Opening High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, Delegates Share Successes, Challenges in Leaving No One Behind while Advancing 2030 Agenda

The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development began its 2016 annual session today, with a focus on its role as a central global platform for ensuring the world would meet its most critical development objectives.

Calling the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development a global blueprint for action to end poverty and build an inclusive, sustainable and prosperous world, Oh Joon, President of the Economic and Social Council, said the Forum would provide an opportunity to explore ways to achieve the Agenda’s overarching objective of leaving “no one behind”.  Focus would be placed on how to enhance national ownership around the Sustainable Development Goals and how to mainstream them into development plans, while addressing challenges in mobilizing the means of implementation, he continued.

Scheduled to continue through 20 July, the Forum would also allow for an assessment of progress for ensuring that the 2030 Agenda delivered for countries in special situations and those facing specific challenges, Mr. Oh reported, pointing to the particular needs of small island and landlocked developing States, least developed and middle-income countries and those in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Delivering opening remarks, Wu Hongbo, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the Forum had a clear mandate to provide for robust, voluntary, effective, participatory, transparent and integrated review and follow-up of the future development agenda.  Work was just beginning, he noted, expressing his commitment to stand beside Member States “every step of the way”.

Across the global landscape, he went on to say, there were rising tensions and economic uncertainties, the degradation of ecosystems and increasing consequences of climate change.  “We must tackle these challenges together,” he stressed, noting that global well-being should be assessed based on the state of the world’s most vulnerable.  Presenting the Secretary-General’s first Sustainable Development Goals, he described the 2030 Agenda as a pact for present and future generations that embodied a promise to set the world on a different, sustainable path.

That report provided the first account of the current global situation relative to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and was based on the proposed global indicator framework, he said, adding that it offered an overview of the significant progress that had been made in many areas while also presenting a comprehensive picture of the many challenges that remained in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The Forum heard from experts during four panel discussions on the following themes: “Where do we stand at year one?”, “Envisioning an inclusive world in 2030”; “Lifting people out of poverty and addressing basic needs”; and “Fostering economic growth, prosperity, and sustainability”.

The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 July to continue its session.

Opening Remarks

OH JOON (Republic of Korea), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provided a global blueprint for action to end poverty and build an inclusive, sustainable and prosperous world.  The High-level Political Forum would provide an opportunity to explore ways to achieve the 2030 Agenda’s overarching objective of leaving “no one behind”.  Focus would be placed on how to enhance national ownership around the Sustainable Development Goals and how to mainstream them into development plans, while addressing challenges in mobilizing the means of implementation.  Further, the Forum would allow for an assessment of progress for ensuring that the 2030 Agenda delivered for countries in special situations and those facing specific challenges, such as small island and landlocked developing States, least developed and middle-income countries and those in conflict and post-conflict situations.

The Forum would play a central role in the long-term success of the 2030 Agenda, he said.  National reviews would be presented, including challenges and gaps encountered by the 22 volunteering countries from all regions of the world, representing varying development levels.  Exchanging country experiences and best practices not only benefited individual Member States, but also the long-term implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  In an effort to go beyond business-as-usual approaches, countries had been encouraged to employ various ways to structure their national reviews, based on their own views and preferences and to share lessons learned.  Building on the path of inclusiveness and transparency, major groups and other stakeholders would be engaged in the discussions and their contributions to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda would be considered, he said.

WU HONGBO, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the 2030 Agenda was an “action plan for people, planet, peace and prosperity” to be implemented through a global partnership.  Across the global landscape, there were rising tensions and economic uncertainties, the degradation of ecosystems and increasing consequences of climate change.  “We must tackle these challenges together,” he stressed, noting that global well-being should be assessed based on the state of the world’s most vulnerable.  From the Forum’s preparatory process, he had learned that leadership was critical, as political leadership by Heads of State and Government was driving the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, with an increasing number of Governments integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into national policies and programmes.  “Institutions matter,” he added, noting that many States had established high-level commissions, councils and coordination bodies for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Interlinkages and coordination in action were crucial, he said.  While countries’ circumstances varied, many were taking action to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, mindful of those interlinkages and the need for coherence in national action.  Underscoring the importance of monitoring, from which countries were drawing important lessons, he also stressed the need for all stakeholders to play a role.  International development cooperation was shaping up to respond to the transformative 2030 Agenda.  The Forum had a clear mandate to be a central global platform for robust, voluntary, effective, participatory, transparent and integrated review and follow-up.  Work was just beginning, he said, expressing his commitment to stand beside Member States “every step of the way”.

Panel I

A panel discussion on “Where do we stand at year one?” was moderated by Paula Caballero Gomez, Senior Director of the Environment and National Resources Global Practice at the World Bank.  It featured the following speakers:  Debapriya Bhattacharya, distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue and Chair of Southern Voice on Post-MDG International Development Goals; Christiana Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); Jose Maria Viera, Human Rights and Development Policy Advisor at the World Blind Union; and Martin Tsounkeu, general representative of the Africa Development Interchange Network.

Mr. WU opened the discussion by presenting the Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals progress report (document E/2016/75), calling the 2030 Agenda a pact for present and future generations that embodied a promise to set the world on a different, sustainable path while leaving no one behind.  With that promise in mind, the international community would begin its collective journey with strong political will for implementation at all levels.  The Secretary-General’s report provided the first account of the current global situation relative to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and was based on the proposed global indicator framework.  The report provided an overview of significant progress that had been made in many areas while also presenting a comprehensive picture of the many challenges that remained in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

The 2030 Agenda, he said, recognized that eradicating extreme poverty was a global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.  From 2002 to 2012, the proportion of the world’s population living below the extreme poverty line dropped by half, to 13 per cent from 26 per cent.  While significant progress had been made, there was a need for bolder actions to be taken to eliminate poverty entirely.  Although progress was undeniable in the fight against hunger, there were still nearly 800 million people worldwide that suffered from hunger.  The achievements made in reducing the preventable deaths of women and children worldwide were also notable.  From 2000 to 2015, the global maternal mortality ratio declined by 37 per cent, while the mortality rate of children under age five fell by 44 per cent.  Universal primary education still had not been achieved, he noted, also highlighting the persistent difficulties associated with child and early marriage.

Women’s participation in parliaments worldwide was on the rise, although gender equality still posed a challenge for many countries, he said.  Meanwhile, many people were suffering from the effects of weak institutions and a lack of access to justice, information and other fundamental freedoms, including birth registration.  Reaching the world’s sustainable development objectives would require a revitalized and enhanced global partnership that brought together all stakeholders and mobilized all available resources, including commitments made through the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development, he said.

Ms. GOMEZ said that the world needed to move away from an incremental approach to sustainable development.  What was needed was a massive, dedicated structural shift to not only tackle today’s poverty, but also the poverty of tomorrow.

Mr. BHATTACHARYA said that the Sustainable Development Goals had “hit the ground running”.  He noted that institutional mechanisms had been put into place and widespread participation was already being fostered.  A number of challenges were already emerging, however, including coordination and leadership on the national level.  He pointed out that the Sustainable Development Goals were being presented at a time when the global economy was not growing at a strong enough rate.  He expressed concern that the role of a global partnership had not been emphasized enough in the Secretary-General’s report.  Effective, systemic global support was required to boost the grassroots processes that were already under way.

Further, he said, the emphasis on national-level delivery was important, but the real focus should be on providing global assistance to solve problems at the national level.  The linkages between systemic global challenges and issues on the ground were not being examined closely enough.  The reason why national Governments had been unable to reach their development goals, despite enacting reforms and efforts to build capacity, was that the global environment was not helping them enough.

Ms. FIGUERES said there was an important need to recognize the interlinkages between various issue sets and understand how they enforced each other.  She emphasized the need for sustained political attention on the Sustainable Development Goals.  She said that by 2019, significant transformational changes must be put into place to reach the larger development objectives.

She recalled that world leaders had agreed that the purpose of the Sustainable Development Goals was to leave no one behind.  Achieving that objective would require focusing on the vulnerability and marginalization of peoples across and within countries.  As the world set out to reach its development objectives, leaders must start by lifting up those most in need as a first priority.  Even if global averages were improving, the real question was whether that meant anything to everyday citizens living in the most deplorable conditions.  It was important to have global measurements, but it was perhaps even more important to have national benchmarks.  In that regard, data on the national level was an absolute requirement.  There needed to be clarity at the starting line, but also a clear vision of what the world wished to achieve.

Mr. VIERA, noting that he represented people with disabilities living in various countries and situations around the world, recalled that they had been left behind in the construction of the Millennium Development Goals, although the Sustainable Development Goals offered a new promise.  He lamented that the voice of organizations working on their behalf had not been included in important international discussions on many key issues in the past.  Access to information had also been hindered.  In the formulation of the 2030 Agenda, people with disabilities had been engaged at the international level.  That sort of participation now needed to be translated into similar engagement on the national level.

Mr. TSOUNKEU said that integrating the Sustainable Development Goals into national plans remained a tremendous challenge in developing countries.  The formulation of the 2030 Agenda had been very inclusive.  However, the question remained about whether assessments of the Agenda’s implementation would be just as inclusive.  He noted that many ordinary citizens on the ground in developing countries were really unsure what was hoped to be achieved by the Sustainable Development Goals.  He agreed that implementation should start by focusing first and foremost on those most in need.  The political will had been apparent since the very beginning discussions on the 2030 Agenda, although the global partnership aspect was still falling short.

In the ensuing discussion, a representative of the major group for women cited a lack of aggregated and disaggregated data, including data broken down by gender, saying that there was an incomplete picture of how women and girls were being impacted by the Sustainable Development Goals.

The representative of Kenya urged participants not to lose sight of the fact that the 2030 Agenda was really about a mindset.  If the mindset was right, then the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals should move forward relatively quickly.  It was not a question of the availability of financing, but rather about directing that financing in a way that benefitted and protected people and the planet.

A representative of the major group for children and youth said that enhancing coherence among various frameworks was critical for the success of the High-level Political Forum.  She welcomed the steps that had been taken to solicit input and comments from major groups, but also expressed concern about the closed nature of consultations on the global sustainable development report.

The representative of Colombia highlighted a need for an alignment of efforts within the Economic and Social Council, the General Assembly and the different committees with regard to 2030 Agenda.

The representative of Maldives, speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States, agreed on the need to prioritize the collection and analysis of data.  Capacity-building efforts would need to be instituted to ensure all countries could measure progress.  The 2030 Agenda would be transformative not only because of the wide breadth of issues it focused on, but because of the holistic way in which it addressed those challenges.

The representative of Brazil pointed to the need to carefully look at the institutional frameworks that already existed within multilateral organizations, including the United Nations.  The frameworks for addressing many issues were already in place, although for many other issues, those frameworks were largely absent.

Panel II

The Forum’s second panel discussion, on the theme “Ensuring that no one is left behind: Envisioning an inclusive world in 2030”, was chaired by Hector Alejandro Palma Cerna (Honduras), Vice-President of the Council, and moderated by Lisa Foster, Director of the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity in the White House (United States).  The panel featured: Ion Jinga, Permanent Representative of Romania and Chair of the fifty-fourth session of the Commission on Social Development, and Onalenna Selolwane, Executive Committee member of the Mosadi Khumo Socio-Economic Empowerment Forum for Women and member of the Committee for Development Policy.  The lead discussants were Ibrahim Ismail Abdallah, President of the Arab Organization for Persons with Disabilities, and Alvaro Esteban Pop Ac, Chair of the fifteenth session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Ms. FOSTER said it was crucial to talk about the challenge of inclusion.  President Barack Obama had said development was threatened by inequality, noting that “we need to invest in interventions that reach more people” when poor children were more likely to get sick and die than those living in wealthier neighbourhoods.  Last week’s horrendous shootings across the United States were a reminder that her country still had a long way to go.  Turning to Sustainable Development Goal 16.3 on ensuring access to justice for all, she recalled that President Obama had established the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable to identify programmes serving low-income people that could become more effective and efficient by integrating legal aid.  Citing several examples of its work, she said the United States was developing national-level indicators for Goal 16.3 and hoped that would help ensure access to justice for all.

Mr. JINGA said inclusion was indeed at the core of the 2030 Agenda.  Sustainable Development Goal 10 on fighting inequality was particularly relevant in that regard, he said, noting that social inclusion was about improving the terms of participation in societies of those who suffered from exclusion.  The Commission on Social Development had expressed deep concern that the growth and progress seen across the world had not been inclusive enough and that there existed inequalities within and among countries.  Effective policies should ensure that growth was sustained and equitable, he stressed, adding that the Commission had noted that social inclusion was threatened by conflict and extremism in some regions and countries.  Realizing the principle of “leaving no one behind” meant establishing inclusive institutions to provide all citizens with opportunities to participate in public life on equal terms, he said.

Ms. SELOLWANE recalled that, in 1971, the United Nations had created the list of least developed countries with the aim of helping them grow.  By 2015, that list had increased dramatically, with most countries coming from Africa.  “We have failed abysmally as an international community,” she said, stressing that, while making agendas was important, it was critical to transform them on the ground in ways that mattered.  Indeed, despite the billions of dollars that had been spent to assist those countries, there were still States on the list where more than 70 per cent of the population had never been to school.  It was time to consider what could be done in the next 15 years to enable countries to “stop being beggars” and create wealth for themselves.  Noting that least developed countries lacked the adequate resources to innovate, speak for themselves and challenge power, she said that when people were illiterate and poor, they became easy fodder for the mobilization of violence.  “Poverty is a very lucrative business,” she said, pointing out that taxes and official development assistance (ODA) supported an unequal world and that, instead, wealth that had been created in Africa should stay in Africa. 

Mr. POP AC emphasized that creating an inclusive world for indigenous peoples meant ensuring respect for their human rights.  Some of the Sustainable Development Goals could have adverse effects on indigenous peoples, he said, citing, for example, the creation of hydroelectric projects that could result in displacement.  The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be carefully respected, meaning that there must be consultations and free, prior and informed consent.  Calling for more visibility of indigenous peoples in national statistics and their meaningful inclusion in developing national actions plans and legislation, he stressed that indigenous peoples were “not just subjects”.  Among other important roles, they served as a final defence against climate change.  Many of the Sustainable Development Goals were in keeping with the environmental and social policies that indigenous peoples had advocated for generations, he said.

Mr. ABDALLAH said there were many people with disabilities who continued to be marginalized, especially women and children who were unable to attend school.  To date, many States, even those which had signed on to United Nations resolutions, refused to implement them.  Noting that participation was at the core of inclusion, he said many countries did not involve persons with disabilities in the development process.  Sharing a few recommendations, he said Member States should introduce measures and policies to ensure that persons with disabilities were protected from poverty and benefited equally from mainstream poverty elimination and wealth creation programmes.  States should also eliminate laws and practices that segregated persons with disabilities and make all existing health-care and protection systems inclusive and accessible.  Among other measures, they should work to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities, were included in mainstream education systems.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates shared examples of measures that had aimed at the inclusive implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  The representative of Sri Lanka, for one, said his country had, among other things, established a cabinet ministry for its implementation and a “provincial sustainable development engagement platform”.

A representative of the major group for women said the systemic drivers of inequality were contributing to new and emerging trends around the world.  Those included the effects of the Zika virus, which predominantly affected poor women and girls.  While Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls had set some important targets, a more holistic review of inequality was critical, she stressed.

A representative of the major group for children and youth recalled that, while the global median age was 29 years, young people’s meaningful participation was not a regular practice.  The perspectives, rights and needs of youth from marginalized groups should be taken into account, she said, emphasizing that participation meant actively reaching out to those left farthest behind.

The representative of the European Union agreed that those farthest behind should be given special emphasis in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.  Underlining the need for new, innovative approaches and partnerships, she said the 2030 Agenda must tackle social, economic and environmental challenges in an integrated manner.

A representative of non-governmental organizations said an inclusive and peaceful society was indeed achievable.  However, major challenges included widening inequalities caused by an extractive model of economic development.  There was an urgent need for human rights-based fiscal policies.  Broader participation brought ownership and success, she said, citing the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference as an example.

Mr. JINGA, responding to a query asking for examples of successful inclusive participation processes, said there had been a panel in the Commission on Social Development that had been devoted to persons with disabilities.  Noting that the interventions at that panel had underlined a progressive shift in approaches, he said there had also been various proposals on ways to advance the rights of persons with disabilities, including the creation of a standing forum for disability and sustainable development.  He described some of Romania’s strategies to promote sustainable development, including an emphasis on investment in health-care research and innovation, a national strategy to promote gender equality and programmes promoting equal opportunity for all children to access education.

The interlinkages of sustainable development, he said, were increasingly profound, and there was a need to recalibrate the interaction of the social pillar with the economic and environmental dimensions.  Progress had been made in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; however, globalization, technology change and weak growth had had social consequences.  In that regard, he called for “broad policy coalitions” among relevant stakeholders, including the business community.  Disagreeing with Ms. Selolwane’s statement that the international community had failed, he said the point of the 2030 Agenda was to find solutions.

Ms. SELOLWANE said that, while not everything had failed, there had indeed been a failure in developing human resources in Africa.  The fact that the continent had produced 10 times in value what it received from ODA was a signal that something was fundamentally wrong, she said.

Answering a request to share successful examples of reversing exclusion, she recalled that Botswana had been the first country to graduate from the list of least development countries.  Yet, its people remained very poor.  Women, lacking money and clout, had made use of their “sheer numbers”.  In closing, she said Governments could not dictate how sustainable development should happen without engaging people at the grass roots level.  There must be sustainability in terms of process and outcome.

Panel III

The third panel discussion, titled “Lifting people out of poverty and addressing basic needs”, was moderated by Sarina Prabasi, CEO of WaterAid America.  The panellists were Alice Albright, CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, and Michael Park, Director of Strategy and Operations of the Aspen Management Partnership for Health at the Aspen Institute.  Cristina Diez, Director of International Relations Training at the International Movement ATD Fourth World, and Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Chief of Staff and Head of the 2020 Vision Initiative at the International Food Policy Research Institute, were the lead discussants.

Ms. PRABASI said the 2030 Agenda would be a test to ensure that basic services were provided to those furthest behind, those often “last on the list”.  An integrated approach to implementation would be critical to reaching the goal of leaving no one behind.  Now was the time to maximize the opportunity of the High-level Political Forum to have meaningful discussions and debates with the full range of relevant stakeholders.

Ms. ALBRIGHT said despite progress that had been made under the Millennium Development Goals, access to primary school education remained a severe challenge worldwide.  Millions of kids were being left out of education.  The international community must strengthen education systems so they were enabled to deliver equitable results, year in and year out.  Increased efforts must be made to meet the vast circumstances of fragility, conflict and vulnerability that surrounded the improved delivery of education.  Gender disparities must be addressed, particularly with regard to girls.  Investments must focus first and foremost on quality education.  The most marginalized children must be placed at the top of the new global development agenda, she said.

Mr. PARK said that community health workers played a key role in advancing health and broader development goals.  Such workers were trusted members of the community and often served as a point of access to health care systems in rural areas.  Some of their efforts included carrying out activities such as administering vaccines and distributing bed nets.  However, community health workers were often limited in scope and effectiveness in some countries.  Aspen Management Partnership Health used an innovative cross-sector approach to working with ministries of health to strengthen community health systems through increased investment and by developing sustainable leadership capacities.

Ms. DIEZ said that the Millennium Development Goals did not reach those farthest behind.  It was clear that a basic needs approach would not help the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Although people needed food, health, water and other basic needs, it must be recognized that poverty was a complex human condition.  All human needs were interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.   That was especially true when looking at the lives of those farthest behind.  She questioned why those most in need were not being engaged to help leaders to develop a better understanding of what was required.  Governments must ensure that high quality services were universally provided.  There must also be efforts made to reduce the stigma attached to people that were living in the most desperate conditions.

Ms. PANDYA-LORCH highlighted that some 900 million people globally were still desperately poor.  Many lacked access to basic services or education and belonged to socially-excluded groups.  Women were the most vulnerable to the effects of abject hunger.  Certain parts of the world required special attention, including South Asia, where as many as 280 million people went hungry.  New challenges and issues would affect whether the world could or would end hunger by 2030.  Rapid urbanization meant that hunger would no longer be a rural issue.  Climate change was poised to present grave challenges, while conflict and displacement would greatly affect food security and nutrition.  There were some success stories when it came to addressing hunger, such the achievements that had been made in Brazil, Ghana and Thailand, she said.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised questions and concerns.  Some delegates provided national examples of successful efforts to advance development gains.

The representative of China highlighted that poverty reduction was a vital precondition for meeting the needs of all people.  She noted that in 1982, her Government had started specific poverty-reduction programmes targeting some of the poorest areas of the country and that China was one of the first countries to achieve the poverty-reduction target set under the Millennium Development Goals.

The representative of Rwanda recalled that meeting the social, economic and health needs of the people of her country were major post-conflict priorities, with a view towards promoting social development and influencing prospects for sustainable development.

The representative of the League of Arab States highlighted efforts that had been undertaken by the League to implement strategies to combat poverty in all its forms.  Many challenges facing Arab countries prevented the full implementation of strategies and programmes to address poverty.

The representative of Malaysia highlighted that his country was one of the first to achieve the Millennium Development Goal related to poverty reduction through a multitude of initiatives aimed at increasing the income and quality of life of the poorest people.

The representative of Benin said the mentality that poor people were slaves needed to be changed.  Governments must take the lead in changing those mindsets to properly distribute resources.

A representative of the major group for women said there needed to be a comprehensive approach undertaken to lift women and girls out of poverty.  Reforms must be undertaken in the monetary, financial and trade regimes that perpetuated poverty.  There must be enhanced public investments in health, including sexual and reproductive rights, education and other social services.

A representative of the major group for indigenous peoples said lifting the world out of poverty meant promoting non-monetary measures of well-being.  Indigenous peoples should not be viewed only as recipients of assistance, but as powerful contributors through their traditional knowledge.

A representative of the major group for persons with disabilities said the lack of access to health care and education was a perpetual challenge for people with disabilities.  It was essential that the 2030 Agenda complied with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

A representative of the major group for children and youth group said access to basic services was critical and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda must be undertaken with a rights-based approach.  Any barriers to basic services must be addressed, while financing mechanisms should be put into place that ensured continuous delivery of basic services.

A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization said addressing poverty was one of the paramount concerns for people living in rural areas.  Policies focus on the critical agents of change could produce dramatic and lasting effects on the economies of developing countries.

A representative of the major group for non-governmental organizations said capacity building, including skills building, should include the full involvement of civil society and cross-sector partnerships must be encouraged.

Panel IV

The panel discussion on “Fostering economic growth, prosperity and sustainability” was chaired by Sven Jürgenson (Estonia), Vice-President of the Council, and moderated by Vinicius Pinheiro, Director of the New York Office of the International Labour Organizations (ILO).  It featured Tim Jackson, Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity and Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, and Bart Verspagen, Director-Dean of the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance at Maastricht University and Director of United Nations University, Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology.  The lead discussants were Dyborn Chibonga, Chief Executive Officer at the National Smallholder Farmers’ Association of Malawi, and Wellington Chibebe, Deputy General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Mr. PINHEIRO said the panel’s theme cut across many issues and sectors.  The Sustainable Development Goals would not be achieved without sustained economic growth, which in turn needed to respect planetary boundaries and create decent jobs.  The benefits of growth needed to be fairly distributed and no one should be left behind. 

Mr. JACKSON said it was possible to “tease apart” prosperity and economic growth.  Economic growth had been seen without advances in education or decent jobs, he said, noting that, while there were poor countries where economic growth had led to real increases in prosperity, growth beyond that point had led to diminishing returns.  There was a strong moral case for the rich economies to make room for growth in the poorer economies.  The Paris Climate Change Conference had set the enormous challenge of decoupling economic growth from carbon emissions and there was now a need to decarbonize economies in less than a decade.  Noting that growth in developed countries was not moving as fast as it used to, he said building an economy that was “fit for purpose for tomorrow” was critical as it would lead to decent job creation and investments in health, education and social care, he said, warning against the “relentless allegiance to growth at all costs”.

Mr. VERSPAGEN said research had shown that rich countries tended to stay rich, while poor countries often stayed poor.  However, some countries, such as many in Asia, had transformed from poor to rich countries due largely to the adoption of technological knowledge.  Investment in human capital, infrastructure and institutions was critical to such transformation, he said, citing the importance of policy in that regard.  In particular, trade policy, as well as science and innovation policy, should be aimed at absorbing technological knowledge and making it available to local firms.  The process of economic growth did not necessarily mean that countries would enjoy inclusive growth, he said, describing the relationship between the living standards of countries and rates of poverty.  There was also a role for social protection policies which aimed at trying to help people build up their capability to enter the labour market.

Mr. CHIBONGA, agreeing, said many countries were stuck in a low-growth trap.  While African countries had agreed to invest more than 10 per cent of their budgets to achieve 6 per cent growth per year, relatively few countries were doing so.  Investments in agriculture had major impacts on poverty reduction.  As food producers, farmers were largely responsible for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and needed to be empowered.  Among other things, he called for a paradigm shift from subsistence farming to farming as a business and stressed that enhancing farmers’ entrepreneurial skills and ensuring their effective market access were critical.

Mr. CHIBEBE agreed that ensuring that no one was left behind was “beautiful language”, but warned that such slogans could create a crisis of expectation.  Underscoring the importance of protecting rights and civil liberties, he said the ability of workers to bargain freely would bolster development.  Governments should develop pro-poor development strategies, which could only be achieved through social dialogue.  He appealed to the conscience of the business representatives present in the room, in particular to help to ensure that the inclusive development agenda was implemented in earnest.  Empowerment through education was crucial, as was the adoption of a progressive distribution of wealth.  Workers must be assisted in their transition into low-carbon, decent jobs and modern economic policies should focus on re-skilling workers for the new green economy, he said.

During the ensuing discussion, a number of speakers made comments related to the presentations and raised questions and concerns.

The representative of Denmark asked Mr. Jackson how to ensure that economic growth did, in fact, lead to increased prosperity.  Developed countries should increase their international engagement to assist in creating growth, but such growth should not be at their own expense.  He agreed with the need for Governments to create enabling frameworks for innovation and inclusive growth while considering the importance of social protection systems.  Stable institutions were a prerequisite for growth, he added.

The representative of Serbia described serious national employment challenges following the 2008 global financial crisis alongside meeting the needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East crossing the borders.  That issue was important and should be addressed by the High-level Political Forum because refugees represented some of those who were at risk of being left behind.  He also asked Mr. Jackson about the effects on sustainable development of Brexit, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.

The representative of China agreed that the international financial crisis had presented challenges, but also opportunities.  Her country had bid farewell to its extremely high growth rate and entered a period of a “new normal”.  China was optimizing its economy and focusing on green, open and shared development.

The representative of Uganda agreed that growth could be seen without inclusiveness.  To sustain inclusiveness, people needed access to education, water and social protection.  Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa were still exporting raw materials and needed to invest more in infrastructure, he said.

A representative of the major group for women expressed disappointment with the gender makeup of the panel.  Emphasizing the importance of “doing things differently” in the new development agenda, she said people were left behind because of global political systems that depended on exclusion.  The 2030 Agenda had urged countries to restrain from applying economic or trade measures that could harm development.  However, not long after its adoption, countries had made major trade agreements that gave power to multinational companies to challenge health, environment and human rights policies.  Such trade agreements magnified existing inequalities within and among countries and had been found to have a discriminatory impact on women and other marginalized groups, she said.

Mr. JACKSON, in concluding remarks, said the economy created by those who were “forgotten or oppressed” was absolutely critical to prosperity.  An economy of care, craft and creativity would be a fairer economy.  To the representative of Denmark, he said it was indeed critical to ensure that economic growth went to the poorest.  On the issue of Brexit, he said the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union had been a “howl of anguish” from people in the United Kingdom who had felt they had been left behind.

Mr. VERSPAGEN, asked what labour markets would look like in 2030, underscored the importance of choosing what types of technologies would be developed over the next 15 years.  There was a choice between the “robotized” creation of the same unsustainable goods and a true change that linked innovation to larger issues such as climate change and sustainability, creating products and services that made more responsible use of the planet.

Mr. CHIBONGA, responding to a query about what could be done to formalize the small farmer economy, stressed the need to support formal organization among small farmers.  It was also critical to put in place policies that allowed farmer organizations to grow in the face of climate change and to bring innovative financing to the sector.

Mr. CHIBEBE, asked to describe ways to advance the social protection agenda in Africa, responded that “Africa is not a country but a continent” with much diversity.  There was a need for fiscal discipline and prioritization in the economies of many African countries, he said, underscoring the need to stop syphoning the resources of those countries and to deal effectively with the issue of illicit financial transactions.

Also speaking were the representatives of Switzerland, Chad and Saudi Arabia, as well as those speaking on behalf of the major groups for business and industry, children and youth and indigenous people.  A representative of the non-governmental organization Together 2030 also participated.