Antonio Vigilante, Director of the UN/UNDP Office in Brussels:
Acting now means avoiding much greater costs tomorrow
If climate change is not tackled through appropriate international agreements, policy and resources, we could end up with 1/3 of humanity in extreme poverty
Maria Koleva, Brussels
23 May, 2013
Hunger, wherever it happens, is morally unacceptable in the age of plentyWe must and can reach zero extreme poverty and zero hunger on the planet in the time of one generationFor the time being, citizens seem to prioritize access and quality of education and health Close-up: Antonio Vigilante is the Director of the United Nations/UNDP Office in Brussels since 2006. He was born in Naples, Italy. He started his career with UNDP in 1981. During the years he held a number of positions in different countries and at headquarters, the most recent ones having been Deputy Resident Representative in Bolivia, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Bulgaria and Egypt. Mr. Vigilante is author of many publications related to development issues in specialised editions, in addition to 3 books on other subjects. He speaks Italian, English, Spanish and French. - Mr. Vigilante, which areas of the partnership between the UN and the EU marked most noticeable outputs in 2012?- The support of the EU in 2012 has empowered the UN response to humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, Middle East, Mali and Somalia/Kenya and permitted to save tens of thousands of lives. For instance in the Sahel alone more than 10 million people have been assisted and hundreds of thousands of refugees have been supported in countries bordering with Syria. The cooperation between UN and European Union has also permitted to prepare fair and transparent elections in a number of countries, for instance Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Jordan and Yemen. Through the funding from the food facility that the European Commission put in place, food security has been improved for millions of people in all continents. An effective cooperation between the UN and the EU took place in response to the security challenges in Mali.- Now, less than 1000 days to the deadline for achieving the MDGs, how close is their accomplishment given that in the world more than 870 million people are still famine victims?- The MDGs have managed to focus the attention of policy makers and government actions in the last years, which contributed to reach the poverty reduction and the water coverage goals ahead of 2015 and to register good progress in education, HIV treatment and malaria. The environmental goals and maternal mortality will be short of the targets. Development assistance has not kept pace with the promised increase, also due to the crisis affecting economic growth in developed countries. The slums reduction target has been achieved, but the original target was probably not too ambitious. Progress has been uneven across countries, but in the last years there has been significant progress, at least on some of the goals, everywhere, including the least developed countries. In general, the good news for development over the last 30 years is that never before so many people have seen their lives improve so dramatically in such a short time. The gap in access to education and health between developed and developing countries has been significantly reduced. However, inequality within countries is increasing, especially in the income dimension. The future MDGs framework will have to tackle this equity issue, together with the sustainability one. There is no reason for complacency. A baby born is Sierra Leone today can expect to live 35 years less that a Japanese baby. The per capita income of Luxembourg is 153 times that of Democratic Republic of the Congo, in purchasing power parity terms. The average years of schooling in USA is 13 years against 1 in Niger. Hunger, wherever it happens, is morally unacceptable in the age of plenty. We must and can reach zero extreme poverty and zero hunger on the planet in the time of one generation.- The UN asked citizens from all over the world for their ideas to help shape the future global development agenda. What do people demand from the world leaders?- The global conversation taking place on MDGs, via online and offline surveys, national consultations in almost 100 countries, and global thematic consultations, is unprecedented. This represents a new way of arriving at global policy making through bottom up contributions. Millions of citizens are expressing their preferences on development issues. For the time being, citizens seem to prioritize access and quality of education and health and honest and transparent governments as the most important levers for human development.- How can a new Global agreement on climate change be signed in two years given the fact that negotiations are making just a small-step progress?- There is no choice: acting now means not only avoiding a planetary catastrophe but avoiding much greater costs tomorrow. If climate change is not tackled through appropriate international agreements, policy and resources, instead of reaching zero extreme poverty, which is feasible, by 2050 we could end up with 1/3 of humanity in extreme poverty, according to the UNDP Human Development Report 2013. Poverty and environment, equity and sustainability, are interlinked dimensions of development. The crisis should not be a reason to abandon international solidarity and delay global action to respond to the severe challenges of this century. Moving towards an inclusive and greener development is essential and is in itself a potential way out of the crisis, as it can promote investments, growth, efficient use of natural resources and technological progress. - Is the current system of development aid efficient enough to channel funds where they are most needed?- Development cooperation has certainly contributed to the fast human development progress that has characterized some 40 countries in the south in the last decades and also in the other cases. However, it has not always been efficient and effective. An important international dialogue is taking place on how to make development cooperation better suited to today's needs and increase its development impact. Globalization, global challenges such as climate change and international financial stability, increasing inequalities, are all factors which make development a much more complex and costly task than in the past. Therefore also development cooperation must evolve and become more strategic. New approaches have to be pursued, such as the efforts towards universal social protection floors. Ensuring gradually universal access to health and education and measures of social protection can be an effective tool for poverty eradication. Exclusion from participation and sharing the benefits of growth and growing disparities within countries are prime causes of almost all conflicts, and therefore need to be addressed more deliberately and convincingly. Engaging in women empowerment and gender equity, for instance in girls' education, is probably the development investment with highest returns and not enough has been made yet for this. Reducing people and countries' vulnerability to natural and human made disasters has rightly gained centre stage in development strategies. Increased capacity to manage natural and extractive resources for sustainable human development requires renewed attention. The emerging economies should also make their part in international cooperation, as they start doing especially through south-to-south cooperation. The case of those countries which have performed better in development reinforces the conviction that cooperation must respond to national visions and priorities, and that there is no single model for development. People's voice need to be more central in determining priorities, and the private sector and the research community must be more closely associated to the development dialogue and action. But above all, there is a need of policy coherence for development, nationally and internationally. Official development aid will never be sufficient, if investment and trade policies do not contribute to create suitable conditions for development, if energy and agricultural subsidies and capital flight continue to reduce development effectiveness. - How does the UN plan to cooperate with the European Voluntary Corps in Humanitarian Aid which actually starts work in 2014?- There is an ongoing dialogue between the UN and the EU on this issue, but not yet plans for specific collaboration.- Tax evasion, avoidance and planning became extremely sensitive topic after recent offshore leaks report. What joint efforts can EU and the UN undertake to crush such crimes?- Indeed work is going on in the EU and OECD towards measures to eliminate tax havens and the G20 gave impetus to this. The UN adopted an anti-corruption convention in 2003, entered into force in 2005, and through the Global Compact initiative thousands of private corporations commit to abstain from corruption practices, with effects also on tax havens. The solution starts with better systems of transparent and accountable governance at national levels, accompanied by transparent information exchange between countries. However, these instruments are far from sufficient. Inter-state willingness and capacity to cooperate, a reform of standard accounting practices, and an international regime to combat illicit flows, tax evasions and promote transparent international finance, including cooperative jurisdictions, seem necessary and discussions have started. Capital flights are extremely detrimental for development. The OECD/ AFDB /UNDP Africa Economic Outlook 2012 analyzed the development delay caused by the capital flights from African countries.- On 31 May in Brussels will start the Fifth Millennium Documentary Film Festival, which is supported by the UNDP. What key messages will it deliver to the public through its small human stories?- The UN continues to support the International Millennium Documentary Film Festival since the millennium development goals and the sustainable human development causes are not yet sufficiently known, understood and "owned" by citizens. As in previous editions, the festival 2013 will make people know and understand distant realities, become aware of problems and solutions, generate empathy. The Festival fosters that citizens demand more accountability from governments with respect to their commitment to vigorously fight the shame of hunger, extreme poverty, child and maternal mortality, lack of access to essential services, the lack of gender equity. This year the festival invites to reflect on the "commodification" of everything, the "material approach to life", whereby everything, including lives, becomes just products. The motto adopted this year, "everything for sale", reflects the contents of several documentaries to be shown this year and invites to reflect on the meaning of life, happiness, development and progress. Indirectly it champions the right to dignity and claims all human rights everywhere for everyone. The festival has enjoyed a growing success and has acquired an international reputation of high quality, engagement and professionalism. I have no doubt that it will have a long life.