launch of the UN Development Programme Human Development Report 1998
The UNDP Human Development Report is now the single most important annual publication in the field of international development cooperation. Each year, it provides us with a photograph of trends, an agenda of challenges and an indispensable source of reference.
I am therefore, honoured to be guest speaker at the launch in Ireland of the 1998 Development Report.
The theme of this year's Report is global consumption patterns and their implications for human development.
Consumption patterns are not just abstract statistics. They are about how we live; our guardianship of the environment; how we share the world's resources between developed and developing countries. To study them is to learn about justice or injustice, wisdom or stupidity, fairness or greed.
The current picture on consumption patterns is not a thing to be proud of. The richest 20% of the world's population consumes 58% of the world's energy. On present trends, a child born in New York, Paris or Dublin will consume and waste more in a lifetime than 50 children in developing countries. In a cruel paradox, it is people in developing countries, those least responsible for unwise consumption, who bear the brunt of environmental damage: degradation of land, destruction of forests, pollution of rivers and seas.
In the past few years, we have come to appreciate that Development Cooperation is more than simply aid transfers. It includes action to prevent wars as well as to address their tragic consequences; offering people in developing countries fair trading patterns to avoid exploitation of land or depletion of fishing resources, and strategies to protect the environment as a shared global responsibility.
The 1998 Report points out that developing countries can, if assisted, avoid the worst environmental effects of economic development by the use of clean energy sources and manufacturing processes. They do not have to make the mistakes developed countries made in our transition to industrial development.
All of our efforts in the development field, including environmental, depend in large measure on how generous we in the developed world are to the needs of the poor. There are 1.3 billion people in developing countries who live on less than a dollar today. They cannot be expected to prosper without our help and support.
For that reason it is morally curious that development cooperation transfers from developed to developing countries are at their lowest ever level. Ireland is standing against this trend. This year, Irish Development Cooperation expenditure will total £137 million or 0.32% of GNP. The Government is committed to achieving a figure of 0.45% by 2002.
Today, half the world is in recession. Developing countries have seen the price of primary commodities - on which many depend for even a meagre subsistence level - decline dramatically in recent years.
We in the developed world have a responsibility to do more than just shiver and wonder how bad an "economic cold" we are going to catch. Just as we gain from globalisation, so also do we have a responsibility for ensuring that it is based on foundations of fairness and equity. And it cannot be based on firm foundations if half the world is excluded from these benefits.
The 1998 Report makes recommendations to encourage more sustainable consumption patterns; to protect consumer rights; towards greater burden sharing in tackling poverty and environmental conservation.
I will be looking at these proposals to see what action Ireland can take and will circulate them to relevant Government Departments.
The Report graphically shows the huge inequalities and disparities in levels of development between industrialised and developing countries. The Report also shows the relative position of Ireland in terms of human poverty, human development and in terms of gender disparities. These figures and findings have already been widely reported in today's papers so I will not repeat them. It also clearly places Ireland among the most successful industrial economies in the world and we have the fastest rate of economic growth of anywhere in the developed world.
What is important to underline, however, is that we have not been complacent with our success. We recognise that unemployment is the biggest cause of poverty and our Government Action Plan on Employment is already showing success. Unemployment has been falling continuously for the last 18 months and we now further aim to reduce unemployment from 9 to 7 per cent over the coming 18 months. The Government has set itself a target of bringing it down to 5% by the year 2002.
As the 1998 budgetary preparations get underway in earnest this week, the Government has already made it clear that the emphasis will be on taking thousands of low paid workers out of the tax net, removing obstacles which lie in the path leading from welfare to work, and using the extra resources generated by our economic boom to improve the plight of people with disabilities, the elderly, carers, and other groups who haven't the means to provide for themselves.
The Human Development Report is a useful guide for us as we seek to implement the policies which will help bring us the more equitable society we all desire.
There are important messages in this report for us. They will inform policy making across many areas ranging from the environment, taxation, social policy, employment and equality. This Report makes sober reading. We are reminded that competitive spending and conspicuous consumption turn the affluence of some into the social exclusion of many. While we in Ireland are enjoying the benefits of a healthy economy this success carries with it responsibilities to share our wealth though our growing development aid programme and by domestic budgetary decisions.
We also have our own challenges to confront and a key area of my concern is how we treat refugees. We must remember that asylum seekers who come to this country are often forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, internal strife or the violation of human rights. Our responsibilities to refugees, to people who have been victims of displacement, is very real. While we are not the richest country or the most equal we are still among the top richest countries in the world and this carries with it a moral responsibility.
I am very anxious that our response to refugees in this country should be comprehensive and integrated but also compassionate and humane. We are already working to put in place a comprehensive package of measures. Our response in the past has too often been haphazard and chaotic. We are already working on the following initiatives:
- new reception facilities for asylum seekers
- health care and screening
- legal service
- transparent procedures
- anti-racism education and legislative underpinning with equal status legislation
- language support and training for refugees with status
- access to state services
- programme of family reunification
- structured assistance with integration for refugees
I also believe that we should further consider in what circumstances asylum seekers could be allowed to work, particularly if they are forced to wait lengthy periods before a decision is made on their status. These initiatives will be the subject of a comprehensive discussion document which the Government aims to publish in October this year.
Finally, Ireland is a strong supporter of the United Nations role in international economic development.
I congratulate everyone in the UNDP on their continuing work and for this Report which will inform future strategies to help human-centred progress in the developing and industrialised world.