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Posted on on August 8th, 2013
by Pincas Jawetz (

New Zealand is competing for a seat on the UN Security Council in the elections October 2014. The Kiwis want to be advocates for smaller countries says Helen Clark to a home crowd. Its bid for a position on the 15-member UN Security Council is up against Spain and Turkey for one of two spots to be voted on by the UN General Assembly in October 2014.

Helen Clark on a better world.

Posted at 8:49am Thursday 08th Aug, 2013 | By Hamish Carter…

Almost 600 people packed Baycourt Theatre last night to hear former Prime Minister Helen Clark speak about the challenges of making the world a better place.

As administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Helen oversees hundreds of programmes and initiatives aiming to support developing countries around the world.

It’s an ambitious goal, but one she told the audience was critical to support the United Nations two primary missions – peace and security and human rights.

“They are all intertwined. You don’t get a high standard of living without peace and security and human rights.”

In an exclusive interview with SunLive prior to the event, Helen said she was encouraged to see a sell-out crowd at Baycourt and most venues around the country, saying it illustrated New Zealanders long-standing interest in playing a part in international affairs.

On this note Helen believes New Zealand will be an advocate for smaller countries if it succeeds in its bid for a position on the 15-member UN Security Council. NZ is up against Spain and Turkey for one of two spots to be voted on in October 2014.

Looking back over the last 13 years since the UN’s Millennium goals were set, Helen says mixed progress has been achieved – with a lot of work still needed on some areas.

“There were eight target areas and a lot of them have actually been achieved.”

She was particularly pleased with the progress in achieving the goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty (under $1.25 US/day) – but says the success underlines the need to help pull the other half out of grinding poverty.

“If the world is to set its sights on eradicating poverty it needs to look at places like the Sahel,” says Helen, who describes the combination of lack of development, infrastructure, weak governments and struggling economies in the North African region making it especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change. She says the recent drought that devastated the area has put development efforts back many years.

For Helen, Sahel is an example of the underlined need for a strong focus on building resilience to natural disasters in developing countries, for a strong focus on sustainability, along with a major global focus on tackling global change.

Work is already being done behind the scenes on developing a new set of development goals, which would be finalized by 2015.

Helen says goals are critical in helping focus government attention and donor support for focus in these important areas, with a lot more momentum achieved in each area than before it became a goal.

Reviewing other millennium development goals she says good progress had been made increasing the number of children going to school, but 60 million children still do not attend school and education quality is sometimes poor.

Infant and childhood health has improved, under five-year-old deaths have fallen by 45 per cent since 1990, but she said limited improvements in the goal to boost reproductive and maternal health is a reflection of the low status of women in many developing countries.

Major improvements had been made in tackling HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases – but she says some countries, such as Ghana where AID numbers were starting to tick up again, need to redouble their efforts.

Looking ahead she says some initial consultation work had already been on issues to tackle for the next series of development goals, with Helen saying member states like New Zealand would have to think about the agenda for the next few years.

“Big questions like how do we eradicate poverty and get every child to school for a free education.”

A high level panel of 27 international leaders recently released its recommendations on five key areas to target in the post-2015 development agenda, which Helen says will be the basis of some of the development goal negotiation.

The ‘High Level Panel’ has called for a focus on ‘five big transformative shifts’: – ending extreme poverty; stop environmental degradation and climate change; transform economies for jobs and sustainable growth; build peace and open, accountable institutions; and forge a new global partnership of solidarity and cooperation.

“This could be a big and very ambitious agenda, but we need know less if we look at the environment out there,” says Helen.

“Climate change is seen as one of the biggest challenges. Its impact affects the poorest people the most. So we need to support adjustments in these countries to cope with extraordinary weather events, but we also need to be doing the things that need to be done to stop extra warming.”

Helen emphasises the need for urgent action to tackle climate change, saying that some climate scientists were now predicting a six degree rise above pre-industrial temperatures.

“If they were warning two degrees is going to be devastating, what is six degrees going to be?”

She says 2015 will be a big year for UN initiatives, with hopes also for a break-through deal on tackling climate change.

“But we have a long way to go to get there.”

She stresses action to tackle climate change and help achieve sustainable development is critical with the world’s population projected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050.

While all the discussion of goals can sound quite distant, she says there is nothing like the satisfaction of seeing change on the ground. Helen gave the example of a visit to Tanzania in June when she saw how efforts to establish a reserve in the mountains to protect the area had prompted programmes to help poor villagers who had been deforesting the mountainside to grow maize.

By taking an integrated approach they were helping the villagers to find other ways to make a living that did not damage the environment, such as beekeeping.

“It’s been a very successful programme which the Tanzanian Government has adopted which is being supported by donor countries.”

With the former Prime Minister back home Sun Live also asked for her perspective from outside on what the Government should be focused on. Although hesitant to meddle in domestic affairs she believes two areas that need to be prioritized are cutting unemployment and diversifying the economy.

“There is no room for complacency. While New Zealand is a developed country our living standards are too dependent on one industry and we’ve seen how vulnerable that can make us in the last few days.

“So it’s vital that we focus on diversifying the economy, investing in our people in their skills and education, on innovation and branding. This is an area that is critical that needs to be made a high priority.”

What about the next election? She is keeping out of party politics, but says while the Labour Party is down in the polls now things could change quickly: “you can never count a major party out because circumstances can chance and they can bounce back”.

Helen Clark’s talk was hosted jointly by United Nations Tauranga branch and Waikato University.

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