■ The United Nations offers far-reaching initiatives on key issues in the economic and social realms which will affect human development, social justice and environmental sustainability.
2010 Global Compact Leaders Summit
As established in its goals and objectives, the Global Compact “is a strategic policy initiative for businesses that are committed to aligning their operations and strategies with ten universally accepted principles in the areas of human rights, labour, environment and anti-corruption.” By joining the Global Compact, businesses pledge to “ensure that markets, commerce, technology and finance advance in ways that benefit economies and societies everywhere.”
__The Leaders Summit was opened in New York by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on June 24. The two-day meeting welcomed corporate leaders from more than 135 countries as well as civil society and labor participants.
__Summit participants approved, by acclamation, the “New York Declaration by Business,” which included a strengthened set of standards for business practices and support for UN environmental, human rights and anti-poverty efforts. The Declaration cites 10 key principles covering human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption that benefit both business and society overall. A Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability Leadership was also presented for the first time at the Leaders Summit.
__Business leaders called on the governments of the world to foster enabling environments for entrepreneurship, to maintain an open trading system, to set clear and effective regulations including those in socially critical areas such as climate change, and to partner with the private sector in providing tangible support for achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.
__Georg Kell, executive director of the UN Global Compact, praised the outcome of the meeting and said the Leaders Summit captured key developments of the last decade and the Blueprint for Corporate Sustainability challenged business leaders to enhance responsible practices in the supply chain, make efforts to combat corruption and embrace an environmental stewardship framework.
High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council
The theme of this year’s High Level segment was “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and empowerment of women.”
__On May 10, the Korea Institute of Brain Sciences (KIBS) contributed to this discussion through a statement issued in the six official languages of the United Nations. One main outcome of this segment was a ministerial declaration welcoming creation of a new agency called UN Women, which will become the focal point for all the UN’s activities toward ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment. The establishment of this new agency is clear recognition that women remain at the core of efforts to realize the Millennium Development Goals.
__The High Level segment theme for 2011 will be “Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regards to education.”
Meeting of the International Association of Economic and Social Councils (AICESIS)
AICESIS, which is an intergovernmental organization (IGO), includes national economic and social councils from 56 countries of Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. These national councils are autonomous assemblies with national competence, drawing their authority from national constitutions and laws. The association’s goal is to promote prosperity and economic development of its member countries and the emergence of democratic civil societies in an atmosphere of mutual respect and peace in accordance with the principles of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
__At their annual General Assembly in New York in July, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasized two areas for joint action with the United Nations: The first was how the national councils could influence national development strategies to fully reflect the Millennium Development Goals, and the second was how the councils could work more effectively at the national level to improve the lives of the poor and vulnerable, including through more democratic participation.
Millennium Development Goals Summit
In 2000, UN member states agreed to the Millennium Declaration and committed themselves to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. UN member states came together New York in September for an “MDG summit,” a high-level Plenary Meeting, with the goal of accelerating progress toward the achievement of the MDGs by 2015.
__As a part of the process leading to the summit, the General Assembly convened hearings with representatives of civil society and the private sector on June 14 and 15, whose summaries will be integrated into discussions at the summit. In the lead-up to these hearings, NGLS, with support from the Millennium Campaign, held a global online consultation to make civil society voices heard in global discussions on how to accelerate and sustain progress in meeting the 2015 target for the MDGs.
__Two recently released reports, the Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 and the Millennium Development Goals Report Card, show that the MDGs can be reached, but only with the necessary political will. The MDG Report 2010 notes, for example, that the recent economic crisis took a heavy toll on jobs and incomes around the world, but its impact does not threaten achievement of the MDG target of cutting the rate of extreme poverty in half by 2015. The MDG Report Card demonstrates that many of the world’s poorest countries have been making the most overall progress towards achieving the MDGs.
__However, not all reports are this positive, as progress has not been uniform across countries, and there have been setbacks and disappointments. To overcome these weaknesses, civil society at large calls for a holistic approach that looks at the interconnectedness and systemic implications of the different challenges faced by the international community. To truly make the MDGs transformative and sustainable beyond 2015, more must be done to ensure that MDG implementation is accompanied by a stronger effort to address root causes and transition to more sustainable and equitable development paths. (An executive summary can be found online in PDF format at http://un-ngls.org/docs/un- ngls/towards_a_global_mdg_breakthrough_plan.pdf)
Launch of the World Economic and Social Survey 2010
The World Economic and Social Survey 2010, subtitled “Retooling Global Development,” was launched on June 29 by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The Survey seeks “to achieve greater coherence in financial regulation, macroeconomic coordination, aid distribution and other issues such as climate change.”
__In presenting the Survey, the Department highlighted the need to restructure the architecture of aid, global trade and international finance to ensure a sustainable global economy. It noted that, “many of the current major crisis facing the world today—financial, food, energy and climate—are the result of major systemic weaknesses and a lack of coherence.”
__Global prospects following the financial crisis are a major focus of this year’s Survey, according to Departmental sources. A major rebalancing of the global economy is very much in order. Rising inequality, ongoing demographic changes, aging populations, growing urbanization and increased environmental threats present particular challenges.
First PREPCOM—UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, 2012
The first Preparatory Committee was convened in New York in May 2010 to begin work and make arrangements for a 20-year review of the sustainable development agenda to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012.
__The first UN Conference on Environment and Development was held in Rio in 1992, which resulted in Agenda 21, the main programmatic outcome of that meeting. In 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa was a 10-year review conference which sought to assess progress on sustainable development over the preceding 10 years. The 2012 Conference is expected to review the entire sustainable development experience over the past 20 years.
__The first PrepCom took up both substantive and procedural issues that need to be addressed in order to move forward over the next two years in organizing the Conference.
__On the substantive side, delegates discussed (1) progress to date and remaining gaps in implementation; (2) new and emerging challenges; (3) the idea of “green economy” in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and (4) the institutional framework for sustainable development.
__Although the first of several PrepComs to come, it prepared the groundwork and established a plan for the way forward.
__Everything we can do to eliminate preconceived notions and prejudices, enhance the sense of justice, promote tolerance, understanding and empathy, will help to more quickly translate shared values into actions. [bw]
Hanifa Mezoui, PhD, is the Permanent Representative to the United Nations and ECOSOC, International Association of the Economic Social Councils and Similar Institutions (AICESIS).