Secretary-General's message to the closing session of the European Forum Alpbach [Delivered by Ms. Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs]
Alpbach, Austria, 31 August 2013
My warm greetings and best wishes to everyone gathered in Alpbach.
I had very much hoped to make my third visit to your beautiful village. Alpbach has become a home away from home for me and many United Nations colleagues.
The Forum provides a wonderful intellectual environment – with ideas and insights as plentiful as Alpine flowers. And indeed, some many UN officials and good partners of the Organization -- including business leaders and scientists -- are attending the 2013 Forum to explore new avenues for global problem-solving.
However, as you know, I have been unable to join them owing to the crisis in Syria, which required my immediate return to New York.
The conflict in Syria is the biggest peace, security and humanitarian challenge facing the world today. A catastrophic civil war has killed more than 100,000 people, ignited sectarian tensions, caused millions of people to flee their homes and generated instability across the region. The fighting has created a lost generation of children and young people. The situation is worsening by the day. I continue to press for a political solution. Arms flows and militarization only sustain the bloodshed. It is time for the parties to stop fighting and start talking. The Syrian people need peace.
As the United Nations wrestles with this and other emergencies, we are also striving to build the deeper foundations of peace. We are working for a world without nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. We are taking new approaches to peacekeeping and focusing more and more intently on preventing conflict in the first place. We are placing heightened emphasis on strengthening the rule of law.
And we continue our global journey towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
Despite scepticism when the MDGs were first adopted, the eight-point blueprint generated the most significant anti-poverty push in history. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has been halved. Fewer children are losing their lives to malaria and tuberculosis. And more than 2.1 billion people gained access to improved sources of drinking water. These and other gains have made us the first generation in history that can truly wipe extreme poverty off the face of the earth.
But there is much unfinished business. Nineteen thousand children under age five still die each day, most from preventable diseases. Two and a half billion people still lack access to sanitation. Disparities between different countries and social groups are widening. Progress in getting children in school has stalled. Environmental sustainability is under severe threat. And we must continue to pursue the empowerment of women and girls. Societies cannot be free if half their citizens cannot pursue their full potential.
We must intensify our efforts in two crucial ways.
First, with the deadline – the end of the year 2015 – fast approaching, we must accelerate progress and continue MDG momentum.
Second, we must shape a global agenda beyond 2015 focused on ending poverty and with sustainable development at its core.
We have already begun the vital discussion on crafting a post-2015 agenda that is ambitious, inspiring and universal – that is relevant to all people and all societies, and that builds on the achievements and lessons of the MDGs.
The definition of the post-2015 agenda is our chance to usher in a new era in international development that can lead to a world of prosperity, peace, sustainability, equity and dignity for all. Collectively, we need to grasp this historic opportunity to transform our economies and societies, and put our planet on a sustainable course before it is too late.
2015 is also the year when Member States must make good on their promise to reach a legally binding agreement on climate change – a threat that looms over all of this work.
Emissions and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are at their highest levels ever. The impacts are already clear: extreme and unpredictable weather patterns, leading to lost lives, costly disasters, volatility in food prices and social unrest. Current pledges are not enough to keep global temperature rise under the limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels, considered necessary to avoid catastrophe harm to people and the planet. World leaders must catch up with what scientists and our own eyes can see. Next year, I will convene a climate summit in New York to generate momentum.
2015 will thus be a big year and a historic opportunity in our efforts to build a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable world. I know this is a time of austerity. Budgets are tight everywhere. But we cannot short-change investments that are needed to lift the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people. Budget priorities around the world must reflect people’s priorities. And yet still every year, more than a trillion dollars is drained on weapons of war. The time has come to spend less on arsenals that destroy and more on tools that build.
This is a time of dramatic change. New economic powers are rising. New threats have emerged. The human family has a new profile: more than half the earth’s people are under the age of 25. Our shared challenge is to conquer the persistent problems of old -- poverty, hunger, disease and hatred – while building a new landscape of peace, prosperity and dignity for all. All of you gathered in Alpbach have a role to play as we partner in new ways for the common good. I will count on your solidarity, your compassion and your support for the United Nations.