The world needs an ambitious global agenda that links finances, society and the environment

The international community needs to be ambitious and work to solve the urgent global crisis of today. A "business as usual" process to update the agreed goals that expire in 2015 is not enough. That was the main message to the United Nations of the final panel held July 6 in New York as part of the Development Cooperation Forum, the first high level international debate after the Rio+20 Summit. Juan Somavía, director general of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, were among the speakers.

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Bissio: Our common and differentiated responsibilities of today
Financial and social sustainability are as vital as environmental sustainability


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Somavía: New global policies can't wait til 2015
We need a global agenda and not just for developing countries


Social Watch: Financial and social sustainability are as vital as environmental sustainability

Intervention by Roberto Bissio, coordinator of Social Watch, at the interactive session of the Development Cooperation Forum on: Where do we go from Rio?

Rio was not certainly up to everybody’s ambition, and certainly not those of civil society, but it did achieve some fundamental agreements. Ambassador Jean Baptiste Mattei just listed some of them. And I would add to that list the reaffirmation of the Rio principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities, which is not a minor thing.

In looking at that principle, and what it means now, twenty years after, I think that the “common” is taking a more important weight now, while for many many years the “differentiated” has been the essential. We have to redefine the balance between the two. But the “common” comes out quite strongly and that is also a message from Rio when we are talking about Sustainable Development Goals.

These SDG are to be universal, for all countries of the world, not just for a reduced set of countries. They are to be applied, of course, under differentiated conditions and capabilities, but they are common. They should be universal and they should be based on human rights.

And they need a new set of indicators to measure progress. Rio+20 also said that the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is not our tool, it is not useful as a measure for the problems of sustainable development that we are tackling now.
This is something that the Rio Summit already said in 1992, twenty years ag. But that concept couldn’t take off at that moment. Now, once France took the initiative to convene a Commission headed by Joseph Stiglitz, Amartya Sen and Jean-Paul Fitoussi to give us some guidelines around sustainability indicators. And they clearly recommend not to use a single number to explain everything but rather a set of numbers. They use the metaphor of the dashboard of a car. A car with a single indicator would be useless. You need to know how much gas you have in your tank, at what speed you are going and how many kilometres you have travelled. Similarly, to assess sustainability we need a set of indicators, which will take account of the environmental, social and economic pillars of sustainable development but will also have to look at the problem of planetary boundaries. Those planetary boundaries are flexible, because technology can expand them, and thus we need to look also at how that technology is shared in the world.

A lot of those conclusions sound very new, but they are just putting in different words principles that the UN system has had for a long time. Some people argue, for example, that one of the new goals should be access to internet for all. Yet, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights back in 1948 already stated that there should be internet for all, because it says that everybody should have the means to obtain information through appropriate means and to participate and engage in the public discussions. Then all that it is needed is to say “appropriate” in 2012 means “Internet”. The principle is already there and has already been agreed.

The principle that the goals should be common, universal goals, was already approved in Copenhagen in 1995, by the Social Summit, and we have Juan Somavia in this panel, who chaired the prparatory process of that UN conference. Since the Social Summit we already have goals for everybody in the world,  because employment, social integration and poverty eradication where the key issues then. And that elaborates on the big achievements of the Vienna Conference on Human Rights of 1993, where it was defined that women rights are human rights, workers rights are human rights, indigenous peoples rights are human rights.

The Vienna Conference is having its 20th anniversary soon and the notions it approve should be brought into this goal setting process, where we now will have a committee of thirty governments on one hand discussing the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and we have the experts and the UN system discussing a “post 2015 framework” to substitute the MDGs when they expire in 2015.

Civil society, the citizens, those that are going to actually incorporate those resolutions in their daily efforts, fight for them, monitor them, hold the governments and the UN system accountable for them... where are they participating? This is not well defined yet.

That leads us to the questions about the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN. Every two years or every six months we discuss how to reform this institution, how to make it play the role that it should have. Everybody in this panel knows much more about ECOSOC than what I know, but having watched some of these discussions, I conclude that they have are usually about the governance, the regulations and the functioning of ECOSOC, but what makes an institution really vibrant is not so much its bylaws, which of course are very important, but its substance. Is ECOSOC going to address the substantial discussions that will make it vibrant?

I think this is the real challenge, and this Development Cooperation Forum provides an excellent example of how relevant it can be and how much of a convening power it can have. When you put the real issues on the table people will come to discuss. And that means for example, setting up time bound ad-hoc working groups with multi-stakeholders as members and participants.

I have learned in these days of a new terminology. We always hated the term of non-governmental organizations, because we do not want to be defined by a negative, but under that term ECOSOC opened from the very beginning of the UN, its doors to the peoples. Under the banner of Non governmental organizations we have consultative status in this body, meaning that we can offer our input into the discussions of the governments. Now, the term used is not any more “non-governmental organizations” but “non-executive organizations”. Are we to welcome the majors, local authorities and parliamentarians, to the ranks of civil society? We are very happy to work with them, but I think it elected authorities are clearly not the same as peoples' organizations. And many of them also have civil society at their doors demanding results and making them accountable.

But anyhow, what that means is that the need is recognized for a variety of actors to be present in this working groups that should tackle all of the real issues that affect people. And then we also need expert groups. The other Stiglitz Commission, that was created during the financial crisis in 2009 as an advisory group to the President of the General Assembly, produced a lot of substance about the crisis and about the ways to solve it that are still valid now. Rio+20 recognized that contribution by making that kind of expert groups a more formal and recognized reality that will certainly enhance the process and give the ECOSOC and the UN at large and of course the General Assembly too, a much more vibrant role.

This is something tat civil society has strongly and for a long time advocated for, which is to bring together in a single room the discussion of the different components. Financial sustainability is as vital as environmental sustainability. And after all what happened in 20111 around the world everybody understands that social sustainability is also necessary. Between now and the year 2020, more than one billion young adults between 16 and 25 years old will enter the world labour market, which cannot offer them jobs in the North or in the South at this moment. That creates a common challenge that all of us should take responsibility for.



Somavía: We need a global agenda and not just for developing countries

Intervention by Juan Somavia, director-general of ILO,  at the interactive session of the Development Cooperation Forum on: Where do we go from Rio?

From an ILO perspective, the Rio outcome is a significant advance. Why? Because the original Rio [the 1992 Earth Summit] did not have any real reference to employment, decent work, social dialogue or social protection. The ILO agenda was simply not there, and I think in part because that conference was very leaned towards environment. Now we do have job creation, social protection, rights at work, social dialogue and very strong language on youth unemployment and on the potential of green jobs. So if I have to look at it from an ILO perspective, this is definitively an advance, because it means that these issues will very clearly be a part of the Sustainable Development Goals. It was already a part of the overall UN agenda but it was not part of the linkages between the three pillars [of sustainable development, i.e. economy, society and environment]. And certainly the outcome of Rio produces a much better balance between the three and gives much more importance to the social part of it.

What does it means in terms of how we formulate the goals? Let me suggest that the whole issue of employment, jobs, is at the heart of the three. The decent work agenda is at the heart of the three pillars of sustainable development.

It is certainly part of the economic pillar, because if you want to have decent jobs you have to have jobs, and to have jobs you need investment, and you need productive investment, not risky financial investment that does not produce jobs, but results in losses, as we see so often. We need a productive solution to the crisis not a financial solution to the crisis.

It is part of the social pillar because the best way of getting out of poverty is to get a decent job. Give me the opportunities, give me the chances and I will manage on my own. But give me the chances! Do not tell me to manage on my own and nobody else does anything. I need public policies, I need a number of other policies, and then I will do what I have to do in order to live in this society and to operate in the labour market.

So certainly all of our poverty objectives are linked to people having access to employment and that is very clear when you look at [the third pillar]. Environment implies changes in consumption patterns, in investment patterns, in new technologies being incorporated in a number of sectors which is going to create jobs, and we believe it is going to create a lot of jobs, but it is also going to destroy jobs. So we have to be aware from the beginning that you need to be able to put social dialogue in the transition. Because this is going to happen in concrete enterprises with a name and a place. Some are going to close and we would better have that clear now before we get into the whole notion that the green economy is great, green jobs are going to be great, all of it obviously is good. There is no doubt about it and the ILO is in that direction, but we believe that our responsibility is to say now: “be careful because there is a downside of it”.

The downside requires two things. One is that you put a social protection floor for those workers, or those investors,  in those enterprises that are going to be affected. And secondly that you put social dialogue. Dialogue between employers and workers, dialogue between employers and workers and governments, to see how in a multi-stakeholder way you manage a soft landing to this transition.

When we proceed to define the Sustainable Development Goals, certainly at the heart of the debate is the issue of jobs, decent work and all the components of the decent work agenda, which is job creation, which is social protection floor, which is social dialogue and rights at work.

From a global perspective, if we take the Sustainable Development Goals as something that we have to prepare for 2015, it will convey the feeling that we do not have our feet in reality because today  ?  not in three years from now, today  ?  we are in the middle of the crisis. It appeared that maybe we were getting out of it, but on the contrary we are back into it. Europe is certainly not out of the crisis, the US is certainly not out of the crisis, Japan is certainly not out of the crisis. The three biggest set of develop countries are still in the crisis. But if you take a look at the growth rate of countries like China or India or Brazil or Mexico, they are beginning to have a problem.

So, does ECOSOC, or the General Assembly of the UN make abstraction of what is going on out there and begin working for 2015, or we say to ourselves: look, the Sustainable Development Goals seem to be at least a reasonable way to look at the crisis? Because if we want to respond to the crisis what we want to do is to have an integrated policy on this three issues that can give balance to the unbalances ,that reduce the level of inequality, the high level of youth unemployment, all the downside of the crisis as we know it.

Why do we not look at the Sustainable Development Goals as a way of understanding what are the policies that need to be put in place in order that this growth and globalization model that it is in crisis is eventually replaced? But that means, you know, we are here discussing in a development cooperation forum, it means that the agenda of the United Nations is a global development agenda and not a development agenda for the developing countries. And that is a decision you have to take. You have to decide whether the UN is going to be about a global development agenda which affects every country. If you look at the world as it is today, the world certainly needs it, certainly needs a new vision of what development is about. Or is it going to be a development agenda for developing countries or a development agenda about cooperation with developing countries which means cooperation with the least developed countries, with are those that are the poorest? You have a decision to take.

In the overall picture, the UN charter establishes that the ECOSOC mandate is to look at the global development agenda. Why it is so urgent now? Because it happens that the globalization process is in crisis. Who is going to address it? And that is why I see the opportunity in the middle of the crisis. Can we do it? That is a totally different matter. But I believe that unless you try, you will never be able to answer this question.

So, my suggestion to ECOSOC and to all those that have to do in the multilateral system, is let’s go ahead. It is a total different agenda, this is not the repetition of the classic development agenda. It is an agenda that has to do with the model of globalization that is failing and we have to be able to agree that it is failing and consequently see how is that we want to make it work, in the understanding that we prefer open economies to close economies, that we prefer open societies to close societies, that we believe that a little more fairness or maybe a lot more fairness is absolutely essential for the balance of societies and we can make a list of the values that we share, many of them coming out of Rio. But you have that decision in front of you. There will be tendencies to say no, let’s stay in the sheltered traditional development agenda, since we know it, we agree to it, everybody agrees to it, everybody agrees on the MDGs. Let’s not try to change too much. Let’s just make it a little better.

Or we can say that the UN wants to be relevant and if it wants to be relevant it has to be thinking today about the crisis in which we are living today, and not something that we are preparing for the 2015. We have no idea what 2015 is going to look like. So, I would just like to put that issue on the table. You have got a political decision to take and people are going to be looking whether the UN discusses in a cocoon or the UN is linked to the innumerable social processes, social movement that are picking up in the world who feel that they are not receiving answers.

So, I think it is a very important issue. When I mention this issue of social movements, it is an entry point into three processes that I would like to mention. One is that we have to be able to capture what is going on in societies and there is an enormous amount of disquiets. Almost everywhere there is a feeling of disconnect with things that are going on and definitively young people are saying “we are not being heard, nobody is listening to us and the policies are not really answering to our issues”.

So, we have to be able to do that. We have youth unemployment issues. On the last ILO Conference, we did consultations in 46 different countries, we had a hundred of them coming to reply to the conference, we had delegations that participated at the negotiations, we make an effort. Can I say that this is great? No, I am just saying that we all have to make the effort of ensuring that if you are dealing with issues of young people we will find the manner in which to connect with them. That is a challenge that everyone of our countries and everyone of our institutions have and it is not just “come and tell us what you think and let us do what we have to do”. No, it is much much more than that. I want to be clear about that.

The second point that I want to mention is that the crisis is having and will have and has had, before it became a crisis, strong impact on the approach that the developing world is taking to the traditional policies that happen to come from the developed world. This begun with the debt crisis in Latin America in the 80s and in Asia in the 90s in which the imposition of the IMF was so strong that the social cost solving the problem was enormous.

Now these countries are back to balance, that is a fact, but the political conclusion they arrived to was to pay the IMF back as soon as they could. And Latin America paid the IMF back, and Asia paid the IMF back and they said “next time we have a crisis we are going to manage it on our own and for that we are going to create reserves”. And now we have all those developing countries with those enormous reserves, which are inactive. That money should go to the World Bank, to the IMF, it should be circulating. But it is not, for a very simple reason: no developing country that has gone through the IMF experience wanted to live that experience again.

And the fact is that a good part of the developing world came out of the recent crises quicker because they did not apply the traditional policies. They protected minimum wages, they increased minimum wages, they expanded social protection, they had public banks, they did not fall into the idea that they had to privatize every public bank. They have public banks, regional banks and banks within the countries themselves and its regions. And they opened up the flow of resources in order for investments to take place and not wait to see whether the banks wanted to risk or not risk lending to small enterprises.

So, we are not talking here of things in the air. These are things that actually happen. Now the contagious effect of what is happening in the developed world is of course happening and in consequence the growth process is coming down. But we have to take into account that the effect of that is a new sense of self-assertion, is a new sense of empowerment that is present in the developing world today.

Today it is extremely difficult to move into the notion that “we know best”, which presided over such a long, long time, in development cooperation. There is a very fundamental shift today. The Forth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, last December last year said: Technical cooperation as a partnership among equals, rather than a provision of aid, charity or philanthropy, as well as share principles of ownership, accountability, harmonization, alignments and results.

This is said in a very synthetic and I would say sort of technical language something that is a political process which is not going to stop. Probably it is going to increase. And we have to see again how is it that we manage it, not in a confrontational way but in a different cooperative way, because the minds set has changed in a good part of the developing world.

My final point is to say that in trying to move forward, where does the policy leadership come from? Who leads and tries to put together the response to the crisis? Who tries to put together a set of Sustainable Development Goals?

Again, no country or group of countries today has the capacity to exercise policy leadership, globally speaking. The traditional power structure is no longer there. The emerging one does not want to take too much responsibility, particularly in the mess we are in at this moment. So, where does the dynamics, where does the leadership come from?

This brings us back to the UN. We have an option of having a global view or a more reduced view. We have an option of wanting to exercise leadership or not. But it is there, it is available, it is potentially possible for the UN to say “let’s move forward”, there is a space here to fill.

And this brings us of course to ECOSOC. ECOSOC has 54 members. What would happen if we make it 27 members, approximately the membership of the G20? But it should be constituency based, which is not the case today. Today we come out of a region but we are not responsible to that region. The individual countries bring the individual policies when they come to ECOSOC. What if every one of you, of the future twenty-seven is responsible to seven, eight, nine members of that constituency?

Wouldn’t that give to ECOSOC an incredible legitimacy in terms of representation? It would be smaller and it would be more representative because whoever is sitting there would have to relate to its own constituency. You could even do something that we have at the ILO, which is quite interesting and we have it since the ILO was created. We have permanent members of a governing body and I have to tell you it works extremely well, except of course that they don’t have veto. Why? Because, obviously, it is important that the major countries and the stronger countries take a particularly responsibility in the institution. And what we do is to say you are an ILO member but you have higher responsibilities, one goes with the other. So, what would happen if you do that and you have a constituency based system? And the second is what we were saying before: you have a constituency based system and then you say, look, we are going to look at the global agenda. Well, both things, if we have had this ten years ago, constituency and global agenda, the UN would have been capable of responding to the crisis in a much more accurate way. So I think that these are the sort of the things, the sort of decisions that you can discuss about, that you can think about, that are feasible, that is nothing crazy about it. These are the sort of institutional innovations that are perfectly possible.

And let me end by saying that in this whole process, something that Roberto said is very important, he reminded us of Vienna, but the fact is that if we are talking about Rio+20, there is also the Social Summit+20, there is also Beijing+20, you have Vienna+21, you have Cairo on Population+22, you have Rome+19 in terms of food. So my question to you is: are we going to remember Rio only? Or are we going to remember about other things that we have done in the past that show us how well oriented we were then? So, my suggestion is, if we are talking about 2015, at least we have to put in the framework of the Social Summit and Beijing. But if we are going to put it in that framework, we have also Human Rights and Population, and also the Food Summit, which were also key conferences.

But it is difficult to explain that we celebrate Rio+20 and we simply forget about the other ones which are much closer to the real life of people, The issues that came into the crisis  are described at the Social Summit, and the fact that we needed goals was also there. The MDGs were taken out of the Social Summit, but without the context.

I see the opportunity, the incredible opportunity you all have to renovate our thinking and to look at these matters with the strong intellectual and political force that moved the United Nations in the nineties.