Dublin Castle

07 September 2018

Deputy Secretary-General’s keynote speech at the Resurge Conference [as delivered]

It is a great pleasure to be back in Ireland once again. 

Ireland is a force for good on the global stage, reflecting the generous, warm and can-do spirit of the Irish people. We could use a little more of that spirit in our world, and I am glad to experience it myself here in Dublin today. 

President Higgins, it is an inspiration as ever to hear your thoughts on global issues. Your moral clarity on the historical evolution of our global development system and your analysis of the power dynamics at the root of many of our challenges is illuminating and instructive for us all.

The Secretary-General sends his warmest greetings to all, and I join him in congratulating Concern Worldwide on its 50th anniversary. 

Since your founding, you have taken your mission around the world, helping the poorest and making real improvements to people’s lives. You still believe in that mission, and so do we at the United Nations. Our core values unite us and this is why I am here with you today. I thank everyone who has worked with you to alleviate hunger, to reduce poverty and to bring hope and dignity to some of the poorest people in the world. 

How typical of your commitment to the most vulnerable that you are marking your 50th anniversary with this conference dedicated to breaking the cycle of violent conflict, hunger, and human suffering.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Since 2010, the number of major violent conflicts has tripled. Today’s wars last much longer than in the past, with outright military victories harder to achieve and negotiated settlements more difficult to reach. And trans-national groups designated as terrorists show no signs of being quelled.

These conflicts are causing untold human suffering.

The annual global appeal to meet humanitarian needs around the world stands at a record high of $25.4 billion – to support over 200million people.

Violations of international humanitarian law have become routine with hospitals and ambulances regularly targeted; civilians imprisoned and tortured; and the killing and kidnapping of aid workers becoming all too common.

Displacement levels are also at their highest since the end of World War II. Some 40 million people have been internally displaced by conflict. Some 28.5 million are refugees and asylum seekers, vulnerable people who frequently face violence, exploitation and discrimination – both on their journey to safety and, regrettably, in host countries too. 

And, hunger has also increased. Looming famine in the past several years has put the lives of more than twenty million people at risk across four conflict and drought-affected countries, in Northern Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. Ireland knows better than most that famine is never inevitable, but rather the consequences of inaction, poor policies and negligent governance. While persistent advocacy and concerted global efforts have helped avert widespread famine in these countries for the time being, the situation remains dire. 

This human suffering is unconscionable.

We – the international community and all those who care about  dignity, justice and equality – are failing the world’s most vulnerable.

What’s worse, we are seeing an unprecedented weakening of commitment to the kind of cooperation that can end this suffering and prevent it into the future.

What we urgently need, therefore, as you have rightly termed it, is a resurgence of humanity. The good news is that we have the global frameworks in place around which to mobilize that resurgence.

The agreements of 2015 – the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Climate Agreement, and the Addis Ababa Financing Agenda represent a universal roadmap for prosperity and peace on a healthy planet.

These agreements crystalize the aspirations of people across the world.  They capture the journey we must collectively travel between now and 2030. And if implemented effectively, they can allow us to tackle head on the root causes of today’s conflict, displacement and human suffering, among them failed institutions, gender discrimination, degraded environments, widening inequality, the impacts of climate change, and the absence of hope and opportunity for the millions of young people deprived of quality education, decent jobs and self-esteem.

Since taking office in January 2017, Secretary-General Guterres has prioritized a number of key tasks that we believe will help the international community to turn those frameworks into action, particularly in the world’s most fragile contexts.

First, the Secretary-General, as mentioned by the President, has called for a surge of diplomacy and a renewed effort to both end ongoing conflicts and to engage more proactively to prevent those that are threatening to break out. 

There is much we can learn from the island of Ireland history about how best to achieve such objectives.

The Good Friday Agreement taught us that to end conflict, we must create space for dialogue, we must establish trust, and both political parties and people must show courage and compromise.

Some 20 years later, the Northern Irish experience also demonstrates that to sustain peace, we must pay constant attention.

Compromise cannot be a one-off. It must assume centre stage, as part of daily political discourse. And over time, initial feelings of hope and relief must evolve into concrete experiences of economic opportunity for all , respect and tolerance. 

Second, the Secretary-General has called for greater investment in building and sustaining peace in countries affected by crisis and fragility.

Quite apart from the horrendous human costs, the financial burden of responding to crises has become unsustainably high. A joint study conducted by the United Nations and the World Bank estimates that effective prevention would save anything from $5 billion to $70 billion per year for the affected country and the international community combined.

We have some effective tools, such as the Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund, to direct funding to difficult and risky causes in a timely way, and to catalyze other investments. And we very much appreciate Ireland’s long-standing contributions to the fund. 

Yet securing adequate, sustainable, flexible, predictable and coherent investment in development in fragile contexts is easier said than done. 

Recently, I visited Chad, Niger and South Sudan. Wherever we went, it was clear that without rapid and sustained investment, pockets of stability will disappear, and conflicts will continue to spread. 

We must find ways to steer greater public and private investment towards countries and areas where the needs and risks are greatest.  And we must do so rapidly.

All donors must find the political will to reach the 0.7% overseas aid commitment – an expression of your compassion and responsibility; an investment in the stability and prosperity upon which increasingly inter-dependent national economies depends.

A third area of focus is on people. All of us working in international cooperation must make a difference for the people affected by conflict, hunger and displacement. They are not numbers, or data.  

They are individuals in need: children, mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They are humanity, appealing to our humanity to deliver on their rights.

Putting people at the centre of our response means the days of top-down aid and support are over. It means engaging with and empowering all sectors of society, and making sure they are empowered as leaders and decision-makers. 

It should go without saying that women must have an equal voice with men and must be involved at all levels in conflict prevention, mediation, peacemaking and peacebuilding.  We have long known that women are – with all due respect, gentlemen – the better peacebuilders. They have a stake in investing in the futures of their children, and they are more likely to push for an end to conflict and violence.  

Young people clearly have a stake in the future.  But the “Missing Peace” study on youth, peace and security, presented to the Security Council in April this year, also underscored that young people are critical peacebuilders right now.  We need to support and empower young women and men as positive agents of change.

Fourth, ending and preventing conflict and realizing the 2030 Agenda demands a re-think of how we undertake humanitarian, peacebuilding and development work and I know this will be a significant focus here today. 

We must not forget that the three pillars of our work – sustainable development, peace and human rights – are critically inter-dependent.  

Yet, often the incentives to act collaboratively, to cross siloes and work together, are lacking.  This must change.

Development actors need to be part of the prevention agenda earlier on, providing support to national and regional mechanisms. Humanitarian and development actors need to take a conflict-sensitive approach, based on an understanding of underlying tensions, that recognizes the potential for politicization. And Human rights must become the steel thread throughout.

Joint analysis, programme planning and implementation must be guided by collective objectives and the 2030 Agenda, and translated into coherent and context-specific strategies.

We must also ensure there is a shared understanding of risk – whether related to conflict, natural disasters or disease – across all partners, including and beyond the UN system, and that risk is addressed jointly and coherently.

Finally, if we are to have any hope of preventing further conflict and suffering, of realizing the 2030 Agenda, we must get a grip on climate change. 

For over 40 years now, we have been warned about the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change and today we are seeing those impacts in real time particularly in a number of already fragile environments.

With the Paris Agreement, we had a major breakthrough, yet the transition to a low-carbon resilient economies and the availability of climate support for developming countries is still not happening fast enough. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

The United Nations is not just aware of the changes that are needed. We are taking urgent steps to ensure we can make the maximum contribution possible.

The Secretary-General has brought forward important reforms on peace and security, management, development and gender parity.

By re-positioning the UN development system, for example, UN member states have embraced a shift that will empower our Resident Coordinators to create and leverage integrated context-specific support for Governments and people.

The Secretary-General is also seeking to galvanize climate action and raise ambition so that our 2030 goal of maintaining global temperature rise well below 2degrees can be met. 

And, next week, he will announce details of the build-up to a major Climate Summit that he will convene in September 2019. 

Member states are also responding – particularly in the area of human mobility with two new Global Compacts on Refugees and for Migration. 

The Irish people know only too well that those fleeing war, persecution or famine must be given a safe haven; and that safe, orderly and managed migration can enrich societies and drive economic development. These global agreements are fundamental to the success of our 2030 Agenda transformation. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

To deliver a resurgence of humanity, we need all partners – civil society, private sector, international organizations and government – to adjust to the new realities that are causing greater conflict, displacement and human suffering, to embrace the framework of the 2030 Agenda.

Concern Worldwide is playing an important part. You are helping to build better lives from the ground up, in a holistic way that takes account of the multi-dimensional causes of poverty. 

The United Nations is grateful for your continued efforts and I would like to pay homage to your co-founder, Mr John O’Loughlin Kennedy, who is with us today.

We are also grateful for the commitment of the people and government of Ireland across all areas of our work. Your contributions range from Irish official aid programmes, the long-standing deployment of Irish peacekeepers, Irish leadership in UN forums, the compassion and committment of Irish Non-Governmental Organizations and the service of many dedicated Irish staff and volunteers at all levels of our organization.   

In these difficult times, our collective capacity to prevent conflict and achieve inclusive and sustainable development depends on the solidary, engagement and investment of all nations. 

Ireland’s support for multilateral solutions is more important than ever. Ireland has always shown that small states can make a big difference. 

We look forward to continuing to work hand in hand with you to advance our common goals of humanity, dignity and solidarity.   

Thank you.