International cooperation is currently facing strong headwinds while it would be more essential than ever for Planet Earth to join forces to turn to more sustainable development path.  The UN Commission for Social Development (UN CSocD) convened its 55th session at the UN Headquarters last month. The general spirit was that we need comprehensive social policies if we want to ensure the realization of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and leave no one behind.

I have participated in the CSocD sessions some 20 times. New delegates often experience the sessions as endless talk shows and petty editing. After a while one realizes that it is a serious chess game about whose values and interests get most weight. Attempts to water down the agreed human rights language, especially on the rights of women, pop up often as innocent editing proposals.

Social protection is rising on the agenda

The UN is the global machinery that develops and endorses global values, ethics and norms. During the last 25 years I have seen much evolution taking place in the social sector – in the right direction from the Nordic Welfare State perspective. Take one example: until the early 1990s the international legal instruments related to persons with disabilities were based on the idea of protection. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), adopted in 2006 and finally ratified in Finland as late as in May 2016, established and endorsed a new perspective on disability. Disability is not a state or a disease but a relationship between a person and the environment. Persons with disabilities must be treated as rights holders and not as objects of medical attention or charity. This is the spirit and letter of the Finnish legislation after the ratification of the CRPD and its optional protocol.  With this paradigm change many old practices will be challenged.

In addition, another great evolution has taken place in the approach to social policy in general.  Only a few years ago the UN Member States used to report about their isolated ‘social programmes ’ while today most of them talk about social policy and social protection systems. In most Member States social policy has become, or is becoming an institution, a legitimate and recognized instrument for achieving human rights goals and standards – and for securing social stability. Scattered social projects are being packaged into a coherent social policy system that also counteracts economic shocks.  Furthermore, today many Member States see social policy as an instrument to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs.

There is no Planet B

Sustainable development has four dimensions: development must be ethically, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable, all at the same time and in this order. The first dimension, the ethical, must not be forgotten. The SDGs are a value-based agenda of equity within and between generations. Their purpose is to protect humanity. That is why the SDGs also emphasize the need to protect and preserve nature.

The social dimension of sustainable development has not always received the attention it deserves. Social sustainability is difficult to define, let alone to see. However, once it starts breaking down the consequences will not go unnoticed: disintegration of societies, ‘alternative facts’ based political movements, riots, conflicts,  wars, refugees, and all kinds of ecological, economic, social and health disasters will follow. Steady social institutions are our instruments for sustaining development, for change to the better. At the CSocD Finland – together with a number of like-minded countries – lobbied again for a stronger mandate for the UN CSocD as the institutional arrangement for promoting and concretizing the social dimension of the SDGs.

SDGs are the survival kit of humankind

The interdependency of nation states is a fact and international cooperation is a necessity in a globalized world. Reaching the Sustainable Development Goals is possible only through international cooperation and partnerships.

The former Secretary General of the United Nations made it clear already at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, in 2002:

”Let me repeat, this is an era of partnerships, Governments cannot do it alone. The UN cannot do it alone and I am afraid NGOs cannot do it alone, and business can’t.”

Read more on CSocD and Finland’s side events at the Global Social Policy website:
In Focus 1/2017

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