It is significant that we are launching this report in Sri Lanka on 10 December, a date when we commemorate Human Rights Day. As you are aware human rights are an important enabler of human development. Human rights and sustainable human development are interdependent and mutually reinforcing. Inequalities weaken this interdependency.
The main premise of the human development approach is that expanding peoples’ freedoms is both the main aim of, and the principal means for sustainable development. Any comprehensive assessment of inequality must go beyond dollars and rupees to understand differences in other aspects of human development and the processes that lead to them. There is economic inequality, of course, but there are also inequalities in key elements of human development such as health, education, dignity and respect for human rights. And these might not be revealed by considering income and wealth inequality alone. A human development approach to inequality takes a people-centred view: it is about people’s capabilities to exercise their freedoms to be and do what they aspire to in life.
If inequalities in human development persist and grow, the aspirations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will remain unfulfilled. According to this year’s report a new generation of inequalities is opening up, around education, and around technology and climate change – two seismic shifts that, unchecked, could trigger a ‘new great divergence’ in society of the kind not seen since the Industrial Revolution.
In order to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals are seen and felt in the lives of everyone, everywhere and to keep our commitments to forge a people-centred and planet-sensitive future – we seek to root out inequalities wherever they may persist. Our collective experience has shown that development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive.
As the UN in Sri Lanka we are working towards ensuring fair and inclusive development, while ensuring that the rights of every citizen are upheld in our journey towards helping Sri Lanka achieve the 2030 Agenda. Let me note three areas where our work is especially important, these are also three of the areas which are part of the UN Sustainable Development Framework which was agreed and signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and the UN in Sri Lanka.
As the report notes “the effects of climate change deepen existing social and economic fault lines”. Inequality and the climate crisis are interwoven—from emissions and impacts to policies and resilience. Climate change will hurt human development in many ways beyond crop failures and natural disasters.
We are looking to urgently build resilience to climate change and working closely with the government to promote the prioritization and integration of climate change approaches across government. To prevent further vulnerability to the impact of extreme weather events and protect Sri Lanka’s development gains. This includes not only supporting the development of national climate change policies and planning but also ensuring climate change adaptation practices and strategies are employed effectively at the regional and local levels, strengthening community preparedness. We are also looking at ways that energy and other resources are used more efficiently in production and consumption and supporting the modernization of the environmental management systems. At the same time, we are working with Sri Lankans to protect the biodiversity that this country has been blessed with. An important part of our work and the work for Sri Lankans is fostering climate resilient livelihoods, to ensure that future opportunities are safeguarded.
As UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner notes different triggers are bringing people onto the streets including the demands for political freedoms and the pursuit of fairness and justice. This is the reason we are working on social cohesion programming under Sustainable Development Goal 16 – where we recognise the importance of peaceful and inclusive societies which provide access to justice for all.
Inequalities in human development hurt societies, weakening social cohesion and people’s trust in government, institutions and each other. Inequalities often make it harder for political decisions to reflect the aspirations of the whole of society and to protect the planet.
The Report notes that when more incentives for interaction are directed towards diversity, including people from all ethnicities, religions and social strands – interaction, trust, networks and social cohesion can be built.
In the cross-cutting areas of youth and gender, the report makes some significant observations. Gender gaps in early years are closing, but inequalities persist in adulthood. Worldwide the average HDI for women is six percent lower than for men, due to women’s lower income and educational attainment in many countries. Women’s empowerment remains a challenge and I hope all of you will work together to ensure all women have access to equal opportunities.
The Report notes that we also need to focus on technology including in the form of renewables and energy efficiency, digital finance and digital health solutions, offers a glimpse of how the future of inequality may break from the past, if opportunities can be seized quickly and shared broadly.
According to the report, existing—and new—forms of inequality will interact with major social, economic and environmental forces to determine the lives of today’s young people and their children. We should recognise that young people will be the drivers of innovation and create for them opportunities to thrive through equal access to quality education and employment to help them realise their true potential.
Ladies and gentleman, today Sri Lanka’s HDI is 0.78, which puts the country in the high human development category— positioning it at 71 out of 189 countries and territories. This progress is commendable. However much more needs to be done to address the inequalities that persist. As noted by the report inequality is not beyond solutions.
How do we address these inequalities?
Policies matter for inequalities, inequalities also matter for policies. The human development lens—placing people at the heart of decision making—is central to open a new window on how to approach inequality, asking why and when it matters, how it manifests itself and how best to tackle it. This is a conversation that every society must have. It is also a conversation that should begin today. And it is for every country to determine how Policies with universal reach speak to the fulfilment of the pledge to “leave no one behind” of the 2030 Agenda and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This work cannot be done without respect for the indivisible relationship between human rights and human development. As the report mentioned there is still time to act and what should be done to address inequalities in human development is ultimately for each society to determine.
Therefore, I hope all of you will join me in recognizing the inalienable relationship between human rights, human development and reducing inequalities as we work towards a sustainable development agenda that seeks to leave no one behind.