Mr. Thomas Gass Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs

Meeting on UN Operational Activities in MICs
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Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the opportunity to address this important meeting on UN Operational Activities in Middle Income Countries.

Of critical importance to middle income countries are the current negotiations underway – here at the United Nations – to agree on set of ambitious and transformative sustainable development goals as part of the future sustainable development agenda.

All countries are deeply engaged in the process, and interacting closely with relevant stakeholders, most of whom play a distinct and important role in the concerns of middle income countries.

What I would like to do in the next few minutes is to give you my sense of why these 17 proposed goals, and the 169 targets attached to them are so important to the international community and particularly to middle income countries. And to leave you with some food for thought that I hope will be helpful to your discussions.

First, these goals are a dramatic shift from their predecessor, the Millennium Development Goals. The SDGs cover the whole range of activities encompassed in the three dimensions that underpin sustainable development – economic growth, social development and environmental protection. Because of their broad scope, the SDGs provide avenues for all countries to take ownership and mobilize to confront complex challenges.

We know that the challenges faced by middle income countries and their solutions are often country-specific, depending on the level of income, structure of the economy, human development indicators, external indebtedness and access to external finance, as well as other factors such as whether they are land-locked or water-locked. Further, challenges may vary from high levels of poverty and low educational attainment, narrow industrial and export base, to rapid ageing and increased urbanization, combined with problems of environmental degradation.


In order to overcome these challenges, the new development agenda must become a real shift in paradigm. Indeed, the new agenda is transformational and aims much higher than the MDGs.

Unlike the MDGs, which were more a strategic plan for the development community to fix the most pressing problems in developing countries, the SDGs – by virtue of a two-year consultation process – are more a shared vision of humanity in 2030 … a framework of targets to be achieved for all, within the next 15 years.

Second, the international definition of sustainable development is being revised as we speak. While the Sustainable Development Goals integrate in a much stronger way social, economic and environmental dimensions, their targets actually capture important cross-cutting issues that play a crucial role for middle income countries and that are central to discussions on sustainable development, including for example, issues of resilience, sustainable industrialization, migration, and reduction of inequalities.

And this segues into a third important shift, which is the commitment and determination to leave no one behind.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his Report – “The Road to Dignity by 2030”, which synthesized the full range of inputs on the post-2015 development agenda – and I quote: “No goal or target should be considered met, unless met for all social and economic groups”. Unquote.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This resolve to address inequalities is a golden thread throughout the agenda. This means that we can no longer hide behind averages. We will have to begin our efforts by identifying the most vulnerable groups and address the social, environmental and economic risks the middle income countries are facing.

Successful implementation of the SDGs will therefore require multi-stakeholder partnerships – between public and private actors – across the globe. It will require adequate means of implementation and a strengthened global partnership for development.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda recently adopted at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, establishes this strong foundation for implementation.

It provides a new global framework for financing sustainable development that aligns all financing flows and policies with economic, social and environmental priorities. It provides a comprehensive set of policy actions by Member States, with a package of over 100 concrete measures that draw upon all sources of finance, technology, innovation, trade and data. And it includes important policy commitments and key deliverables in other critical areas, such as infrastructure and social protection.

By coming together to adopt the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, countries agreed to support mobilization of the means for a global transformation to sustainable development, and achievement of the SDGs.

Some specific deliverables relevant for middle income countries include a commitment to:

• Step up the fight against illicit financial flows, including through anti-abuse clauses in tax treaties, better disclosure and information sharing, and more efforts to ensure tax is paid where economic activity occurs;
• Encourage countries to set nationally defined domestic targets and timelines for enhancing revenue;
• Develop policies and strengthen regulatory frameworks to better align private sector incentives with public goals;
• Mainstream financial inclusion as a policy goal in regulations, balancing access to and stability of financial markets; and
• Set a target to reduce the transaction costs of remittances to below three per cent

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The SDGs will not be a quick recipe to deal with the world’s greatest challenges, nor a short guide to set global and national priorities. They will be the basis for a new social contract between those who govern, and those who are governed – between the duty bearers and the rights holders.

We are at a historic crossroads. The direction we take will determine whether we succeed – or fail – in fulfilling our promises. With our globalized economy and sophisticated technology, we can decide to end the age-old ills of extreme poverty and hunger.

The alternative is the continued degradation of our planet and intolerable inequalities that sow bitterness and despair. Our choice must be inclusiveness and shared prosperity in a peaceful and resilient world where human rights and rule of law are upheld.

Thank you.

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