Cihan Sultanoğlu, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Director of the Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, UNDP Opening Remarks at the Astana Economic Forum Side Event “Exploring New Opportunities to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals”

May 27, 2016

25 May 2016, 09:45 am – 10.00 am

Venue: Palace of Independence, Astana, Kazakhstan


Dear State Secretary Abdykalikova,

Distinguished representatives of the Government and local communities, diplomatic corps, civil society, academia, and private sector,

Dear colleagues from the UN agencies,

I would like to begin by thanking the Government of Kazakhstan and its people for their trust and long-standing cooperation with the United Nations Development Programme. This year, UNDP celebrates its 50th anniversary. Along with many Heads of States and Ministers, Minister of Economic Integration of Kazakhstan, Her Excellency Ms. Aitzhanova, participated in the 50th anniversary ministerial meeting in New York in February this year. The Minister praised the close cooperation and friendship between UNDP and Kazakhstan, as well as our joint results over the past 23 years, and highlighted opportunities to jointly achieve even greater heights within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals endorsed by the UN Member States in 2015.

UNDP has been working in Kazakhstan since 1992. Since the very beginning of the structural transformations from a centrally-planned economy, we worked hand-in-hand with the Government and people to establish strong foundations for nation building as an independent state. UNDP supported the Government’s bold new political, social and economic reforms, contributing to creating sustainable livelihoods, income generation through microfinance, vocational education and business counseling.  We were among the first agencies to recognize the full impact of environmental disasters inherited from the Soviet times, and helped mobilize partners and resources to address the devastation of the Aral Sea, the pollution of the Caspian Sea, and assist communities near the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site.  With our joint efforts, the people living near environmental disaster hotspots began to rebuild their livelihoods and regain optimism for the future.

From the early 2000s up until now we have been at the centre of supporting the next stage of institutional reform processes. Together with other UN agencies and partners, we have supported the development and implementation of the national Gender Equality strategy. This Strategy expires this year and we are already working together on developing a new programme addressing gender equality and family demographic policies for 2017-2030.

We have consistently supported the process of modernization of the civil service, including providing assistance to the development and implementation of various laws on civil service, ethics code, anti-corruption law and others. We were also able to launch a flagship Government-UNDP initiative, the Regional Hub of Civil Service, which currently has over 32 participating countries from Europe and the CIS, Asia and North America, and is expanding.

These are just a few examples of our shared achievements. Through these joint efforts we were able to increase the share of Government cost-shared programmes from just four percent in 2010 to over 50 percent by 2015. In this regard, I would like to thank Her Excellency the State Secretary for her many years of support to UNDP and its mandate.

Looking back, I am very proud to witness the force and the speed of transformation of Kazakhstan.  Kazakhstan reduced its poverty rate from 46.7 percent in 2001 to 2.8 percent in 2015 – an enormous achievement in just over 14 years. It has reached High Human Development status, ranking 56th out of 188 countries in 2015. Such great results cannot be underestimated, especially during periods of global financial and economic downturn. More importantly, the leadership, and the strategic vision of Kazakhstan, which guided these transformations have not wavered. Kazakhstan’s vision for long-term prosperity and peace is encapsulated in the Kazakhstan-2030 and Kazakhstan-2050 documents.

Building on these achievements, in 2015 UNDP and Kazakhstan agreed on an ambitious set of priorities for our partnership over the next five years. These priorities are in line with the Kazakhstan-2050 strategy and are framed by the SDGs.

Let me share with you a little more detail on UNDP’s approach towards supporting the Kazakhstan’s strategic vision in each of these areas:

1. Inequalities: Growing inequalities in terms of income have become a pressing issue for both developed and developing nations, and this is an unfinished business carrying over from the Millennium Development Goals.   Social, economic and political inequalities and inequities, if not tackled head-on, may hinder sustainable development of regions and nations. Thus, the pledge to ‘leave no one behind’ is the cornerstone of the 2030 Agenda.  As with other countries, inequalities remain an unfinished business here too: while in Astana and Almaty only 0.6 percent of population lives below the national poverty line, in the South Kazakhstan this figure is 5.3 percent, almost 9 times more.[1] In urban areas, the proportion of the population with incomes below the subsistence minimum in 2015 was 1.3 percent compared to 4.4 percent in rural areas.

We recognize the Government’s efforts to reduce inequalities and ensure equal opportunities, and I would like to mention some achievements here.  In Kazakhstan, fiscal redistribution (cash transfers to poor households) appears to be an effective measure to reduce poverty. Promoting economic diversification and strengthening regional competitiveness would help further reduce income inequality.  In this regard, UNDP will continue supporting the effective implementation of national plans and campaigns, such as ‘the Roadmap for Employment -2020’ and ‘Made in Kazakhstan’ , as well as participation of Kazakhstani artisans with their hand-made products in the EXPO-2017. We will also continue promoting economic diversification, SME development, supporting new ‘green’ jobs, ‘green’ public infrastructure, eco-tourism, and sustainable farming.

2. Governance.  Local self-empowerment and decentralization are critical elements to ensure equality. By including people in the decision-making processes, local communities and governments can work better together and make better decisions about development priorities and budget allocations. We applaud the new laws that were ratified in Kazakhstan in 2015, including the Law on Access to Information and Law on Public Counsels. They equip Kazakhstan to implement the ‘5 institutional reforms and 100 concrete steps’ programme, which among other reforms, strives to firmly establish an open and accountable Government and institutions on par with OECD standards. SDG16 calls for open and inclusive governments as the cornerstone of development, and we have prioritized this Goal in our joint country programme. As a trusted partner, we will continue providing impartial policy advice and know-how, including sharing innovative practices from our region and beyond, especially in support of the implementation of two landmark laws and other legislations. We will work closely with the newly established Ministry of Civil Service to support further modernization of the civil service, including the reforms within the 100 steps agenda for creating open, accountable, transparent public and civil services.        

3. Natural and man-made disasters, if not addressed, they could unfortunately derail the results of our hard work over the years in a ‘blink of an eye’. Disasters result not only in human loss and suffering, but also cause massive economic damage. For example, the 2013 flooding in Central Europe is estimated to have cost 13.5 billion Euros, and is considered the most expensive natural disaster in European history.[2]

Central Asia is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters. Kazakhstan repeatedly experiences natural disasters: in 2015 alone five provinces suffered large-scale flooding that affected 2,000 homes, inflicting serious damage to the road and engineering infrastructure.[3] This year flooding caused one thousand people to leave their homes, and the Government is working on re-building infrastructure and paying millions of tenge to cover for the damage.

Our Administrator, Helen Clark, often mentions that ‘if it is not risk-informed, then it is not sustainable [development],’ and that the achievement of all SDGs is subject to preparedness of nations for disaster risk reduction. The resilience to man-made and natural disasters should not be the responsibility of only one ministry or agency. We will continue working with the Government and partners such as the European Union, the UN agencies, private sector and NGOs to help strengthen and modernize critical public infrastructure such as dams and buildings, and develop preparedness and response capacities of community volunteers and specialists, building on previous work funded by the Government of Kazakhstan and DIPECHO.  UNDP, along with other UN agencies and partners, is ready to support the newly established sub-regional Disaster Risk Reduction Centre in Almaty, which will provide a platform for sharing best practices and knowledge among Central Asian countries.  

4. Lastly, climate change, the greatest challenge of our time. The Paris Agreement is a major milestone as the global community starts to tackle this global challenge for our common future. Goal 13, on climate change, was developed as a stand-alone goal as a matter of urgent prioritization by everybody. It is closely linked to goal 7 on clean energy and energy efficiency. I am glad to share with you that in 2015, while the global economy grew on average, global carbon emissions remained flat. This and other efforts, such as breakthroughs in green technologies, demonstrate that we no longer have to sacrifice the environment and well-being of the people for the sake of economic growth.

In Kazakhstan, one of the largest oil producers, the agenda of greening the economy looms large. We will be speaking on this topic a little later, in the separate event on the Green Economy.  But for the moment, I would like to highlight that a great deal can be done by making adjustments to energy and water efficiencies, for example. In Central Asia and in the ECIS region overall, high economic losses persist due to aging infrastructure and outdated practices. Kazakhstan’s energy losses in buildings and communal services amount to almost 40 percent. Turning to the agriculture sector, up to 73 percent of agricultural lands is being degraded,[4] and becoming unsuitable for pastures or crop cultivation. Increasing temperature and climate volatilities could threaten Kazakhstan’s main export commodity: wheat, which accounts for approximately 20% of agricultural exports.[5]  

UNDP in Kazakhstan, along with the Government and partners such as the Global Environmental Facility, the EU and the US, is working towards addressing the worst effects of climate change. We will continue building national expertise for hydropower engineers, rural water supply companies, communal/residential services specialists and companies. Also, we are working together with the Ministry of Agriculture and local governments and communities to rehabilitate over 70 million hectars of abandoned land through innovative pilot initiatives and transfer of best practices and knowledge. We are working together with National Parks to help create sustainable jobs for the communities around them to help preserve biodiversity, lands and forests. Over the next few days, I look forward to visiting the Altyn Emel and Charyn National Parks, and discussing sustainable development with local leaders and communities.

UNDP is also committed to supporting Kazakhstan’s increasing role in regional and global discourse, and  international efforts to promote the SDGs, including through its newly formulated Overseas Development Assistance legal framework. A recently-launched $2-million programme assisting 45 African countries with implementing the SDGs is a significant step paving the way for Kazakhstan’s broader engagement in development cooperation.    

In conclusion, let me thank all our partners, each and every one of you – representatives of the Government ministries and agencies, local and regional governments and communities, civil society, academia, youth, private sector and the international community. We were able to accomplish great results thanks to our spirit of goodwill, collaboration and mutual respect. I look forward to achieving even greater heights in the coming years. UNDP will do our best to support Kazakhstan’s aspirations to join the ranks of the world’s 30 most developed nations, and Kazakhstan becoming a regional and global leader in implementation of the SDGs.

Thank you for your attention.

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