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Address by Cihan SULTANOĞLU, UN Assistant Secretary-General, UNDP Assistant Administrator and Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the CIS, at the Regional Conference "The MiddleľIncome Countriesĺ Perspective on Sustainable Development in CIS, Eastern and Southern Europe"

Mr. Deputy Minister, Mr. Deputy Chairman of the CIS, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the UN system, let me welcome the participants of today’s conference and congratulate the Government of Belarus for organizing this event and contributing to the discussion on the role of middle–income counties in addressing issues of sustainable development.

I would like to acknowledge the active role that Belarus plays as a member of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals. We at the UN Development Group look forward to the valuable contribution you make to this debate which will influence the future global set of development goals and targets. We would also like to recognize that the HDI of Belarus has been improving, and has reached 0.79 in 2012 which is higher than in some EU countries (e.g., Romania and Bulgaria are 0.78).

At the Rio + 20 Conference in Brazil last year, the member states of the United Nations made a strong statement and affirmed that we cannot grow economies now and postpone for later our concern over inequalities and the state of the environment. Indeed, for economic growth to be sustainable, countries must address questions of inequalities and heavy exploitation of natural resources. With this important affirmation, we also see new challenges emerging.

In much of Eastern Europe and the CIS we have yet to find the optimum balance between growth, equality, and the environment. On the one hand, the most recent internationally comparable data indicate that extreme poverty in this region has largely been eradicated. Likewise, virtually all children attend primary school; women in this region generally enjoy more equal opportunities than in other regions.

At the same time, many middle–income countries in the region have yet to reach the global health targets set forth in the Millennium Development Goals. For example, while other regions are seeing a decline in cases of HIV, in 2011 Europe reported 120,000 new HIV cases, mostly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Equally, although women have many opportunities, their representation in decision making remains at low levels.

Large inequalities in income and wealth are on the rise across middle income countries in the region. Income inequality is increasing faster in this part of the world than in any other.

This trend cannot continue if development is to be sustainable.

In terms of environmental sustainability, several countries in this region remain among the world’s 20 most carbon–intensive economies, and energy losses account for almost one third of their total domestic energy use. The challenges of moving towards sustainable production and consumption patterns without exacerbating social tensions while still enjoying the benefits of economic growth remain a challenge for public policy makers across the region. After the Great Recession, we need nothing less than a Great Transformation to ensure the well–being of people and planet.

The discussions you will have these three days will inform a wider process which is underway at the global level as follow up to the Rio + 20 Conference and input into the development of Sustainable Development Goals and the post 2015 development framework. Going forward, the next global agenda will be to define a set of goals that follow the Millennium Development Goals, which have a target date which is not so far away, 2015.

The MDGs were developed rapidly, through a somewhat narrow process. In developing the next set of targets, the UN development agencies are making significant efforts to facilitate inclusive consultations on Post 2015 Development Agenda.

Post 2015 consultations are taking place on different levels, including:

  • national dialogues and thematic consultations covering issues such as governance, health, education, inequalities, and growth and employment; and
  • global consultation through a virtual platform, worldwewant2015.org, and a survey tool, Myworld2015.

So far, at least 600 000 people all over the world have engaged in the UN–facilitated consultations. I am very pleased to say that around 50,000 of these have been in our region. Many countries, including Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, and Serbia, are using social media to extend the reach even further.

We will hear later tomorrow about the national consultations process under way in the region. Out of the 88 global consultations, 14 countries are in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. All of these are being supported by UN Country teams to listen to people about their development priorities and concerns.

We as the UN Development group are finding this process of “listening” both rewarding and insightful. The quality of discussions and the level of ambition have been inspiring.

In conclusion, let me suggest two concrete ways in which this region’s MDG experience can be useful for deliberations on the post–2015 global development agenda in general, and the Sustainable Development Goals in particular.

First, the MDGs were designed primarily with low–income and less developed countries in mind. In order to be made as relevant as possible for middle–income countries, the MDG targets and indicators had to be adapted to reflect national circumstances. For example, because universal primary education had already been achieved in this region, many countries refocused MDG targets and indicators on secondary and post–secondary education, and on education quality, rather than access. Likewise, in order to make the MDGs as useful as possible, their targets and indicators were also disaggregated by sub–national region or locality.

These twin processes of MDG “nationalization” and “localization” had a significant impact on how the MDGs affected development in many countries. If (as many of their proponents argue) the Sustainable Development Goals should be applied universally — to upper–as well as middle–and low–income countries — then the MDG experience from our region suggests that we should expect more cases of “nationalizing” and “localizing” global development goals.

Second, development finance is obviously a key component of future hopes for eradicating poverty and moving towards sustainable development. Debates on development finance often focus on levels of official development assistance, and whether developed countries are providing enough ODA to developing countries. Clearly, more ODA is better than less; and efforts to bring ODA levels up to 0.7% of gross national income in developed countries need to be sustained.

On the other hand, we also know that the global importance of ODA as a source of development finance is declining. This is apparent in our region, where remittances sent home from labour migrants are as a rule many times larger than ODA inflows—particularly in low–and lower middle–income economies like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Kosovo. Household budget and labour force survey data in many countries indicate that these remittances have a strongly pro–poor character — they are more likely to flow to low–income and vulnerable households. Our region’s experience therefore underscores the global importance of treating remittances not as a coping strategy for the poor, but as a key source of finance for development. It also underscores the importance of trans–national efforts to reduce the dangers and vulnerabilities associated with global migration flows.

Lastly, let me underscore the importance of state budgets and financing for MDGs and sustainable development priorities. In middle income countries donor funds and resources brought to the table by the UN system are never sufficient to address problems of inequality and sustainability. Therefore, we must work together to build on comparative advantages on each of the partners – the UN contributes ideas, solutions, facilitates the process and ensures broad participation in a project. The Government provides leadership and ownership of solutions, as well as financing and legislative change needed to make innovative solutions sustainable.

Let me reiterate the strong interest of UNDP to partner with middle income countries as we define the development priorities for the future. I am sure that discussions here in Minsk will provide an excellent input to the global thinking and policy discussion on Sustainable Development Goals.

I trust that your participation in Minsk conference will help you and your Governments to embrace the challenges of the future and respond with a truly multi–sectoral and inclusive strategy that will take us further in pursuit of human development objectives.

Thank you and I wish you a successful meeting.

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