Remarks by Peter Thomson, President of the UN General Assembly, at Opening Plenary: Setting the Scene with Inspiring Stories of DPI/NGO Intergenerational Dialogue on SDGs
1 August 2017
It is a great pleasure to join you today for this Intergenerational Dialogue on the Sustainable Development Goals. I’d like to focus my remarks today on change – sometimes for the better but sometimes for the worse.
As a young boy growing up in Fiji, like all islanders I understood the Ocean to be the ultimate source of life on this planet. I experienced first-hand the sense of wonder that comes from diving among pristine coral reefs, and where in a matter of minutes thousands upon thousands of lifeforms can swim by in joyful and ever-changing array.
By the middle of my life, however, while swimming in those same waters, I began to witness the widespread bleaching of coral, degradation of marine life, and proliferation of marine pollution. Like many in my generation, I began to question what it was that we were doing to the Ocean, to the environment, to our people, and to the planet.
Changes were happening. The throw away culture of plastic – straws, cigarette filters, lighters, cups and styrofoam – were taking over the environment. And I began to think about how we could begin to correct the behaviour that is now imperilling our very place on this Earth.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When world leaders came together in September 2015 to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it was in a similar vein of thinking – positive change was needed if we were to chart a sustainable future for humankind.
By adopting the 17 interconnected and mutually-reinforcing Sustainable Development Goals, they made an intergenerational promise to build a world of peace, prosperity, and sustainability for all.
Premised on the commitment to ‘leave no one behind’, the SDGs stand to transform our world by breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty; building peaceful societies; increasing global prosperity; achieving gender equality; countering growing inequality; improving the health and wellbeing of all people; protecting our natural environmental, and averting the worst impacts of climate change – all by 2030.
Implementing the 2030 Agenda is a challenge on a scale that the world has not seen before.
But as an intergenerational imperative, the stakes could not be higher for our success – the health of our shared planet, and humanity’s place upon it, are on the line.
If we are to have any hope of achieving the SDGs by 2030, we must make best use of our greatest asset – our people – and ensure that each and every person across the world sees themselves as key partners in our global effort to achieve the SDGs.
Critically, this includes tapping into the enormous potential of both young people and older generations.
With 1.8 billion young people across our world, we must harness their energy and ingenuity to drive the urgent and scaled-up action needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
At the same time, we must tap into the vast knowledge and experience of the 962 million people on our planet currently aged 60 or above.
Indeed, at the current unprecedented rate at which the global population is ageing, by 2050 the proportion of people aged 60 years or older is expected – for the first time in history – to match that of those aged 15 years or less.
It is in this context that we must ensure the full potential for each of these generations is enabled to positively shape our world and that this potential is not lost due to prejudicial attitudes, negative stereotypes, and discriminatory practices.
We must create more inclusive societies where all people are empowered with the education, training, opportunity and platforms they need to serve as agents for change.
And we must ensure all people – including young and older persons alike – recognise themselves as owners, drivers, and beneficiaries of the SDGs.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The great Nelson Mandela once said “Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that generation.”
I therefore wish to leave you today with a simple call to action:
To join us in our global efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda;
To be voices that amplify the message of the SDGs across our world;
To be educators who share with others your knowledge of the importance of the 2030 Agenda;
To be motivators and examples to your family, friends and communities as to what sustainable living embodies;
And to be active citizens who demand urgent and responsible change from those around you.
As a grandfather, I care with all my being that we will bequeath a sustainable world to the generations that are to come.
It is for this reason that I have devoted myself – and my Presidency of the General Assembly – to driving implementation of the SDGs, and to participating in efforts, such as the historic UN Ocean Conference in June, that will help to reverse the cycle of decline in which the Ocean is currently caught.
It is in all our interests – and those of our loved ones – that we all play our part to the best of our ability in building a sustainable world for all.
I thank you.