Mr. Thomas Gass Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs, Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Keynote Address at the Regions Refocus 2015 Launch

Distinguished Colleagues,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish to thank Regions Refocus 2015 for inviting me to this exciting and dynamic new initiative.

I think it is an understatement to say that we are embarking on what is going to be a momentous year, by all accounts.

In September, all eyes of the international community will be on New York. Heads of State and Government will gather here, from 25 – 27 September, to endorse a universal sustainable development agenda. This will be an opportunity for the Member States of the UN to adopt a shared vision of where we all want to be in 2030. A vision informed by citizens, civil society, Major Groups and other actors. Indeed, the views of these critical stakeholders have shaped the way we talk about the post-2015 development agenda today.

There has been a great momentum and indeed passion around the elaboration of this agenda. It has brought renewed energy to the United Nations. The General Assembly Open Working Group’s (OWG) 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out an ambitious starting point for this shared vision for humanity.

There are also high expectations for a new far-reaching financing compact to be adopted in Addis Ababa in July, and much hope for an ambitious climate change agreement coming out of COP21 in Paris in December.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As you know, Member States have already made great strides in elaborating the post 2015 agenda. There is some broad understanding on its structure and thrust.

The Secretary-General said that the new agenda should include a compelling and principled narrative, based on human rights and human dignity. It will require serious commitments for financing and other means of implementation. And it should include strong, inclusive public mechanisms at all levels for reporting, monitoring progress, learning lessons, and ensuring shared responsibility.

It is – in no small part – thanks to civil society that the international community got this far in elaborating the agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. Civil society’s engagement has been unprecedented. Never before have so broad and inclusive consultations been undertaken on development.

Millions of people took part in national, thematic and online consultations and surveys supported by UNDG. The direct and active engagement of parliamentarians, local authorities, business and civil society has also been critical.

The Open Working Group on SDGs demonstrated how an intergovernmental process can dialogue with civil society and draw from its contributions. As a result, I believe that the 17 SDGs and 169 targets it proposed resonate with many parts of civil society. They are also a clear expression of the vision of the Member States and of their commitment to an agenda that can end poverty, achieve shared prosperity and peace, protect the planet and leave no one behind.

I am pleased that Member States decided to sustain this momentum and continue engaging the stakeholders in the negotiations. Ensuring that the agenda is owned by all is critical to guarantee its implementation.

Dear Colleagues,

The proposed 17 goals are transformative in several ways. They fully integrate the three dimensions of sustainable development – that is – economic, social and environmental. They include a goal on climate change to be further clarified after COP21. And they critically address the peace dimension as integral to the agenda.

Beyond these, the goals focus on issues that can exacerbate tensions in the absence of strong institutions and good governance. Those include inequality and the unequal distribution of and access to ecological resources, unemployment, loss of biodiversity and food insecurity.

But most importantly, the SDGs foster a vision and commitment, which at its core includes the concept of ‘no one should be left behind’ and that inequalities in all areas should be addressed. This high level of ambition, and the comprehensive coverage of the goals and targets, can bring about a significant shift in paradigm. A shift in paradigm that must affect our approaches to development cooperation, to accountability, to partnerships, and to financing for sustainable development.

Agreeing that no goal or target be considered met, unless they are met for all social and economic groups, means that we will not be able to hide behind averages. We must be serious about identifying the most vulnerable groups and communities, addressing their needs and become still more effective at analyzing and mitigating the risks they face every day – be they environmental, economic, social or political. It is a normative agenda for all countries. All development efforts will need to be measured against that vision.

Such a visionary new agenda does not provide the same rigid guidance regarding priorities.  Whereas the MDGs had sometimes been seen as constraining developing countries’ policy space, this new agenda gives more space for countries to develop their own policy priorities. At the same time it has the potential of becoming a much stronger basis for accountability at the national level, between the government and the population of each country, between the duty bearers and rights holders.

Clearly, we need an agenda that is people-centered, planet-sensitive and rights-based, and this can only happen if we foster inclusive and peaceful societies, and transform our economies and patterns of growth.

Whereas, the MDGs could be considered as covering only a subset of the global development agenda, that argument is much more difficult to make with the SDGs. This has profound implications for the diversity of financing sources that must be mobilized to cover the financing needs of the new agenda, and for the way partnerships are leveraged. The idea here is not to let the public financing of donor countries off the hook, but to make sure that developing countries are empowered to raise and efficiently use national resources. Likewise, the objective cannot be to shift the financing burden to philanthropy or to foreign direct investment, but rather to use all these sources more effectively and in a synergetic way.

Dear Colleagues,

The next nine months will be extremely busy. As you know, we just completed three days of ‘stocktaking’ discussions in the post-2015 intergovernmental negotiations, co-facilitated by the Ambassadors of Kenya and Ireland.

There was a great sense of optimism and a feeling that the new agenda can put the world on track towards a better world where no one is left behind, and the planet is preserved. Many reaffirmed that poverty eradication, along with sustainable development, should remain the overarching objective of the agenda. The agreed building blocks of the outcome document include a Declaration; Sustainable Development Goals and targets; Means of Implementation; and Follow up and Review.

Member States have agreed to hold seven sessions in all, between January and July. These will be complemented by high-level thematic debates organized by the President of the General Assembly on the means of implementation, gender equality and climate change.

Dear Friends,

The intergovernmental negotiations last week recognized the importance of means of implementation and a strengthened global partnership for sustainable development. Many stressed that it will be impossible to deliver an ambitious agenda without commensurate means of implementation. Some highlighted that a global partnership should be based on universality, shared responsibility to achieve SDGs, mutual accountability and multi-stakeholder involvement.

The process on financing for development, the negotiations on a climate change agreement and deliberations on the post-2015 development agenda are three legs of the same journey. They are strongly interdependent and each requires a high level of ambition and success in the other two fora.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to say a few words on the 2015 session of ECOSOC, and the High level Political Forum, and the importance of the regional perspective. The 2015 session of ECOSOC will address the theme “Managing the transition from the MDGs to the SDGs: what will it take”. The aligned theme of the 2015 HLPF is “Strengthening integration, implementation and review: The HLPF after 2015”.

It will be important to have the regional perspectives on these two themes presented to the ECOSOC High-level Segment – which will take place on 7-11 July 2015 – and to the HLPF, which will take place from 26 June to 8 July. The respective programmes are currently being discussed with the ECOSOC President.

Let us not forget that the review of implementation must be solidly anchored in national reviews, feeding into exchanges of experiences and reflection at the regional level, and culminating at the international level at the High-level Political Forum.

ECOSOC and its subsidiary system will continue to have a central role coordinating an integrated approach to a unified and universal agenda. The dialogue with the Executive Secretaries and the Council is planned during the ECOSOC High-level Segment.

We therefore need a regional preparatory process that is focused … one that helps Member States mobilize around certain aspects of the themes most relevant to their region, and prepares the groundwork for decisions in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

The regions are each, in their own way, a microcosm of global challenges, and their perspectives are critical to the post-2015 agenda.

In closing, let me thank you again for the opportunity to address you today. We look forward to working together in the transition towards the new sustainable development agenda, and to translate it into reality.

Thank you.