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

Keynote Speech
at the Joint Meeting of the Permanent Council and Inter-American Council for Integral Development of the Organization of American States

Your Excellency, Secretary-General Almagro,
Assistant Secretary-General Mendez,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very grateful to the Organization of American States for your kind invitation.

It is particularly meaningful for me to be here, in this organisation that, just like the United Nations, recognises the inter-dependence of nations, and emphasises the importance of shared values and common policies, as a basis for sustainable development and sustaining peace.

Sustainable development, based on social and economic inclusion … durable peace … and human rights … are inextricably linked and mutually supporting. It is impossible to have one without the other.

This is what drove the adoption of the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

While our imperative now is to implement these agreements, it is important to recall that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are not just an additional plan for the world, nor do they replace the specificity and detail of existing international agreements. They are a shared vision of a world, in which the Paris Agreement is implemented, together with the CEDAW, the labour conventions and the many other intergovernmental agreements and frameworks.

The SDGs are the “vision piece” of the globalization puzzle.

So we know where we want to get to, and we know how to measure our progress in getting there…

And yet, in our second year of implementation we are seeing heightened tensions and humanitarian crises, violent, interlinked and multiplying conflicts, and unprecedented scales of movements of people forced to flee their homes….

And, only two days ago, Secretary-General Guterres alerted the world that we are facing one of the biggest famines ever, and it is largely human-made.

These challenges, while they may threaten implementation… must remind us of our inter-dependence. They must strengthen our determination to move forward, encouraging those who have qualms and doubts to stay the course. After all, you don’t build a lighthouse for sunny days.

Multilateral structures and institutions that reduce inequality and accelerate sustainable development…that foster peace and prevent conflict … are more vital than ever. They need to be coherent, they need to leverage our rapidly advancing frontiers of knowledge and experience, they need to unleash the creativity of entrepreneurs, and make our globalized value chains more sustainable.

At the same time, we must continue to address the longer-term issue of capacity gaps in many countries. In this context, international cooperation is more important than ever.


The 2030 Agenda is to be driven by a system of reviews:

• The quantitative assessment of the 230 indicators that underpin the targets and goals… (to which your statistical agencies contribute on an annual basis)
• The thematic analysis of intergovernmental bodies and forums, such as the World Health Assembly, the Human Rights Council, the Committee on World Food Security, the WTO, and many others … that bring together your line ministries, specialists and vested stakeholders, looking at the SDGs, their targets and interlinkages from a technical angle,
• And most importantly, two types of national reviews:

o National reviews by the states to their people as part of a continuous nationally owned and lead accountability, and
o National voluntary reviews by states to each other, within the framework of the HLPF, every July in the UN.

Twenty-two countries (including COL, MEX, VEN) took part in the first round of Voluntary National Reviews at last year’s High-level Political Forum, sharing valuable first-hand experience in integrating the SDGs into national and regional plans, mobilizing resources, building capacities, and engaging stakeholders.

And for the 2017 HLPF, among the 44 countries presenting, including India and Japan, we have broad participation of OAS Member States, including Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay.

Many countries, as they begin implementation efforts, are reflecting ‘whole of society’ and ‘whole of government’ approaches. They are connecting and coordinating across institutions, and engaging with parliaments and local communities in unprecedented ways.

Here the regional processes are critical:

At the end of April this year, Mexico is hosting the ECLAC Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, in which progress and challenges will be analysed from the regional perspective, and lessons learned shared among countries that have started this journey.

In March of last year, a Symposium on ‘inclusive and accountable public administration for sustainable development’ took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in which many of your countries participated. It demonstrated that a number of countries are moving ahead rapidly with implementation efforts … they are reviewing their national development plans, revamping or creating institutions, empowering local authorities and communities and reaching out to people.

The symposium highlighted the importance of effective institutions for achieving the vision of the 2030 Agenda.

Indeed, where ‘we the people’ may be the raison d’etre of the 2030 Agenda, serving the people is the raison d’etre of public institutions and civil servants. And to this end, the SDGs have shed new light on the importance of ethics, integrity, professionalism, effectiveness, and transparency of public administration.

The intelligent and effective implementation of the SDGs requires:

• mobilizing civil servants and ensuring that they are well equipped to support implementation of the kind of transformative, integrated policies we need …
• building capacities to collect statistics and data,
• supporting the analysis and ability to react to new developments in a pragmatic and ethical way,
• and, the inclusion of all actors in public administration … for higher levels of participation and openness.

The 2030 Agenda has also acknowledged the essential role of national parliaments – through their enactment of legislation, adoption of budgets, and in ensuring accountability to our commitment to leave no one behind.

As institutions in themselves, parliaments – in their representative, legislative, and oversight capacities – will be a driving force in implementing the SDGs.

Ultimately, the SDGs must become a subject of local policy dialogue. They must become a social contract with the people.


A critical prerequisite for achieving the SDGs is to implement the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.

Financing sustainable development means ensuring and incentivizing that all significant financial flows are conducive to sustainable development. Public and private actors, as well as the financial markets must work together. Investments must be made in sustainable and resilient infrastructure. The large infrastructure gaps in developing countries must be addressed.

The private sector can play an important role by translating profits into sustained economic growth and environmental protection, and integrating sustainability information into the reporting cycle.

Recent research by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission shows that pursuing 60 sustainable and inclusive market “hotspots” in just four key areas (energy; cities; food and agriculture; health and wellbeing) could create at least US$12 trillion in business value by 2030 – equivalent to 10 percent of forecast GDP – and generate up to 380 million jobs, mostly in developing countries.

It also highlights that innovative financing can unlock the US$2.4 trillion needed from diverse sources of public and private investment to advance inclusive growth and sustainability; much of this potential funding is currently squirreled away in savings accounts. The keys include simplified reporting, (SDG – based) Global Goals benchmarks, regulation that supports investment in sustainable development and public and private collaboration to drive innovation.

Let me also say that the Addis Agenda commits to ensure that the diverse and specific development needs of middle-income countries are appropriately addressed. It acknowledges that concessional finance is still important for a number of these countries and has a role to play for targeted results.

The Addis Agenda also identifies tax evasion and corruption as particular areas that need both domestic and international action. This topic has gained renewed momentum with the Mbeki Report, scandals surrounding tax havens and the recent General Assembly resolution on “Promotion of international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows in order to foster sustainable development”. [71/461, of 21 December 2016] and the common UN, IFIs, OECD platform to build capacities for more effective tax systems.


The OAS plays a critical role as a regional organization in achieving the 2030 Agenda. Your advocacy and engagement is needed.

The 2030 Agenda is not the UN’s Agenda. It belongs to everyone; it is a shared vision of humanity, promised to its people. It is about mobilization and empowerment.

And while there is no standard approach for implementing the SDGs, and each country decides on its own path, the shifts in paradigm inherent to the 2030 Agenda compel us all to ask at least the following three sets of basic questions:

1. Are we taking integrated approaches? Are we reaching across institutional silos? Are we testing our policy coherence between trade, migration, social development, environment, taxes, climate change, etc?

2. Is the accountability towards the people and their political and economic involvement being strengthened?

3. Are we leaving anyone behind? Do we know who the most vulnerable are and why? Are we systematically building their resilience as part of our development strategies?

In closing, I wish to thank OAS for the extremely fruitful collaboration with the United Nations. By promoting inter-American dialogue, and cooperation in the area of sustainable development, you are amplifying and strengthening the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The achievement of the SDGs will require commitment to the people and children of this world, that the 2030 Agenda is not just a new deal among nations, but a solemn promise to its people.

To quote a 20th century poet of the America’s, “After the final no there comes a yes, And on that yes the future world depends.”

Let us make this ‘yes’ to a shared vision of humanity, our common cause.

Thank you.

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