HP+10 CONFERENCE 13.-14.2.2012: Introductory remarks of Ms Heidi Hautala, Minister for International Developmet in the session of sustainable development

Introductory remarks ofHeidi Hautala, Minister for International Developmet

Dear friends,

the Helsinki Process was launched shortly after the Millennium Declaration and the MDG’s. And one of the purposes of the Process was to help reach these goals. The world has changed in a decade and we have seen the emergence of new actors – like the BRICS countries or the G20 and right now the financial crisis is the biggest single issue on the map whereas in the beginning of the millennia it may have been the war on terror. But just as then we are now faced with the opportunity of defining the future we want.

Rio+20 is approaching fast. After lunch we heard president Halonen talk about the GSP report and its recommendations. I’m very fond of the GSP report’s take on sustainable development: “Sustainable development is not a destination, but a dynamic process of adaptation, learning and action. It is about recognizing, understanding and acting on interconnections — above all those between the economy, society and the natural environment.” 

The idea of sustainable development goes back to the Brundtland commission report and the Rio Conference in 1992 with its three pillars or dimensions. This is still valid; although I think we need better integration of the three pillars. Rio provides us with an opportunity that we must utilize but it is only the beginning. It is my firm belief that we as the world community must take the GSP recommendations to heart and capture the momentum to think of ways to support their implementation.

The existing structures don’t meet the challenges we are now facing and its right to take that as the other main focus of Rio. We should consider strengthening the international framework by for example creating UNEO and a Sustainable development council after the model of the UN Human Rights Council. Coordinated efforts and mainstreamed sustainable development thinking need a competent forum for discussions and decisions.

The MDG agenda is still valid and we are committed to reaching those goals as well as our aid targets but we should start thinking about the time after 2015. The GSP provides a good basis for this in terms of aspects to consider. For example we hope the Rio +20 will recommend starting the process of formulating Sustainable development goals (SDG’s).

The New Program of the Finnish Government

I will focus on three interrelated themes today: inequality, human rights and well-being. And also share a few points on water partnerships that are our other focus in the Rio preparations. But first I’ll reiterate some key elements of the present government program of Finland.

Issues related to improved management of globalisation are a key object of Finland’s international cooperation. We will seek fair distribution of the benefits of globalisation and elimination of the associated disadvantages and insecurity and work systematically towards the achievement of ecologically, socially and economically sustainable development.

Three core objectives link the activities of the Government and all its decisionmaking together. These objectives are the reduction of poverty, inequality and social exclusion; consolidation of public finances; and the strengthening of sustainable economic growth, employment and competitiveness. The aim of our foreign policy is to strengthen international stability, security, peace, justice and sustainable development as well as promote the rule of law, democracy and human rights. And naturally we wish to form partnerships in the spirit of the Helsinki Process to promote these goals.

Inequality

One of the major challenges we are facing is rising inequality in the world – both within countries and between.

Sustainable development should be a participatory process and therefore we have to pay special attention to the social dimension. People need to be at the heart of development efforts. But the growing trend of inequality is making it harder to reach the most vulnerable and guarantee them a voice and a choice.

The GSP report also speaks to this by saying that “advancing the situation of the poorest has always been the cornerstone of development policy. And we shouldn’t turn a blind eye on this issue. The truth is that sustainable development is fundamentally a question of people’s opportunities to influence their future, claim their rights and voice their concerns. Democratic governance and full respect for human rights are key prerequisites for empowering people to make sustainable choices.”

OECD recently published a report “Divided we stand: Why inequality keeps rising” which states that the gap between rich and poor has widened in most OECD countries over the past 30 years. And this has occurred when countries were going through a sustained period of economic growth. This sustained period of strong economic growth has allowed emerging economies to lift millions of people out of absolute poverty. But the benefits of strong economic growth have not been evenly distributed and high levels of income inequality have risen further.

The same problems  - only sharper - are faced in the less developed countries too.  And the economic crisis has added urgency to this debate. The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries. Youths who see no future for themselves feel increasingly disenfranchised – a phenomenon we can see in the events of the Arab spring.

Creating global partnerships that encompass all levels from the local to the global and enforce one another and especially finding ways to enforce the North-South connection is one way to tackle the rising inequality. One of the goals of the Helsinki Process is to build bridges between the North and the South. A globally agreed framework for attaining future challenges will not be possible if this gap remains as the main divide. When we think of global commons such as climate, health and biodiversity, the issues are shared and a common approach must be found.

One of the two national themes of Finland for Rio+20 is water partnerships. The GSP report recommends that governments should establish and scale up integrated water resource management schemes, bearing fully in mind that water plays multifaceted roles, including for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, industry and energy. The connections between these roles and the pressures to provide enough water i.e. guaranteeing the human right are growing more complex.

Our experience has been that partnerships building on mutual learning and sharing of expertise work best when managing a common resource like water. Common commitments that rise from the needs of the people result in development that is sustainable and means a positive change in people’s lives. By involving the “end-users” meaning the people we will create more participatory processes that respect human rights. This is why we have enforced public-private partnerships with the fourth “P”. i.e. the people.

New measurements of well-being

The other of the two national themes of Finland for Rio+20  are the new well-being indexes. We strongly support international efforts and seek alliances to make sure that this will be included in the Rio+20 declaration as well as its follow-up.

The GSP panel also flags for a more comprehensive view of progress – one that takes into consideration the economic, environmental and social aspects of development. The panel recommends creating a sustainable development indicator or set of indicators by the end of 2014. The Rio+20 zero draft also addresses this issue with a recognition that GDP is limited in its ability to describe well-being and that further development of indicators is needed.

The debate about the adequacy of the GDP has been going on for a long time internationally. The criticism is known:

  • the rise in GDP doesn’t automatically translate into wellbeing,
  • GDP was not originally designed to measure well-being but economic performance
  • it doesn’t take into consideration the non-monetary variables in economy or the use of natural resources, security or distribution of wealth

Several efforts have been made through the years to create new ways to measure well-being.   The efforts could be roughly classified into two categories 1) GDP supplementing indicators like the green GDP and Genuine Progress Indicator GPI which try to take non-economic variables into consideration and 2) non-monetary composite indicators like the Human Development Index HDI; just to mention a few.

One of the most significant efforts recently has been the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi (SSF) Commission appointed by the French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.  The final report was published in 2009 and now Eurostat and the French Insee continue the SSF commissions work. The commission came to the conclusion that in order to define what well-being means a multidimensional definition has to be used and the Commission identified the key dimensions: Material living standards (income, consumption and wealth); health; education; personal activities including work; political voice and governance; social connections and relationships; environment (present and future conditions) and economic and physical insecurity. All these should be taken into account and considered simultaneously.

Other initiatives also exist. OECD has come into this work and also one interesting initiative we could learn from is Bhutan’s idea of Gross National Happiness. I just last week had interesting discussions with them in India during the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit.

Also Finland has been committed to finding new ways to measure well-being. The previous government launched the preparations for taking new measures into use nationally alongside GDP (HYMY project). This work resulted in the creation of the Findicator – a set of indicators for social progress in Finland. The current government also has this in its programme and commits itself to revising the national strategy for sustainable development, and determining its goals and principles.

There are two major obstacles that have emerged globally when it comes to agreeing on GDP supplementary indicators. Firstly, there is not sufficient political consensus on the indicators/indices to be chosen and secondly on how these new indicators would be woven into national economic accounting. So the question I pose to you is: How could we use the multi-stakeholder approach to achieve a consensus on the necessity to find new ways to measure well-being?

Human Rights

On essential element of both sustainable development and tackling inequality is supporting the realisation of human rights. Real choice is only possible once human rights are assured. Respecting and implementing human rights are also preconditions for sustainable development.

The traditional actors, EU and the US, have kept human rights as part of the dialogue when partnering with others. But the issue of human rights has taken on new aspects lately with the emergence of the actors in the development field. If we hold – like I do – that a free and vibrant civil society is a precondition for development, we must take note and act on the fact that in close to a hundred countries the environment for civil society has been deteriorating and fundamental rights and freedoms been curbed.

The GSP report addresses this issue also. Empowering people to make sustainable choices is one of the three focus areas of the GSP report. It says: “The more influence we have in society, the greater our potential impact on the planet and the greater our responsibility to behave sustainably. This is more true than ever today, when globalization and the pressures on our natural resources mean that individual choices can have global consequences. For too many of us, however, the problem is not unsustainable choices, but a lack of choices in the first place. Real choice is only possible once human rights, basic needs, human security and human resilience are assured.”  The report calls for delivering on the fundamentals of development: international commitments to eradicate poverty, promote human rights and human security and advance gender equality.

Finland’s new development policy programme will especially highlight the human rights based approach to development. When implementing this approach we will look for a variety of means to talk with our partners on the the human rights principles.

Concluding remarks

I have talked about several things that all come under the umbrella on sustainable development. Now I look forward to hearing your take on these. But before I give the floor to you allow me to make a few concluding remarks.

I put forth the main reasons that have emerged in the global debate on new measures of well-being and I have presented a question to you: How could we use the multistakeholder to bring about consensus? Also questions rise whether these new indicators would measure only well-being or should they measure sustainable development? And how to describe well-being and it’s sustainability in all the three dimensions equally?

The challenge in Rio is a political challenge to agree on the necessity of new measures so: How could the multistakeholder approach help generate support on the road to Rio and for the following work?

[I have presented partnerships enforced with the fourth “P” the people to be the way to manage water resources while promoting human rights at the same time both in the process and as an end result meaning the right to water. But the private sector is also involved in these partnerships so what is their relationship with regard to the right to water? Whilst States are primarily responsible for ensuring the enjoyment of human rights, there is often an unclear relationship with non-state actors.]

And also I welcome your views on the role of human rights in sustainable development as we are about to start implementing our new development cooperation program and put into practice the human rights based approach to development

Now I give the floor to you and look very much forward to hearing your thoughts and having a lively debate.