– As delivered –
Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly
12 April 2019
Good morning everyone.
Dr Kevin Gallagher, Boston University,
My friend, Richard Kozul-Wright, Director, UNCTAD
Thank you for inviting me to take part in this very exciting discussion. I am truly pleased to join you all. Let me acknowledge Her Excellency, Ms Mia Amor Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Columbia University, my fellow speakers.
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
The subject of this discussion – reclaiming multilateralism- is something that weighs on my mind practically every minute of every day.
I’m grateful to Boston University’s Global Development Center and to the UN Conference on Trade and Development for organizing this meeting – and for your thought-provoking report on a ‘Global Green New Deal’. And I’m sorry I’m unable to be with you in person – the cherry blossoms in New York can’t compete with yours!
I want to focus my remarks today on why we need to reclaim multilateralism – in the context of what I believe are two tipping points;and how we can go about doing that.
On why reclaim multilateralism, the short answer is: it does work. It has delivered in the past. It is delivering now. We need it to deliver in the future.
This is not the view of a UN bureaucrat. It is the view of someone who has been at the sharp end of multilateral negotiations policy as my country’s foreign and defense minister, as Ambassador to UN in New York and Geneva. It is the view of someone elected by all 193 UN Member States to preside over the work of the UN’s most representative, political body.
And speaking from that perspective, let me assure you that, contrary to rumors that might be circulating, multilateralism is not dead. It may be under threat; it is certainly being undermined. But it is alive and kicking.
I see it working every day – in every resolution we adopt, in the 50 plus negotiating processes I help to facilitate.
I don’t want to dwell on past collective achievements, from fostering peace in countries such as Sierra Leone and Timor Leste, to clearing landmines, eradicating smallpox and boosting literacy.
Because even in these last, extremely challenging years, we have adopted the Paris climate agreement, the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. We have made progress on some of the hardest issues – adopting the Global Compacts on refugees and migration last year, for instance.
At the same time, there is no doubt that this is a critical moment for the UN and for global cooperation. We know it is a make-or-break moment for climate change. Last year’s IPCC report made that frighteningly clear: we must reach ‘peak’ carbon by 2020. We are very close to that.
But I believe we are approaching two other tipping points.
First, the social contract as conceived in the modern era no longer seems credible, given the waning ability of governments to protect their citizens and promote their welfare.
Now, I am certainly not someone who believes the days of the nation-state are numbered. Far from it. Just like multilateralism, national sovereignty is very much alive and kicking at the UN. Indeed, what I’m repeating over and over again, multilateralism goes hand-in-hand with sovereignty – offering states a way to pursue interests collectively, while sharing costs and risks.
But today, there is virtually no problem that does not require global cooperation. That is obvious when it comes to issues like climate change and extremism. It is also increasingly true of traditionally domestic issues, such as fiscal balances and job creation.
And we are now at a point when the gains we have made in previous decades are slowing, even reversing due to environmental, economic and political instability. Add to that the fact that these gains were never distributed equally, and you have a lot of unsatisfied constituents. Millions that have been excluded of the promised gains of globalization.
You have those living with extreme deprivation – 840 million without access to safe water; two billion with no access to improved sanitation. 821 million hungry people.
One chart that really struck me in your report, Kevin, was the one showing the number of people living on $5.5 dollars a day which, if you exclude China, has been flatlining for the past two decades.
And you have a younger generation – the largest, most educated in history – that worries it will be less well off than its parents. Youth unemployment is already high – and could worsen if we don’t get to grips with the fourth industrial revolution.The World Bank estimates that automation could put two-thirds of jobs in developing countries at risk. Young people also know their carbon budget will have to be a tiny fraction of what all of us have enjoyed.
The result of all of this is a growing disconnect between people, governments and institutions – as they lose faith in our capacity and will to deliver.
And this is contributing to the second tipping point: the health of our international system. We have seen a rise in nationalist sentiment, in unilateral approaches, in attacks on international laws and norms.
This is creating a difficult environment for the decisions we need to take in the coming months and years. It is also having a detrimental impact on UN agencies in terms of funding – we are asking the UN to deliver more with significantly less.
I don’t need to outline to this audience how grave the consequences of reaching these tipping points would be.We know that erosion of the social contract and erosion of international cooperation leads to war. We are already seeing echoes from the lead-up to the first and second world wars. And we know that this time, war could wipe us out – through nuclear weapons, but also through sheer time wasted when we should have been dealing with climate change.
So, how do we reclaim multilateralism? The ideas and principles set out in the Global Green New Deal report provide a solid starting point.
I would build on them and contend that we have, in the 2030 Agenda, something that comes very close to a global green new deal – in ambition and in scope.We must achieve the Sustainable Development Goals because, ultimately, the key to reclaiming multilateralism is making sure it delivers for the people we serve. That will have more impact than any rousing speech we can make.
And I hope you will allow me to direct a quick aside to the finance policy-makers in the audience: we need to do much more to close the annual $2.5 trillion-dollar finance gap for the SDGs.
Research released this week by the think-tank ODI has raised some serious questions about our approach to raising the private capital we desperately need. It shows that the amounts raised are still small, that most tends to go to middle and not low-income countries, and that every $1 of public investment generates just 37 cents in private finance for poorer states. I hope this is something you will make progress on during your time here.
Returning to the SDGs more broadly, the reason I said the 2030 Agenda is nearly, but not quite, a Global New Green Deal is because there is a missing element – a vision and clear plan for reshaping global economic governance. You are the experts on that. We have seen how important action by groups such as the G20 can be. But these groups are not universal. They do not provide for meaningful input by smaller and poorer countries.
They cannot produce outcomes with legal force or global buy-in. They cannot implement decisions without the IMF, the World Bank and UN bodies. I very much hope that this audience will revisit the excellent report produced by Professor Stiglitz in 2009.
In that context, let me end with a final thought on who should be reclaiming multilateralism. Of course, we need governments to make a strong national-interest case for global cooperation and shared responsibilities. But it is also us, here at UN, the main home of multilateralism.
We need to communicate better, to deliver more, to be closer to the people we serve, to be more accountable and more relevant. But today, there are many other stakeholders – unions, youth organizations, a diversity of grassroots groups – that have more traction over people’s lives on a daily basis.
And we see daily how ordinary people are disconnected from the big global commitments. There are new forces driving our world that dictate whether Governments make the bold decisions we need -or not. Yet, we have still not found adequate ways for these stakeholders to be embedded in global decision-making and delivery. This is something we should consider as we seek to reclaim multilateralism.