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People-Centered Development Continues to be Elusive 20 Years After Social Summit

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Twenty years after leaders from 117 countries met in Copenhagen at the World Summit on Social Development, progress on eliminating poverty, creating jobs and social integration have advanced unevenly, according to officials attending a review of implementation efforts since the Summit.

The review has taken on greater importance as the world is preparing to adopt a new global sustainable development agenda at the Sustainable Development Summit this September, and to reach an agreement to address climate change in December.

“In this consequential year for global development – this event could not be more timely,’” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“Today, we have reached a pivotal moment for people and our planet. The year 2015 must be a year of global action.”

“By the end of this year, we will reach the target date of the MDGs – and we are working hard to adopt a new development agenda and agree on a universal, meaningful climate change agreement in Paris this December,” he added.

While the Millennium Development Goals, created in 2000, were successful in lifting millions out of poverty, allowing more children to go to school and fostering investments in fighting diseases such as malaria, the uneven progress and existing gaps now require a new development agenda that effectively integrates economic, social and environmental dimensions.

“We are the first generation that can wipe out extreme poverty. We are the last generation that can address the worst impacts of climate change,” said the secretary general.

He said one word that should guide the world in mapping out the roadmap to ending poverty, transforming lives and protecting the planet is dignity.

The outcome document of the Summit – the Copenhagen Declaration - set an ambitious people-centred agenda aimed to promote social progress and justice. Governments made commitments to eradicate poverty promote full employment and foster social integration.

Twenty years later the goals established at the Summit are still relevant. According to a report by the Secretary-General titled; “Rethinking and strengthening social development in the contemporary world,” the period since the Summit has been characterized by an unprecedented fall in the number of people living in extreme poverty.

The target set out in the Millennium Development Goals of halving, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1.25 a day had been met at the global level by 2010.

While nearly half of the developing world’s population lived in extreme poverty in 1990, the proportion had declined to 17 per cent by 2011 —from 1.9 billion in 1990 to just above 1 billion in 2011.

The report found that while the trends “provide cause for guarded optimism,” progress in poverty reduction has been uneven. Driven in significant part by China, the East Asia and Pacific region has seen a reduction in the number of persons living on less than $1.25 a day from 939 million in 1990 to 161 million in 2011.

However, sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia, in particular the least developed countries within those regions, lag behind.

Sub-Saharan Africa continues to have the highest proportion of people living in extreme poverty, many of whom experience worse deprivations than in other regions.

The review of the Social Summit was part of the discussions at the UN Commission on Social Development, which is currently meeting until 13 February.

“A strong social development pillar is vital to a post-2015 development agenda that leaves no one behind, while advancing all,” said Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

In his report “Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out that Member States believed that sustainable development needed to be inclusive and people-centred.

The report seeks to provide vision and guidance to Member States as they work on the new sustainable development agenda in the coming months.

The UN is working with governments, civil society and other partners to build on the momentum generated by the MDGs and carry on with an ambitious post-2015 development agenda.

The Secretary-General recently launched the 2015: "Time for Global Action" campaign in January which will bring strong focus to critical issues that must be tackled in the new sustainable development agenda and climate change agreement, including many pivotal issues of social development , such as poverty eradication, full employment and social integration.