From Rio to 2015 and beyond
Speaking on equity and sustainability, Prime Minister Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and UNDP head Helen Clark met today as High-Level Panel to follow up on the seminal ‘Global Human Development Forum’ held in Istanbul, Turkey in March this year.
One of the major events this week – From Rio to 2015 and beyond: Charting a course for a fairer world – was organised on the sidelines of the Rio+20 conference by the government of Turkey and UNDP. The discussion, which were moderated by UN Development Report Director Khalid Malik and Global Sustainability Panel Executive Director Janos Pasztor, was witnessed by hundreds of participants.
Lyonchhen, as one of the key speakers, focused on three key themes of both the Istanbul Forum and the High-Level Panel. He spoke on the vital link between equity and sustainability and on how to ensure the effective integration of sustainability and equity in actual practice in the post-2015 global development agenda. Lyonchhen also spoke on the key role of measurement in this process as the third theme, which was highlighted in the Istanbul Declaration, the 2011 Human Development Report, and the Secretary-General’s High-Level Global Sustainability Panel.
He said that the understanding of vital links between sustainability and equity, and between ecological conservation and human development are personally close to his own heart and go the very core of the Kingdom of Bhutan’s own integrated GNH development philosophy. He also said that hard evidence shows that the stress of poverty on countless millions of our fellow beings is no less than the stress on the planet of the lifestyles of the rich. “If everyone on the planet were to consume at North American levels, we would need four planets earth to provide the resources they consume and to absorb the wastes they produce. We have only one planet!,” he said. “From a straight resource perspective, we cannot alleviate poverty without curbing excess consumption among the rich. This we now known as simple fact.”
The Istanbul Declaration stressed the importance of a Rio +20 outcome based on “a globally adopted vision that combines equitable growth with environmental sustainability, rooted in universal values and global social justice.” The Declaration emphasized further that the post-2015 development goals now under discussion in Rio must be relevant to all nations and based on measurable indicators.
*Hon’ble Prime Minister’s keynote address is as follows:
From Rio to 2015 and Beyond: Charting a Course for a Fairer World
Rio Centro, Rio de Janeiro
I wish to thank Their Excellencies Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Helen Clark for hosting this panel to follow up on the seminal Global Human Development Forum held in Istanbul in March, in which the Kingdom of Bhutan was delighted to play an active role. I am deeply honoured that, through today’s event, you have invited my government to continue its participation in the vitally important process you initiated in Istanbul.
I want to focus today on three key themes of both the Istanbul Forum and today’s panel:
First, the vital link between equity and sustainability;
Second, how to bring those inseparable goals into the post-2015 global development agenda in actual practice, which is the core question you have posed to us today;
And third, the key role of measurement in this process, which was highlighted in the Istanbul Declaration, the 2011 Human Development Report, and the Secretary-General’s High-Level Global Sustainability Panel.
1. Equity and Sustainability
First, as emphasized in all three of those reports, and as stated with admirable clarity in your Istanbul Forum report: “Equity and sustainability are inextricably linked.” That link is no longer conceptual or theoretical, but is empirically proven, and demonstrated in policy.
Ecological footprint assessments show not only that humanity is using up natural resources 50% faster than nature can regenerate, but also that this global overshoot is intimately linked to global economic realities that increasingly divide rich from poor. Footprint results show that 70% of the world’s people live within sustainable limits, and within the earth’s capacity to supply essential resources and absorb wastes, while 30% live and consume far beyond those limits. We know:
that 20% of the world’s people consume 86% of its goods while the poorest 20% consume just 1.3%.
that the richest 20% use 58% of all energy and the poorest 20% less than 4%;
that 20% of people produce 63% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions while the poorest 20% produce only 2%;
that 12% of the world’s people use 85% of the world’s water;
that the richest 20% consume 84% of all paper and have 87% of all vehicles, while the poorest 20% use less than 1% of each.
Hard evidence shows that the stress of poverty on countless millions of our fellow beings is no less than the stress on the planet of the lifestyles of the rich. If everyone on the planet were to consume at North American levels, we would need four planets earth to provide the resources they consume and to absorb the wastes they produce. We have only one planet! From a straight resource perspective, we cannot alleviate poverty without curbing excess consumption among the rich. This we now known as simple fact.
And that, you might say, is the bad news on the present link between in-equity and un-sustainability!
The good news is that abundant research has now convincingly scotched the alleged dichotomy between jobs and environment, and proved that ecologically responsible behaviour makes economic and business sense, and creates good jobs. Tried and tested innovations have shown our capacity to stabilize both the economy and the climate, to generate employment through conservation and efficiency, and to enhance equity through shorter work time solutions that conserve resources while improving both productivity and quality of life.
And we have found this vital link to be true in our own experience in the Kingdom of Bhutan, where we have long placed the natural environment at the very centre of all our development policies. Our Constitution mandates that at least 60% of the Kingdom of Bhutan remain under forest cover in perpetuity. In fact, we have now reached 80% forest cover, up from 60% some 50 years ago. This, in turn, protects our rich biodiversity, safeguards watersheds, and expands wildlife corridors. Indeed, more than 50% of our country is now under full environmental protection in national parks and wilderness areas. We vowed at COP15 in Copenhagen always to remain a net carbon sink. We are now about to introduce a green tax on certain goods. And we are working towards becoming the first country in the world to be 100% organic in food production.
And we have discovered that these policies to protect nature have not come at the expense of human and social development. Our life expectancy has increased dramatically. Health care and education are free. Rural health clinics and schools are sprouting throughout the land, with 99% of primary-aged children now in school. Our Tenth Five-Year Plan is sharply reducing poverty, and our 11th Plan will focus on rural prosperity.
In the most practical ways, we have discovered that caring for our natural world actually enhances social wellbeing and equity. On “Pedestrian Tuesdays,” when private cars are banned from Bhutan’s urban centres, our people not only cut their greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions but socialize and enjoy each other’s company as they walk to work, freed from the divide between the “haves” with the cars and the “have-nots” without.
And in the midst of our rapid development, we are doing our best to maintain our ancient wisdom traditions and to strengthen our cultural values, principles, bonds, and practices. Those values find expression in our deep respect for all life and in our strong family and community bonds.
And these integrated policies in the Kingdom of Bhutan all have their root in our holistic development approach that we call Gross National Happiness or GNH, which seeks to balance sustainable and equitable socio-economic development with ecological conservation, cultural promotion, and good governance. We make no claim to have achieved GNH or to be exempt from the profound ecological, social, and development challenges we all face. But this overarching GNH development philosophy gives meaning, purpose, and direction to all we do, and provides the fundamental context for our deep commitment to both sustainability and equity.
In sum, innovative models around the world and our own policy experience in Bhutan strongly support the inextricable link between sustainability and equity highlighted by the Istanbul forum. They demonstrate that responsible and equitable human and social development will not deplete and degrade our precious planet but effectively protect it.
2. How do we get there? ― An agenda for global development
And that leads directly to the second theme that you explicitly asked us to address in today’s panel: ― How to ensure the effective integration of sustainability and equity in actual practice in the post-2015 global development agenda. And here I deeply appreciate the strong and forthright way that UNDP reported the conclusions of the March Istanbul Forum and of the Human Development Report and Global Sustainability Panel that provided the context for the 2012 Global Development Forum (and I quote):
“Incremental changes in policy and practice are insufficient in responding to current challenges” [UNDP stated]. “Larger structural changes are needed to deliver effective solutions…. Transformational changes are required.”
And the Istanbul Declaration again speaks of the need for real “structural transformations.” This language is powerful and significant, and is in stark contrast to so much of the mainstream dialogue on the “green economy” that amounts to little more than tinkering with the present system. I can only wish that the understanding on transformational change that emerged from Istanbul will be heeded right here in Rio during this present Summit.
Indeed, it is precisely such a paradigm shift that characterizes the Fourth King of Bhutan’s now famous proclamation four decades ago that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product,” and which is needed to integrate equity and sustainability effectively in the post-2015 global development agenda.
It is exactly that profound shift in values, goals, and understanding that also marked the landmark High-Level Meeting on Wellbeing and Happiness that my government was honoured to host at the United Nations on 2nd April this year, to which the President of Costa Rica and the UN Secretary-General so graciously contributed, and which the UNDP Administrator here so superbly chaired.
That remarkable gathering, attended by 800 distinguished participants, spoke of a real and viable alternative to our present system, which ― fuelled by mindless consumerism ― has depleted resources, degraded ecosystem services, accelerated greenhouse gas emissions, diminished biodiversity, and now threatens the survival of humans and other species on the planet. This present system has also created yawning inequities, and is generating global economic insecurity, indebtedness, instability, and conflict.
If we are genuinely to shift from that self-destructive path, the 2nd April meeting acknowledged, we need to see human happiness and the wellbeing of all life on earth as the core goal of development, to recognize ecological sustainability, fair distribution, and the efficient use of resources as essential conditions towards that end, and to strive for a healthy balance among thriving natural, human, social, cultural, and built assets.
As mandated by that meeting, His Majesty the King of Bhutan will now convene an international expert Working Group to elaborate the details of that new development paradigm proposed on 2nd April. And we are confident that the outcomes and results of this endeavour will make a significant contribution to the search for a viable post-2015 global development agenda that genuinely integrates sustainability and equity.
3. Measuring Beyond GDP
Allow me to give just one example of how we can quickly move towards the new development paradigm and create a sound basis for the post-2015 global development agenda. In this regard, the Istanbul Declaration of March this year issued a clear clarion call for action (and I quote):
“We also recognize the importance and power of measurement. We manage what we measure―and, in turn, what we measure affects what we do. It is therefore vital that we measure progress towards sustainable development in a more comprehensive manner. Measures are required that go beyond GDP to capture a fuller picture of human development, and emphasize sustainable and equitable outcomes.”
My country was deeply honoured that the report of the 2012 Global Human Development Forum in Istanbul explicitly referenced the Kingdom of Bhutan’s “Gross National Happiness” measures as a potential model in this regard. And indeed, we now actively use our 72 GNH indicators in nine domains to guide our policy through a policy screening tool. In fact, no major policy is implemented in Bhutan if it fails the GNH indicator test.
But we have also learned that, to measure progress accurately and properly, indicators are not enough. GDP, as you well know, is not an indicator, but an accounting system. To challenge the continued dominance of narrow GDP-based measures, we are therefore building a new holistic accounting system that accounts for the value of our nation’s natural, human, social, and cultural capital ― and not only the manufactured and financial capital that is currently counted. And so we are now delighted to join the World Bank’s new natural capital accounting initiative, which we deeply welcome.
In February this year we released the first natural, human, and social capital results of our new National Accounts, which showed, for example, that our forests in Bhutan provide more than 14 billion dollars a year worth of ecosystem services ― four times more than our whole GDP. Of that value, 53% accrues to those beyond our borders, as our forests regulate the climate, store carbon, and protect watersheds from which others benefit. We suddenly realized that we are a donor country! We see our emerging full benefit-cost National Accounts literally as the foundation of the new development model we are determined to build.
To conclude, I can only express my deep gratitude to our hosts ― The Republic of Turkey and the United Nations Development Program ― for hosting both the Istanbul Forum and this important follow-up gathering, and for your kind invitations to the Kingdom of Bhutan to play an active role in both. It has been a delight and honour to accept those invitations simply because the substance and subject of your deliberations both today and in Istanbul ― and particularly the understanding of the vital links between sustainability and equity, and between ecological conservation and human development ― are personally close to my own heart and go the very core of the Kingdom of Bhutan’s own integrated GNH development philosophy.
I pledge to you here that my country will not deviate from its steadfast commitment to a genuinely sustainable and equitable path, that we shall strengthen and deepen our commitment to these goals, and that we will do all we can to support the noble objectives of the United Nations Development Program in joining equitable human development with ecological conservation. I have no doubt that this path can and must lead humankind away from its present dangerous course and towards a bright future that truly enhances human happiness and the wellbeing of all life on earth.
Thank you and TASHI DELEK!