20 October 2021

Ambitious Action to Get World Back on Track Can Secure Better Tomorrow for All, Says Deputy Secretary-General in Virtual University Lecture

Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohamed’s virtual lecture — “Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Realizing Youth Aspirations in a Disrupted World” — as prepared for delivery, to Sophia University, Tokyo, today:

It is a pleasure to be with you today.  Thank you, Chancellor [Tsutomu] Sakuma and President [Yoshiaki] Terumichi, for this wonderful opportunity to connect with all of you at Sophia University.

Many of you are no doubt joining today’s conversation with an eye to your own futures.  And I can understand if — looking both around and ahead — you see many reasons for anxiety and uncertainty.  From COVID-19 and the climate crisis to escalating inequalities and surging conflicts, it can all feel overwhelming.  When I think back to the time I finished my studies in the 1980s, I recall feeling enormous uncertainty.

We lived in a world still divided by the cold war.  The global economy was only just emerging from its deepest recession since the Second World War.  My own country, Nigeria, was ruled by military dictators.  Apartheid was the dark reality in South Africa.  And women suffered from discrimination in all countries and all areas of life — including being formally excluded from vast swathes of the labour market.

I will not pretend that we faced the same stresses as young people today.  For one thing, social media did not exist.  But, I will say that every generation faces challenges, risks and anxiety.  And every generation must forge their own path.  As we look to the future, I want you to know that we are neither helpless nor hopeless.  Together, and with the voices and engagement of young people front and centre, we can and must find a way through.

Here is why I am hopeful for the future:  first, because I already see your generation taking a better path than my own.  Whether on climate, racial justice, human rights or gender equality, your generation is challenging the status quo and driving change.  And second, because we have what it takes to create a better world in which we are one with nature and each other.  This is not naïve optimism; it is hopefulness rooted in fact.  The fact is that we have the knowledge, means and capacities to transform our world.

To begin with, we have a compass:  The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  Agreed to by all 193 United Nations Member States, they are our practical blueprint for the world we want — a world of dignity and opportunity for all on a safe and healthy planet.

Six years after their adoption, however, we are not on track to making the 2030 Agenda a reality — and COVID-19 has pushed us further off course.  The pandemic has shone a harsh light on risks we have long ignored:  weak health systems; lax social protection; and above all, the man-made climate crisis.  And yes, I use the term “man-made” for a reason.

The climate emergency has made it painfully clear that continuing with business as usual is not an option.  I believe the pandemic must be an inflection point that shifts our collective attention and action to building resilient, equitable and sustainable communities and economies.  As countries invest in recovery, they must not go back to failed models and broken systems that did not serve their people.

This calls for action in five key areas.  First, we must muster up the solidarity and international cooperation required to end the pandemic everywhere.  The Secretary-General and the World Health Organization (WHO) have just launched a Global COVID-19 Vaccination Strategy — a detailed plan of action designed to get vaccines into the arms of 40 per cent of people in all countries by the end of this year, and 70 per cent by the middle of 2022.

With vaccine production now at nearly 1.5 billion doses per month, this is possible — but only if we ensure that distribution is equitable.  For everyone’s sake, we must urgently bring all countries to a high level of vaccination coverage.

Second, we must safely expand social protection programmes.  Today, 4 billion people – more than half the world – face destitution if they lose their job or source of income.  Ensuring that they have protection is the single most effective measure we can take to end poverty and leave no one behind.

Third, to build resilience and reduce inequalities, we must ensure that quality essential services are available to everyone.  The pandemic revealed enormous inequities in access to clean water, sanitation, energy and key technologies.   Working to guarantee universal access to these services must be an integral part of the global recovery.

We need bold investments in everything from education to infrastructure to decent work – in particular for young people.  Japan has made significant contributions in this area, building up access to services in all regions of the world and boosting human security, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Fourth, we must accelerate the shift towards carbon-neutral, green societies.  This requires greater investments on multiple fronts:  to develop and implement low carbon solutions; to support industries and their workers affected by the transformation; and to build resilience against climate-related extreme weather events.  Japan’s leadership and innovation on climate action and disaster risk reduction is critical.

And so, too, is next month’s twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26) in Glasgow, which must put us back on track to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre‑industrial levels and avert climate catastrophe.

Fifth, we must build new partnerships for sustainable development, and commit to leave no one behind.  We must do more to help developing countries mobilize the resources they need to effectively respond to the pandemic, relaunch their economies and protect their people.  This requires ending the outrage of vaccine inequity; tackling debt distress and illicit financial flows; supporting more direct investments; and fulfilling official development assistance commitments.

Ambitious action in these five areas today can get the world back on track and secure a better world for all tomorrow.  We have the means and the knowledge. What we need is the political will.

Japan plays a critical role in all of this.  I want to express the gratitude of the United Nations for your country’s constructive engagement through the multilateral system and as a member of the Group of 20.

We need this engagement today more than ever.  And we particularly need your engagement — the engagement of young people.  The United Nations is committed to do all we can to ensure young people have a seat at the table and their voices heard.  This is also a key element of a landmark report we just released on the future of multilateralism.  It is called Our Common Agenda and I encourage you all to take a look.

I began by speaking about the anxiety many of you feel when looking at the world today.  We are undoubtedly at a grim moment.  But, I like to remember that, if someone had told me in 1985 that no country would use nuclear weapons for the next 35 years and counting, I would not have believed them.  Japan is a leading influence for global progress in the area of nuclear disarmament.  I hope you are all proud of your country’s work to remind the world that nuclear weapons must never be used.

One country can and does make a difference.  Indeed, one person can start a movement that makes a difference.  I urge you to continue to raise your voices.  Together, with your idealism, passion, creativity, commitment and indomitable spirit, we can create a better world and make the promise of the 2030 Agenda a reality.  I believe it because I believe in you.

For information media. Not an official record.