Amid Climate Change, Rising Inequality, Priority Must Go to ‘Pro-Poor’ Policies, Under-Secretary-General Tells Economic and Social Council Integration Segment

Technological progress was a valuable tool for building resilience, but it must benefit everyone, including the poor, as nations ramp up their ability to weather increasingly complex shocks while at the same time putting the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into practice, the Economic and Social Council heard today as it opened its three-day 2018 integration segment.

Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that, in the face of climate change, rising inequality and urbanization, priority must go to pro-poor policies that would ensure that no one is left behind. Technologies had a proven ability to help support resilient and sustainable societies, he said, adding that efforts to leverage technology and innovation must be localized. Too many technological advances had not reached the poorest, he stated, underscoring the need to ensure that advancements reached all people.

Kamoliddinzoda Ilyos Jamoliddin, Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan, drawing attention to his nation’s vulnerability to climate change, said its Government had focused on innovative approaches, such as the construction of hydroelectric facilities helping to bring down water-related threats. Renewable resources were essential, he said, adding that Tajikistan would continue to cooperate with the United Nations and others to make progress.

Marc Pecsteen de Buytswerve (Belgium), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said theme of the 2018 integration segment � Innovative communities: leveraging technology and innovation to build sustainable and resilient societies � would analyse pathways to build resilience through integrated policies with a view to advancing the 2030 Agenda. Technology and innovation have been identified as two key enablers whose appropriate, efficient, equitable and sustainable use can support our efforts to build and maintain resilient societies, he noted.

The Council’s annual integration segment helps Member States and others map ways to achieve the three pillars of sustainable development � economic, social and environmental. Participants, including policymakers from national Governments, would this week begin exchanging experiences and discuss strategies, with key findings informing action-oriented recommendations for follow-up.

Interactive dialogues today focused on three themes: The quest for resilience and sustainability: seizing the moment, Resilience decoded � building blocks towards 2030 and Technology and disaster risk reduction. Among the panellists, Sheela Patel, Founding Director, Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres and Chair, Slum/Shack Dwellers International, said poor people, having lived amid hardship, often had solutions at hand for dealing with resilience challenges. You cannot treat poor people as charity cases, she said, emphasizing how much they could contribute.

Rashmi Jaipal, Main Representative, American Psychological Association at the United Nations and Professor Emeritus, Cross-Cultural Psychology Center for Cultures and Communication and Alternative Visions for the Future, Bloomfield College, noted the psychological costs of information and communications technology (ICT) on young people. Supportive parents, close relationships with extended family and peers, and good schools helped build resilience to the negative effects of technology, she added.

Ronald Jackson, Executive Director, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, discussed the work of that body, which focused largely on institutional strengthening, knowledge management, sector integration and community resilience. He noted various ways it was using ICT and how it was coordinating its work to tackle and deliver the 2030 Agenda. He also described various technologies used to assess the damage to Dominica caused by the September 2017 hurricanes.

The Economic and Social Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 2 May, to continue its integration segment.

Opening Statements

MARC PECSTEEN DE BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council, said that, despite significant progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world still faced economic uncertainty, rising inequalities and the growing impacts of climate change. The theme of the 2018 integration segment � Innovative communities: leveraging technology and innovation to build sustainable and resilient societies � would analyse pathways to build resilience through integrated policies with a view to advancing the 2030 Agenda. Resilience was a challenge for developing and developed countries alike, yet there was no blueprint for what constituted resilience or how to accomplish it. But, while approaches and definitions may differ, the 2030 Agenda provided the necessary tools, he said.

Technology and innovation have been identified as two key enablers whose appropriate, efficient, equitable and sustainable use can support our efforts to build and maintain resilient societies, he said, adding that the integration segment would be an ideal place to share knowledge and lessons learned. Emphasizing the urgent need to address interconnected and complex challenges, he said national policies and structures would remain at the heart of implementation efforts. However, ensuring that actions at all levels were concerted and coherent could only be achieved through strong collaboration with all partners striving towards common development objectives.

KAMOLIDDINZODA ILYOS JAMOLIDDIN, Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade of Tajikistan, said that mountains covered 93 per cent of his country, making it a major source of water for the Central Asia region. He expressed concern that Tajikistan remained extremely vulnerable and sensitive to climate change which had already caused major destruction and financial losses. Water sources were particularly vulnerable to climate change, he stressed, adding that Tajikistan continued to implement the 2030 Agenda against the backdrop of several international and national crises including land degradation and a food crisis.

Tajikistan focused on innovative approaches that would help it withstand climate change, he continued, noting that the construction of hydroelectric facilities had helped decrease water-related threats. Renewable resources were essential. Tajikistan would continue to cooperate with the United Nations and other partners to make progress, he said.

LIU ZHENMIN, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said the rapid pace of technological change had made it difficult for Governments to keep up. He stressed the need to prioritize policies that were pro-poor to ensure that no one is left behind. Greenhouse-gas emissions were rising, he warned, calling for clear strategies for more sustainable pathways for development. Rising inequality continued to undermine the stability and resilience of societies. More than one half of the world’s population now lived in urban areas, he noted, adding that, while globalization had great potential for human development, cities continued to face pressing challenges: air pollution, insecurity and overcrowding.

Environmental degradation continued with worrying trends particularly in the water sector, he said. Technologies had proven the ability to help support resilient and sustainable societies, he said, adding that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism aimed to provide a platform to assess information, knowledge and best practices. Any efforts to leverage technology and innovation in support of communities must be localized. Grass-roots efforts were critical. Too many technological advances had not reached the poorest, he emphasized, stressing the need to ensure that advancements reach all people. Crises and shocks were increasingly complex, he said, urging the need for forward-looking institutions that plan for risk.

Interactive Dialogue

The Council then held an interactive discussion on the theme The quest for resilience and sustainability: seizing the moment. Moderated by Eduardo Porter, Journalist, The New York Times, and author of the book The Price of Everything, it featured presentations by Daniel Recht, Chief Executive Officer, Volute Inc., and Senior Engineer, OtherLab; Sheela Patel, Founding Director, Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres and Chair, Slum/Shack Dwellers International; and Jolly Amatya, United Nations major group for children and youth.

Mr. PORTER said that, in discussing resilience, a variety of shocks needed to be considered. Those included climate change, technological advances and political challenges. Going forward, technology would play an important role, but the main challenge would be the ability to mobilize political will, to create consensus and to make trade-offs. He added that the diversity of actors and problems made the quest for resilience and sustainability a tough one to address.

Mr. RECHT, asked by the moderator what role he thought technology would play, said that it provided more options and made it easier to deploy the right solutions. However, technology could not provide the will to deploy those solutions. Elaborating, he said the 60-odd inventors at his company could do their best, but it was up to the world to put their efforts into practice. What we can do as technologists is to give you a gift, but you have to accept it and implement it, he said, making a presentation featuring storm-resistant renewable energy products.

Ms. PATEL, asked about inclusiveness, and noting her organization’s work with the urban poor, said that, all too often, poor people wound up with things � like outdated solar panels � that had been chucked away by others. She said she was often asked why things were not co-produced with poor people. Poor people must be treated as co-producers, she said, adding: You cannot treat poor people as charity cases. Living as they did amid water shortages, flooding and mud slides, the poor already had solutions to resilience challenges and they had much to contribute. She also described the urban-rural divide as artificial.

Ms. AMATYA, asked about the role of young people, said the world’s 1.8 billion young people � more than 85 per cent of them living in developing countries � could be key agents of change. Uncertainty might seem to be the norm today, but that did not discourage youth. She emphasized the importance of a human rights approach, life-long education and youth civic engagement. It was also critical to integrate youth into policymaking. She recalled that young people had been the real heroes of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, leveraging technology in a variety of ways, such as data mapping and using social media to raise funds. Recalling that the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 had recognized youth as agents of change, she said that, without inclusivity, achieving the 2030 Agenda would be a distant dream.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Chile asked the panel about building connections between civil society and the private sector. The representative of the Islamic Development Bank underscored the value of indigenous knowledge, while a third participant spoke about the gender divide.

Ms. PATEL described a dialogue that Slum/Shack Dwellers International had launched with 15 engineering companies which undertook large contacts in the global South, encouraging them to change the way they carried out their work and mitigate evictions. Her organization was also reaching out to those with the capacity and resources to coproduce with the poor. It was also important to celebrate the knowledge that women carried between generations. For the poor to be more than just consumers of development, they must ensure that their knowledge was recognized.

Mr. RECHT said it would be a great help if those outside Governments and research universities came to inventors with problems to solve. We like things that are difficult, he said, acknowledging, however, that technologists also must listen more and listen better. He noted the contributions of female technologists in his company who had developed, for instance, a low-cost milling machine with software designed for the women who would operate it. The value of research conducted by small organizations and companies must also be emphasized, he said, citing the California experience of technological breakthroughs being made by 20 people working in a garage.

Ms. AMATYA emphasized the importance of tapping local and indigenous knowledge, and for integrating those people into policy and planning efforts as well as public-private partnerships. She added that innovative solutions must be context-specific, and that sustainable development and resilience should not be viewed as two separate goals.

The Economic and Social Council then viewed a short film titled Climate Change in Fiji Virtual Reality: Our Home, Our People prior to beginning its two sessions taking on the themes Resilience decoded � building blocks towards 2030 and Technology and disaster risk reduction, respectively.

Session I: Resilience Decoded � Building Blocks towards 2030

The interactive session on decoding resilience was moderated by Vinicius Pinheiro, Special Representative to the United Nations and Director, International Labour Organization (ILO). It featured presentations by Carla Mucavi, Director, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Liaison Office in New York; Ayona Datta, Reader in Urban Futures, King’s College, London; Rashmi Jaipal, Main Representative, American Psychological Association at the United Nations, and Professor Emeritus, Cross-Cultural Psychology Center for Cultures and Communication and Alternative Visions for the Future, Bloomfield College; and Orsolya Bartha, Senior Adviser, International Disability Alliance. Also speaking as discussants were Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Vice-Chair of the Committee for Development Policy at its twentieth session, and Brian Keane, Rapporteur of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at its seventeenth session.

Mr. PINHEIRO said that the word resilience was mentioned several times in the 2030 Agenda, particularly relating to disasters and poverty. The concept had come a long way as it had been wholly absent from the Millennium Development Goals. He emphasized the importance of resilience, especially regarding making workers more resilient to frequent and unpredictable changes in the labour market.

Ms. MUCAVI said that climate related disasters, already causing displacement and acute hunger, were set to increase in frequency and strength. Rural people were highly vulnerable. Despite growing urbanization, around 75 per cent of the world’s poor lived in rural areas, deriving their livelihoods mainly from agriculture. While a poor rural family could withstand one shock, year after year of the same shock makes recovery very difficult.

Ms. DATTA said that the absence of critical infrastructure had serious impacts on the vulnerable and disenfranchised, particularly women. Some cities had tried to install safe city apps, she noted, adding that smart apps were not the solution, especially in poor communities. Usually it was men who had access to and control of mobile phones. Women used smart phones to spread information to their friends and neighbours about safe zones and routes. It was essential to mainstream gender vulnerabilities into smart city agendas. Resilience was not an inherent quality of communities. Rather, resilience needed to be decoded along multiple axes of vulnerabilities: gender, age and poverty.

Ms. JAIPAL noted the psychological costs of information and communications technology (ICT) on young people. Supportive parents, close relationships with extended family and peers, and good schools helped build resilience to the negative effects of technology. She underscored the increase in suicide in high income countries, noting that the suicide rate in the United States in 2014 had increased to its highest level in 30 years. Widespread use of ICT was affecting cognitive and social functions for adolescents. Social media use by youth was linked to increased rates of anxiety, depression, poor sleep, loneliness and isolation. At least 7.5 million social media users were under the age of 13. Social media has shaped their entire lives, she said. It was important to critical thinking about consumer culture.

Ms. BARTHA said that the 2030 Agenda embodied a commitment to include those left behind. In that regard, an integrated and holistic approach was essential. Resilient societies must be built on equality of opportunities and on equality between men and women and respect of children and elderly. Vulnerable and marginalized groups must be participants. Persons with disabilities were not usually included in the design of programmes catering to them. People living in poverty often lacked representation, she said, adding that often the 2030 Agenda failed to reach those most in need.

Also participating as discussants, Ms. FUKUDA-PARR said the intellectual monopolies that served to prioritize private investments could become obstacles to technological breakthroughs. It was essential to resolve contradictions between ensuring human rights and international trade standards. She expressed concern that least developed countries, recommended for graduation, often faced traumatic challenges following their upgraded status. The vulnerability remains, particularly for those in environmentally difficult areas. She stressed the need for proactive coordination for financing and technological development.

Mr. KEANE said that all the Sustainable Development Goals impacted indigenous people, who remained the best example of resilient societies. For many years, indigenous people were considered obstacles to Western progress. And still they are here reaching out to work together, he said. Technology continued to have a major role to play in meeting the 2030 Agenda. But, it is important that we keep reminding ourselves that there is no magic bullet, he added, emphasizing the need to preserve and maintain the ecological system of indigenous territories. Just as diversity was healthy for agriculture and forests, it was also healthy for societies. For indigenous peoples, resilience was a day-to-day activity.

In the ensuing discussion, panellists further tackled several topics on resilience, including how to increase data security, and ways to ensure rights for people with disabilities and indigenous populations.

Ms. Jaipal noted that psychology was largely about how the individual was connected to his environment and culture through a socioeconomic lens. Sustainable development was very much connected to that. Ms. Datta said that resilience meant that people had to acquire knowledge and information in order for them to cope with things imposed on them. She used the example of people being evicted from slums. They had to learn the law and argue their right to stay in their homes, she added.

Ms. BARTHA said that regarding persons with disabilities it was important to overcome discrimination and to empower and promote social economic inclusion. In some societies, people hid children with disabilities. To overcome such stigma, people with disabilities must be part of the data collection efforts.

Session II: Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction

In the afternoon, the Council held a discussion on technology and disaster risk reduction, moderated by Koki Muli Grignon (Kenya), Vice-Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women at its sixty-second session. The panel featured presentations by Rustam Shohiyon, First Deputy Chairman of the Committee of Emergency Situations and Civil Defense of Tajikistan; Ronald Jackson, Executive Director, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, Jamaica; Annisa Triyanti, Representative of the Young Scientists in the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Science and Technology Advisory Group; and Youba Sokona, Special Adviser, Sustainable Development, South Centre, and Honorary Professor, Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy, University College London. Speaking as discussants were Muhammad Shahrul Ikram Yaakob (Malaysia), Chair of the United Nations Forum on Forests at its sixteenth session.

Mr. SHOHIYON said the Sendai Framework had served as a critical instrument in mobilizing the international community to address severe challenges. Tajikistan had created a national platform for disaster risk reduction to that end, he continued, underscoring the difficulties in achieving sustainable development without access to information and innovation. Tajikistan stood ready to work with the international community, he added, outlining his country’s myriad challenges. In 2017 alone, it had recorded 883 dangerous national events and disasters, he noted, urging the need for comprehensive strategies to ensure disaster risk reduction. He also noted the various technologies focused on preventing landslides.

Ms. GRIGNON said that women and children were 14 times more likely than men to die in disasters. It was essential to take that into account in order to help the most vulnerable populations during natural hazards. The planning and delivery of policies must be attuned to the rights and needs that women and girls faced. The international community must invest in women and girls to reduce their vulnerabilities and increase their resilience.

Mr. JACKSON said the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency focused largely on institutional strengthening, knowledge management, sector integration and community resilience. He noted various ways it was using ICT to bring about resilience and how it was coordinating its work to tackle and deliver the 2030 Agenda. Social protection for the most vulnerable, safeguarding infrastructure, and strengthening operational readiness were essential pillars. He underscored the need to develop a fact-based decision-making mechanism. Advancing innovation required enhancing internal human resources and partnerships with the private sector and academia. He also described various technologies used to assess the damage to Dominica caused by the September 2017 hurricanes.

Ms. TRIYANTI said that, as a young scientist, her work had been mandated by the Sendai Framework. Resilience was about human rights and economic development, she emphasized, pointing out that while technology had many benefits there were also dangers. Wondering why technology was seen as a product rather than a tool, she asked: Does it have to be the latest technology to help people? Stressing the important role of education in developing new technologies and innovations, she urged scientists to work together with communities, young people, women and policymakers. She stressed the importance of intergenerational discussions, adding how important it was for young people to learn from older scientists. In the same vein, young people had so much capacity to help societal transformation.

Mr. SOKONA said the central role of technology had been well-documented. Technology was a broad concept that encompassed three dimensions � hardware, software and the institutional capacity to act � each of which were equally important. Context mattered, he added, stating that in the case of drought in the Sahel, indigenous technologies were as important as high-tech options. Institutional mechanisms, knowledge and knowledge-broking were fundamental, as well, in order to get expertise at the right place at the right time.

Mr. YAAKOB said the forthcoming Forum on Forests from 7 to 11 May would be that body’s first policy session since the adoption of the United Nations strategic plan for forests 2017 2030. It would be an opportunity to promote implementation of that plan while highlighting the contribution of forests to the Sustainable Development Goals and to building resilience. Noting that 30 per cent of Earth’s land was covered by forest, and that 25 per cent of its population depended on them for heat, shelter and livelihood, he said the role of sustainably managed forests in disaster risk reduction was well known. Forests also contributed substantially to climate change mitigation, he said, underscoring the role of such technologies as satellite imaging, mapping, data-gathering and rain making to sustainable forest management.

Elaborating on her earlier remarks, Ms. TRIANTI said ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction was a relevant example of innovation that integrated nations and did not require a lot of rocket science to implement. Noting how mangroves had reduced the impact of the 2004 tsunami, she said communities must be kept aware of the role that forests played in reducing disaster risk.

Mr. JACKSON said the greatest challenge lied in the fact that most forest lands were in the hands of private owners. That limited the ability for States to apply various forest management approaches. He also cited the contribution that citizen scientists could make to an ecosystems approach.

The Council then viewed an animated video from the World Bank titled Now Is the Time to Invest in Resilient Cities.

Source: United Nations