8 May 2016

United, Small States Can Change World, Says Secretary-General, in Address to Seychelles Assembly

Following is UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s address to the National Assembly of the Seychelles, in Victoria today:

It is a great honour to address this National Assembly on the first visit by a United Nations Secretary-General to Seychelles.

Mersi boukou pou sa lenvitasyion tre salere.  [Thank you very much for your kind invitation.]

I am particularly proud to be here as you celebrate your fortieth anniversary as a sovereign nation, and as a Member State of the United Nations.

The United Nations stood together with you during the turbulent first years of your nationhood.  You have amply repaid that support over the last 40 years.

Seychelles is recognized all over the world for its natural beauty, which I have been lucky enough to enjoy during this short visit.

Yesterday, I visited the Vallée de Mai.  I understood why this nature reserve, which is a global resource for biodiversity, is described as the heart and soul of Seychelles.  Not only Vallée de Mai, but your whole country is an inspiring example of sustainable development, which has succeeded in steadily raising the standard of living.

Your impressive record on the Millennium Development Goals shows that it is possible to thrive economically, while improving health care and education, caring for the most vulnerable and protecting the environment.

I also commend this Assembly’s strong record on democracy, demonstrated most recently by your recent decision to limit presidential terms.  I congratulate you on this unanimous amendment of the Constitution, which can serve as an example for the region.

I am also impressed by the number of women Assembly persons here today.  The proportion of women in this Parliament is fifth highest in the world, and Seychelles is ranked second for gender equality on the African continent.  Women are being appointed to senior roles in the judiciary and as Governor of your central bank.  I urge you to continue this progress.

Mr. Speaker, I just heard that your Assembly may be the smallest Assembly in Africa, but I have seen in fact smaller assemblies in other parts of Europe [with] 28 members.  That country, Andorra, is a 50-50 men and women — exactly 50 per cent.  I heard that there were some changes recently, but yours is very impressive [inaudible].  I know you are going to have elections in two month and I hope to see more women advanced in this National Assembly.  Congratulations.

I would also like to say a special word to the young people who are sitting here today.  You are part of the biggest generation of young people the world has ever known.

The United Nations sees young people not as leaders of tomorrow, but as leaders today.  We are working with young men and women around the world on initiatives to build peace, to create jobs and to fight violent extremism.  As you look to the future, I urge you to lift your eyes above the immediate horizon and become global citizens, demonstrating your allegiance not only to your immediate community, but to the wider world.

In today’s world, we are all interconnected.  Problems and challenges are never confined to one country or region.  Insecurity is spreading.  Massive inequality persists, among people and nations.  Too many people in too many places are excluded because of their race, religion, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity and other differences.

Violent extremists are committing atrocities designed to divide and destroy communities.  Criminal networks are exploiting lawlessness and chaos and building links with terrorists, to traffic people, illegal drugs and weapons, and to hide their profits.

These problems require cooperation and coordination, in a global response.  The United Nations is the forum where we seek solutions.  Today, I would like to talk about three of these, and call for your commitment and support.

First, last month, at the United Nations Headquarters, to be exact 22 April, on International Mother Earth Day, we broke a record for the highest number of countries to sign any treaty or convention or agreement in one day.  One hundred and seventy-seven countries have now signed the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Seychelles was one of them, and you went on to become the sixteenth country to ratify immediately as you sign this agreement.  Congratulations and thank you very much for your leadership.

I thank you again for your leading role and urge everyone with influence to persuade other Governments to ratify as soon as possible.  We need 55 countries, representing 55 per cent of total global greenhouse-gas emissions, to join for the agreement to enter into force.  I am heartened by the number and diversity of countries that have committed to ratify the agreement this year.

I also encourage you to maintain political oversight so that the spirit of global cooperation continues as we begin to implement the Paris Agreement on climate change.  We need robust procedures and rules to keep the global temperature increase well below 2°C.

I am grateful for the initiatives and strong commitment of the members of the Alliance of Small Islands States (AOSIS) for your commitment to bring this issue to the global agenda — urging and convincing world leaders to try to strive to keep this global temperature rise below 1.5°C.  It was only possible with your strong support.

Seychelles has already made great progress towards a sustainable and climate-resilient future.  Your environmental legislation to ensure sustainable tourism and fishing is some of the strongest in the world.  Half of your land and one third of your vast marine territory are already protected.

You are also showing the way on finding innovative sources of funding for climate adaptation, including your debt swap with the Paris Club.

The second point I’d like to make is that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its 17 Goals — we call them SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] — is our declaration of interdependence.  What does it mean, interdependence?  Among those 17 Goals, nothing can be implemented in isolation, in separation.  All these 17 Goals should be carried out all together comprehensively.  These are tightly interconnected Goals.  It aims to enable all people to live in dignity, on a healthy planet.

This is a universal project.  Even the richest countries still have communities living in abject poverty and may struggle against racism, religious intolerance and other forms of oppression.  No country has yet achieved true gender equality.

But, for island States, climate action and sustainable development are a matter of survival.  They are two mutually reinforcing sides of the same coin.  Storms, coastal erosion and rising sea levels can halt and reverse sustainable development initiatives in a matter of hours or days.  SDG 14 on conserving and using oceans and marine resources for sustainable development carries particular resonance for you.

The true test of this new Agenda will be in its implementation.  We need action from everyone, everywhere.  All sectors of society must be involved:  Government, businesses and civil society.  I particularly welcome your role as parliamentarians in beginning to engage on the SDGs more than a year ago.

Your Blue Economy initiative is drawing the world’s attention by linking the alleviation of poverty and improved food security with reduced environmental risks and ecological imbalances.  I wish you all the best in implementing your plans and assure you of the United Nations support as you work to build on the progress you have already made.

Third and finally, we face unprecedented numbers of people in urgent need of humanitarian aid around the world.  Today’s refugees are caught up in the biggest displacement crisis of our era.  I have been calling on leaders around the world, even in countries that have not been directly touched by this global phenomenon, to respond with compassion and respect for human rights.

On 19 September of this year, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a summit meeting to address large movements of migrants and refugees across the world — and the need for shared responsibility.

Later this month, on 23 and 24 May, I am convening the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.  World leaders will make commitments to uphold humanitarian law, to protect civilians in conflict, and to improve the global response to the 125 million people who need urgent humanitarian aid.  This number — 125 million — is the largest ever since the end of the Second World War.  I count on Seychelles to engage in these important events.

From my first days in office in 2007, I made climate change a top priority.  Negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda began around the time I started my second term.

During the years of discussion, one thing has become very clear to me:  small States have big ideas and big political will.  Your experiences, commitment and insights have been invaluable.

Small States like Seychelles have served as a magnifying lens for many of the climate and development issues that all nations must face.  When you are united, small States can change the world.

I congratulate you on your achievements, and urge you to build on your leadership role.  The United Nations is committed to working together with you, every step of the way.  Mon kontan sesel.

For information media. Not an official record.