Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks at the opening of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, in Beijing today:
Convened by President Xi Jinping, we come together at this Forum on the Belt and Road in the face of uncertainty and unease around the globe. I want to recognize China for its central role as a pillar of international cooperation and multilateralism. This gathering today reflects that commitment in these turbulent times.
Inequality, the climate crisis and the potential risks of globalization and the fourth Industrial Revolution are creating deep levels of public anxiety. These global challenges are compounded by darkening economic prospects, triggered by new obstacles in world trade, heightened financial volatility, rising levels of debt and political uncertainties. Even the very notion of international cooperation — an essential component in our inter-dependent world — is under fire.
Now allow me, in this context, to express two main concerns I have as Secretary-General of the United Nations. First, the 2030 Agenda — our globally agreed plan for people, peace, planet and prosperity — on current trends, will only be halfway towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by the target date of 2030. Financial resources available for the developing world, for developing countries, to reach those Goals are far from being enough today.
Second, climate change is running faster than we are. I have repeatedly called it the defining issue of our time. Climate change poses an existential risk to all countries. We are seeing record highs in land and ocean temperatures, sea levels and greenhouse‑gas concentrations. Indeed, the last four years were the hottest on record. Natural disasters are wreaking havoc around the globe and the threats to public health are escalating. And the poor and vulnerable are the first to suffer and the worst hit.
But, while we face extreme challenges, we are also seeing promising trends. China’s leadership on climate action is helping to show the way. New renewable energy jobs in China now outnumber those created in the oil and gas industries. In 2017, China invested over $125 billion in renewable energy, an increase of at least 25 per cent over the previous year. And China’s new cutting-edge transmission line that sends electricity along a pathway 600 miles longer than anything built to date is a further potential boon for renewables. China also played a pivotal role in building bridges and securing an agreement at last December’s United Nations Climate Conference in Katowice — and will host next year’s second Global Sustainable Transport Conference.
Looking around the world, we also see more and more Governments, cities and businesses understanding that climate solutions are wise investments in an equitable, prosperous and sustainable future. And we now, looking ahead, are aware that at least 75 per cent of the infrastructure our world will need by the year 2050 has yet to be built. So, we have a unique opportunity to build a new generation of climate‑resilient and people-centred cities and transit systems, and energy grids that prioritize low emissions and sustainability.
But, that will require an urgent transformation in how we build our societies, power our cities and invest in our economies. The choices we make now are essential to put us on a low-carbon growth path that is sustainable and inclusive and will build resilience.
In the context I have just described, we absolutely need to come together and achieve two central objectives: first, a quantum leap in the mobilization of resources available for the developing world to implement the Sustainable Development Goals; and second, the capacity to stop runaway climate change. That is why I am convening a Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September, together with four other summit meetings during the high-level week of the United Nations General Assembly in September, covering different development-related strategies that will set the course for full implementation of the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
We must reimagine and rebuild our world in a way that works for everyone, brings women into the leadership of the economy of the future and expands the opportunities for young people. I am telling leaders: do not come to the summits with speeches; come with credible and ambitious plans. Now, it is in this context that the Belt and Road Initiative assumes remarkable and urgent importance. With the scale of its planned investments, it offers a meaningful opportunity to contribute to the creation of a more equitable, prosperous world for all, and to reversing the negative impact of climate change.
In moving forward, I would point to three very important opportunities that can be seized. First, the world will benefit from a Belt and Road Initiative that accelerates efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The five pillars of the Belt and Road — policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people exchanges — are intrinsically linked to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These are conceptual pillars that can be translated into real-life progress for all people.
United Nations country teams stand ready to support Member States in capacity- and governance-building, and in achieving a harmonious and sustainable integration of the Belt and Road projects in their own economies and societies in accordance with national development plans, anchored in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Second, the world needs to take profit of the Belt and Road Initiative to help close significant financing gaps for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in the developing world, in particular, the need for about $1 trillion needed for infrastructure investments in developing countries. This underlines the importance of economic growth that can generate inclusive, sustainable and durable social and environmental gains.
Third, I see the Belt and Road Initiative as an important space where green principles can be reflected in green action. Countries today not only require the physical roads and bridges to connect people and markets; they need roads and bridges from the unsustainable, fossil-fuelled grey economy to a clean, green, low-carbon energy future. Fully expanding our policy options for green and sustainable development backed by green financing instruments must become the new norm.
In these three areas and more, the United Nations is poised to support the alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative with the Sustainable Development Goals, to share knowledge, and to make the most of the opportunities of this large-scale initiative for maximum sustainable development dividends. Let us work together to restore trust by making good on the shared promise of the 2030 Agenda and our common commitment to leave no one behind.