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United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Statements

Deputy Secretary-General: Statements

New York, 23 April 2015 - Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at International Conference on Measuring Sustainable Development [as delivered]

I thank the German Research Foundation and the United Nations University for organizing this conference on the timely and important theme of measuring sustainable development.

Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a historic process to define our development agenda for the post-2015 era. Sustainable development is finally coming of age. Governments and stakeholders the world over have recognised that the only way to achieve shared prosperity for present and future generations is to balance economic, social and environmental imperatives.

Integrating these three elements – economic, social and environmental – requires a truly horizontal approach. Through debate and discussion on the post-2015 agenda, Member States, civil society, academia and the private sector have identified many complex, but also creative, interlinkages that must guide our development efforts now and in the future.

The Sustainable Development Goals, to be adopted this September, will be a reflection of this holistic and horizontal approach.  As you know, Member States are currently negotiating on the basis of the General Assembly Open Working Group’s proposal for 17 Goals, and with many targets per goal.  The outcome has the potential to be genuinely transformative.

But it is also a daunting challenge, not least with regard to measuring progress.  This is where science has a vital role to play.

Scientists have already begun to analyse the measurability of the targets.  A key factor in this regard is the development of meaningful and reliable indicators.  Much work remains to be done to define a global set of indicators that is robust and manageable, and which a large majority of countries could measure and report on periodically.

The United Nations Statistical Commission is leading the work to develop a global indicators framework for the SDGs. The Commission expects to finalize the indicators for endorsement at its next official session in March 2016. 

Data gathering and disaggregation is another vital piece of the development picture.  And here too, scientists will be indispensable in charting our work ahead.  Today, our world is bursting with information.  Yet, we often lack data where we need it most:  in relation to the poorest and most marginalized communities.

If we are to truly “leave no one behind”, we need a data revolution to identify new and innovative ways of gathering data, particularly in what have traditionally been considered “data-poor” environments.

As stated by the Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, the world must acquire a new “data literacy”.  This is necessary if we are to have the tools, methodologies and information necessary to shine a light on the challenges of responding to the new agenda.

Data will need to be disaggregated by income, gender, age, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics.  This essential work is likely to stretch the capacities of statistical offices in many developing countries.  Enhanced support for capacity and institution-building will be vital.

As we move into the post-2015 era, we must find ways to strengthen the interface between science and policy and politics.  We in the policy sphere need the scientific community to extend the horizons of what we know and what we can measure.  Scientists have a unique ability to shed light on new and emerging issues where we have limited understanding.  Too often, policy makers are unaware of the advances in science and technology which can bring solutions to complex policy problems.

At the same time, scientists should be effective communicators to policy-makers at all levels, beginning at the international level in the United Nations.  And the policy-makers should be receptive and understand the importance of evidence-based conclusions.  A Finnish President once told me – “the source of wisdom is knowing the facts”.

In light of the importance of science for the work of the United Nations, the Secretary-General’s Scientific Advisory Board was created in October 2013. The Board, consisting of 26 eminent scientists covering the full spectrum of disciplines, aims to strengthen the interface between science and policy.

We also draw on the work of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative launched by the Secretary-General in 2012.  This network mobilizes scientific and technical expertise from different sectors to find scientific solutions to sustainable development problems.

In closing:

The post-2015 agenda will set out an ambitious vision for our future: a sustainable, prosperous world and life in dignity for all its people. The Sustainable Development Goals, targets and indicators will form a roadmap for the next 15 years of our work.

If we are to chart this path successfully, we will need monitoring, measurement and evaluation of unprecedented breadth and sophistication along the way. 

In this critical year, as Member States finalize the new agenda, the vital role of scientists, both natural, political and social, as well as statisticians, must be brought to the fore.  In this new era of transformative development, we must break down the silos and reach across disciplines to solve the pressing and complex problems we face.

I commend you all for your interest and engagement in the themes of this conference, which demonstrate this holistic and comprehensive perspective.  I wish you a successful conference.

Thank you. 

Statements on 23 April 2015