development – the economic, the social, and the environmental. It requires moving towards integrated policymaking. Our decisions at the national, regional, and global levels can help restore the global environmental commons, and provide access to the economic means and services which vulnerable people need to expand their choices and opportunities.

This is not only or even mainly a challenge for developing countries. It is a global challenge. Clear responsibility rests with countries of the global north, to address their own social fractures, reduce their environmental footprint, and act in a way which supports the development of the global south.

Achieving sustainable development, as conceptualized by the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987 (chaired by Gro-Harlem Brundtland) and agreed to in Rio in 1992, is a significant part of the answer to the global challenges we face. To do so, it will be critical to pursue policy solutions which address equity and environmental sustainability together. This was the focus of the 2011 UNDP Human Development Report: “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future For All”.

I believe that inclusion and equity are inherent in sustainable development, and that green growth must generate social progress and contribute to poverty eradication if it is to be judged a success. In this lecture, I will :

  1. reflect on the origins of and the concept of human development, the introduction of which in 1990 was a step change in how to measure development progress;
  2. comment on why equity and environmental sustainability must be advanced together, and
  3. . draw attention to five particular areas of importance for accelerating sustainable human development now.

Human Development

The first global Human Development Report (HDR) in 1990 began with the words : “People are the real wealth of a nation.” It went on to define human development as a process of enlarging people’s choices to lead lives they value.

The 1990 Report also launched the Human Development Index (HDI), which was designed to move measurement of development progress beyond reliance on GDP alone, and to assess a broader concept of human well-being. Thus the HDI incorporated indicators for a long and healthy life and education alongside GDP per capita. In 1990, this was groundbreaking. Today, it forms part of mainstream development discourse.

The indices associated with the HDR have evolved over time to capture better the nuances of human development and reflect inequities in distribution, but the underlying approach has remained constant.

Trends in human development over the past forty years were measured in the twentieth anniversary global report in 2010. They demonstrated significant improvements in human development, especially amongst the poorest countries. Those in the lowest 25 per cent of the HDI rankings improved their overall HDI level by 82 per cent over the period, which was twice the global average rate of improvement. That led to a reduction in inequality between countries at the top of the index and those at the bottom.

The question now is whether such trends can continue. The most recent HDR, “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All”, answers ‘no’ - if current trends in inequality and eco-system degradation persist.

Our current patterns of consumption and production cannot raise living standards without breaching planetary boundaries. If the environment is harmed, so too is the potential to raise everyone’s living standards – both in this generation and the next. This is especially true for the poorest people in our world.

Unless issues of equity and sustainability are properly addressed, the current human development trajectory risks grinding to a halt, and even reversing. Avoiding this is one of the great challenges of the 21st century.

Equity and environmental sustainability

Just as development cannot be only about economic growth, nor can sustainability be only about protecting the environment. Development must be people-centred, promoting rights, opportunities, choices, and dignity. Yet for it to be sustained, the eco-systems on which life, human and otherwise, on this planet depends, must be sustained too.

The case for considering environmental sustainability and equity together was made close to two decades ago by Sudhir Anand and Amartya Sen. In 1994 they wrote that “Safeguarding of the future prospects has to be done without giving up the efforts towards rapid human development and the speedy elimination of widespread deprivation of basic human capabilities which characterize the unequal and unjust world in which we live.”2 Yet, still the sustainability debate tends to neglect equity, treating it as a separate and unrelated concern.

Fundamentally, people born today should not have a greater claim on the Earth’s resources than those born a hundred years from now. This concept was inherent in the Brundtland Commission’s 1987 report, and in a series of international declarations from that of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972, to that of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

While the 2010 global Human Development Report’s survey of human development progress over the past forty years highlighted enormous progress, it also noted three areas of concern :

  1. Income growth has been associated with deterioration in key environmental indicators, like the level of greenhouse gas emissions, soil and water quality, and forest cover;
  2. Income distribution has worsened at the country level in much of the world, even with the narrowing of gaps in health and education achievement;
  3. A rising HDI for any particular country, does not always lead to equitable outcomes for all in that country;

We could conclude therefore that human development progress to date has been neither equitable, nor environmentally sustainable.

Human development projections

Using information on trends in environmental degradation and widening inequality, the 2011 HDR constructed three scenarios of what our world could look like in 2050. The “base case” scenario assumes limited changes in inequality and environmental threats and risks3, and anticipates that the global HDI could be nineteen per cent higher by 2050[1] than it is today. That would represent a rate of progress in lifting human development similar to that achieved between 1990 and 2010.

Then, an “environmental challenges” scenario was constructed, taking into account, among other things4, the impact of global warming on agricultural production, challenges related to water, sanitation and pollution, and growing inequality and its consequences – such as a higher probability of intrastate conflict. Under this scenario, the increase in global HDI was predicted to be eight per cent lower than in the “base case” scenario, and twelve per cent lower in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Under an even more adverse “environmental disaster” scenario, which amplified the magnitude of the impacts modeled5, the global HDI would be fifteen per cent below the “base case” scenario in 2050. The most dramatic impact of that would be on Sub-Saharan Africa which would fall 24 per cent below the “base case” scenario, and South Asia, which would fall 22 per cent below.

Overall, this worst case scenario sees human development progress slow to a crawl, and actually regress in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. There is, therefore surely a compelling need for action at all levels to prevent this scenario materializing.

Vulnerability to environmental disaster is acutely felt in South Asia. Citizens of India in recent times fought to protect and save their families, homes and livelihoods from flood waters, which caused so much damage particularly in Assam, Bihar, Orissa and Uttar Pradesh. Pakistan has experienced severe flooding in each of the last two years. Bangladesh is also highly exposed to climatic extremes.

The challenge for India from climate change and extreme weather overall is serious. Sixty-eight per cent of India is prone to drought of varying intensity, and twelve per cent is flood-prone. India's lengthy coastline and deserts are among the most densely populated in the world for these kinds of eco-systems. India is estimated to be one of the ten countries most exposed to natural disasters. Climate change is expected to intensify these threats, with significant implications for the poorest and most vulnerable.

A double burden of deprivation

While environmental risks such as climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and natural disasters affect all members of society, the most vulnerable are disproportionately affected. They suffer a double burden of deprivation - from being both more vulnerable to the wider effects of environmental degradation and having less resilience to them. They must also often cope with threats to their immediate environment from insufficient and/or unclean water, indoor air pollution from unhealthy cooking and heating methods, and poor sanitation.

For example, preventable diseases directly linked to contaminated water and polluted air claim the lives of about three million children under five every year, mostly in Africa and South Asia. It is sobering to think that this number equates to the size of the entire under-five population of Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Switzerland combined.

Women are more exposed and vulnerable to climate change than men because, overall, they are poorer, receive less education, and are more likely to be excluded from political and household decision-making processes which affect their lives. Women tend to possess fewer assets and depend more on natural resources for their livelihoods. As those resources are depleted, they may be forced to spend more time fetching water and fuel from further away. The effect may be to see girls taken out of school and women’s options for economic empowerment closed off.

Pursuing environmental sustainability, therefore, is essential for addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. But in itself it is not enough. Integrated approaches, grounded in equity and inclusion, are needed to advance human development across the board.

The recent report of the Secretary General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability is forthright in stating that equity must be at the forefront of development, and that addressing social exclusion and widening inequity requires measuring inequities, costing them, and taking responsibility for them. The report states that : “We must empower all of society — especially women, young people, the unemployed and the most vulnerable and weakest sections of society.”

Sustaining human development in times of uncertainty and crises

While the 2011 HDR focused specifically on environmental sustainability and highlighted the inequities primarily associated with environmental degradation, the concepts of sustainability and equity, and their importance for human development also need to be set in a broader context.

The intersection of the energy, food, financial, and economic crises and natural disasters of the past four years has left a growing proportion of the global population struggling and disenchanted.

The series of Arab states uprisings of the past fifteen months have shown how these pressures, added to pre-existing economic and social exclusion, repression, and denial of dignity can create deepseated instability, conflict, and crisis, including in what have been classified as upper-middle income countries.

Economic and financial shocks, just like shocks from disasters, have the potential to unravel development progress where there are inadequate social protection and other mitigating measures in place. Where there is little resilience to shocks, their effects can be long lasting. Deteriorating health status today can lead to higher mortality rates tomorrow. Infant and early childhood malnutrition can stunt growth and undermine future potential. Lower investments in basic infrastructure by fiscally constrained administrations will hamper future progress in sanitation and clean water supply.[3] Children pulled out of school because families can no longer afford to have them there will lead to an under-skilled workforce, and reduce nations’ and families’ prospects for a better life.

For many of the poorest households, the impact of crises thus depends on what governments do with their budgets – on how much they spend to fight the crisis, protect the poorest, and sustain development expenditures. Investments in social protection and job creation are particularly critical at these times.

Although the global economy began to recover from the crisis during 2009, labor markets showed few signs of improving. Indeed employment indicators are often the last to move in a recovery.

Since the start of the crisis in 2007, global unemployment has increased by 27 million, and total unemployment is now estimated at close to 200 million. Another 400 million jobs will be needed in the next 10 years to keep up with new entrants to the labour market. As well, 900 million workers – around thirty per cent of all workers in the world – are working poor, living in a household where each family member lives on less than $2 a day.

Our world has a jobs and livelihoods crisis on its hands, and it is hitting young people the hardest. Today’s generation of youth is 1.2 billion strong, and the largest the world has ever known. The overwhelming majority of youth live in developing countries. This demographic phenomenon offers an unprecedented opportunity for innovation and development – what many refer to as a demographic dividend, if we invest in today’s youth. Yet, too many young people, including the highly educated, have poor or no job opportunities, and have become discouraged and distrustful of institutions and leaders.

Recognizing the urgency and importance of addressing youth issues, the UN Secretary-General has made working with and for young people a priority of his second five-year term. Under his leadership, the UN will intensify its focus on developing the potential of youth through opportunities for education, employment, entrepreneurship, political inclusion, and citizen engagement; and through advocacy and protection of rights and education, including for sexual and reproductive health.

The Global Sustainability Panel Report also advocates this focus, noting that “properly reaping the demographic dividend calls on us to include young people in society, in politics, in the labour market and in business development.”

I understand that India is taking steps to harness the potential of the nation’s youth. The Government has announced plans to invest in building the skills base of young people, engage youth in volunteering in rural development, and involve students from disciplines such as medicine and the law in providing basic services to the unreached poor. This is in keeping with India’s renewed emphasis on revitalizing rural areas as a part of more inclusive development. I have been excited during this visit to hear of the approaches being taken by the Minister of Rural Development, Drinking Water, and Sanitation, and the Minister of Tribal Affairs and of Panchyati Raj, in reaching out to the most marginalized people.

In summary, investing in social protection, job creation, and youth potential are critical for sustaining equitable human development progress, including on the MDGs, building resilience, and maintaining the peace and stability needed for development.

Into the future

So where now for equitable and sustainable human development. I will address five key points :

  1. Progress towards the MDGs must be accelerated and sustained
  2. ‘Triple-win’ policy and programming is the way forward;
  3. Governance matters;
  4. Finance for development should be revisited;
  5. Leveraging knowledge and innovation will deliver results.

Accelerate and sustain progress on the MDGs

It is important to make a success of the most comprehensive, time bound, and specific development goals on which the international community has ever agreed. Even as we begin the conversation in earnest about what the post-2015 development framework will look like – where equity and sustainability must be among the guiding principles – every effort must go into achieving the goals we currently have, which also have the virtue of addressing those principles.

In 2010, UNDP developed and piloted an MDG Acceleration Framework to speed up achievement of the goals. Endorsed by the whole UN Development Group, this Framework has now been deployed in some thirty countries, and demand for its use is growing. As the 2015 target date for the MDGs approaches, there is an added sense of urgency to support as many countries as possible to achieve as many goals and targets as possible.

In essence, the acceleration approach brings governments, development partners, and other stakeholders together to analyze why, despite often a plethora of strategies and plans, little progress is being made on achieving specific MDGs. As the bottlenecks and constraints are identified, so then is a dedicated action plan to address them, and domestic and partner resources are then mobilized around achieving that plan. Generally new strategies are not required – but action to implement existing ones is.

Across four countries in the Sahel – Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mali – the acceleration approach is being used to target MDG 1 on food security and nutrition.

The priority actions identified include widening access to seeds, fertilizer, and agricultural advisory services; taking steps to improving nutrition; and expanding social protection.

These medium and longer term initiatives require additional domestic and international financing to build institutional capacities and support communities to build resilience to recurrent threats to food security and nutrition.

In mid-February I was in Niger, which is again, like neighbouring Sahelian countries, experiencing a very severe drought. This time the government is well prepared with a crisis response plan, but major international support is required for its full implementation.

My field visit showed me the stark contrast between the village where basic water infrastructure had been installed and enabled food to be grown even in severe drought conditions, and a village only a few kilometers away where the health clinic was overwhelmed by malnourished mothers and children whose food stocks had run out.

The UN is advocating that the humanitarian response to the current crisis in the Sahel incorporates support for building the longer term resilience which can prevent development setbacks and enable MDG progress to be sustained – even in the worst of droughts.

Scale up ‘triple-win’ policy and programming

‘Triple-win’ policies and programming with integrated economic, environmental, and social benefits must be the future of sustainable human development. There are plenty of examples and evidence from around the world of how such integrated approaches can work. Let me mention just some :

The Government of India has in recent years adopted several rightsbased laws to address inequity, protect the vulnerable, and ensure sustainable development. They include laws to protect the Right to Education, the Right to Information, a National Food Security Bill, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), and the Forest Rights Act.

MGNREGA is the world’s largest job creation programme, now benefiting, I understand, some 55 million households annually. Its implementation has brought economic, social and environmental benefits.

Apart from offering waged employment, I am impressed that major objectives of MGNREGA are to conserve natural resources and enhance environmental services, sustain food and livestock production, increase water levels, reduce soil erosion, increase soil fertility, conserve biodiversity, and sequester carbon. I am also impressed by the scheme’s gender equity aspect - with almost fifty per cent of the programme’s workers being women, and with 43 per cent coming from historically disadvantaged groups.

In Brazil, under the Bolsa Família social protection programme, households comprising 25 per cent of the population have received conditional cash transfers to raise their incomes above the poverty line, at a cost of less than one per cent of annual GDP. As part of the programme, families must enrol their children in school and avail them of basic preventive healthcare, like immunization.7, There is also Bolsa Verde, launched in October 2011, which provides conditional cash transfers to smallholder and indigenous households living in poverty in environmentally sensitive areas who pursue ecologically sustainable livelihoods.

South Africa’s “Working for Water” programme9, employs people to remove water-intensive alien tree and plant species from local habitats. Since its inception in 1995, the programme has cleared more than one million hectares of alien plant species, releasing fifty million cubic meters of additional water per annum. Much of this water was used for irrigated agriculture, thus reducing local food insecurity.

This programme targets marginalized groups as potential employees: it seeks to ensure that sixty per cent of its staff are women, twenty per cent are youth, and five per cent are people living with disabilities.

Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net programme10 has reached more than eight million beneficiaries in food-insecure districts. It provides cash and predictable food supplies, in return for participation in public works in areas like environmental conservation, water source protection, and terracing. The programme has seen an increased calorie intake of nineteen per cent among recipient households, and nearly half of recipient households reported a greater use of health facilities.

In Niger’s southern regions, reforestation, based on farmermanaged natural regeneration programming, and supported by local communities,11 has reforested five million hectares, or about four per cent of the country’s land area, with the affected areas benefiting from rapidly growing parkland in forest and vegetation cover density. The same efforts increased cereal yields by 100 kilograms per hectare in 2009, improving livelihoods and food security for some 2.5 million people. The primary beneficiaries have been residents of rural communities, with particular attention to vulnerable communities.

Energy policy is also a rich area for exploring “triple win” approaches. By expanding sustainable energy for all, we advance the three pillars of sustainable development!

  • the economic : by creating jobs and livelihoods, and stimulating the economy;
  • the social : by lessening the burden of domestic chores on women, and bringing benefits for health status, education and social interaction; and
  • the environmental : by reducing the reliance on traditional biomass for cooling and heating, we reduce deforestation, and through renewable energy overall we reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2012 has been designated The International Year of Sustainable Energy for All by the UN General Assembly. The Secretary-General has launched an initiative, to that end with three targets :

  • achieving universal access to modern energy services;
  • doubling energy efficiency by 2030
  • doubling the contribution of renewable energy contribution in the global energy mix by 2030.

A high level panel has been meeting in support of the initiative, with India’s Dr. Farooq Abdullah, Union Cabinet Minister for New and Renewable Energy in India, among the members. Inspiration for sustainable energy access can be found in many countries. In Nepal, for example, the Rural Energy Development Programme introduced in 1996 has brought modern energy services to some one million people, many of whom live in the most remote parts of the country.

It has provided reliable, low-cost electricity to rural communities through the construction of micro-hydropower stations, and brought improved cooking stoves, and higher living standards. Average incomes in the households which benefited have increased by eight per cent annually, and average annual household spending on energy fell to nineteen dollars, compared to the 41 dollars spent by non-electrified households.

Governance matters for achieving equitable and sustainable development.

Democratic India has put in place a rapidly developing framework for environmental rights, a judiciary active on sustainability, and a set of progressive policies, including the employment guarantee scheme already discussed.

It has established participatory processes to reduce the risks from disasters, institutionalized positive discrimination to ensure women’s place in decision-making at the local self-government (gram panchayat) level, and is one of seven developing countries to have transitioned from deforestation to reforestation.

Public finance is usually not the binding constraint on effective development approaches. What matters most is whether or not governments are responsive to citizen’s needs, and are able to build the capacity required to meet those needs.

The High Level Panel on Global Sustainability recommends that governments should adopt whole-of-government approaches to sustainable development, under the leadership of the Head of State or Government and involving all relevant ministries for addressing such issues.

Governments and parliaments should incorporate sustainable development perspectives into their strategies, legislation, and budget processes.

Advancing participatory governance processes so that people are empowered and able to contribute to the design of integrated planning and to its monitoring once up and running is also key, particularly at the local level.

Human development reporting can also play an important role in ensuring government responsiveness. In India state and district level HDRs inform planning processes, and help ensure that the concerns of equity and sustainability are integrated.

It is to recognize this body of work on human development reporting that UNDP and India’s Planning Commission instituted the Manav Vikas – India Human Development Awards, which were presented for the first time earlier this week.

Revisiting finance for development

Financing for sustainable human development needs to increase. Yet the ongoing impact of the global crisis has put pressure on traditional development co-operation budgets, with few of the major donors insulating their aid expenditure from fiscal consolidation policies. Uncertainty also exists over the likely volume and allocation of future climate finance.

The lowest estimate of the total annual mitigation and adaptation costs to address climate change by 2030 is $249 billion. To achieve the water and sanitation targets alone in the MDGs, the estimates range from $6.7 billion a year to $75 billion.

Public finance alone will not be able to provide all the resources required for development, but nor will market forces generate what is required. Financial flows other than aid, such as foreign direct investment and remittances, are now significantly more important than when the MDGs were agreed, but their impact on the poorest people is uncertain.

A number of possible new public financing sources for development merit serious consideration, including a dedicated international currency transaction tax, which was identified by many economists and development experts as the most viable of the sources explored. The infrastructure to support such a tax is already in place. A tiny levy would generate substantial revenues for development – just 0.005 per cent levied on currency trading would yield some $40 billion annually.

ODA itself constitutes a relatively small pool of finance – about $130billion annually. Going forward, ODA needs to have much more catalytic impact, including in building capacity for domestic resource mobilization, and for leveraging commercial finance for the critical infrastructure investments which will help the transition to more equitable, low-emission, and climate-resilient societies. Developed countries have committed to raising $100 billion of climate finance annually by 2020. That can create a base from which to leverage much larger scale private investment for climate change adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. To do that, the necessary enabling policy and regulatory frameworks will need to be created by those countries.

India’s own experience in this respect merits close review. It has explored setting up innovative instruments relevant to addressing climate change. They include the Partial Risk Guarantee Fund, designed to increase the confidence of banks to lend for green projects; the Venture Capital Fund, for providing support as equity to companies which want to invest in energy efficiency products; and the Perform, Achieve, and Trade (PAT) scheme, a marketbased mechanism with targets for specific energy consumption reduction for major energy consuming industries.

Assessments of the resources needed to finance national transitions to sustainable development differ widely. Uncertainties aside, two points are clear:

  1. Governments spend nearly one trillion U.S. dollars annually on environmentally unsustainable subsidies, including for fossil fuel production.14 Abolishing or curtailing these subsidies would promote both economic and environmental sustainability, but the social impact on the poor would need to be mitigated for this approach to be acceptable.
  2. Governments also spend nearly five trillion dollars annually on public procurement (ten to twenty per cent of GDP in most developing countries).15 By adopting sustainable public procurement policies and setting social and environmental standards, Governments can ensure that a proportion of this five trillion is spent on sustainable products and services. At the same time, as the largest consumers in an economy, they can exert influence on the private sector to invest in new product development, reshape their value chains, and build markets for new (sustainable) products outside the public sector as well.

Not only is more financing for development possible, but the way in which it is generated can in itself help to rebalance and reset the global development agenda, regenerate the global environmental commons, and advance sustainability and equity.

Leveraging knowledge and innovation for increasingly effective results

Equitable and sustainable human development can be supported by drawing together relevant innovation, knowledge, capacity, and experience from around the world, and leveraging south-south and other forms of co-operation for increasingly effective development results. Implementation of the new Partnership Framework Agreement between India and UNDP will contribute to that.

The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) trilateral development initiative to promote South-South co-operation and exchange, is another example of how knowledge and expertise can be shared to promote equitable and sustainable development and poverty eradication. More South-South, North-South and triangular cooperation is needed. Moreover, as noted by the UN Deputy Secretary-General last year, “measures to promote technology transfer and build technological capabilities in developing countries need to be part of a green economy agreement at Rio.”

An example of such measures can be found in the partnership between the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme and the Barefoot College of India. It is supporting the training of rural women to maintain off-grid solar panels in one Asian and eleven African countries, including Benin, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Ghana16. This initiative is providing clean energy to communities, and thereby empowering women and creating new employment opportunities.

As Rio+20 approaches, the time is right for finding a globally recognized home for an international knowledge-sharing platform and analysis hub on sustainable development across its economic, social, and environmental strands. Such a home could have three main functions :

  1. to gather, document, disseminate, and facilitate dialogue around existing sustainable development initiatives;
  2. to foster innovation for sustainable development, drawing on existing initiatives from around the globe; and
  3. to broker partnerships and co-operation frameworks for sustainable development between countries, local governments, and other stakeholders, matching demand with potential support, including through funding, technical, capacity building, and knowledge sharing.

Consideration is being given to creating such a global platform as an outcome from Rio+20.


I have emphasized that

  1. progress towards the MDGs must be accelerated and sustained
  2. ‘triple-win’ policy and programming are the way forward;
  3. governance matters;
  4. finance for development should be revisited and expanded;
  5. leveraging knowledge and innovation will deliver sustainable development results.

I offer these five points for consideration in the run up to Rio+20.

They help me to answer the question at the outset of this lecture: What kind of world do we want to live in?

I personally want to live in a sustainable and equitable world, where decisions taken at all levels are driven by respect for and promotion of people’s choices, freedoms and opportunities, while also respecting the boundaries of nature.

I want to live in a world where the goals we aspire to and plan around are not only sustainable and equitable, but transformational, universal, and able to galvanize individual and collective action.

The Global Sustainability Panel noted that many argue “if it cannot be measured, it cannot be managed”. Rio+20 could also provide impetus for developing a new sustainable development index or a set of indicators expanding on the Human Development Index. Work on this is already underway in UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy and the Human Development Report Office, and will be presented in Rio in June.

It is time to rebalance and reset.

We should seize the opportunity presented by Rio+20 and the design of the post 2015 development framework to re-commit to equitable and sustainable human development, and to the expansion of people’s freedoms and choices without compromising those of future generations. Indeed it is our responsibility to future generations to do so.

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