General Assembly President, at Inaugural Meeting of High-level Political Forum, Urges Member States to Use New Entity ‘Wisely and Well’

24 September 2013

General Assembly President, at Inaugural Meeting of High-level Political Forum, Urges Member States to Use New Entity ‘Wisely and Well’

24 September 2013
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

High-level Political Forum

on Sustainable Development

1st Meeting (PM)

General Assembly President, at Inaugural Meeting of High-Level Political Forum,

Urges Member States to Use New Entity ‘Wisely and Well’


Secretary-General, President of Economic and Social Council Hail

Body as Key Platform with Potential for Enhancing Coherence, Spearheading Change

World leaders gathered at the United Nations today to inaugurate the High-level Political Forum which seeks to inject new energy into global efforts to accelerate action on sustainable development for future generations.

The new Forum represents a major step forward in the follow-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), replacing the Commission on Sustainable Development, which concluded its work on 20 September.

Against that backdrop, General Assembly President John Ashe ( Antigua and Barbuda) said he was opening today’s historic meeting with enthusiasm and a sense of purpose.  As world leaders and others had fashioned the new entity, it was everyone’s responsibility to use it wisely and well.  Describing sustainability as the real bridge from past to future, and linking the planet, its peoples and prosperity, he pressed participants to commit ambition and leadership to the new Forum.

As guardian and catalyst for global sustainability, the Forum must identify major global socioeconomic challenges, he said.  It must provide a unique platform for pulling global actors together by instilling a coherence that had been lacking.  To fulfil its mandate, it must also be “proactive and sometimes provocative”.  It must build on past commitments and shape sustainability into economic and social decision-making, he said. Above all, it needed strong global champions.

“We’re facing an ever-challenging future and we have miles to go before we rest,” he continued, cautioning that the Forum would not be a product of continuous cycles of statements, however well-intentioned.  As a new institution, it had a clean slate, and as such, he said it must be an effective tool for delivering integrated sustainable development that would foster prosperity for the planet and its peoples.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said today’s meeting was a significant step towards realizing the vision adopted at Rio+20 in June 2012.  “Your Forum is a key platform for examining the challenges of sustainable development in an integrated and holistic manner.”  It could be the catalyst for a strengthened global partnership for sustainable development, providing political leadership grounded in solid science.

With that in mind, he said he had decided to create a Scientific Advisory Board to help strengthen the interface between science and policy.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) would establish the board and host its secretariat.  “This Forum is integral for shaping a common vision for future decades,” he said, urging participants to build on the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and “expand our ambition”.

Since combating climate change was central to such efforts, he urged finalizing a legal climate agreement in 2015, adding that he would convene a high-level summit aimed at generating political commitment to keep global temperature rise below the 2°C threshold.  “Our goals are ambitious,” he said.  “We must do everything we can to bring in influence and wisdom to our deliberations.”

Néstor Osorio ( Colombia), President of the Economic and Social Council, said the decision to establish the Forum spoke to the international determination to achieve sustainable development.  “This unwavering commitment is welcome at a time of growing challenges of poverty and climate change around the world,” he said.  Emphasizing that economic and social development were inextricably linked with environment development, he said the world needed to enter an era of “transformative change” in order to attain the goals of sustainability.

Under the Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, the Forum was well placed to spearhead change at the United Nations and in international environmental bodies, he continued.  The recent Assembly resolution strengthening the Council would, in turn, bolster its ability to pursue an issue-based approach to identifying challenges and attaining balanced achievement of the three dimensions of sustainable development.

The effects of the Forum and the Council must be felt widely, because the world would measure them by their ability to end poverty and make sustainable development a reality, he said.  In order to effect true change in people’s lives, the Forum’s guidance must be rooted in local realities and scientific findings, he stressed, urging the body to broaden its consultation base.

Addressing the Forum as a co-facilitator, President Dilma Roussef of Brazil said that States had taken a decisive step towards consolidating the Rio sustainable development agenda, having agreed that eradicating poverty was the biggest global challenge.  The task now was to realize their commitments.  The Forum would provide a platform for leadership, recommendations and monitoring to ensure the integration of sustainable development’s economic, social and environmental pillars.

To that end, the Forum should review progress and challenges, she said, stressing:  “We must live up to the expectations of our peoples.”  For the first time in history, the goal of eradicating extreme poverty was within reach.  Brazil would support all the Forum’s initiatives on eradicating poverty and ensuring that it became a place where best practices were discussed and solutions found.

Also speaking as a co-facilitator, Prime Minister Enrico Letta of Italy said the Forum’s creation had increased the opportunity to strengthen international governance and sustainable development.  However, that was only the first step.  The Forum should provide stronger political leadership for sustainable development, he said.

Describing poverty eradication as a central requirement in that effort, he underlined the world’s moral and political obligation to pursue that challenge.  In building a green economy as a tool for sustainable development, stronger partnerships with the private sector and civil society were crucial, he said, adding that the Forum should be instrumental in those efforts.  He also called for an updated consensus on food, food security, distribution and origin.

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, said economic growth had lifted 660 million people out of poverty for more than 20 years, in addition to progress having been made in literacy and education, as well as infant and child mortality.  However, growth had also left millions behind, he noted.  According to a World Bank report, environmental degradation was costing countries 8 per cent of their gross domestic product, while climate change threatened to roll back development.  Those least able to adapt, the poor, would be hit hardest, he said, noting that a 2°C degree temperature rise would lead to water shortages, higher sea levels and increased coastal flooding.

But, there was also evidence of opportunity, he said, stressing that green, inclusive growth was both necessary and affordable.  “ Rio created momentum,” he noted.  “We have the opportunity to take it to the next level.”  The World Bank Group supported the rapid convergence of sustainable development goals, with improved indicators and financing strategies.  Ending poverty required commitment, resources, data, broad working coalitions and, perhaps most importantly, courage.  “Making progress may be the most important legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren,” he said.

In a similar vein, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said sustainable development policies for the twenty-first century should focus on the triple challenge of economic instability, environmental damage and inequitable distribution of income and growth.  Macroeconomic stability must be bolstered by striking the right balance, continuing reform and breaking down barriers to growth through job creation for the young.  The poorest countries would be the worst hit by low growth, she said.  “The harm that we do must be reflected in the price that we pay.”

She went on to call for greater attention to the distribution of income and growth.  As to eliminating extreme poverty, she said special attention must be paid to fostering greater gender equity.  Stressing that obstacles to women’s contributions lowered income by up to 27 per cent, she called for adjustments to development policies to reflect the realities of the twenty-first century.

Gita Sen, Professor at the Centre for Public Policy of the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore, spoke on behalf of Major Groups.  Recalling that the Major Groups had been created after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) to ensure civil society’s participation in decision-making, she said she was speaking today on behalf of girls and women who, for too long, had been suppressed by patriarchal gender systems and still lacked the freedom to make choices.

Discussing global needs, she called for the creation of global financial systems and trade regimes that could be monitored to ensure that they protected the environment.  She also urged that principles, such as common but differentiated responsibilities, should guide the Forum’s future efforts.

Following those opening statements, the Forum held a series of “Leaders Dialogues”, exploring issues ranging from a vision for the Forum to global partnerships for the creation of jobs.

It also heard key messages on sustainability, presented by:  Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs; Guy Rider, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO); Mussie Delelegn Arega, Officer-in-Charge, New York Office of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Kadir Topbaş, Mayor of Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality; Miguel Pestana, Vice-President of Global External Affairs and Media Relations at Unilever; and Philipa Gardner, Youth Representative.

In other business, the Forum elected the 21 Vice-Presidents of the General Assembly as its Vice-Chairs.

Jesús Garcia Aldaz, Spain’s Vice-Minister for International Cooperation and Latin American Affairs, delivered closing remarks on behalf of the General Assembly President.

Leaders Dialogue 1

The Forum then heard from five high-level keynote speakers during its first Leaders’ Dialogue, titled “From Vision to Action”.

JOSAIA BAINIMARAMA, Prime Minister of Fiji, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said the Forum should be a more vibrant platform for sustainability, taking lessons from the Commission on Sustainable Development as its starting point.  The international community must commit its political weight to ensuring coherence in the work of United Nations entities, he stressed.

The Forum should provide political leadership for sustainable development, he continued.  Poverty eradication should be the overarching objective, as part of the commitments made during the Rio+20 Conference.  It was important to coordinate the three dimensions of sustainable development, and the Forum should design the United Nations development agenda, including the post-2015 framework.

Continued openness to all kinds of groups was an important lesson from the Commission on Sustainable Development, he said, urging the Forum to ensure geographic balance and encourage participation by research institutions from the South as part of the effort to build an inclusive approach to sustainable development.  There was a sense of hope for a new path leading to a better future free from suffering, poverty and hunger, of which the world must be cognizant, he said.

JOSÉ MANUEL BARROSO, President of the European Commission, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the bloc would continue to play an active role in integrating better development in the economic, social and environmental realms — the three pillars of sustainable development.  Sustainability and poverty were two sides of the same coin, he said, calling for a single comprehensive agenda.

As part of its responsibility to deliver on that vision, the European Union would maintain a high level of development assistance until 2020, he said, adding that 25 per cent would go specifically to climate issues and 20 per cent to human development.  He underscored the importance of strong review and accountability measures, as well as the need for strong inputs from civil society, scientists and other stakeholders, as new global challenges emerged.

ABDULLAH GÜL, President of Turkey, noted that for much of the 40 years in which the world had been discussing sustainability, the focus had been on environmental aspects, while the economic and social dimensions had only come to the fore more recently.  People should come first and they must all enjoy equal rewards and equal opportunities.

Noting that the planet was under stress through the depletion of natural resources, the loss of biodiversity and accelerating climate change, he urged the Forum to come up with ways to address those challenges without impeding economic growth.  In view of rising energy and food prices, good governance was more crucial to peace, security and stability than ever.

He went on to emphasize that good governance would only be possible by ensuring environmental sustainability as well as greater accountability and inclusiveness.  By focusing on best practices and promoting the transfer of knowledge and technology, the world could work towards bridging the differences in consumption patterns, thereby widening opportunities for future generations.

SHEIKH HASINA, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, said sustainable development was vital for her country because it was a frontline State vis-à-vis climate change.  An increase of only 1° C in the global temperature would submerge a fifth of Bangladesh’s landmass, creating 30 million climate migrants, she noted, adding that her country was therefore obliged to pay full attention to the three pillars of sustainable development.

Reminding participants of two crucial points on the international horizon — the post-2015 development agenda, and the negotiations on a long-term climate framework — she urged the Forum to provide visionary leadership and commitment.  It must recognize the special needs of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States, she said, adding that most countries in those categories were lagging behind in terms of the Millennium Goals.  While maintaining development assistance at the same levels, the international community should more effectively apply advances in science and technology to accelerate progress in the developing world.

DIDIER BURKHALTER, Vice-President of the Swiss Federal Council and Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland, said the Forum provided a new opportunity for the international community to take on its responsibility to future generations.  While there had been progress in reducing poverty, daunting challenges persisted, requiring a greater focus on sustainability.

Nations must unite to meet the planet’s needs and develop a framework within which multilateral institutions could work together more effectively, he said.  The establishment of the Forum was but one stage in a long trip, but it had nevertheless placed the sustainability agenda at the forefront of international attention.  He called for harnessing five strengths — interaction, integration, science, openness and follow-up action — in developing a common future.

Remarks from the Floor

During the ensuing dialogue, leaders highlighted the importance of effectively integrating the three pillars of sustainable development, of common international action, of demonstrating greater political will, of building greater inclusiveness, and of incorporating sustainability issues more closely into the post-2015 development agenda.

Many speakers urged the Forum to play a more vigorous, action-oriented role while preserving the domestic space of Member States.  Several agreed that the Forum’s creation under both the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council provided it with greater international visibility and credibility, which it must use to advance its objectives.

ELIO DI RUPO, Prime Minister of Belgium, pointed out that countries of the global North and South shared complementary and interconnected problems.  They needed to build a more robust framework for development, encompassing the three pillars of sustainable development.

MIROSLAV LAJČÁK, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovakia, said a more sustainable future depended not only on diplomats and legislators, but also on thinkers and scientists, businesses and civil society.

EVANGELOS VENIZELOS, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Greece, noted that the world was better equipped to respond to challenges, and urged the Forum to play a more robust role in ensuring that it had greater autonomy to promote sustainable development goals.

MANUEL PULGAR-VIDAL, Minister for Environment of Peru, said the crises afflicting the world also provided opportunities to build sustainable solutions.

WANG YI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of China, said the road to sustainable development was difficult, particularly for developing countries like his own.  “But we are determined to fight this uphill battle because it is the only way,” he emphasized.

FUMIO KISHIDA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, pledged his country's active contribution to a vigorous follow-up process, including on financing.

SALMAN KHURSHID, Minister for External Affairs of India, described the creation of the Forum as a universal and inclusive process for a common objective.  The Forum should be an action-oriented collaboration that preserved the space of Member States.

JUSTINE GREENING, Secretary of State for International Development of the United Kingdom, stressed that poverty eradication and sustainable development must be at the core of the development agenda.

Also speaking from the floor were:  Pascal Canfin, Deputy Minister for Development of France; Omar Abou Eich, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for Development of Egypt; Armida S. Alisjahbana, Minister for National Development Planning and Head of the National Development Planning Agency of Indonesia; and Claudia Salerno, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs for North America of Venezuela.

Leaders Dialogue 2

The Forum then launched its second Leaders Dialogue, titled “Global partnerships for development to create jobs and improve sustainable lifestyles”, which featured three keynote speakers:  Baron Divavesi Waqa, President of Nauru; Jens Stoltenberg, Prime Minister of Norway; and Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Mr. WAQA recalled that the now-defunct Commission on Sustainable Development had maintained a database of more than 300 partnerships, which were essential to most areas of the Organization’s work.  However, Member States did not spend a proportionate amount of time or energy considering the definition of a partnership or how to structure one.  The concept of partnership appeared to divide donors and recipients, he noted.  Rather, it should mean the union of equal parties.

The partnership models that small island developing States should follow were those built on mutual trust and respect, he continued.  If the relationship did not work, parties could be confident of “walking away” towards a more satisfactory solution.  Partners must better meet the needs of small developing countries, he said, urging joint action on long-term solutions rather than quick fixes.  Partnerships were at the heart of success or failure in efforts to achieve sustainable development.  “We must start by getting it right,” he stressed.

Mr. STOLTENBERG said poverty and global warming were today’s two greatest challenges.  Stressing the need for a new climate agreement that was applicable to all, he warned that unless political leaders gave the negotiations their full attention, the necessary results would not be achieved.  “We need action now while we are negotiating,” he said, underlining the need to cut emissions from deforestation, which would provide the largest reductions.

Placing a price on carbon would make it more expensive to pollute and more affordable to reduce emissions, he continued.  It would also promote the development of new technology.  Eliminating subsidies on fossil fuels — which amounted to $500 billion annually — was also important, as it would create incentives for a switch to renewable energy sources.  “We must stand by the pledge we made in Copenhagen to mobilize $100 billion annually,” in global climate change aid for developing countries by 2020, he stressed, urging the Forum to place climate change at the top of the international agenda.

Mr. SHARIF said poverty still stalked the earth, while climate change had made the planet extremely fragile.  As all leaders understood, jobs were at the heart of growing economies, good governance and political stability.  For its part, Pakistan was creating jobs through small business loans and skills-development programmes, he said.  Important as such efforts were, however, they would never create sustainable livelihoods, and were transitional solutions at best.

He went on to note that his country’s youth population would grow from 61 million to 71 million in the next five years.  Indeed, nearly 100 million young Pakistanis under the age of 25 could be turned into “a dividend of critical resources”.  He said that, last week, he had announced new schemes to create more job opportunities for young people, and they would be expanded in the coming years.

While generally opposed to aid because it stunted economic growth, he said that, instead, he advocated trade, market access, economic partnerships and technology transfer.  Global partnerships would help create jobs and expand market frontiers.  In closing, he called for reviving economies, reducing the mismatch between skills and available jobs, and enhancing women’s participation, among other initiatives.

Remarks from the Floor

In the ensuing discussion, Heads of Government and other senior officials expressed high expectations for the Forum to be an effective platform for building a world of shared and equitable prosperity. Indeed, it would provide an opportunity for world leaders to stimulate timely follow-up actions to the Rio+20 Conference.

Reflecting the views of many speakers, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland called for a strong sense of urgency, voicing hope that the Forum would show the necessary political will to regularly address challenges and opportunities.  “We urgently need to change our lifestyles”, and industrialized countries should take the lead.  Success boiled down to how well smart changes in consumption and production patterns increased jobs and well-being, he said, expressing hope that the Forum would debate those issues.  They mattered now more than ever.

Many speakers discussed how the global economic crisis had sharpened the focus on job creation for young people.

The Prime Minister of Samoa said his country would host the third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2014, and planned to launch a youth partnership programme focused on maximizing job opportunities.

In a similar vein, the Minister for Irrigation and Water Resources Management of Sri Lanka said his country would host the World Conference on Youth in 2014, and intended to mainstream youth into the global development agenda.

A senior Minister from Germany said that, to create decent jobs, “we have to provide high-quality education” and technical training.  She also emphasized the importance of transparent financial systems for extractive industry income, especially in resource-rich countries.

Describing poverty eradication efforts, the Minister for Social Development of South Africa focused on the role of social protection in development, saying it was about investing in people.  The same was true of the Rio Declaration, which placed people at the centre of sustainable development efforts.

On a similar note, the Vice-Minister for Multilateral Affairs of Colombia urged more interaction with civil society and the private sector, acknowledging the critical role of the Economic and Social Council in the sustainable development tasks ahead.

Also speaking today were the Prime Ministers of Montenegro and Samoa; the Foreign Ministers of Benin (on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries) and Lithuania; and other senior Ministers representing France, Germany, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia.

Speakers representing Malaysia and Kazakhstan also addressed the Forum.

Also speaking today were a representative of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and Prime Minister of the Country of Curacao.

Leaders Dialogue 3

Initiating the day’s third Leaders’ Dialogue, “Mapping the way forward for eradicating poverty and achieving sustainable development”, President Donald Rabindranauth Ramotar of Guyana said important global strides had been made in poverty reduction, but they were neither uniform nor irreversible.  While growing emissions caused great concern around the world, many countries were unwilling to take action to curb them on the grounds that doing so would hamper their economic development.  Considerable aid pledges had been made over the years for sustainable development initiatives in developing countries, but they had not been kept, forcing many countries to divert resources from vital health and education programmes.

Noting that trade had often been touted as a solution to poverty, he said the international trading system seemed to be stacked against developing countries.  Since Caribbean countries could not compete with their North American or European counterparts, the international community must take those disparities into account.  Developing countries must set up mechanisms to ensure transparency, accountability, investments in human capital, health and education, he said.  However, they would not be sufficient in the absence of a more vibrant international aid architecture.

ANOTE TONG, President and Head of Government of Kiribati, noted that countries were often mired in poverty in spite of being surrounded by vast natural wealth.  Citing his own country’s experience, he said Kiribati produced fish worth $400 million to $500 million annually from the waters of its exclusive economic zone, but received a mere 8 per cent of that amount.  Ways must be found to ensure that developing countries derived higher returns on their own resources if they were to achieve sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals.

He went on to reiterate the urgent need to reinforce the message of climate change, saying it was an issue of immediate concern to countries like Kiribati, in which communities were already being dislocated and needed to be resettled.  Without a serious international response, the very survival of such countries was at stake, he said, warning that failure to act would be on the world’s conscience.

DANNY FAURE, Vice-President of the Seychelles, said it was not possible for island States to map ways of achieving sustainable development without focusing on the centrality of their ocean-based economies.  They were very diverse in many ways, but nevertheless united in their dependence on oceans for life, livelihoods, food security and cultural well-being.

Small island States needed a helping hand to prevent high indebtedness, he said.  They sought an alternative to the per-capita gross domestic product measurement model used in aid disbursements, in view of the particular threats they faced.  With the Forum being held less than a year before the upcoming key conference on small island States, it was a good time for a paradigm shift, and to address the post-2015 development agenda, he said.

Remarks from the Floor

Speakers highlighted the need to ensure greater participation by the scientific and business communities, as well as civil society in the Forum’s deliberations.  While some called for greater aid flows to meet the challenges of sustainable development, they also stressed the importance of ensuring transparency and accountability in the process.

CHRISTIAN FRIIS BACH, Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark, stressed the importance of a Forum with the power to act, that could hold Governments accountable and deliver on its mandate.  Universal participation, inclusivity and transparency were central to the process, he said, adding that the Forum had made “a great start” in that regard.

RAJIV SHAH, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, said there was greater recognition across the world of the need for a more unified approach to sustainable development.  The United States supported ending extreme poverty while tackling climate change, and encouraged the setting of clear targets and goals.  Joining with international partners in that task ultimately enriched everyone.

ALOUNKEO KITTIKHOUN, Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, spoke on behalf of the Group of Landlocked Developing Countries, saying that they sought greater attention from the Forum to their problems and concerns.  They needed an accelerated reduction of high transportation costs, a more efficient transit system, the resilience and capacity to cope with multiple external shocks, as well as new and emerging challenges, and greater partnerships.

ANATOLY MAKSIUTA, First Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade of Ukraine, said that, because of the global financial crisis, his country needed to double growth to reduce poverty.  While that would be a difficult task, new synergies, economic growth, human capacity-building and environmental protection would help to ease the process.

Also speaking from the floor were representatives of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Other speakers were the Chief of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as well as representatives of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as well as the Chairman/Curator and the Executive Producer/Curator of TEDxUN Plaza.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.