Tribute to Jan Pronk (19 December 1997)


On Jan Pronk, for recognition of the remarkable contribution made to the cause of intemational cooperation and development in so many ways over the years.


Remarks by Maurice F. Strong, Executive Coordinator for United Nations Reform, on the Occasion of the Presentation of the 1997 Inter Press Service Achievement Award to the Honourable Jan Pronk, Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands New York, 19 December 1997

I count it as great privilege to have this opportunity of joining you in paying tribute to Minister Jan Pronk as the recipient of the 1997 IPS Achievement Award.

My warmest congratulations, Jan, on this further recognition of the remarkable contribution you have made to the cause of intemational cooperation and development in so many ways over the years. For me, and for your many other admirers throughout the world, you are a source of continuing inspiration as the pre-eminent intellectual and policy leader in the field of international cooperation and development, its most consistently innovative and effective practitioner and a strong and vigourous supporter of the United Nations.

A unique contribution

It is particularly appropriate that you receive this honour from the Inter Press Service which for some 33 years has made such a unique and indispensable contribution to the cause of international development and cooperation.

What makes Jan Pronk's leadership so distinctive and influential is that he practises what he preaches. As one of the most sustainable Development Ministers, he has built his remarkable successful domestic political career on his deep-seated and unrelenting commitment to development. This, together with his service in the European Parliament and as a Senior Official of the United Nations, has made him the single most admired and respected leader in the development field and put the Netherlands in the fore-front of the international community, particularly, in respect of development and related humanitarian and environmental issues. In our current work for the Secretary-General on UN Reform, his insightful analysis, advice and support have been invaluable.

No one has done more than Jan Pronk to illuminate the fundamental changes now under way in our understanding of the lessons leamed from the development experience of the past five decades, the changes that have taken place in the developing world itself, and the implications of these for relations between North and South and for cooperation in meeting the new generation of challenges which confront the world community on the eve of the new millennium.

Profound shift

We are, I am convinced, now in the midst of a profound shift in North -South relations that could have an even greater affect on the geo-political landscape and the prospects for international cooperation than the end of the Cold War. The , resurgence of growth in the world economy is being led by the rapidly developing countries of Asia and Latin America and this - despite current problems and setbacks -is likely to continue. The World Bank forecasts that by the year 2020 nine of the fifteen Iarqast economies in the world will be developing countries. In terms of the aggregate size of their economies they will be displacing some of the more mature industrialized countries while still lagging well behind them in per capita terms.

The good news is that this has enabled several hundred million people to lift themselves above the bare poverty level; the bad news is that many have still been left by the wayside and poverty remains one of the central challenges of the world community. Nevertheless development has produced some other major dividends. For example the overall rate of population growth has been reduced though it is still concentrated in the already densely populated countries of the developing world. And world food production has kept ahead of population growth, defying earlier, gloomy predictions, though some of the poorest developing countries, particularly in Sub-Sahara and Africa, face the need to rely on increased food imports which they can ill-afford.

Rich-poor gap

In both industrialized and developing countries, the rich-poor gap is widening as the benefits of growth accrued largely to those with the capital and knowledge that are the primary sources of added value and competitive advantage in the new international economy. This is sewing the seeds of social upheaval and conflict both within and amongst nations. Those who have no capital and only their unskilled labour to sell will be left by the wayside. This includes the growing underclass of young people who have never had permanent employment, together with the landless, the homeless, the displaced and dispossessed. Migration which has helped to relieve these pressures in the past is no longer an option for most. Paradoxically, as barriers to the movement of goods and capital across national boundaries are being removed, new barriers are being erected to the movement of the poor and the dispossessed.

In his forward to "A Survey of the Frontiers of Development Cooperation - A World of Dispute" - in December 1993, Jan Pronk pointed to its main conclusion that "the contemporary world calls for the 'decompartmentalization' of approaches and policies, both within development cooperation itself and between it and others dimensions of foreign international policy". In setting new directions and priorities for Netherlands' development cooperation this survey has had profound influence on the re-thinking of fundamental principles and practices now occurring throughout the development community.

Jan Pronk has been a leading advocate of the need for an integrating, sustaining approach to the complex of issues through which development produces its impacts on the lives of people. This is what really counts, as the UNDP's Human Development Report so graphically demonstrates. It is what sustainable development is all about -the integration of the environmental and social with the economic dimensions of development. Rio's Agenda 21 provided a basic blue print for the transition to a sustainable way of life on our Planet in the 21st Century to which the UN Conferences on Women, on Population, the Social Summit and Habitat II have added important new dimensions -but we have made all too little progress in implementing the results of these conferences.

Sustainable development is no longer a mere concept or slogan but an imperative for the survival and well-being of the human community.

A global issue

The recent negotiations on the Climate Change Convention in Kyoto, Japan, demonstrate the degree to which sustainable development has become a global issue. It brings into sharp focus the differences that have been emerging between developing and more developed countries in recent years. And it clouds the prospects for the kind of cooperation amongst all nations - rich and poor - that is imperative if we are to deal successfully with the larger global risks and opportunities of our emerging technological civilization.

For if the growth of developing countries proceeds along the same pathway as that taken by those who were first to industrialize, the consequences will be devastating not only for them -but for the industrialized countries as well.
Yet, developing countries cannot be denied the right to grow. Neither can they be expected to respond to exhortations to reduce their population growth and adopt stringent environmental controls from those whose patterns of production and consumption have largely given rise to global risks like climate change.
A recent World Bank report points out that even in two decades 1974-1993, developing countries as a whole grew at a rate of 3 percent per annum, slightly higher than the rich industrialized countries and are expected to grow by 5 per cent per year in the next decade compared with 2.7 percent in the traditional industrial countries. A survey by the Economist projects that developing countries' share of world exports will grow to 62 percent by 2020 while that of the rich industrial countries will decline proportionally to 37 percent.

Mixed responses

The major movement of economic growth to the South is evoking mixed feelings and responses from the traditional industrialized countries. On the one hand their export industries have welcomed - and been quick to exploit - the opportunities that have opened up in the rapidly growing markets of the developing world. On the other hand more developed countries are increasingly looking at developing countries as competitors.

Despite the movement towards globalization of the economy there are signs of a " fortress North" mentality developing in wealthy industrialized countries and a much more narrow, short-term, tough-minded approach to relationships with developing countries.

At the threshold of the 21st Century, our common need to protect the life support systems of our Earth and the livelihoods of its people provides a new dimension to the North-South relationship. In dealing with the primary issues that affect our common future we must "hang together" or we will surely "hang separately".

New global partnership

The principal message of the Earth Summit was that we must make the transition to a new global partnership in which all share equitably the benefits as well as the risks. What is at risk in this transition is the very survival and well-being of the entire human species. As Rio made clear, this requires new dimensions of cooperation amongst the nations and peoples of our planet, and most of all a new basis for relationships between the rich, industrialized countries and the developing world.

This means recoqruzmq the special responsibilities of the traditional industrialized countries to ensure developing countries the access to the capital and technologies they require for their transition to sustainable development and to cooperate fully in measures to protect the Planet's future. It requires that industrial countries be willing to accord to the indispensable services that developing countries provide to the world community - or example, as custodians of most of its precious and irreplaceable biological resources and life-supporting ecosystems - the real value of these services, and to reflect this in the terms of trade, and in the prices they pay for the relevant products of the developing countries.

Positive incentives

While we must not relax our efforts to reverse the recent trend of reductions in Official Development Assistance we must be much more innovative in motivating private capital to contribute more to sustainable development. And we must re-orient the system of incentives by which govemments in both industrialized and developing countries motivate economic behaviour so as to provide positive incentives for sustainable development and make better use of existing resources. A recent report commissioned by the Earth Council and supported by the Netherlands estimated that at least 700 billion dollars is being spent by govemments each yearto subsidize practiceswhich undermine sustainability. UNCTAD's initiative in developing a pilot programme for trading of C02 emissions promises to produce significant amounts of new resources to developing countries while contributing to most effective control of emissions.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan's programme of UN Reform, now in the final stages of consideration by the General Assembly, is designed to strengthen the capacity of the United Nations to playa leading and innovative role in meeting this new generation of development ctiallenges. For no other organisation has the mandate or the capacity to provide the indispensable framework and support with which governments can deal cooperatively with these global issues that none can manage alone.

I am convinced that prospects for the human future will be determined, perhaps decisively, by what we do, or fail to do in our generation. For we are literally trustees of our own future. No one has done more to illuminate these issues, and to forge the instruments of policy and practical action through which we can address them than the man we honour here tonight, Minister Johannes Pieter Pronk.