TWN Info Service on UN Sustainable Development (Jun13/05)
18 June 2013
Third World Network

SDGS: G77 on some key components of a “people-centred development agenda”

New York, 18 June (Ranja Sengupta) – The Group of 77 and China has called for a “structural transformation of economies of developing countries, especially African economies, through industrialisation that induces value addition and economic diversification” to generate employment and decent work for all.

This was at the opening of the fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on 17 June.  The 3-day meeting (17-19 June) at the UN headquarters in New York is addressing two themes: the first is employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture while the second is health, and population dynamics. Discussions over the past three sessions have dwelt upon conceptual issues, poverty eradication, food security and nutrition, sustainable agriculture, desertification, land degradation and drought; and water and sanitation.

[The formulation of SDGs is one of the major agreed actions from the June 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). The Co-chairs of the OWG are Ambassadors Macharia Kamau of Kenya) and Csaba Korosi of Hungary.]

Speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Ambassador Peter Thomson of Fiji said that “the common desire for a transformative global development agenda beyond 2015 can best be achieved through collective efforts and an enhanced global partnership that places development and the wellbeing of people at its core.  The post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs, has the potential to be a turning point for achieving this aspirational transformative change if the international community and national governments seriously commit to an agenda for meaningful transformation on structural, institutional and normative levels.   The subjects of discussion over the next three days are essential components of a people-centred development agenda.”

For such transformation, Ambassador Thomson said that, “industrialisation is a powerful tool to generate inclusive and sustained economic growth, create productive employment and decent work and lift millions of people out of poverty”. He added that it will help developing countries, especially African countries, to address the issues of unemployment as well as employment quality, including underemployment, informality, vulnerability and working poverty.”

Employment and decent work for all

The G77 and China stressed that “the employment-generating capacity of growth strategies is essential for achieving sustainable, sustained, and inclusive economic growth, which when fairly distributed, can bring millions of people out of poverty worldwide.” 

According to the Group’s statement, “despite a decline in the number of the working poor, namely those employed, but living below the $2 a day poverty line, the majority of workers in the developing world remain in informal and vulnerable jobs. This implies irregular incomes and little or no social protection for these workers.  In turn, such workers are increasingly becoming more vulnerable and less resilient to cope with social, economic and environmental risks and shocks. It is imperative therefore, that developing countries, with the support of the international community and developed partners, build new and more inclusive development pathways with the aim to provide equal employment opportunities to all people in the economy, including the adoption of objective action-oriented affirmative programmes to assist the poor and the marginalised.”

An inclusive approach on migration

The G77 and China statement also highlighted the issue of migrant workers and the need to integrate them and their families into society: “The international community should give its due consideration to the linkages between migration and development in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development beyond 2014, and in the elaboration of the post-2015 development agenda.”

Ambassador Thomson drew attention to the “urgent need to improve market access to rural farmers to mitigate the flow of rural-urban migration. In this respect, more equitable access would imply limiting agricultural subsidies by governments in the developed countries that create an imbalanced trading system favouring developed countries. Agricultural policies need to be aligned with country priorities and global realities and take into account marginalized groups, such as smallholder farmers.”

He said that employment objectives need to become central to global actions and mechanisms. “These objectives need the support of international cooperation that supports developing countries through: (1) actions at the level of international economic, financial, trade, technology and social systems, to support and enable developing countries' efforts; and (2) refrain from actions by developed countries that create barriers to developing countries' efforts and progress.”

Social protection needs scaling down of austerity measures

On social protection, the G77 and China underscored the impact on reducing inequality while boosting productive employment. The Group especially emphasized the need for social protection and social inclusion for various vulnerable groups such as women, adolescents, the elderly, the disabled, migrants and people living with HIV/AIDs etc.

In this context, the Group made a strong statement against the austerity measures imposed by the global consensus which necessitate budget cuts especially on social expenditure, especially targeting social safety nets, including old age pension. “These adjustment measures run the high risk of excluding a large segment of vulnerable households at a time when governments should be considering supporting a social protection for all, scaling up rather than scaling down social protection systems. It is imperative that governments focus on expanding social protection coverage rather than improving the targeting of existing programs,” Ambassador Thomson said.

Youth unemployment a matter of concern

Recognising youth as an emerging group that needs special attention, the G77 and China pointed out that youth unemployment threatens the skill sets and productive capacities of entire generations in several developing countries and sustained bouts of youth unemployment lead to higher rates of migration, loss of national capacities and resources, as well as leading to other social problems including aggravating national insecurity and violence. “A global strategy on youth and employment needs to be conceptualised within the broader objective of full employment and decent work, and should address the quality and geographic distribution of employment,” Ambassador Thomson said.

Culture and education as drivers for sustainable development

The Group highlighted “culture” as an integral part that permeates the three dimensions of sustainable development. Culture also acts as both an 'enabler' and 'driver' of sustainable development.

“Development approaches should be adapted to local contexts and should therefore rely on the cultural resource while respecting cultural rights. Culture also drives development within a number of cultural sectors including the creative industries, cultural tourism and heritage, both tangible and intangible,” according to the statement.

Underscoring the importance of a good education, the G77 and China emphasized quality as opposed to quantity. The statement pointed out that “when developing SDGs, more attention needs to be placed on relevant and measurable learning outcomes. For example, we must ensure that not only a greater amount of children are educated, but also that the education these children receive is of high quality delivered by adequately qualified teachers - in the most rural areas as well as areas affected by conflict and disasters”.

As before, the Group highlighted the need for special attention to be given to “traditionally vulnerable groups, who are girls, working children, rural and indigenous children, those with disabilities, children living with HIV/Aids, children in conflict, migrants, orphans and linguistic and cultural minorities”. “Inequalities need to be addressed through a case by case approach, rather than a one-size-fits-all target for countries,” it was stressed.

Health and access crucial

On the issue of health, the G77 and China was of the view that “health permeates all areas of sustainable development. It is closely related to the social, environmental, economic, cultural and political spheres”.

The Group said that because of changing demographics and population dynamics, it is time to call for “innovative, cross-cutting goals that reflect the changing health concerns facing men, women and children. Dense urban areas call for greater synergy between different sectors to address the failures of providing infrastructure and basic services to one-third of the world's urban population that live in informal settlements.”

Ambassador Thomson specifically highlighted the issue of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases, which accounted for 34.5 million deaths in 2010 of which 80% were in low and middle income countries. According to the Group’s statement, this figure is expected to double within the next 20 years.

“This development trend is unacceptable and policies must be proactive and include access to health information and services, information on consumption and lifestyle and how to prevent health risks. Not only will this reduce health provision costs, but also contribute to economic benefits through a growing capable workforce”, the Group emphatically added.

Population dynamics and migration have critcal roles to play

In relation to population dynamics, the G77 and China acknowledged improved family planning as an effective way to address population growth. In this context the statement highlighted a clear gender dimension. In particular, a strong correlation exists between greater access to education for young girls in developing countries and a reduction of the number of teenage and unwanted pregnancies. Again, “increasing literacy and computing skills among women has shown to be effective in improving individual household finances, creating innovative and creative entrepreneurial activities”.

The Group also underscored the need for attention to the elderly and people with disabilities, adding that their inclusion in society needs to be assured through the provision of social protection instruments.”

In the context of population dynamics, the G77 and China highlighted again the link between migration and development. In strong words, the Group argued that a  “paradigm shift needs to take place that recognises migration as a catalyst for economic growth as well as knowledge and skills transfer. The stigmatization of marginalized migrant groups in countries other than their own is a threat to national stability and security, and often leads to human rights violations. Ensuring better integration and the respect of human rights should become a priority in our globalizing reality.”

Expressing growing concern over rural-urban migration, the Group said, “Focus on creating better employment and working conditions in rural areas will curb the wave of rural migrants moving to urban areas in hope of finding "better" jobs. Rural migrants easily fall trap to a mostly low-wage, perilous and irregular work cycle with little chance to climb the vocational ladder. What is more, rural work migrants typically settle in the fringes of urban areas that are prone to landslides and flashflood, with little or no access to basic services and infrastructure.”

“Governments need to provide access to basic services, such as water, sanitation and electricity to create sustainable cities with good quality of life for all residents irrespective of their social status or income,” the Group added.

Call for global supportive action

Highlighting the crucial importance of global cooperation and supportive actions, Ambassador Thomson ended with a call for a strong means of implementation mechanism, to be embedded within each specific SDG.  “In order to respond to the call for a transformative global development agenda post-2015, the Group of 77 and China reiterates the importance for the SDG framework to address the goals on global supportive actions and objectives through an enhanced partnership for sustainable development, which should include means of implementation within each of the specific SDGs.”

The G77 and China statement was supported by the Least Developed Countries, CARICOM, the African Group and others during the morning session of 17 June. Other statements will follow over the next two days. The 3-day session of the OWG will continue with a number of presentations, statements from Member States, and interactive sessions. The Co-Chairs are also hearing from the major groups (civil society and industry participants at the OWG) in separate sessions.