Tackling Inequality, Climate Challenges Critical for Advancing towards 2030 Agenda Goals, Secretary-General Tells Southeast Asia Leaders’ Meeting

11 October 2018

Tackling Inequality, Climate Challenges Critical for Advancing towards 2030 Agenda Goals, Secretary-General Tells Southeast Asia Leaders’ Meeting

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Leaders’ Gathering, in Denpasar, Indonesia, today:

President [Joko] Widodo, thank you very much for your invitation and warm hospitality.  I want to begin by expressing once again my deepest condolences and solidarity with all those affected by the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Sulawesi and my admiration for the effective, very effective response led by the Indonesian Government.

Mr. President, we are with you and with the people of Indonesia.  I will be travelling to Palu tomorrow.  I want to reiterate the full commitment of the United Nations to support Government-led rescue and relief efforts.  I also commend the work of the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance, which has been instrumental in the response, even embedding some of our United Nations staff.

I thank you for your focus today on sustainable development.  As we discussed together in New York last month, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is our common road map to an inclusive, resilient and secure future for everyone, everywhere.  It is a solid foundation for building a fair globalization in the context of the rules-based multilateral system.

But, we have much work ahead of us.  Our world is simply not going far enough and fast enough to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.  Major threats stand out as huge obstacles to eradicating poverty, expanding opportunity and leaving no one behind.

In ASEAN, you have made important progress over the past half century — becoming more and more a global economic powerhouse.  Since the year 2000, extreme poverty has been halved in this region.  We have seen great strides in reducing child and maternal mortality and ensuring gender parity in education.  Still, ASEAN is far from immune to global megatrends brought on by challenges such as climate change, rising inequality, urbanization and the impacts of the fourth industrial revolution, not to mention recent trade tensions.

Today, I would like to stress two areas of particular concern to me: inequality and climate change.  First, the inequality challenge.  I salute your effort to “narrow the development gap” between and within ASEAN Member-States.  To tackle inequalities, we must take on a broad range of strategies to eradicate poverty and ensure inclusive development.

That means improving access to quality education and health care.  It means reforming the tax system, making it more equitable and able to maximize revenues for sustainable development investments.  It means enhanced access to labour markets, strong social protection schemes and harnessing the rich diversity and demographic dividend of ASEAN youth.  Simultaneously, gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential.  As you address the inequality challenge, I want to recognize ongoing comprehensive efforts such as the Initiative for ASEAN Integration.

The second critical area I want to focus on is climate change.  ASEAN knows this only too well.  Four ASEAN Member States — Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam — are among the world’s top 10 countries most affected by climate change.  I reiterate our strong commitment to the ASEAN-UN Action Plan on Environment and Climate Change.  This week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report makes clear that climate change is running faster than we are — and we are running out of time.

But, it is not too late.  We can limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.  We have many of the technologies we need and every effort counts.  Bending the emissions curve by 2020 and limiting temperature rise by even a half degree can make a world of difference.  But, that will require urgent and far more ambitious action.

The report urges unprecedented changes in all aspects of society to cut emissions by half by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050, especially in key sectors such as land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities.  Specifically, we need to end deforestation and plant billions of trees; drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels and phase out coal by 2050; ramp up installation of wind and solar power; invest in climate-friendly sustainable agriculture; and consider new technologies such as carbon capture and storage.  All this requires a surge in investments in mitigation and adaptation. 

The next key moment is the December twenty-fourth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland.  We must do everything in our power to make it a success.  I urge you to do all you can to resolve the sticking points and make sure the world leaves Katowice with critically important implementation guidelines for operationalizing the Paris Agreement.  This is a must.  And I count on ASEAN’s leadership.

We have another vital opportunity at the UN Climate Summit which I will convene in September 2019.  The Summit will take place one year before countries have to enhance their national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement.  It will be an opportunity for leaders and partners to showcase their ambition.  I look forward to seeing you all there.

There are clear interlinkages, as it was said, between the ASEAN’s Vision 2025 and the United Nations 2030 Agenda.  The “complementarities initiative” has ensured a solid framework to advance our work together on these regional priorities.  The United Nations is also committed to support the ASEAN Centre for Sustainable Development Studies and Dialogue, which can serve as a leading regional platform for capacity building and South-South cooperation.

Recent progress on peace and security issues in the ASEAN region is a hopeful sign, and we look forward to building on our cooperation in this field.  Last year, ASEAN Leaders issued a Joint Statement on Promoting Women, Peace and Security.  This shared commitment recognized the importance of women’s leadership and participation to build peaceful and inclusive societies, as reflected in the 2030 Agenda.  This is a personal priority and I commit the United Nations to working hand-in-hand with ASEAN to strengthen women’s leadership for peace and security.

Over the last 50 years, ASEAN has gained a wealth of rich experiences in prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding from which the international community can take a lot of profit.  I am also encouraged that the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation is emerging as a regional platform on conflict prevention and welcome recent joint human rights initiatives on business, environment and media freedom.

I recognize ASEAN’s efforts to address the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State — and to encourage and support creating the conditions necessary for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of the refugees.  This requires a massive investment, not only in reconstruction and development, but also in reconciliation and respect for people’s rights.  It will be important to guarantee the full implementation of the recommendations in the report by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was led by the late Kofi Annan.

Once again thank you for your focus on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, our common agenda for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.  I am here as your partner and your friend.  You can count on my total commitment to work with you and the people of the ASEAN region to strengthen our collaboration, to transform promises into action and to ensure that no-one is left behind.  Thank you very much Mr. President.

For information media. Not an official record.