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

Keynote Speech at the Symposium on Sustainable Development Goals

Ladies and Gentlemen,


It is an honour and pleasure to address this important assembly in beautiful Shiga Prefecture.

It is also a pleasure to share with you my passion for the 2030 Agenda and my enthusiasm for what the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can do for humanity.

And, let me emphasize how particularly meaningful it is to be here, in your country which has been a strong promoter of the inter-dependence of nations … emphasizing the importance of shared values and common policies as a basis for sustainable development and sustaining peace.

This recognition is what drove the adoption of the universal and transformative 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is also key to the agreement on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on Financing for Development, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, among many other intergovernmental agreements and frameworks.

While our imperative now is to implement these agreements, it is important to recall that the SDGs are not just an additional plan for the world, nor do they replace the specificity and detail of existing international agreements. The SDGs are a shared vision of a world … the “vision piece” of the globalization puzzle.

Indeed, we are well beyond measuring poverty only in GDP terms. In a manner of speaking, the 169 Targets underpinning the SDGs are 169 ways of explain how no one is to be left behind. In other words, these 17 Goals and 169 targets – for which indicators exist and monitoring systems are being set – form the basis of a new social contract between the world’s leaders and their people.


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 face some startling challenges:

  • we live in a world where acute poverty and destitution coexist with extreme wealth.
  • where one in eight among us lives in extreme poverty, and two in five are without access to adequate sanitation
  • where rates of maternal and child mortality are unacceptably high, and millions of our children are out of school
  • where many women and girls are still deprived from equal opportunities, and
  • where the capacity of oceans to provide their vital services, and the survival of the planet’s biodiversity, are at great risk.

We are also seeing heightened tensions and humanitarian crises, violent, interlinked and multiplying conflicts, and unprecedented scales of movements of people forced to flee their homes….

And now we are facing one of the biggest famines ever, and it is largely human-made. The countries of Kenya, Yemen, South Sudan and Somalia are currently facing – or are at risk – of large-scale famine (20 million people). Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people risk starving to death and succumbing to disease, lost futures, mass displacements and reversed development gains.

Needless to say the task in front of us is urgent.

Indeed, world leaders acknowledged this and have committed to eradicate poverty for all times. They have committed to ensure that all people can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality, peace and security … and they have agreed to protect the richness of life and nature on our planet, the only home we have.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

We live in a world of changes so profound and rapid that no country can stand alone. The world’s interlinked threats and challenges require everyone to share responsibility and contribute to a common vision.

That is why the Goals speak to many common concerns of countries, at all levels of development … whether youth unemployment and widening inequalities … increasing natural disasters and threats from climate change that include industrial pollution, degradation of terrestrial ecosystems, loss of biodiversity … or weaknesses in social coherence, management of the state, and violence.


We are interconnected to an unprecedented extent. Not just in the way that our communication, our value chains and our financial systems are built … but also in the way that negative externalities can no longer be contained by national borders or by firewalls in our internet systems.

These are challenges that can hold everyone back … and are not contained within national boundaries.

And as the challenges are fully inclusive, so the solutions must be as well.

The 2030 Agenda recognizes this change by moving beyond a strategy to just “develop poor countries” to a universal plan applicable to all.

Sustainable Development cannot be achieved unilaterally / by one country!

And probably the most significant change in paradigm brought about by this new Agenda, is the affirmation that, if a significant economic or social group is left behind, our development is not sustainable.

That is why the 2030 Agenda includes a commitment to leave no one behind. That is why we need to work together to find solutions that are sustainable and durable, and that recognize our interdependence – with each other, and with all life on Earth.

And yet, at times we are still misled by the seemingly endless nature of our global public goods.

Take for example our planet’s oceans. This endless reservoir of 1.3 billion cubic kilometres, covers over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, and contains 97 percent of the Earth’s water.

Its size and abundance is very misleading, as we are 7.5 billion people to share it.

That means that every 5 of us have to share 1 Cubic kilometre of ocean (or 270’000 Gallons).

This volume generates over half of the oxygen you breathe and the seafood you consume. It absorbs your sewage, your garbage, your spilled oil and one quarter of the carbon dioxide you produce.
This concern is high on the agenda of the United Nations, and next week it will host the first Ocean Conference. This conference, to support implementation of SDG 14, aims to be the game changer that will reverse the decline in the health of our oceans. It will be solutions-focused, with engagement from all sectors.

For, when individuals share a seemingly free common good, like the oceans, or forests, or air, or peace – we need to come up with an agreed approach to managing it. Not just at the national level – not just among rich, or among friendly countries, but among all. And this approach cannot only be agreed among diplomats and government officials.

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


So, what will it take to move to action?! Why is it so meaningful that a Prefecture is engaged in this Agenda 2030?

Multilateral structures and institutions that accelerate sustainable development…that reduce inequality and 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 offices contribute)
  • 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 High-level Political forum, every July in the UN. And here, let me say how very pleased we are that Japan is one of the 44 countries that will be presenting at the HLPF this year, 2017.

Japan has taken concrete steps to fully implement the SDGs and mainstream the 2030 Agenda in its national context. During the SDGs negotiation process, Japan contributed actively to the discussions under the concept of human security, and incorporated development agendas to which Japan attaches importance.

Japan has already established the SDGs Promotion Headquarters. Headed by Prime Minister Abe, it aims to ensure a whole-of-government approach to implementing the 2030 Agenda in a comprehensive and effective manner.

And, to this end, Japan has adopted SDG implementation guiding principles and priority areas for national action, including the elaboration of 140 national and international policies with concrete indicators.

By sharing your valuable first-hand experience – whether in integrating the SDGs into national and regional plans, mobilizing resources, building capacities, or engaging stakeholders – there is no doubt of the value this will provide to other countries.


To be sure, 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.

A number of countries are reviewing their national development plans, revamping or creating institutions, empowering local authorities and communities and reaching out to people.

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.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

With the increasing demands of people from their governments, ensuring quality public services is quintessential in all facets of sustainable development.

We need mechanisms in place to give a voice to people, including the poorest and most vulnerable, so that they define their needs and ways to address them. Here, the principle to leave no one behind has many implications for public services, with social and technological innovations helping to pave a way for more responsive and collaborative public services.

Beyond this, governments and public institutions at all levels must mobilize civil society, the business community and others in a broad effort to realize the SDGs.

Yet, the 2030 Agenda’s call for accountability “to the people”, does not mean that everything comes from the top. On the contrary, to actually establish national ownership, governments and institutions cannot work alone within their silos. They need to work across institutional boundaries. They need to reach out to local authorities to ensure coherence, and learn to work with civil society, corporations, academia, philanthropic organisations, volunteer groups and others.

These efforts can involve conducting public hearings and meetings in different municipalities, for example, or ensuring outreach to and involvement of people in local communities and rural areas, or parliaments’ reaching out and engaging local constituencies.

Indeed, local governments and municipalities are at the core of the action. Global and national policies must be guided by the realities and needs of local communities and partnerships.

This is where progress will depend – on action taken at the local level. And it can. Look at Cities in Germany or the U.S. that have decided to welcome migrants. Look at States and cities that have decided to become green. Look at municipalities that have decided to care for their poor and address inequalities, and sub-national states that have their own development cooperation.. Don’t misunderstand me – national action and policies are essential, but they can sometimes establish the minimum level of ambition.

And this is why fostering partnerships is so important. We are not only talking about international partnerships, even though those are essential. We are talking about partnerships at the city and state level that can be launched to deliver services and improve people’s lives.

To ensure ownership of the 2030 Agenda, we also need to reach out to young people and make them excited for the SDGs! That will build a whole generation of change makers who can take this Agenda forward.
Let us also bear in mind that accountability – or indeed, inclusiveness – is not just a matter of ethics and equality. Our commitment to leave no one behind is also about making sure the full range of knowledge, creativity and solutions that the diversity of our peoples have to offer, is tapped into. Hence, the importance of meaningfully interacting with small as well as large communities.


Effective implementation of the SDGs thus requires:

  • mobilizing civil servants and local authorities, 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.


So – how can all this be paid for?

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. In other words, while philanthropic action by business and individuals plays an important role, the real impact will not come from what you do with our money, but from how you make your money.

At the same time, many of the challenges countries face – including slow economic growth, climate change and humanitarian crises – have cross-border or global repercussions, and cannot be addressed by any one actor alone. Multilateral cooperation is essential to tackle global problems and support national efforts.

A strong multilateral system, along with financial and capacity support to countries most in need, is necessary to eliminate poverty and meet the SDGs.

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 General Assembly resolution on “Promotion of international cooperation to combat illicit financial flows in order to foster sustainable development”.

Excellencies, the SDGs outline a compelling and transformative vision. Achieving this vision will likely shape the next 15 years of financing for development. Of course each country has primary responsibility for its own path to sustainable development. Public finance, both domestic and international, will play a vital role in providing essential services and public goods, and in catalyzing other sources of finance to implement the SDGs.



Japan plays a critical role in the world, on so many levels, not least in concrete efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda. Your continued advocacy and engagement is important.

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? Are the SDGs becoming part of the local policy dialogue and action?

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?


Ladies and gentlemen,

As a global community we face an array of global tests. These tests boil down to the fundamental challenge of making enlightened decisions today and tomorrow, that will place people and the planet on course for a better future.

This Agenda is not just about governments and stakeholders. It is a matter of personal conviction. Just one person, or even their family or community, may seem too small to make a difference. But it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Everyone’s contributions inspire hope.

The 2030 Agenda is our collective key to unlocking that hope, and opportunities. By working together, we can say 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.

I wish to thank the Government and people of Shiga Prefecture, and all of Japan, for your commitment to this shared vision of humanity.

Thank you for your generous invitation, and I greatly look forward to the discussions

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