Distinguished speakers and participants,
It is a great honor for me to address such a distinguished audience today on the topic of utmost importance for all of us – sustainable development, and major challenges to achieve it.
We all live in extraordinary times. The COVID-19 pandemic is the first time in history when billions of people around the planet were affected by a major global shock and were simultaneously locked down in their homes. The current health crisis has major socio-economic consequences that are touching everyone´s lives and disproportionately affecting the most vulnerable people. So many things have changed and there is no going back to the pre-COVID-19 world. This radically different environment is the new normal.
Inequalities among countries at the global level and among families at the micro level have become obvious as never before because of the COVID-19 induced crises. The pandemic became both an “equalizer” as all countries no matter how rich they are needed to respond to it in similar ways, but also an “un-equalizer” as the capabilities of countries were very much different.
It is probably an understatement to say that COVID-19 threatens all three pillars of the the sustainable development: social, economic, and environmental with devastating effects for people and the planet.
Moreover, albeit its extensive global coverage so far, COVID-19’s deeper impact is only just beginning to be felt. A deep undercurrent that we should all keep an eye on is the risks of a reversal in global human development - a combination of education, health, and living standards. The world has seen many crises over the past 30 years, including the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-09. Each has hit human development hard but, overall, development gains accrued globally year-on-year. COVID-19, with its triple hit to health, education, and income, may change this trend.
Today, after almost 18 months since the pandemic changed our lives, and despite several breakthroughs with vaccines, there are still many complexities and uncertainties surrounding all of us. But one thing is clear: the current crises allowed us to realize that we cannot address “today’s” problems with “yesterday’s” tools. It is our joint responsibility to build forward better, not aiming to return to the old normal, but instead collectively designing a new – and a better- normal, with special attention to those left behind and hit most by the pandemic.
This year Kazakhstan celebrates 30 years of its independence, which coincides with the 30th anniversary of Human Development Reports first published by UNDP three decades ago. I am mentioning this because a human development lens on Kazakhstan’s progress tells a good, substantiated story with evidence.
Looking back, we are very proud to witness the force and the speed of Kazakhstan development within just three decades. 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 51st out of 189 countries in 2019. Although we face, as mentioned earlier, the risks of reversals most recently due to pandemic, such great results cannot be underestimated. 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 long-term strategy Kazakhstan-2050- which remain valid for post-pandemic period. UNDP is honoured to have been part of these strategic development processes, providing timely technical and substantive support across many priority areas, ranging from institutional reforms, improving social policy to preserving biodiversity.
Undoubtedly, these past achievements create both a strong platform and momentum for future development with important building blocks already in place.
Kazakhstan has fully embraced the global Sustainable Agenda 2030 which naturally fits the national development priorities. Despite current setbacks caused by the pandemic, it presents both an enormous challenge and a tremendous opportunity for reaching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while realizing national development aspirations. But the pandemic also reinforces the wisdom of what is already inherent in the SDGs; the challenges we face today cannot be dealt with through piecemeal approaches.
In this regard, we commend the bold vision of the President calling for not losing sight of the country’s long-term development priorities, despite the turmoil created by the pandemic. However, moving from the past achievements to new level of development, with gradual shift towards new growth model, requires several important transformations, with people at the center of all of them.
First, there is a strong need for accelerated transformation of the social protection system aimed at reducing persistent inequalities and ensuring that public services and support reach those most in need first. It also requires establishing a strong link with a forward-looking labor market - a social protection system will be sustainable as much as it is supported by a labor market that provides opportunities for the most vulnerable.
Second, knowledge-based economic transformation, which requires aligning education and industry to respond to the needs of the future of work with the appropriate skills, human capital and productive capacities, supported by technology, innovation, research, and development.
Third, there is a strong case for a ‘green transformation’ that prioritizes a low-carbon development pathway to alleviate the economy’s dependence on extractive and carbon-intense industries.
Fourth, a shift is needed for a transformation in the public administration system so that it is fit for purpose, meets the needs of the people and is capable to function effectively even in the face of shocks such as the one we face today.
And, of course, I should also mention the importance of digital transformation that has the catalytic effect on all of them. Such transformation requires leveraging the digital information and communications technologies (ICTs) both strategically and decisively.
All these transformations may differ in nature, speed and complexity, but all of them require integrated, and lasting development solutions and a whole-of-society approach.
Understandably, no organization or institution can drive transformations of such magnitude and scale on its own. The so-called ‘iron triangle’ comprised of Government, Civic Society and Private Business need to act together in a coordinated way, guided by a common vision, shared values and, most importantly, public interest. This partnership, provided it is built on right principles and for the common good, may become a powerful force for positive change- provided that proper checks and balanced are put in place.
UNDP has earned a unique position and value as a trusted long-term partner of the Government in all major reform efforts thanks to its convening role among partners, strong global technical capabilities, and local presence. We will continue supporting transformative and people centric changes in the country, on all levels, with all we have.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all our partners, each and every one – representatives of the Government ministries and agencies, local and regional governments and communities, civil society, academia, youth, private sector and the international community. Collectively, we were able to accomplish great results thanks to our shared spirit of goodwill, collaboration, and mutual respect. I look forward to more joint initiatives in the coming years, with high impact on the lives of all people in this country.