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Excellencies, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Italy is proud to have promoted and organized today’s event which, by a happy coincidence, falls on Martin Luther King Day. On this occasion we honor the memory of the great American civil rights leader, who dedicated his life to the fight for equality. We hope that today’s discussion will contribute to a greater understanding of the threat of growing inequalities, and also to building a consensus around the urgency of including this issue in the new development agenda.

The theme we are addressing this afternoon could not be more crucial to the times in which we live. Inequalities can feed social unrest and inhibit development. Severe income disparities, together with fiscal crises, structurally high unemployment and underemployment, water crises and the incidence of extreme weather events, are considered by the Global Risks 2014 Report, recently issued by the World Economic Forum, as high impact and high likelihood risks. Indeed, these themes resonate deeply with public opinion.

Let me add that we must be careful not to confuse inequalities with diversity. Inequalities refer to situations of injustice that require corrective action on our part. Diversities, on the other hand, are expressions of the human family in all its variety, and should thus be protected and appreciated.

It is also fitting that this debate is taking place here at the United Nations, and in the general framework of the preparatory process for the new agenda for international development. As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recalled not later than last Friday, we need to fully exploit the momentum to complete the work begun in 2000, when the eight Millennium Development Goals were adopted. And we need to act quickly to ensure that these Goals are achieved to the fullest extent possible.

At the same time, the international community is defining a new set of universal objectives that will engage all the Countries of the world. It is thus the duty of all of us – Member States, experts, representatives of the academic community, and members of civil society – to engage in the participatory and transparent process currently underway. This is the only way to ensure that the new development framework fully reflects the priorities of the international community, and to guarantee not only growth, but a more equitable distribution of the benefits that derive from growth.

Today we are fortunate to have with us a panel of eminent scholars, diplomats and representatives of civil society. I am particularly grateful to Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz for sharing with us his thoughts. Through the contributions of you all, we hope to underline the extent to which growing inequalities threaten the harmonious development of societies and negatively impact relations between nations. I welcome you all to this discussion, and I thank you for accepting our invitation to participate.

And now, without further ado, I give the floor to Riccardo Viale, director of the Italian Cultural Institute of New York.


Closing Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

First of all, thank you. This has been a probing and most interesting afternoon, and I greatly appreciate the depth and the sincerity of your various presentations. There has been much food for thought, and I know that I, for one, will be reflecting on what has been said today as Italy articulates its own commitment to the issue of growing inequalities, or, as Prof. Stiglitz refers to them, extreme inequalities.

Let me share with you my own takeaways from this discussion. I promise to be brief.

First of all, I am struck by the marked differences between inequalities, both in their nature and in their extent, from Country to Country. In shaping our approach to the issue in the drafting of the SDGs, we will need to keep in mind the fact that inequality is determined not just by economic forces, but also by social and political factors. As flawlessly pointed out, there is a remarkable convergence on the need to shift from income as the sole measure of equality to multidimensional measures.

As an example, we were reminded of the links between the environment and poverty: the poor often derive their livelihoods from natural capital or activities linked to the natural environment, but draw fewer benefits from this than more well-off groups. We were also given an assessment on how public policies designed to improve environmental distribution can have an effect on poverty reduction.

A second takeaway is that full equality is not the goal. But once inequality becomes extreme, it bears harmful social, economic, and political effects. Extreme inequalities tend to hamper economic growth and undermine both political equality and social stability.

Third, looking beyond the narrowly economic, extreme inequalities mean that a Country is squandering its most valuable asset – its people – by not offering them the opportunities they need and deserve.

Fourth, we have received a powerful reminder of the imperative of restoring citizens’ confidence in the integrity and fairness of institutions, of the importance of transparent and accountable institutions as crucial ingredients of progress.

More in general, this discussion has been an excellent example, in my view, of the stronger science-policy interface that we Member States called for in “The Future We Want.” The experts have provided us with a solid basis to deliberate on an important aspect of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

There are 5 transformative changes that the new agenda for development should prioritize in the international community’s action to eliminate poverty and create a world that is more prosperous, more secure and more equitable:

1. Assure universal human rights and access to the most basic economic opportunities, regardless of social condition, gender, and geographic origin.
2. Place sustainable development at the heart of the new Post-2015 agenda, adapting it to the unavoidable demands of new models of production and consumption imposed upon us by climate change and environmental degradation.
3. Adjust the current economic systems so as to foster more inclusive growth and the creation of new employment opportunities. We must all listen to the appeal for a profound economic transformation based, inter alia, on the private sector’s own potential in terms of innovative technology and systems.
4. Recognize the central role that stability and good governance play, guaranteeing the achievement of acceptable levels of wellbeing. Freedom from violence and effective, accessible and accountable institutions and are not added luxuries: they are the preconditions for the creation of a more prosperous and peaceful world. Inequality thrives when the rule of law falters; when the law itself discriminates against women and minorities; when opportunities are open only to a few; when there is impunity and selected application of the law; when corruption distorts access to basic services.
5. Develop new forms of collaboration at the global level that should be the mainstay of the post-2015 agenda.

We have heard convincing arguments that sustainable development cannot be achieved while ignoring extreme disparities. In short, major consideration needs to be given to inequalities as an integral part of the post-2015 Development Agenda. Now it is up to us to act on the basis of today’s advice in a way that will make a real difference in the lives of all citizens.