29 November 2021

World at ‘a Breakdown or Breakthrough Moment’, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Geneva Summit, Calling for Urgent Action on 2030 Agenda, Paris Agreement

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the Building Bridges Summit, in Geneva today:

It is a real pleasure to be with you today at this summit to kick-start Building Bridges Week, and I hope that we can do it solidly.  We are meeting at a tumultuous time.

COVID-19 continues to put really deep stresses on our societies and economies.  The pandemic exposed long-ignored fragilities and deep-rooted inequalities.  Within just a few months, it reversed painstaking progress towards our Sustainable Development Goals, with the most vulnerable suffering most.

The interconnected impacts of the pandemic — on health, education, gender, environment — only reinforce the relevance of the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] and its promise to transform our world for people, prosperity and planet.  Yet six years since its adoption, it is clear we are far from achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.  We picked a fight with nature, and now it is fighting back.  COP26 [the twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Glasgow saw new commitments, pledges and actions.  They are all welcome steps, but they are still not enough.

We need more ambition, more action, more scale and greater urgency to deliver on the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement — and we certainly need more fuel, more financial resources and more investments.

Sustainable investment strategies and markets are attracting more capital than ever.  This positive trend has been driven in part by growing recognition that investing in the Sustainable Development Goals is not just the right thing, but the smart thing to do.

The potential upside is enormous — just consider:  According to the World Bank, investing in inclusive, sustainable economies could yield a direct economic gain of $26 trillion through 2030.  Transitioning to a circular economy that reduces, reuses and recycles materials could create 6 million jobs over the same time horizon.  The list goes on, but the essential point is clear:  we are at a breakdown or breakthrough moment.

But while investments in the Sustainable Development Goals are attracting more money than ever, we need to pick up the pace and go to scale.  This is a challenge that Governments and the broader public and private sector cannot meet alone.

This is where Building Bridges comes in — bringing together diverse groups from the finance industry, international organizations, civil society, Governments and the United Nations, to collaborate around a common vision.

Investments in sustainable development must be integrated — just as the challenges we are trying to solve are integrated.  For this to happen, we need everyone to work in unison.  But to work together, we are going to have to understand each other.  And to understand each other, we need to speak the same language and engage one another and not past each other.

The good news is that we already have a shared narrative — or linguistic bridge — in the 2030 Agenda.  But we still face a mismatch of metrics and languages between diplomacy and business; public and private actors.

The 2030 Agenda takes a holistic and integrated approach to the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.  It gives businesses a benchmark — and investors a scorecard — for sustainability.

Only by aligning all investment decisions with all Sustainable Development Goals will we be able to fully anticipate systemic risks for businesses, Governments and society.  Succinctly put:  the more we invest with foresight, the less we regret with hindsight.

The United Nations has been accelerating Sustainable Development Goals-aligned financing through several major initiatives anchored in the Secretary-General’s “Roadmap for Financing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” — notably the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance and the United Nations Global Compact CFO [Chief Financial Officers] Taskforce for the Sustainable Development Goals.

We need the private sector and its leadership to unlock resources for key transitions in sustainable energy and connectivity, food systems, health, education, social protection and digitalization.  Innovative instruments, including blended finance, can all play an important role, but we need to massively scale up delivery.

We need the private sector to continue to increase transparency and accountability — and do more to combat illicit financial flows and corruption.  And we need the private sector to use their influence, their leadership to promote sustainable government action.  This is what I believe Building Bridges is all about:  to raise ambition, to foster the dialogue that we need, deepen cooperation and deliver results for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Geneva is uniquely positioned to advance this collaboration and unlock financial resources that would be needed.  The birthplace of multilateralism and home to a rich ecosystem of international organizations, civil society actors and a vibrant financial sector, Geneva is the world’s hub to build partnerships for the 2030 Agenda.

As you engage this week, you have a unique opportunity — and I might say the responsibility — to showcase how Building Bridges for sustainable finance can be replicated beyond Geneva and used as a blueprint for others to emulate.  And so, this is the moment that we should seize to align finance to the Sustainable Development Goals.  Together, we can make ‘Building Bridges’ a movement that accelerates progress for humanity.

Finally, let me just say that in this room we do have the leadership, we have the expertise and we have the tools.  Never before have we been able to do so much.

Yet, the truth is that the trust deficit is widening in our world.  We have not been able to rise to the ask of solidarity in our global response for the pandemic, and today we’re seeing yet another variant.  Until everyone gets the vaccine, we will all be at risk, and we will not be able to take the Sustainable Development Goals to where they ought to be by 2030.

Finance has not been available.  For many, the health pandemic has been a tragedy, particularly in developed countries, but for developing countries it has a socioeconomic impact that will take so much longer to recover from.  We need the urgency of the investments in climate action, which will have multiplier effects on the Sustainable Development Goals.  And we need the technology to move that fast.

What I might ask is what will it take for us to fill that gap, what will it take for us to find the solutions, and not the reasons for why we cannot do it.  For sure, there is a risk in everything that we do when we invest, but this time we are talking about our home.  Individually and collectively, after your 9 to 5 job, you belong to the 7.5 billion on this Earth.  And so, it is an obligation to think about what difference you can make with the job you have from 9 to 5 in looking at the planet we live in, in looking at our home.

I think in this room that we do have the power, what we need to ask ourselves is can we connect that with leadership?  And can that leadership deliver for us a 1.5°C world?  I believe that we can, but we must find it within the leadership to use that power to do so.

For information media. Not an official record.