Deputy Secretary-General Tells DPI/NGO Conference ‘No One Can Do Everything, but Everyone Can Do Something’, Urging Groups’ Active Participation

29 August 2014

Deputy Secretary-General Tells DPI/NGO Conference ‘No One Can Do Everything, but Everyone Can Do Something’, Urging Groups’ Active Participation

29 August 2014
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Deputy Secretary-General Tells DPI/NGO Conference ‘No One Can Do Everything,

but Everyone Can Do Something’, Urging Groups’ Active Participation


Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the closing session of the DPI/NGO Conference today:

Good afternoon.  Let me first say thank you all for the energy and intellectual curiosity you have brought to the past three days of discussions on building a sustainable future for all.  I am sure you have already made many new friends and created informal networks that will be of great use and great joy for you in years to come.

Let me also say how glad I am to be among you.  The first line of the United Nations Charter says “We the peoples”, and the NGO (non-governmental organization) community truly reflects and embodies that basic idea and fundamental concept.  The late UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld wrote about the role of the international civil servant.  We must remember that we are here to serve the peoples of the world.  I have myself been part of the NGO community as chair of WaterAid Sweden as recently as 2009-12.

The work of civil society — often with limited resources and much personal and political risk — has been central to the promotion of peace, development and human rights.  You are out there in the field, building bridges of solidarity.  You advocate and engage.  You debate and defend.  You push and then push some more.  And the world is better for it.

The United Nations could not have achieved many of its successes without you.  From decolonization to the fight against apartheid and the passing of the Mine Ban Treaty, you have been at the centre of the action and advocacy.  You were also crucial in building popular support for the Millennium Development Goals — the most successful anti-poverty push in human history.

That is quite a record.

You have gathered this week at United Nations Headquarters at a time when your talents are more needed than ever.

This is a period of global turmoil.  The United Nations and the international community face persistent, complex challenges on multiple fronts.  Conflicts growingly take on ethnic or religious dimensions, making them ever more difficult to resolve.  Cold war ghosts are coming out of the shadows.  Cases of brutalization and disregard of human rights and humanitarian law are rampant.

But there is also hope.  The role of women, young people and civil society.  The power of knowledge, science and technology.  And the strength and potential strength of international cooperation.

This is also a crucial time for creating a truly transformative post-2015 development agenda.  It is essential that we get the post-2015 agenda right — that the Member States, together with other stakeholders, build a road map that is inclusive, that reflects the needs and aspirations of the world’s people and that highlights the importance of institutions and the rule of law.

It is equally critical that we reach a new agreement on climate change.  As science is telling us — and as we can see with our own eyes around the world — the negative consequences of inaction are growing.  They will only get more serious without major changes in the status quo.

Dealing with these challenges means putting the problem at the centre and mobilizing all the relevant actors — whether they are public sector, private sector, the academic world, the media or civil society.  In today’s global landscape, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something.  We need to bring in all the players, and empower them to take an active part in the common effort.  NGOs are absolutely vital in this.

Your Conference Declaration will be an important contribution.  It will serve as a global Action Plan over the next year.  It should enable you and communities across the globe to speak with a common voice and advocate for ambitious goals, and for a commitment to leave no one behind.

The United Nations wants you to continue raising your voices, every step of the way.  Raise your voices as we approach the Climate Summit that the Secretary-General will convene here at UN Headquarters on 23 September.  It will bring together world leaders from business, finance and civil society who are to find innovative solutions and build momentum towards a global agreement.

Raise your voices as Member States shape the new agenda and a new set of sustainable development goals.  And raise your voices about the resources that will be needed to bring the agenda to life and make the new agreement more than just hopes on paper.

Let me also make a special appeal on an issue that deserves more attention, but is often neglected, not least because people feel uncomfortable talking about it.  That issue is sanitation, the most lagging of the Millennium Development Goals’ targets.  On water we have made some progress, but today 768 million people still use unsafe drinking water sources.  The picture is even grimmer on sanitation.  2.5 billion people do not have proper sanitation, such as toilets; more than 1 billion people have no choice but to practice open defecation.

Women and girls are exposed and at danger in such situations as we have recently seen in India.  Many children under the age of five die each year because of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation.  The consequences are felt across society, across generations.

Ensuring decent sanitation is crucial for health, the environment and human dignity.  It is also a sound economic investment, generating high returns.  We need not wait for the technological breakthroughs of tomorrow.  This is a question of capacity-building and mobilizing political will.  It is something we can do today.

The decisions that we collectively make over the next 16 months will set our course and will have an impact for generations.  This is a major opportunity and we owe the people of the world our very best efforts.  We need leadership and vision from all parts of society.  We need you.

The world is facing a very troubling confluence of conflicts, from Iraq, Syria and Gaza in the Middle East to South Sudan, Mali and the Central African Republic in Africa.  On top of that we are now trying to cope with the Ebola outbreak causing death and suffering and destabilizing the affected countries.

As we address these immediate threats, we must not lose our focus on longer-term objectives.  We must continue to build the deeper foundations of peace, which lie in the realm of development and respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Thank you again for being here and for all you do to help advance our work.  The United Nations is a reflection of two realities:  the world as it is, and the world as it should be.  Our job is to narrow the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.  This we should do with a combination of passion and compassion.  Without passion nothing happens.  But without compassion the wrong things happen.

This week, with your Conference and your Action Agenda, you have helped to narrow the gap — I am sure with passion and compassion.  The Secretary-General and I look forward to your continued engagement throughout the key year of 2015 — and then in the period that follows — as we bring those agreements to life, building a life of dignity for all, a life and future of peace, development and respect for human rights.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.