– As delivered –

Statement by H.E. Mrs. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly

6 June 2019

Professor Gambari, Co-Chair of the Commission on Global Security, Justice and Governance and former Foreign Minister of Nigeria,

Dr Lloyd Axworthy, distinguished member of the Commission and former Foreign Minister of Canada,

Mr Fabrizio Hochschild, Special Envoy for the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations,

Dr Conor Seyle, Director of Research at the One Earth Future Foundation, who is moderating this session,

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

It is such a pleasure to join you today, for this timely Global Policy Dialogue on Global Security, Justice and Economic Institutions.

I’m so grateful to The Stimson Center, Global Challenges Foundation, One Earth Future Foundation and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung New York for the invitation – and for this fantastic initiative. And I must thank Brian, William and Victoria as well as Richard and Cristina for all their support.

These Dialogues are focussed on the most important issues that we are discussing at the United Nations but, dare I say, you are doing so with more openness, creativity and ambition than Member States generally allow themselves.

So I am sorry to interrupt the fascinating discussions that you have been having over lunch. But I hope I can provide, with my remarks, some further food for thought and – crucially – for action.

I would like to focus on four “tipping points” – planetary, economic, social and political – and their implications for the health and future of the international system.

I will then set out four deficits in the system that need to be addressed if we are to avoid these tipping points, before concluding with some thoughts on how we can move forward.

Yesterday, you discussed the challenges facing the United Nations and threats to the rules-based international system put in place after the Second World War. Let me try to summarise: we are in trouble.

We have just 11 years to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – and only one to turn the tide on carbon emissions. This alone is a crisis of epic proportions. But it is only one of the pressing challenges we face.

We need to address long-standing problems, such as poverty and inequality. One in two of us – one in two – still lacks access to proper sanitation, social protection and essential health services. If you are a woman, an older person, a person with disabilities, or from a rural, minority or indigenous community, you are more likely to have missed out on the gains of the past seven decades, to be marginalized and suffer abuse.

We need to address emerging challenges – such as the major shifts in demography and technology, which offer opportunities but only if we manage them well.

And then there are the sweeping big-picture trends: urbanization, mobility and displacement, and the transitions in the global political landscape – as power mutates to encompass factors such as energy security and cyber capability; as it shifts horizontally and vertically; as the world is becoming more multipolar, but also more polarized.

Dear friends,

This is a huge agenda for the international community.

For policy-makers, it can feel overwhelming – and I say this as someone who has served as a foreign minister and defense minister.

How can we find time for global governance reform when there are so many immediate challenges? How can we create a priority agenda when everything is urgent?

Let me suggest one potential approach: a focus on “tipping points” – not only the areas where we are close to a point of no return, but also in terms of the actions that could help tip the scale back in our favor.

There are four I want to set out today.

The first, of course, is climate change. We know we face a “hard deadline” on carbon emissions and we have, in broad terms, the knowledge, science and technology to meet it. We are even making progress on political will.

But there are many pathways to zero carbon – we are unlikely to have definitive answers on which to prioritize in the required time-frame. Our best bet, therefore, is to focus on the most transformative, scale-able steps we can take immediately to tip the scale.

The second is economic. Global growth is slowing. Markets are volatile. In many countries, deficits remain too high to stabilize. The remedial action taken during the last financial crises was clearly insufficient. The IMF has warned that storm clouds are gathering again. And there is lingering public resentment: that the banks were saved at the expense of the average worker.

The whole-sale transformation we need – in economic policy and governance – is challenging to pursue politically, at least for now. But there are immediate things we can do, such as ensure our actions are based on evidence, rather than ideology; and that IFIs create a better safety net for the poorest countries.

The third tipping point is the fraying of the social contract as the gains we have made over the past decades are slowing, even reversing. Moreover, these gains were never shared equally.

Despite prolonged periods of growth, wealth has not been equitably shared, let alone trickled down. It is sobering to think that just 26 people own as much as the 3.8 billion who make up the poorer half of humanity- only 26 people. Governments are less able to provide a credible guarantee to their citizens. Today, issues that were traditionally domestic – job creation, for instance – have a global dimension.

Which brings me to my last tipping point: the health of our multilateral system. These trends have produced a crisis of confidence in governments and institutions.

Justified concerns about unchecked globalization have mutated into a backlash against the very principles that give power to the people, such as human rights, gender equality and social justice.

We are seeing a rise of nationalist sentiment, in extremism, in attacks of international laws and norms.

This is creating a difficult environment for the decisions we need to take in the coming months and years. Just when we need multilateralism more than ever, global cooperation is being questioned, even undermined in some quarters.

We must use the 75th anniversary of the UN to galvanize commitment to multilateralism, and to change the way we do business. It is a chance to make the UN more effective, more transparent, more accountable and more relevant to “we the peoples”.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés

President of the UN General Assembly

Ladies and gentlemen,

But the picture is not all gloomy. We continue to make progress. A couple of weeks ago my friend Inga Rhonda King, who spoke here yesterday, organized the first ECOSOC presidential lecture with Professor Steven Pinker. It was a refreshing reminder that, globally, we have made huge strides forward on almost every metric. And the international system, with the UN at its heart, has played a crucial role in this success story.

Even at this difficult time, multilateralism is working. The adoption last year of the compacts on refugees and on safe, orderly and regulation migration show that we can still make progress, even on the hardest of issues. We know that multilateralism works.

But where are we to direct our efforts? We have – in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and in the Paris Agreement – our blueprint to save the world.

They are the product of years of negotiations, of research and analysis, of the biggest stakeholder consultation in UN history. They offer hope and guidance. They address many of the factors fueling dissatisfaction with the international system, from material deprivation to poor governance. Implementing them will do more to convince people of the value of multilateralism, than any speech or campaign.

So we know what to do. But how do we get there? Next year, we will mark the UN’s 75th anniversary. This is a golden opportunity to galvanize commitment to multilateralism, and to change the way we do business. It is a chance to make the UN more effective, more transparent, more accountable and more relevant to “we the peoples”.

The commemoration is an opportunity to give further impetus to the ongoing reform initiatives – designed to improve our peace and security architecture, our management processes, and our development system.

But it is also an opportunity to make progress on addressing four major deficits in the UN system:

  • First, the democracy deficit, which has seen the Global South in general, and Africa in particular, underrepresented – most prominently in the Security Council, of course, but also in IFIs. But it also how we involve all segments of society in the decisions that lead to global commitments and their implementation at national level.
  • Second, the solidarity deficit, which we see in the divide between those who mandate peace operations and those who put their citizens and their citizen’s lives on the line.

Which we see in our approach to refugees – developing countries host the lion’s share, over 80%, while rich countries are reluctant to accept significant numbers. These are just a couple of examples.

  • Third, the stakeholder deficit. Our multilateral system has not found meaningful ways to include the multitude of actors – parliamentarians, local government, civil society, the private sector, trade unions, youth, cities – in global decision-making and delivery. Often, these actors are better placed to engage with constituencies, build public support for sustainable lifestyles and to provide services. It is time we redefined what we mean by a truly global partnership.
  • And fourth, the communications deficit. We at the UN have still not found ways to capture the public’s imagination, to tell success stories and communicate our challenges. We are yet to provide meaningful answers to those who have lost faith in the international system, and to push back against those who peddle misinformation.

Dear friends,

Revitalizing the General Assembly is a crucial element of addressing all these deficits – and I was delighted to see this reflected in the “Innovation Agenda for UN 75” report just released by The Stimson Center.

The Assembly is our “Parliament of humanity and for humanity”, where the Global South has made its voice heard, and secured gains on issues from south-south cooperation to the right to development.

It is in the Assembly that I have sought, this session, to increase stakeholder participation through events and outreach.

And while my role is to support Member States, first and foremost, I also believe that the President of the General Assembly must do more to communicate the value and work of the UN. My overarching theme has been: making the UN relevant for all. My seven priorities were geared to resonate with people – women’s leadership; youth, peace and security; environmental action; decent work; migrants and refugees; persons with disabilities and supporting a more effective UN.

I have already held discussions with the President-Elect of the 74th session, Ambassador Tijani Muhammad-Bande –  Professor Gambari’s compatriot – on how these priorities can be taken forward. I have worked with Member States to adopt a forward-looking, action-focussed outcome document for the UN’s 75th anniversary. We have also started discussions with the Special Envoy Fabrizio to ensure that the initiatives of the Secretary-General reinforce the intergovernmental vision and process.

And I am greatly encouraged by Stimson’s “20 ideas for 2020” report, by the work being done by Fabrizio, and by initiatives such as Together First and UN2020 – who I was delighted to host at an event on the future of multilateralism earlier this year.

Dear friends,

We must use the 75th anniversary of the UN to galvanize commitment to multilateralism, and to change the way we do business. It is a chance to make the UN more effective, more transparent, more accountable and more relevant to “we the peoples”.

We must start by using the preparatory process itself to strengthen confidence and trust in the UN – by engaging all segments of society in a multi-stakeholder process to complement the intergovernmental one. This is what I have been advocating, as Member States lead the arrangements for the anniversary.

And we must ensure that the anniversary results in more than warm words. The commemoration must reaffirm the values and principles set out in the Charter. But it must also build on the UN’s achievements and the action plans we have already agreed.

In the last years, we have seen many important reports and reviews of the UN’s three pillars. The commemoration is an opportunity to consider the most transformative next steps in each of these areas, and work towards realising them.

This is our chance to overhaul our multilateral engine; to put us on the path to achieving the vision of the 2030 Agenda; to convince and convert the skeptics, and to multiply our supporters. We cannot miss it.    

Thank you.