OECD Council of Ambassadors
– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mr. Miroslav Lajčák, President of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, at the Council of Ambassadors of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Excellencies, distinguished delegates, dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
It is a great honour to be here. I thank the Secretary General Gurria for inviting me.
I want to also thank Secretary-General Gurría for his role in strengthening cooperation between the United Nations and the OECD and this was further enhanced by presence of OECD Office in New York .
Today, I will begin with some old news: we are stronger together than apart. This has become a bit of a cliché, but I think it is a message we need to stress – now more than ever.
Because, we are facing serious challenges. More people are fleeing their homes now than in any period since the Second World War. Conflict and violence have made our world the deadliest it has been in decades. We are grappling with international terrorism, which has uprooted our traditional view of peace and security. Climate change also poses a major threat – not from bombs or bullets, but through silently eroding the capacity of the world to sustain us.
No single action, or initiative, is enough to combat any of these threats. Multilateralism and cooperation is no longer an option – it is a necessity.
I am here as the President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, speaking to the OECD Council of Ambassadors. So, I am confident that we have many champions of multilateralism in this room. And, as such, I am looking forward to our interaction today.
In the meantime, I want to speak about my priorities for the 72nd Session of the General Assembly. Given the experience and expertise of the forum, I will concentrate mainly on Sustainable Development.
Even two years on, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains one of our greatest achievements. This Agenda is transformative. It is visionary. And, importantly, it is universal. Even though it was adopted at United Nations headquarters in New York, its effects will be felt in countries, cities, towns, and communities all over the world. Similarly, the responsibility for implementing it lies with every one of us.
That is why there is no room for complacency. If we fail to ramp up implementation, and the financing behind it, we will fail to achieve our goals. And we will all be to blame.
That is why maintaining momentum on Sustainable Development is a major priority for me. Although each of the 17 SDGs is equally vital, I have chosen three areas to focus on during my presidency:
The first is water. Throughout history, water has brought societies together and it has also driven them apart, by acting as a catalyst for conflict. It was the reason behind some of our earliest treaties and agreements. So, when it comes to multilateral cooperation, water is an ‘old’ issue. However, its context has changed dramatically.
Through SDG 6 we have committed to ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. However, 2.1 billion people still do not have safe, readily available water in their homes. 4.5 billion people are also living without safely-managed sanitation. Yet, alongside these staggering needs, water is getting scarcer. And water-related disasters are increasing. So, the task we have set ourselves will not be easy. And we need to give it our full attention – now.
The International Decade for Action: “Water for Sustainable Development” will begin in March 2018. This cannot be dismissed as just another campaign, or initiative. Our water needs are vast, but our resources are not. So, this issue demands urgent attention. At the OECD Water Governance Initiative, held last November, some bold ideas and good practices were shared. These and similar efforts will be essential to building support for water-related targets, particularly as we approach both the 8th World Water Forum in Brazil, in March 2018, and the review of Goal 6 at the High-Level Political Forum next summer.
My second priority is financing.
We need trillions of dollars to implement the SDGs. And, OECD figures indicate that we will need trillions more to keep the commitments we made through the Paris Climate Agreement. This kind of money is unprecedented at the international level. The good news is, that don’t have to fundraise it all. The money is already out there. What we need to do, however, is put our heads together, and figure out how we can steer it in the direction of climate change and SDGs.
Obviously, Official Development Assistance will play a major role. It remains critical for many developing countries. The title, however, can be misleading. ODA is not just assistance; it is an opportunity. It can help to create enabling environments for private investment. It can build the capacities of national institutions, which are essential to domestic resource mobilisation. And, in doing so, it can open new pathways for finance.
However, ODA alone will not be enough. We need partnerships across sectors. We need blended financial frameworks. We need to share technology and expertise. We need sustainable programmes for capacity building and technical assistance.
None of these things are going to come and knock on our door. We need to go out and mobilise for them.
As part of my own role in this, I am convening an event on Financing for Sustainable Development in June next year. Your participation will be critical- not just as donors, but also as committed champions of Sustainable Development and leaders in the fight against climate change.
My third priority in relation to Sustainable Development is youth and frankly, this will be the one I speak about the least. Because, when it comes to young people, my aim is not to speak – it is to listen.
Young people are disproportionately affected by many of the challenges we face: from human trafficking and conflict, to economic turmoil and climate change. They have also been the source of some of the boldest and most innovative ideas to combat these challenges.
The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development remains one of our greatest achievements (…). its effects will be felt in countries, cities, towns, and communities all over the world. Similarly, the responsibility for implementing it lies with every one of us.
If we don’t do more to empower and include young people, we are squandering one of our most valuable resources. This is a simple truth – but still one we have missed over the years.
This coming May, I will convene an event at the United Nations for young people. It will explore issues such as education, unemployment, creation of opportunities for young people, prevention of violent extremism and, of course, the sustainability of our planet. I don’t know exactly what these discussions will entail, because I want to give as much flexibility and leverage to young participants as possible. I do know one thing however: this event will look very different to the other meetings we hold at the United Nations. I invite all of you to follow this initiative, as it develops, through our website and social media platforms. In this way, we can all be part of something new.
Overall, when it comes to Sustainable Development and Climate Change, we can afford to be hopeful. Many countries – big and small, developed and developing – presented their Voluntary National Reviews at the High-Level Political Forums in 2016 and 2017. There have been indications that many more will do so in 2018. We’ve also seen growing commitment to cooperation in these areas. In fact, at the annual General Debate of the UN General Assembly in September, a record number of heads of state and government called for action on climate change and SDGs and it was encouraging for me to hear that more than 163 countries mentioned climate change during the general debate.
I am looking forward to hearing from all of you on these issues. I want to learn about your priorities and lessons learned – both from your multilateral and bilateral support, as well as from your implementation of these universal agendas at home.
But, before we get to that, I want to briefly mention two other main priorities for the 72nd Session.
One is migration. In September 2016, all UN Member States decided to begin a process to adopt the world’s first Global Compact on Migration. We’re now halfway through. Intergovernmental negotiations on the final document will begin in February 2018.
Many complex issues will be discussed during these negotiations. One thing, however, is clear and simple: what we are doing now isn’t working. Migration is a global phenomenon. Therefore, a patchwork of national reactive, ad hoc actions, is not enough. We need a global response. And that is what we will develop through this Compact.
To do this effectively, however, we will need better data. Which is why the OECD will be an important partner throughout this process. In particular, I welcome the new joint initiative for data collection by OECD, the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA).
The final priority I want to mention is peace. I know, in some lists, the final point is often the lowest priority. But this couldn’t be further from the truth here.
Peace is the reason we came together, to form the United Nations. And, if you strip everything else away, it is the motivation behind most of the world’s multilateral bodies, including the OECD. Because, whether we are talking economics, politics, climate change, or trade – we are still talking. And when we are talking, we are avoiding other, more violent means, to resolve our issues and disputes.
When it comes to peace, there are some exciting developments taking place at the United Nations. One is a strong push to act earlier and faster to prevent conflicts – rather than waiting until they have broken out to respond. Furthermore, there is a growing awareness that peace cannot be contained in one silo. It does not belong to one department, or one organisation. Rather it is fuelled by everything we do – from supporting those advocating for human rights on the ground, to major agreements on infrastructure or development. This has led for a strong emphasis on partnerships and cooperation around peace –within the UN, as well as between the UN and other partners.
So, there is promising momentum building. I want to see it grow. And, I will be inviting your high-level representatives to New York in April for a high-level event on Sustaining Peace. My aim is to get them – and you – even more involved.
I don’t need to emphasise that the challenges facing us are serious. You can see them yourselves. You might even encounter them this evening, on your way home. If you walk past a site of a terrorist attack. Or, if you read a newspaper, detailing the conflicts in South Sudan, Yemen and Syria. Or, if you talk to two different people, from two different countries, whose stories highlight a world of growing inequalities. Or, indeed, if you drive home in a gas-powered car, which will be banned in this country from 2040!
The risks are very present – and very real. So, it is more important than ever, that we cooperate in the face of them.
The OECD is a valuable contributor to multilateralism. Not only among its members, but also in the support and assistance it offers to national governments around the world. Moreover, its data and research is quoted from Bonn to Addis Ababa.
So, I am very glad to be here today, to speak with its Council of Ambassadors. I hope our interaction is a sign of even more cooperation to come between the United Nations and the OECD.
I thank you for your attention.