People Rightly Question Why a Few Men Hold Same Wealth as Half of Humanity, Secretary-General Says, Citing Jarring Inequities
Months before the landmark Sustainable Development Goals Summit, delegates speaking during the ministerial segment of the Economic and Social Council’s High-Level Political Forum today urged world leaders to commit themselves to urgent, accelerated action to tackle the planet’s most critical challenges or risk a “terrible stain on the world’s conscience” for years to come.
Senior United Nations officials, artists, activists and youth representatives opened the Forum’s ministerial portion, which follows a week of interactive discussions and progress reports by Governments working to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Speakers — including keynote presenter Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders group of global leaders and former President of Ireland — told participants that the three-day ministerial segment should lay the groundwork for the upcoming Summit, allowing leaders gathering in New York this September to “come away with more than just words”. With new evidence revealing the accelerating nature of such challenges as climate change, action must be multilateral, not merely voluntary on the part of individual nations, she stressed. “We have a global crisis and we must treat it as such.”
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres echoed those concerns. Emphasizing that development cannot be sustainable unless it is fair and inclusive, he said inequality between and within countries remains jarring and “people are rightly questioning a world where a handful of men hold the same wealth as half of humanity”. With the Earth on track to record its five warmest years between 2015 and 2019, and sea levels rising rapidly, the poorest people will suffer most, he stressed. Pointing out that a shift to a greener economy could create 24 million jobs by 2030, he urged Member States to advance global climate action in a manner that also reduces inequality.
Council President Inga Rhonda King (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) welcomed the High-Level Political Forum’s ability to keep stakeholders engaged and focused since the 2030 Agenda’s adoption in 2015. While many countries are hard at work to meet its targets and indicators, “we need to do more, faster and more transformatively”. She urged Member States to use the ministerial segment to build and renew partnerships, while pledging to assist States in preparing an action-oriented political declaration to be adopted at the September Summit.
María Fernanda Espinosa Garces (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said the credibility of the multilateral system and the hopes of the world’s 7.7 billion people lie at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. Data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reveal that poverty and inequality persist around the globe, while an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report underscores the urgency of addressing the impacts of climate change. Agreeing that the upcoming Summit presents a milestone opportunity to reaffirm commitments to the world’s people, she urged leaders to use that meeting to announce accelerated measures in response to the planet’s most pressing challenges.
Hoesung Lee, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, also delivered a keynote address this morning, providing details on the escalating threats posed by current warming patterns. Noting that these trends are already seriously impeding progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, he drew attention to the links between climate change, injustice, agricultural challenges and increased migration flows. Limiting warming to 1.5°C — rather than the 2°C baseline — will expose 10 million fewer people to the risk of sea level rise and reduce crop yield declines by one third. While restricting warming to 1.5°C will require carbon dioxide removal — including through soil carbon sequestration and biomass energy — he stressed that the world has little choice but to pursue a path of high-efficiency energy.
Richard Curtis, Sustainable Development Goals Advocate and Co-Founder of Project Everyone, used his keynote address to underline the importance of rendering the Goals fully inclusive and effectively communicating their messages. Stressing that Governments, churches, trade unionists, tech leaders, scientists, mayors, feminists, schoolchildren and many other segments of society are all vital partners in carrying out the 2030 Agenda, he declared: “You in power cannot do this job on your own.” The Forum must grab this opportunity to “turbo-charge” the General Assembly and the Sustainable Development Goals Summit in September.
At the meeting’s outset, participants viewed a dance performance by Gruppo Jobel, Art for Earth, and heard presentations from youth delegates from the Czech Republic, Philippines, United States, Mongolia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the afternoon, the Forum held an interactive discussion on the theme, “What are regions telling us about implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals?”, featuring the chairs of various regional forums. It also heard presentations by Ola Elvestuen, President of the United Nations Environment Assembly and Minister for Climate and Environment of Norway; Michelle Bachelet Jeria, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Boris Greguška, Chair of the United Nations Forum on Forests Bureau and Chief State Counsellor, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Slovakia; Jayathma Wickramanayake, the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and Guy Ryder, Director‑General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Forum also began its general debate.
The ministerial segment of the High-Level Political Forum will continue at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 17 July.
INGA RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), President of the Economic and Social Council, welcoming the participation of young artists in today’s session, expressed hope that “this will be the start of a new normal” in which the voices of children and youth are consistently and systematically heard at the United Nations and their ideas taken into account. She then invited young activists to share their experiences on the Sustainable Development Goals under review at this year’s session. Those are Goal 4 (quality education), Goal 8 (decent work and sustainable economic growth), Goal 10 (reduced inequalities), Goal 13 (climate action), Goal 16 (peaceful and inclusive societies) and Goal 17 (partnerships).
Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, she said, the High-Level Political Forum has kept stakeholders engaged, mobilized, energized and focused on the work of achieving the Goals. While many countries are hard at work implementing the Agenda’s targets and indicators, “we need to do more, faster and more transformatively”. She urged States to use the three days of the ministerial segment to build and renew partnerships ahead of the Sustainable Development Goals Summit to be held in New York in September. She also pledged to engage with the facilitators to prepare an action-oriented political declaration to be adopted at the Summit, urging leaders use the Summit to announce ambitious, accelerated action commitments.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said that, this year, nearly 50 countries will present voluntary national reviews and Forum participants will zero in on action to promote inclusion, empowerment and equality. “Development is not sustainable if it is not fair and inclusive,” he stressed. Inequality raises economic anxiety and undermines social cohesion, peace and prosperity. While there has been substantive progress in myriad areas, the global picture remains unsettling. He commended the many actors, notably civil society and the business community, who have risen to the challenge.
However, inequality between and within countries remains jarring. “People are rightly questioning a world where a handful of men hold the same wealth as half of humanity.” Indeed, 30 per cent of young women and 13 per cent of young men are not in school and lack access to employment, he continued, while millions of women remain marginalized, their progress hampered by extremist laws and conflict. While there have been improvements in access to safe drinking water and health care, for far too many, this remains beyond reach. Civil society groups face intimidation and harassment, and migrants and refugees suffer from intolerable conditions and discrimination.
Turning to climate change, he said the planet will record the five warmest years on record between 2015 and 2019, with seas levels rising at an accelerated pace. Scientists warn that their heights can double — and the poorest will suffer most. There is so much to be done, he said, calling on the international community to scale up public and private investment. “Countries must reverse the downward trend of traditional official development assistance (ODA),” he emphasized, stressing the need to fight illicit financial flows, money‑laundering and tax evasion. Robust financing for health and massive investment in education is also critical. “People must not just learn, they must learn how to learn,” he stressed. Private sector development and long-term market investments meanwhile can help communities grow.
Continuing, he said global climate action must be advanced in a manner that reduces inequality, as shifting to a greener economy could create 24 million jobs globally by 2030. Next, implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration must be stepped up. Beyond the critical issue of securing borders, migration policies are essentially about people — mothers, fathers and children. Leaving no one behind is inherently linked to human rights, diplomacy and prevention. “We need a strengthened global commitment to end conflict and stand together for human rights and peace,” he added. “The people of the world do not want half measures or empty promises.” It is time for world leaders to kick‑start a decade of delivery for people and planet.
MARÍA FERNANDA ESPINOSA GARCES (Ecuador), President of the General Assembly, said the credibility of the multilateral system and hopes of the world’s 7.7 billion people lie at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. While States are working to achieve its goals and targets, she warned that “we have to do much more”. Data from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) reveal that poverty persists around the planet and that inequality remains prevalent, she said, adding that recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show the urgency of accelerating global action to address the impacts of climate change. Underlining some common themes, she spotlighted the need to prioritize actions that address urgent challenges, such as smart-climate action, the need to be fully inclusive and the need to empower women and girls.
“The 2030 Agenda is not a utopia,” she stressed. It is, in fact, “within our reach if we choose to grasp it”. To do so, three elements are needed: political will and wisdom; dramatically scaled-up partnerships; and action that involves a razor-sharp focus on the most transformative next steps. Implementation must be prioritized, informed by an evidence-based assessment of what has worked, what has not worked and why. The upcoming Sustainable Development Goals Summit will be the greatest milestone since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, and the best opportunity to reaffirm and fulfil commitments to the world’s people. As such, she urged participants to use the coming days to lay the groundwork for the Summit, and in turn, to use the Summit to announce accelerated measures in response to the planet’s most urgent challenges.
MARY ROBINSON, Chair of The Elders and former President of Ireland, described the 2030 Agenda as one of this century’s most important diplomatic achievements. “Together with the Paris Agreement on climate change, concluded in the same year 2015, they are tangible proof of the benefits of multilateralism and a rebuke to the narrow agendas of nationalism, isolationism and self-interest,” she said. “If fully implemented, those agreements are a pathway to a world where poverty, inequality and conflict will not blight the life chances for millions of people currently denied the opportunity to enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms.” Recalling that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in 2018 of the severe risks that warming up to 2°C would entail, she said that threat means the world can no longer regard the 2030 Agenda or the Paris Agreement as voluntary matters for Member States to decide on their own.
Instead, she said, the full implementation of those accords is imperative and requires a change in mindset at the global political level. Pointing out that the Intergovernmental Panel has called for a 45 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, she said it is possible to achieve that target with political will. “We have a global crisis and we must treat it as such,” she stressed, noting that carbon emissions increased globally in 2018 and are on course to increase further in 2019. The High-Level Political Forum provides an opportunity to take an honest look at what States have achieved and what more must be done, allowing world leaders convening in September for the Sustainable Development Goals Summit to “come away with more than just words”.
Focusing on two of the Goals under review — namely, Goal 13 on climate change and Goal 16 on justice for all — she said peace, justice and inclusion have been fundamental to her career in public life, from national politics in Ireland to her role as former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Noting that today she serves as Chair of The Elders — the group of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela to work for human rights and a sustainable future — she warned against leaving future generations “a world of walls and barbed-wire fences, where a privileged few live in comfort while the poor and marginalized face climate chaos, discrimination, persecution and violence”. Instead, we must create a world where the voices and talents of all members of society are valued, where human rights are cherished and championed and where decisions are made in the interest of the next 100 years — not the next news headline.
Underlining the particular importance of ensuring climate justice, she described it as grotesquely unfair that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable — who have contributed the least to carbon emissions and pollution — are paying the highest price as temperatures and sea waters rise. Some small island States in the Pacific will literally disappear unless industrialized nations take radical and urgent action, including a wholesale move away from fossil fuels and extraction. “Failure to act will be a terrible stain on the world’s conscience,” she warned. Noting that the Task Force on Justice recently launched a report estimating that 5.1 billion people lack meaningful access to justice, she stressed: “This chasm between the haves and have-nots should shame us all.” The Task Force also projects that, in low-income countries, daily justice challenges cost more than 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), and that it could cost as little as $20 to provide each person with access to basic justice services.
However, she warned that money alone will not solve the problems. A people‑centred approach is needed, developed and implemented alongside civil society, as is more attention to addressing the causes of conflict and injustice and preventing challenges from arising in the first place. The Forum provides a moment for stakeholders to demand real ambition from political leaders, she said, cautioning that “playing it safe” and accepting “business as usual” will not deliver the results the world needs.
RICHARD CURTIS, Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, Screenwriter, Producer and Film Director, and Co-Founder of Project Everyone, said the sensible speech he prepared was full of important and excellent facts — the number of countries that have bent their systems towards the Goals; the powerful gains that have been made. But, he worried that he would not be communicating what was in the hearts of those around the world, from Aboriginal elders to schoolchildren. Since 2015, Project Everyone has designed logos, graphics and short names for the Goals to communicate their messages clearly and usefully.
“There are so many possible partners for the Goals,” he said. “We have to use the skills of everyone.” Governments, churches, trade unionists, business leaders, employees, bankers, insurance companies, pension providers, civil society, tech leaders, young and older activists, scientists, mayors, feminists and schoolchildren are all vital partners. “You in power cannot do this job on your own,” he stressed. One purpose of the Goals is to set a deadline for intensifying the sense of urgency. Global hunger is on the rise, greenhouse‑gas emissions are reaching record levels and 50 per cent of people still lack essential health services. “I beg everyone here never to lose their sense of the simple, intimate, daily urgency in the lives of those we serve,” he said.
“If your Governments back home tells you that this Sustainable Development Goals stuff can wait, remember the people — in your countries and abroad — for whom it cannot,” he said. The young girl being prepared for child marriage. The mother choosing whether to spend her money on food for her children. The sick child depending on life-saving medicine. The family deciding whether they must abandon everything to begin a new life as refugees, or the father whose child attempted suicide, and without proper help, will do so again. Now is the moment to grab this opportunity, he said, urging the High-Level Political Forum to turbo-charge the General Assembly in September. When the clock strikes midnight at the start of 2020 — the decade of delivery — citizens, organizations and businesses will be campaigning nosily and it would be a tragedy if this campaign was not greeted by the leaders of every country. In 2030, it will be impossible to expand the Goals, as was done with the Millennium Development Goals. “You are the generation of people with power who could and must make it happen,” he said.
HOESUNG LEE, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stressed that climate change and sustainable development are inseparable. The current warming is already producing negative impacts on natural and human systems, seriously impeding progress toward some Sustainable Development Goals. And while the Paris Agreement objective of limiting global warming to below 2°C and pursuing the 1.5°C target helps to achieve most Goals, it also creates a trade-off. Stressing that climate action depends on international cooperation, social justice and equity, he said up to 40 per cent of the world’s population lives in areas where the warming is already 1.5°C above the preindustrial level for at least one season.
For agriculture-dependent countries, temperature has had a positive and statistically significant effect on outmigration over recent decades, he continued. A 1°C increase in average temperature was associated with 1.9 per cent increase in bilateral migration flows from 142 sending countries and 19 receiving countries. By limiting warming to 1.5°C rather than 2°C there will be fewer people exposed to water shortages and 50 per cent less impact on insects, plants and vertebrates. Ten million fewer people will be exposed to the risk of sea‑level rise and there will be a one-third reduction in the risk of decline in crop yields. Failing to achieve low energy demand will increase potential reliance on carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere.
He went on to stress that all pathways limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, through a process of planting trees, soil carbon sequestration, biomass energy with carbon capture and storage, and other novel technologies. “And in the case that the global temperature overshoots the 1.5°C ceiling, net negative emissions will be needed to return global warming to the 1.5°C ceiling and removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere will be further in demand,” he said. The choice is obvious: the world must pursue high-efficiency energy. “We need collective efforts at all levels, reflecting different circumstances and capabilities, to limit global warming to 1.5°C, taking into account equity and effectiveness,” he said. Doing so will strengthen the global response to climate change, achieve sustainable development and eliminate poverty.
JEAN JACQUES ELMIGER (Switzerland), President of the 108th International Labour Conference, and GUY RYDER, Director General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), then transmitted to the Assembly the organization’s “Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work”, adopted in Geneva in June.
This afternoon, the Forum held a panel discussion on the theme “What are regions telling us about implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals?” Moderated by Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), it featured presentations by the Chairs of the following regional forums for sustainable development: Rodrigo Malmierca, Minister for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, Cuba (ECLAC); Fidelis Magalhaes, Minister for Legal Reforms and Parliamentary Affairs, Timor-Leste, for the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP); Nezha el Ouafi, Secretary of State in charge of Sustainable Development, Morocco, for the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA); Ogerta Manastirliu, Minister for Health and Social Protection, Albania, for the Economic Commission for Europe (ECE); and Noori al-Dulaimi, Minister of Planning, Iraq, for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). Sarah Zaman, Member of the Women’s Action Forum, served as discussant.
Ms. BÁRCENA, noting that all five of the United Nations regional commissions are currently headed by women, said today’s discussion will allow participants to unpack the Sustainable Development Goals, explore the different realities in the world regions, and better understand their localized challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda. “The regional forums have become dynamic places to explore the 2030 Agenda’s implementation,” she said.
Mr. MALMIERCA said that, of the 33 States members of ECLAC, 30 have begun to implement the 2030 Agenda, and a majority have already submitted voluntary national reviews to the High-Level Political Forum. Those countries have also launched a system of interactions with the private sector and civil society, and work hand in hand with the various agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations. Stressing that the region is a strong advocate for multilateralism, he recalled that, in April, the ECLAC secretariat produced a four-year progress report taking stock of strides in such areas as social cohesion and environmental challenges. Spotlighting the unique challenges and resource constraints faced by developing countries and those in special situations, he said the Caribbean region is the least equal in the world. “We must work together to carry out our commitments in an environment of respect for countries’ sovereignty,” he stressed, adding that nations must collaborate and share experiences with a view to preserving their common future.
Mr. MAGALHAES said the sixth Asia‑Pacific Development Forum, held in March, was convened in an inclusive manner that engaged over 1,000 Government officials, civil society and other stakeholders. Participants shared not only achievements, but also challenges, he said, noting that the importance of accountability and multi-stakeholder dialogue emerged as central themes. They developed a set of implementable policy recommendations on the themes discussed this year, namely: quality education; decent work and economic growth; reducing inequalities; climate action and peace; and justice and strong institutions. The forum also reviewed progress on the regional road map for implementing the 2030 Agenda, he said, adding that countries and other stakeholders called for stronger regional cooperation along the priority areas identified in that strategy. ESCAP member countries also approved a resolution titled “Committing to strengthening the links between national, regional and global follow-up to and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific”, he said.
Ms. EL OUAFI said the regional forum held in Marrakesh revealed that economic growth and climate transition can, in fact, go hand in hand. “Inaction will cost us dearly,” she stressed, noting that participants unanimously adopted a set of key messages and conclusions to that effect. Pointing out that the number of children enrolled in primary education has increased among African countries, she said some States have still not met all education targets. African countries have all undertaken ambitious climate-related contributions at the national level, requiring more than $3 billion in funding. Meanwhile, the new African Free Trade Area will foster economic growth, while raising living standards and empowering women. Outlining efforts to combat corruption and eradicate illicit financial flows, she said African nations must further embrace their common experiences and build stronger partnerships. Moreover, she said, successfully implementing the Sustainable Development Goals in the region will mean that countries will need to triple their current per capita growth.
Ms. MANASTIRLIU said the European region has contributed nearly one third of all the voluntary national reviews submitted to the High-Level Political Forum since 2016, demonstrating the commitment of high- and middle-income countries. Voluntary national reviews can help clarify responsibilities, advance monitoring and inspire national initiatives, innovation and public debate, she said, adding that technology — “a megatrend of our times” — offers both benefits and potential drawbacks. Digitalization may lead to drastic changes in labour markets and new demands for skills, and developing a flexible workforce that can adapt to such changes is not an easy task. Underlining the importance of improving the availability of disaggregated data and their collection, she said forum participants stressed that rising economic inequalities are undermining sustainable development, and climate action in particular must be scaled up, with consumers, civil society and youth further mobilized. Calling for a whole‑of‑society approach to those challenges, she noted that the next regional forum will take place in Geneva in March 2020.
Mr. AL-DULAIMI, recalling that the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development was held recently in Beirut, said participants acknowledged the slow progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda in the region and committed to finding creative ways to accelerate it. They shared national-level information and examined wider challenges facing the region, including rising poverty, high unemployment, environmental degradation, development inequalities, the challenge of empowering women, war, conflict, occupations, displacement and structural problems. Among other things, he said, delegates identified the need for greater efforts to improve data collection, redistribute wealth, build stronger institutions ready to respond to emergencies, better use modern technologies, prioritize climate action, tackle corruption and bribery, and improve women’s participation. The ongoing challenges of implementing the Sustainable Development Goals also calls for more decentralization and stronger multi-stakeholder partnerships, he said.
Ms. ZAMAN said the Asia‑Pacific region, like many others, is challenged by a changing climate, militarism and conflict, attacks on human rights and economic problems. Noting that many countries there are not on track to achieve the targets laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals, she said solutions do exist. For example, a regional tax body could be created and fair trade rules put in place. Against that backdrop, she called for a shift in focus at the annual High-Level Political Forum, adding that all regional forums should work more closely with civil society and ensure that their outcomes officially feed into the Forum.
As the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Uganda underlined Africa’s strong commitment to sustainable development, noting that Governments have signed on to both the 2030 Agenda and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. Citing some of the efforts undertaken by individual States, she welcomed the proposal put forward during the Africa regional forum to establish a new statistical fund to help align data with national legislation and policies.
The representative of Chad, echoing some of those points, emphasized that developing countries require more resources — especially increased investment, trade and access to energy — as well as expertise and know-how in order to successfully implement the 2030 Agenda.
The representative of Guinea agreed, noting that mobilizing resources and strengthening the capacity of developing countries will help them integrate the Goals into national plans and policies.
In a segment titled “Messages to the High-level Political Forum”, the Economic and Social Council heard from Ola Elvestuen, President, United Nations Environment Assembly, and Minister of Climate and Environment, Norway; Michelle Bachelet Jeria, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; Boris Greguška, Chair, fourteenth session of the United Nations Forest Forum Bureau, and Chief State Counsellor, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Slovakia; Jayathma Wickramanayake, Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth; and Guy Ryder, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO).
Mr. ELVESTUEN, describing the conclusions of the United Nations Environment Assembly, said ensuring the planet’s health is essential to achieving sustainable development. He cited research documenting unprecedented environmental challenges that threaten global health, prosperity and equity, stressing that emissions trends imply an increase in global warming to a degree that would make it impossible to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “Degraded ecosystems adapt badly to changes,” he cautioned. “By harming the biosphere, we could harm the adaptability of nature and ourselves.” Moreover, unsustainable production and consumption habits risk exacerbating the problem to the point of no return. He called for “thinking outside the box” in using and conserving resources. Governments need to fight pollution and waste. Environmental rule of law is also fundamental to promote equity and inclusiveness, he said, stressing that implementation has fallen far too short of what is needed.
Ms. BACHELET called the 2030 Agenda a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring human rights to millions of people. “We will not ensure sustainable development unless we eradicate the discrimination, which strips millions of women and men of opportunities, resources and access to skills and to justice,” she affirmed. Sustainable development requires working together to create equality and human dignity. Recognizing the need for partnerships, the Human Rights Council held an intersessional meeting for dialogue and cooperation on human rights and the 2030 Agenda earlier this year, with participants emphasizing that meeting the Goals requires a human rights-based approach — locally, nationally, regionally and globally. States must give space to women, people from marginalized communities, young people, and all others, so they can participate in defining policy. She called for accelerated action, stressing that only inclusive development will truly leave no one behind, and that her Office will continue to support Governments in exploring ways to promote the synergies between development and human rights.
Mr. GREGUŠKA, sharing the outcome of the latest session of the United Nations Forum on Forests, stressed the need to scale up implementation of forest-based solutions to climate change. “Forests can and should make a significant contribution to combat climate change,” he emphasized. Indeed, forest-based actions could reduce greenhouse gasses by an estimated 15 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide a year by 2050 — potentially closing the emissions gap. These forest-based actions include halting deforestation, promoting sustainable forest management and increasing forest areas. It is also essential to promote more effective forest governance and law enforcement. Many of the world’s poorest people live in or near forests and their livelihoods are improved when they have secure, equitable access to and control over forest resources. The world’s forests must be managed sustainably for the benefit of current and future generations, he stressed.
Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE said there are 1.8 billion young people in the world, the majority of them in developing countries. Every year, millions of girls become mothers while they are themselves still children. Millions of young people lack access to education. Today’s young people must be actively engaged in shaping the decisions affecting their lives. Drawing attention to the annual Youth Forum as a platform for young people to voice their concerns, she said that under the theme “Empowered, Included and Equal”, over 1,000 youth representatives gathered to share ideas and priorities. There was a strong consensus that young people must have more involvement in the design, implementation and review of the Goals. “We must ensure that young people can acquire skills for work and life, as well as skills, values and attitudes for peaceful co-existence,” she said. “It is simply unacceptable that millions of young people around the world remain unemployed.” Investing in capacity-building and training can prepare young people for the labour market, today and tomorrow. Intergenerational justice and partnerships are also fundamental. Young women and girls also face immense barriers to opportunity, she said, underscoring the need for “safe and secure” spaces in which they can thrive.
Mr. RYDER shared the results of the latest ILO conference which marked the one-hundredth anniversary of the organization’s founding and enjoyed participation by 34 Heads of State and Government. “They came to reaffirm the importance of the mandate,” he said, pointing to the ILO’s vibrant and enormous role in an evolving global community, with its adoption of a declaration banning violence and harassment in the workplace. This serves as a strong reaffirmation of the social justice mandate the ILO was given 100 years ago. It acknowledges successes, looks at where the ILO stands today, and most importantly, where it should go. “The right of everyone to a world of work free of abuses has never become been articulated in such a treaty,” he said. The next step is for Member States to ratify it.
Introduction of reports
ELLIOTT HARRIS, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, introduced the Secretary-General’s report titled, “Long-term of current trends in the economic, social and environmental areas on the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals” (document E/2019/66). “We hope this first report can add value to the process,” he said, noting its emphasis on inequality, like poverty, as a multidimensional phenomenon. Indeed, economic growth has masked growing inequalities in many countries, while the gap between rich and poor, urban and rural communities, continues to widen. Conversely, equality, inclusion and empowerment are all related to political participation, and the report describes participation as highly important for strengthening democracy and transitioning to more egalitarian societies. Comprehensive pro-equality public policy therefore must be integrated into broader development frameworks. While technology holds incredible potential, it also carries significant risks to autonomy and privacy, he said, cautioning that rapid technological change also has been linked to widening income inequality. He noted various demographic trends, asserting particularly that an ageing workforce may be challenged to keep up with innovation and a changing labour market. As more than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, he said that for urbanization to be beneficial, policies must focus on the housing and education needs of the urban poor, as well as on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Climate change is a global challenge but its adverse effects are distributed unequally,” he said. The cost of inaction is much higher than the cost of ambitious action.
JOSE ANTONIO OCAMPO, Chair of the Committee for Development Policy, presented the Committee’s report from its twenty-first session (document E/2019/33), stressing that not only are people left behind, they are being “pushed behind”. With a little more than a decade left to implement the 2030 Agenda, Governments must examine how rules are set and policy is made. Development strategies and polices must acknowledge and respond to the multi-dimensional nature of inequality. While the multilateral system must adapt to an evolving global landscape, it is still important to defend the basic principle of multilateralism. The next decade will be crucial for least developed countries, as too many of them still risk being left behind. The new Programme of Action for those countries must be fully aligned with the 2030 Agenda, he said, noting that the lack of progress in many least developed countries is due to a lack of capacity. The availability of data remains essential as does strengthening accountability. He also cautioned that most least developed countries, even those close to graduating from that category, remain highly vulnerable to economic shocks.
TOMMY ESANG REMENGESAU, JR., President of Palau, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Small Island Developing States and associating himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, reported mixed progress on the four Goals under review. With access to education improving, the focus is now on better learning in schools and on building institutions of higher education. Pacific economies are growing thanks in part to fisheries and tourism, but vast distances and vulnerabilities to external shock are a concern. Goal 13 (climate action) is most critical for the region, requiring greater ambition and implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Building resilience is at the core of sustainable development planning, with regional leaders adopting a framework for an integrated approach to climate and disaster risk and local communities drawing on traditional knowledge for solutions. He appealed for greater ambition to be shown at the Climate Action Summit in September, underscoring the need for financing that is fit for purpose, including the fulfilment of ODA commitments and replenishment of the Green Climate Fund. Access criteria must consider vulnerability to the effects of climate change and natural disasters, while partnerships must meet people’s needs and support national development priorities. He went on to call for a United Nations development system that is agile and responsive to Member States, applauding the Secretary-General’s decision to set up a dedicated multi-country review office in the northern Pacific.
EPSY CAMPBELL BARR, Vice President of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Group of Middle-Income Countries, urged Governments to submit inclusive voluntary national reviews and to develop strong sustainable development plans. “Economic growth is not the same as sustainable development,” she said, noting that the label of middle-income countries does not adequately capture the situation of those countries, which are home to 73 per cent of the world’s poor and suffer challenges in all dimensions of sustainable development. Many have difficulties in accessing energy, dealing with the effects of climate change and promoting sustainable urbanization. Several also suffer high levels of economic inequality. Soon, many middle-income countries will graduate from their current access to financing, meaning that the resources available to them for sustainable development will soon drop. The United Nations should work out a new strategy, in cooperation with those nations and other States, to assess sustainable development levels beyond per capita income. She also underlined the important roles to be played by North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation.
RIYAD MANSOUR, observer of the State of Palestine, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, stressed the need to speed efforts and mobilize resources to ensure the Agenda’s implementation. Expressing deep concern that 6 per cent of the world’s population could be living in extreme poverty in 2030, he said ending poverty and hunger is essential. The Group calls for urgent global action to address climate change, in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement, by shifting financial flows in ways that limit global warming to less than 1.5°C. Reaffirming the importance of addressing the diverse needs of developing countries, he said greater attention must be given to the poorest and most vulnerable, and that full and productive employment must be an international objective. Sustainable financing options, global partnerships and long-term investments are also needed, alongside full respect for the Charter of the United Nations and international law, including the right to self-determination, including by those living under colonial and foreign occupation. He expressed regret that the Forum will be unable to come up with an intergovernmentally agreed outcome this year, adding that the problem should be addressed during its next four-year cycle.
NEVEN MIMICA, Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development of the European Commission of the European Union, said the bloc’s recently released “Towards a Sustainable Europe by 2030” report shows that its members continue to make progress on the Goals. However, more must be done, and the ongoing green transition must be made inclusive, fair and leave no on behind. In 2019, the European Union and its member States also produced their first joint synthesis report on collective progress, achieved alongside other countries, to help nations around the world implement the 2030 Agenda. To reduce inequalities, the European Union promotes public policies that better share the benefits of economic growth. It also promotes coherence between the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, works to bolster gender equality, advocates human rights and builds on growing global interest on sustainable investment. Noting that the bloc is the world’s largest ODA provider — having provided nearly €75 billion in 2016 alone — he said 26 out of its 28 member States have presented voluntary national reviews and support efforts by other nations to do the same.
MMAMOLOKO KUBAYI-NGUBANE, Minister for Tourism of South Africa, speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, and associating herself with the Group of 77, expressed regret that despite expectations, the world economy will expand by 3 per cent annually, with progress uneven across regions and countries. Given that the investment requirements for Africa to realize the 2030 Agenda is estimated at more than $600 billion a year — about one third the continent’s GDP — she called for accelerated technology transfer, increased public and private investment in critical sectors, and the creation of decent work opportunities. Citing the African Union’s comprehensive 10-year education strategy, she said more investments are also required to meet targets in that arena. Pointing out that Africa is among the regions most impacted by climate change yet has the least capacity to deal with that threat, she outlined the continent’s many efforts and partnerships in that regard, as well as its governance architecture and peace and security architecture. She advocated support for regional efforts to expand domestic resource mobilization — including through a broadened tax base, eliminating tax avoidance loopholes and combating illicit financial flows.
MARTHA DELGADO, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs for Multilateral Affairs of Mexico, speaking on behalf of MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia), said the integrated nature of the Goals requires a multi-stakeholder response at all levels. “We must strengthen partnerships with a broad range of actors, including civil society, the private sector and academia,” she asserted. The private sector is essential for creating jobs and must use the Goals as a framework for addressing complex future challenges. “We must join forces to mobilize the resources required,” she stressed, reaffirming that public and private investments are essential. Recognizing that technological change is quickly advancing and underscoring its positive transformative potential, she underscored the pressing need to address inequalities and focus on the poorest and most vulnerable. Progress on reducing inequalities has been uneven across regions — imbalances which push the goals of ending poverty and creating decent jobs for all further from reach. She noted the crucial contributions of women and girls, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities and migrants to achieving the Goals. Speaking in her national capacity, she described various initiatives Mexico is carrying out to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, stressing: “The 2030 Agenda should be part of all our daily activities.”
JUAN PABLO DE LAIGLESIA GONZALEZ DE PEREDO, Secretary of State for International Cooperation and for Latin America and the Caribbean of Spain, speaking on behalf of the LGBTI Core Group, said the 2030 Agenda can only be achieved if stakeholders offer support to all people — including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons across the world, without discrimination. It is essential to ensure justice for all, he reiterated, expressing support for the mandate of the Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. “We must put an end to the multiple forms of violence and discrimination faced by LGBTI persons,” he declared, emphasizing that policy must be tailored to respect the rights of all people.
THANI THONGPHAKDI (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and associating himself with the Group of 77, said that under his country’s chairmanship this year, ASEAN has prioritized the “sustainability of things” under the theme of advancing partnership for sustainability. Summarizing progress made, he said ASEAN is promoting cooperation in such areas as the creation of better social safety nets. The bloc is also strengthening its capacity to address the growing challenges of natural disasters and climate change through its One ASEAN One Response commitment. In terms of environmental sustainability, ASEAN leaders recently adopted a declaration on combating marine debris, he said, adding that the region is committed to enhancing regional connectivity and deepening cooperation to bridge digital divides, while reaping benefits of the fourth industrial revolution.
The representative of Argentina, speaking on behalf of the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies Group, said the latter brings together Governments and other stakeholders around a people-centred vision for accelerating the implementation of the “Goal 16+” targets: 12 targets from Goal 16 as well as 24 targets from seven other Goals that relate directly to peace, justice and inclusion. Noting that the first four years of implementation have seen some progress in those areas, she said greater ambition is still needed. More than half a million people die annually from violence, and half of the world’s children and at least a third of its women are victims of violence. Meanwhile, more than 5 billion people — two thirds of the global population — lack access to justice, while corruption and illicit financial flows threaten economies and societies, undermining democracy and the rule of law. Also citing such challenges as child marriage, female genital mutilation, modern slavery, poor governance and rising inequality, he outlined the group’s efforts related to building peaceful, just and inclusive societies and in strengthening global partnerships in those areas.
PERKS MASTER CLEMENCY LIGOYA (Malawi), speaking on behalf of the Group of Least Developed Countries and associating himself with the Group of 77, said that of the 47 States presenting their voluntary national reviews in 2019, 11 are least developed countries. While some progress has been registered, more must be done in several underperforming areas and sectors. In particular, he said, “every single document is telling us that climate change is significantly jeopardizing the development efforts of our countries”. Meanwhile, more than 35 per cent of the population of least developed countries lives in extreme poverty, undernourishment is on the rise and half their population lives without access to electricity. In least developed countries, there is only one medical doctor per 1,000 people. However, the least progress of all has been seen in implementing Goal 17 (partnerships), causing serious development setbacks. Bilateral ODA fell again in 2018 by 3 per cent, least developed countries remain unable to meaningfully participate in global trade and five of the seven nations in debt distress are least developed countries. These nations and their development partners must bolster efforts to accelerate the 2030 Agenda’s implementation, which must be underpinned by finance and technology. Historical commitments by development partners must be delivered, he added.
COURTNEY RATTRAY (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Group of Friends for Children and the Sustainable Development Goals, shared examples of how investments pay dividends. For example, vaccinating children not only saves 2 to 3 million lives per year, but every dollar spent on childhood immunizations yields $44 in economic benefits. Supporting family-friendly policies like paid paternal leave benefits not only families, but helps companies to be more productive and profitable. Protecting children from violence is not only a moral imperative and their right; it is the very foundation for peaceful communities and countries. These investments must include all children, especially those living in poverty, those belonging to ethnic and racial minority groups, children with disabilities, children without parental care, and migrant, refugee and internally displaced children. “Children are not only beneficiaries but are also agents of change,” he stressed, urging Member States to recommit to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Climate change, rapid urbanization, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, protracted conflict and humanitarian crises, forced displacement and digitalization have all profoundly changed what it means to be a child, he added. Therefore, children must be at the centre of international development efforts.