Poverty remains a serious threat to achieving the SDGs

The Commission on Sustainable Development meets to discuss its critical role in implementing the SDGs.

News | 17 February 2017
In his opening statement to the UN Commission on Social Development, Ambassador Peter Thomson (Fiji) and President of the General Assembly, urged member States to establish strategic partnerships with key stakeholders to ensure the implementation and achievement of the ambitious 2030 Agenda on sustainable development.

The fifty-fifth session of the Commission for Social Development was held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 1 to 10 February 2017. The Commission launched its review and policy cycle for 2017-2018 focusing on the priority theme, “Strategies for eradicating poverty to achieve sustainable development for all”.

In their statements, member States, UN entities, and ECOSOC accredited NGOs emphasized the importance for the Commission to develop inclusive policies to eradicate poverty, inequalities and social exclusion to ensure nobody is left behind. Participants also emphasized that while poverty has declined across the world, progress remains uneven. Social and economic inequalities persisted and in many cases were worsening.

A constant refrain was that the global economic growth slowdown, increased volatility of financial markets, persistent high youth unemployment, increasing humanitarian crises and climate change had hindered progress on social development and fuelled inequalities and social exclusion. It was clear from these statements that eradicating poverty required strategic, integrated and coherent measures at all levels, targeting women, youth, persons’ with disabilities, migrants and refugees.

It was highlighted that poverty eradication could not be possible without addressing the multidimensional nature of poverty and inequalities. There were repeated calls for effective social protection policies and floors which should be initiated and strengthened to reduce poverty and build resilience.

Participants reiterated that economic growth was not enough to ensure prosperity for all. It remains key that in order to reduce poverty the international community must do more to achieve full employment, decent work and social inclusion. The delegate of the European Union stated that “more jobs and growth are the best drivers of bringing people out of poverty and social exclusion”. Echoing this message, the Romanian delegate stated that “the most efficient form of social inclusion is the creation of jobs. Decent jobs empower citizens”.

Of particular concern to the assembled stakeholders was the need to address the challenges facing youth. The representative of Mongolia said that investing in youth “will be a shortcut to achieve the SDGs”. The German representative emphasized that the 2030 Agenda was the perfect tool to combat social exclusion and if empowered, young people could be “the drivers of the 2030 transformation”.

The ILO presented the latest labour market trends and underscored the concern that unless strategies are promoted to redress fragilities in the labour market, the SDGs may be endangered. It was stated that wage policies should be part of a high impact strategy to address working poverty.

Consistent with its research, the ILO stated that it was not enough to simply create jobs and improve incomes, but that the right’s of workers must also be protected through the ratification and implementation of international labour standards. Social protection floors, as spelled out in ILO Recommendation 202, provided a general framework for governments to establish and expand coverage. It was noted that such efforts had strong impacts on combatting poverty and reducing inequality. More broadly, donors were encouraged to consider providing international assistance for technical capacity building in countries seeking to initiate or strengthen national social protection floors.

Martin Ravallion, Professor of Economics at Georgetown University and former Director of the World Bank’s research department said that while there had been good overall progress in reducing absolute poverty, challenges remained and poorer countries that had relied on economic growth rather than direct interventions to combat poverty might need to adapt their policies.

“Nearly 1 billion people could be lifted out of extreme poverty in the next 15 years if growth was maintained and inequality neutralized. In order to achieve such an optimistic path, economic reforms were needed to ensure markets work better for the poor” said Mr. Ravallion. He continued by stating that there was no single magic bullet solution and that reforms and policies would need to be tailored to local realities and have greater community-based participation in the design and implementation. He concluded by saying it was “fundamental to have robust monitoring and evaluation measures and to be candid about our mistakes.”

The Commission concluded its work by adopting three resolutions relating to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (E/CN.5/2017/L.5), promoting the rights of persons with disabilities (E/CN.5/2017/L.3), and policies and programmes involving youth (E/CN.5/2017/L.4).

The Youth resolution emphasizes the need to substantially increase technical and vocational skills for employment, to empower youth to achieve sustainable development and commit to reduce by 2020 the proportion of youth not in employment, education and training and to operationalize a global strategy for youth employment. It also took note of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.

In his closing remarks, the chair requested that the Commission reflect on ways to better align its work with that of the ECOSOC and namely the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. He noted that “the work of the Commission needs to be concrete and up-to-date and should not shy away from experimenting with new formats”.


A number of Member States highlighted national and regional strategies for eradicating poverty and achieving the SDGs.

The representative of Viet Nam speaking on behalf of ASEAN emphasized that poverty eradiation and rural development were intricately linked. It was also important to invoke a comprehensive strategy to address poverty in all its dimensions to reach the furthest behind and to build resilience against potential shocks. A five-year ASEAN work plan on youth 2016-2020 was adopted to help monitor and evaluate the outcomes of youth initiatives.

Nigeria on behalf of the Africa Group noted that despite impressive growth rates and improvements in economic and social development, many African countries were still at the bottom of social development indicators. The African Union Agenda 2063 aims to redress persistent inequalities and spur job creation.

The European Union said that work was also underway towards establishing a European Pillar of Social Rights, which would become a reference framework to screen employment and social performance of participating EU Member States and to drive reforms at national levels. Concerning external actions, a new European Consensus on Development has been proposed which would provide a common policy framework shared by and applied by the EU and its Member States to implement the 2030 Agenda.

Brazil highlighted that its success in reducing poverty and inequalities was forged through a rights based approach. The government was launching a National Strategy for Social and Productive Inclusion with the goal to develop capacities and encourage its citizen’s engagement in work and income generating activities. Despite challenges, Brazil was committed to “not only maintain but to increase its focus on social policies.”

Myanmar was reviewing national labour laws in line with international norms and practices to ensure the rights of workers were protected. France was taking an integrated approach to poverty eradication that took into account the views of vulnerable populations as well as engagement with public and private stakeholders.

Kenya said that his country had adopted a National Social Protection Policy in 2012 and aims to increase coverage. Kenya was also initiating various programmes and projects aimed at promoting youth empowerment and addressing youth employment.

Cabo Verde had implemented a Youth Employment and Social Cohesion Programme which aims to promote employment and decent work for young people through entrepreneurship and skills training.

Nepal’s poverty eradication efforts continued to focus on targeted programmes with employment generation as a major component.

Malawi said that social protection was one of the most effective strategies for reducing poverty and the government would intensify efforts to ensure no one was left behind. Through the Malawi Social Action Fund, the government had combined social protection and job creation through income transfer and labour intensive activities which targets the poorest households.

India emphasized the need to address various interconnected challenges aimed at improving social, financial and digital inclusion of the population. National efforts to promote financial inclusion and empowerment of the poor and marginalized were achieving significant success.