By Christian Friis Bach, Minister for Development Cooperation, Denmark
In October last year a new government came to power in Denmark, and on 1 January 2012 Denmark took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union. Both in Denmark and in Europe we have strong international ambitions. In times of crisis, every country has a tendency to look inwards and shield its citizens from the rest of world. However, it is vital that we in Europe, despite the severe economic crisis, stay openly and internationally committed and engaged. If we use the crisis to build an even stronger partnership with the rest of the world, we will emerge stronger together.
In Denmark we will play our part. We will remain a strong and reliable partner in international development cooperation. For decades, Denmark has been among the world's leading per capita donors, and is one of only five countries that currently provide more than 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) in development assistance. Despite our own budget constraints, we will increase our development assistance in the years to come with an aim to once again reach 1 per cent of GNI. As a first step, Denmark will increase its development assistance this year and use the extra funds to strengthen the poverty focus of Danish development cooperation.
Both in the EU and in Denmark, we are currently revising our strategies for international development cooperation. I look forward to receiving your comments on these strategy processes and invite contributions. My ambition, both in Denmark and the EU, is to shape a rights-based development strategy. Basic human rights are among the most powerful ideas in human history. They are the foundation of human coexistence. They have been instrumental in changing the world several times over, from the French Revolution to the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, to the Arab Spring taking place today.
To me, development is about promoting the rights of the world's poorest people. I see civil, political, cultural, economic and social rights as both individual rights and indivisible rights. Children will never be able to fully use their freedom of speech without being able to read and write, and children will never be able to learn to read and write if they are hungry.
A rights-based development strategy is about placing people at the centre of our development cooperation. Not as passive recipients, but as central actors in charge of their own destiny. We want to promote the rights of people to have a full say in their own lives, choose their governments in free and fair elections, participate in decision-making and hold their governments accountable. Denmark will support countries in building societies based on the rule of law with respect for human rights and democratic values. Women’s rights especially will be a core focus area both internationally and with our partner countries.
Another key goal will be to support poor countries in investing in sustainable and green growth that creates employment and improves livelihoods. An important challenge will be to ensure sustainable food production to feed the planet’s projected population of more than 9 billion people in 2050. The development of agricultural production is a key to combating hunger and poverty, and to ensuring future growth and jobs. Denmark will take an active stand in working for sustainable solutions to ensure food security.
Ensuring sustainable energy is another key challenge. Around 1.4 billion poor people live without access to electricity and 2.3 billion people still depend on firewood and other traditional energy sources. Women all over the world toil for hours every day to collect firewood, and slave for yet more hours in smoke-filled rooms to prepare food, with serious health impacts as a result. If we can provide these women and families with modern and sustainable energy sources, we can release a powerful resource and create growth, jobs and new opportunities.
This will also be one of the focus areas at the World Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which takes place during the Danish presidency of the EU Council. Denmark will work for an ambitious result including a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, building upon and strengthening the existing Millennium Development Goals, and extending them with new goals for water, biodiversity and sustainable energy for all. We should create a strong global vision for sustainable development.
This should go hand in hand with strong national ownership. Danish development cooperation is based on the principles of national ownership and accountability. These principles will continue to be central in all we do. And these principles should be enshrined in both the new Danish and the new EU Development Policy. We believe that the best development results are achieved through supporting our partner countries' own plans and systems, including direct support to their national budgets. But we must also put robust mechanisms in place to ensure transparency and accountability. Continuous priorities for Danish development policy will be to strengthen parliaments, create an active civil society and ensure a vibrant press, so that together they can keep us all accountable.
Our strong partner countries are countries with many opportunities. I once again invite you to give your comments and contributions in the coming months, during which we will be revising our strategies for sustainable development. The aim is to build a strong vision for our future partnership together.
I look forward to working together towards a world where all people can live a life free from fear, and free from need.