Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, in New York today:
Twenty years ago, when I was starting my functions as Prime Minister of Portugal, the world was surfing a wave of optimism. The cold war had ended, technological prosperity was in full swing, the Internet was spreading and there was the idea that globalization would not only increase global wealth, but that it would trickle down and would benefit everybody on our planet.
Twenty years afterwards, I would say that the picture is mixed. It’s true that globalization, technological progress have dramatically increased global trade, global wealth, it is true that the number of absolute poor has been reduced and that living conditions have improved all over the world but it is also true that globalization and technological progress together have been factors of increase of inequality. Eight persons in the world have as much wealth as half of the world population.
At the same time, it is clear that people were left behind in the rust belts of this world, and youth unemployment became a severe problem in different regions of our planet, not only undermining the future of those young people, but also being an obstacle to the development of their countries and in some situations being a part of the global threat created by the fact that without hope they can easily be recruited by extremist organizations, and we see that impact in global terrorism today. Now, it is true that that has generated a loss of confidence, loss of trust between peoples and Governments or political establishments, between people and international organizations like the United Nations, and between people and the idea of globalization itself, of global governance and of multilateral institutions.
I think it is important to recognize that there is a paradox because problems are more and more global, challenges are more and more global, there is no way any country can solve them by itself. And so we need global answers and we need multilateral governance forms, and we need to be able to overcome this deficit of trust, and that, in my opinion, is the enormous potential of the 2030 Agenda; because the 2030 Agenda is an agenda aiming at a fair globalization, it’s an agenda aiming at not leaving anyone behind, eradicating poverty and creating conditions for people to trust again in not only political systems, but also in multilateral forms of governance and in international organizations like the United Nations.
At the same time, it’s clear that when one looks at today’s economy, the global economies are improving, probably more slowly than we would like, but the areas of fragility are also increasing — political fragility, institutional fragility, but also development fragility, and societal fragility; and fragilities to a large extent are responsible for many of the conflicts today and for the spreading of those conflicts and the linking of those conflicts to the global threat of global terrorism.
And this is why it is true that the agendas of sustainable development and the agendas of preventing [conflict] and sustaining peace need to be linked. But, here, there is a caveat — that link should not be a pretext to move resources from development to security; on the contrary, that should make us understand the centrality of development in what we do and the need to make sure that with that centrality of development we are able to fully recognize that sustainable and inclusive development is in itself a major factor of prevention of conflict as it is a major factor for the prevention of natural disasters and other aspects in which the resilience of societies is so important today.
And indeed, if one looks at the global megatrends — population growth, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, chaotic urbanization in certain parts of the world — it is also true that all these megatrends are interacting with each other, are stressing each other. And we have to recognize that climate change became the main accelerator of all other factors. This is also the moment to clearly say that [with] the link to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, there must be a very strong reaffirmation of our commitment to the Paris Agreement and to its implementation with enhanced ambition, because the Paris Agreement, by itself, is not enough for the objectives that the world needs in relation to global warming. And this is something that I believe is very important, not only because of its absolute need for humankind and the future of the planet, but because it is also the right and smart thing to do. We are seeing that the green economy is becoming more and more the economy of the future, that green business is good business, and those that will not bet on green economy, on green technologies, will inevitably lose, or not gain economic leadership in the years to come.
At the same time, it is very important that we recognize that we need not only be able to respond to the problems of those that are living in societies and that are under Government responsibility, but that human rights are also the rights of the people on the move, refugees and migrants, and so leaving no one behind will also have to inspire us to find ways to look into migration with a different perspective, not with a perspective of rejection, but understanding that is also an important component in solving global problems and that we need to find more legal avenues of migration and more ways to respect the human rights of migrants to make sure that they are not left behind in today’s world. We know that the global megatrends are also making more and more people move in our world to prevent unnecessary movements, and to make sure that those movements that take place, take place in a regular way is another very important objective of not leaving anyone behind.
And then there is a central question of funding. And I think it is important to reaffirm today very clearly that developed countries need to abide by their commitments in relation to official development aid, but at the same time that is not enough to fund the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We need to create conditions to help States be able to mobilize more of their own resources, and that has to do, on one hand, with tax reforms within States, but also on mobilizing the international community to fight together tax evasion, money-laundering and illicit flows of capital that are today making sure that more money is coming out of developing countries than the money that goes in through official development assistance (ODA).
And at the same time, we need to make sure that the international financial institutions are able to leverage resources and to multiply their capacity to fund the implementation of the SDGs, and also that we help countries to be able to access global markets, financial markets, and to be able to attract private investment, without which it would be absolutely impossible to achieve these Goals. And let’s also not only think about the problems of today, but also the problems of tomorrow.
We are facing a fourth industrial revolution that will have a dramatic impact on labour markets. And this will be a problem for many developing countries that today rely on cheap manpower as their competitive advantage; and cheap manpower will probably see many jobs destroyed in the near future, with robotization and other forms of automation. And at the same time, a problem for many developed countries — look at the possibility that one day in a country like the United States no more drivers might be necessary, no more drivers for cars, for trucks, and that is probably a very important source of employment in all societies in the world.
We need to be able to anticipate these trends, we need to be able to work together as countries, international organizations, not to be reacting, but to be foreseeing what is coming and investing in education, in training, in new skills, in the adaptations of the labour markets to be able to cope with the challenges of the future. And for all that we also need to be able to reform — reform at the country level, reform at the United Nations level and that of other organizations. Countries will look in different ways, depending on different situations, on a country-by-country basis, into their governance mechanisms, into the way they are able to guarantee the participation of citizens, of businesses and of civil society in development objectives. In the ways they are able to fight corruption, or to guarantee not only civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights.
And as in the United Nations, we need to be able to understand that, even if the United Nations development system has produced many important contributions, namely in the context of the implementation of the [SDGs], we are not fully ready for the new challenges of the present 2030 Agenda. That is why I presented to [the Economic and Social Council] a first report on the reform of the United Nations development system. I will not be repeating here the 38 measures that are included in this first report but just say that there are a few central areas of concern. First, the idea that we need to have at the country level empowered resident coordinators and more effective country teams, more coordinated and more able to deliver support to Governments according to Government strategies — because Governments and countries are the leaders of the implementation of the Agenda - and to be more accountable to those Governments at the country level. At the same time, to have this level of coordination, transparency, accountability at the global level, being in this case accountable to [the Economic and Social Council] and to the General Assembly of the United Nations, and to consider that gender parity in the United Nations must also be an instrument in order to support gender mainstreaming, in the application of all policies that relate to the 2030 Agenda and to its objectives from the eradication of poverty to all the different areas, in the different sectors in which we need to be effective.
And finally, that funding needs to be in line with the objectives of coherence and the objectives of accountability that I have mentioned, and that is why we have the idea to propose a funding compact to guarantee exactly that coherence instead of the dispersion of funding that do not take into account the objectives that in each country, each Government is able to put in place for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
And I think that looking at this assembly, one can only be enthusiastic about the fact that there is a very strong commitment, not only for implementation of the Agenda, but a very strong affirmation of support for multilateral governance as the way to lead the 2030 Agenda, respecting the leadership of Member States, but recognizing that only by working together can we rebuild the trust that is needed, and we can make the 2030 Agenda that factor that brings the fair globalization the world needs in the present times.