By Miroslav Lajčák
Miroslav Lajčák is President of the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly. Following are extensive excerpts from his Statement at 74th session of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) with focus on Inequality in the Era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development on 14 May 2018 in Bangkok, Thailand. – The Editor.
BANGKOK (IDN-INPS) – In 2015, we made a promise. We committed to leaving no one behind. And, the theme of this session is a stark reminder of our promise: Inequality in the Era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Inequality is part of the fabric of the Sustainable Development Goals. Not only does it have a whole goal – the SDG 10 – dedicated to it, but it is also a driving force, behind the entire 2030 Agenda. Because, if we keep our promises – if we implement all 17 SDGs – we can make the world a more equal place.
And, as we talk about how to do this today, I want to make three main points. The first is that inequality is still – very much – a part of our world.
The Secretary-General has been monitoring the implementation of the SDGs. His reports from 2016 and 2017 show something significant: progress in reducing the gaps within – and among – countries has been mixed.
Let us look, here, at Asia and the Pacific. This region has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. In 2014, it accounted for 40% of global economic output. And, it has been a leader in poverty reduction. Despite less inequality between countries of the region, however, the gaps within them have risen. In fact, despite the overall progress, nearly 400 million people are trapped in poverty.
Similar – and worrying – trends are being seen, all over the world.
For example, OECD countries. In 2017, people in these countries were living better lives than before. Yet, this has not been the same for everyone. For example, migrants face many hurdles in reaching the same standards of living as others in their host communities. And, economic progress has not reached every layer of society.
This is inequality. It is a fact. And we need to address it.
Not just because it is the right thing to do. Not just because of the suffering, and the inhumanity, which come from big gaps, between rich and poor. But, also, because it is a smart move – for us all.
High inequality stifles economic development. It makes growth spells shorter. And it can cause many other social tensions.
So, inequality might benefit some, in the short-term. It might, indeed, make the rich even richer. But, overall, it means that we all lose out.
But, to really address inequality, we have to look at it, in more depth.
We need to understand what drives it. What fights it. And what impact it has on the society. And, that is what I will focus my second point on.
Because, inequality does not, usually, happen overnight.
Instead, it grows over time. It can be the result of policies and actions – or, indeed, their absence.
Look, for example, at our environment. When we degrade the environment, our planet suffers. But some are more affected than others.
For example, lower income countries of Asia Pacific suffer more, from air pollution and other environmental issues. This has an impact, not only on people, but also on the GDP of these countries.
The same is seen with natural disasters – which can be exacerbated by climate change. They can increase inequalities between countries. Low and middle-income countries have four to five times more deaths, from natural disasters. This leaves them with a higher emotional – and indeed financial – toll, than others.
Conflict is another, major, driver of inequality. When a country, or a region, is suffering from conflict, how can it compete with a country, or a region, at peace? It cannot.
And, now, we know that inequality is in – turn – a root cause of conflict. This was a main finding in the recent Pathways for Peace report, by the United Nations and World Bank. It poses the question: “Why do people fight”. And the main answer given is: exclusion, injustice and inequality.
We must also focus our attention on migration.
Here, we need to ask ourselves, if the world was equal, would we still have migration? If people could live a decent life in every country – and in every region – would they still move?
And, actually the answer is yes. But the difference is: they would be moving out of choice. And not out of desperation.
So, we need to tackle the inequality – of opportunities, of living standards, of access to healthcare and education – that drives irregular migration. But we also need to address the flows already happening and we shall do it in a coordinated way.
And, I’m pleased to say that we are getting there. Negotiations on the world’s first Global Compact on Migration are underway. And, when they conclude in the General Assembly in July, I am confident that we will have a document that provides a global response to a global phenomenon.
So, as my third point, I want to ask: how can we step up, and take more action against inequality?
Here, I believe we already have the tools.
We all have made the promise to leave no one behind.
And, we have a strong framework to keep it, through the 2030 Agenda.
This includes platforms, for monitoring and follow-up. And I am glad to say that we are using them. Both developing and developed countries have voluntarily shared their own progress, in implementing the SDGs. And another 47 countries will present their Voluntary National Reviews this summer.
We also have a development system – which reaches into almost every corner of the world. And, last week, we took a major step, to make it even stronger. Negotiations on the reform of the United Nations Development System concluded on 7 May. Now, the final outcome is being considered for adoption, which will take place next week. And I believe it will mean both more and less.
More coordination, among various UN actors and initiatives. More national leadership.
More focus on results. More accountability.
More financing solutions and mechanisms.
And more impact – which means less inequality – for people on the ground. But just because we have the tools, does not mean our job is done.
There is a lot left to do.
For example, we need to tackle frontier issues. This will mean more focus on technology, which can both drive and combat inequality.
We also need to do more to channel support to where it is needed most. And, here I want to mention the Least Developed Countries. Serious work is underway, to meet the target of the graduation of at least half of LDC members by 2020. The signing off, of the LDC Technology Bank, was a major step in the right direction. But further support is needed. That is why we need to generate more dialogue – and more action – on financing for development.
And we need to make our multilateral space even bigger. This means inviting in new stakeholders. It means listening to the voices we have not always heard, on the international stage. Here, I am talking about young people. Business representatives. Even more civil society actors. And, crucially, regional organisations. Because we need to learn from their expertise, and know-how.
ESCAP has done some pioneering work. It has set up its own forum, to review the implementation of the SDGs. And, it has adopted a regional roadmap, which supports Asia Pacific countries in implementing the 2030 Agenda.
All of this embraces the diversity of the Asia Pacific region. It brings together various priorities – from climate change to connectivity. And it offers a platform for sharing lessons learned, and mobilising support.
This is multilateralism in action. And it is something we need to see more of.
Since the end of the Second World War, we have built up a remarkable system. It is based on cooperation over conflict on the idea that, when we work together, we can all win.
And, in 2015, it brought together leaders from across the world, to promise to do things differently – and to leave no one behind.
We have all the tools we need, to keep this promise. We have the plan. And we have the framework.
Now it is up to us, to use them together. Let’s make sure we deliver on this promise. [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 May 2018]
Photo: 74th ESCAP Session: Countries adopt regional actions to tackle inequalities. Credit: ESCAP.
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