Beirut, Lebanon

09 April 2019

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at the opening session of the Arab Forum on Sustainable Development [as prepared for delivery]

It is my great pleasure to be here today. I thank the Government of Lebanon for its warm welcome and hospitality.
 
This year, participating in all Regional Forums, across all five regions, is a priority for me.
 
2019 is a defining year for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the regional forums pave the way for our first stocktaking on the SDGs during the General Assembly in September.
 
This region has a key role to play.
 
It is firmly rooted in a shared cultural, linguistic and historical heritage.
 
Its youth, economic growth, vast financial resources, digital infrastructure, innovative technologies and active private sector present boundless potential and opportunities.
 
And despite the painful effects of crisis and conflicts, I am encouraged to see the persistent commitment of the countries of the region to achieving the 2030 Agenda.
 
Sixteen out of 22 Arab countries have now undertaken or are preparing Voluntary National Reviews, assessing progress, highlighting gaps and identifying measures required to accelerate progress on the SDGs.
 
Governments are also aligning their national development plans with the 2030 Agenda, ensuring greater coordination on SDG implementation across ministries and departments.
 
We are witnessing commitment and engagement on highly strategic and critical issues such as climate change and migration.
 
We are seeing regional and national initiatives encouraging young people to optimize their talents through small- and medium-sized enterprises, innovation labs and entrepreneurship.
 
Women have greater access to leadership positions than ever before.
 
Egypt and Morocco each have eight women Ministers.  Here in Lebanon, four women Ministers currently sit in the Government, and I commend the Prime Minister for expressing his ambition to reach gender parity in the future.
 
I also note with great hope that 60 per cent of the region’s population is under the age of 30.
 
I am impressed and inspired by how young people are engaging in peace and reconstruction processes in countries affected by conflict.
 
This is one of the most powerful messages of the 2030 Agenda: no matter where you are born, or how marginalized your community is today – the world is determined to carry everyone along in our journey to 2030 and leave no one behind.
 
Excellencies,
 
I encourage you to take advantage of the discussions today to address a few fundamental questions.
 
Who are the “no-ones” that we pledge to not leave behind? What determines their exclusion?
 
What does it mean to feel included – or excluded? 
 
Are we doing enough, collectively, to empower all members of our human family? 
 
These are not theoretical questions confined to conference rooms in New York, Beirut or elsewhere.
 
These are real-life dilemmas for billions around the world, who look at the 2030 Agenda with hope for a better future.
 
And let us be frank: We are not on track to deliver on the ambitions we set for ourselves. The data starting to emerge indicate that the world needs a significant step up in action and investment if we are to achieve the SDGs.
 
In the Arab region, as in many other regions, countries and communities are struggling to tackle an expanding list of challenges including insufficient growth, unemployment, inequality, climate change and natural disasters.
 
Waves of displacement are a daily -- and often devastating -- reminder of the shrinking opportunities for a dignified life for so many.
 
Today, one in four children in the Arab region experiences acute poverty.
 
One quarter of those aged 5 to 17 are not enrolled in school or have fallen two grades behind.
 
Women still face high barriers to enter the labor market and are at a higher risk of unemployment than men.
 
Among young women, unemployment rates are the highest in the world, at 48 per cent.
 
The region has the fewest laws protecting women from domestic violence of any region in the world.
 
The Arab region is also home to 14 of the world’s 20 most water-stressed countries.
 
Rapid urbanization, expected to exceed 68 per cent by 2050, is putting pressure on energy and other natural resources, and 28 per cent of all residents in the region are living in slums or informal settlements.
 
Conflict in the region not only exacerbates these challenges but creates new ones.
 
Large-scale losses of life, destruction of infrastructure -- in some instance entire cities – as well as displacement and ensuing humanitarian crises are only some of the consequences.
 
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
Equitable, inclusive and sustainable development is the surest way to avert such tragedies.
 
And there are abundant examples in this region that point the way forward for empowerment and inclusion.
 
Our shared challenge is to increase ambition and accelerate implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
 
Allow me to highlight three drivers of the transformation we seek.  First, we need to break down the silos that constrain policy action across sectoral lines. 
 
The paradigm shift ushered in by the 2030 Agenda is not complete.
 
We have not yet fully transitioned from the Millennium Development Goals into the era of the SDGs.
 
For example, addressing climate change is not only about preventing catastrophic events; reducing the use of fossil fuels also has direct and immediate benefits on health.  We must recognize the interdependence of these issues and act on them in a holistic way.  Second, we need to match intentions with finance -- both public and private.
 
We are still far from the “trillions” that are required to achieve the SDGs everywhere, for everyone.
 
The Secretary-General’s Strategy for Financing the 2030 Agenda sets out his vision to, together with the UN system, support countries mobilize the investments needed to meet their national SDG targets.
 
Third, we must take partnerships to the next level.
 
We will not achieve the 2030 Agenda – nor win the race against climate change – without involving all sectors of society towards our common goals.  
 
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
As you take these steps, you can count on the United Nations to continue to transform the way it operates and better support your efforts.  The Secretary-General is leading a wide-ranging reform of the United Nations, placing prevention at the center and ensuring that the Organization is better positioned to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
 
We have a roadmap for change and clear, ambitious mandates from the UN General Assembly.
 
And we are moving forward at full speed.
 
We know many of you are already engaged with UN Country Teams to advance these reforms and promote change on the ground.
 
At the end of this process, you can expect to see more cohesive, effective and accountable UN Country Teams.
 
We want to adapt more closely to the priorities and needs of each developing country, with an empowered leader for development, with much better coordination.
 
Resident Coordinators will be critical to systematically leverage the vast expertise and many assets of the United Nations – including in our Regional Economic Commissions and specialized agencies.
 
We are currently reviewing these regional assets, with the aim of maximizing our impact.
 
The review is about designing tailor-made approaches for each region. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Each region is unique.  
 
We need a 21st-century architecture that responds to the ambitious demands of the 2030 Agenda.
 
On January 1st of this year, we crossed a major milestone in the reform process with the creation of an independent and empowered system to coordinate all development activities of the United Nations.
 
Previously, Resident Coordinators served simultaneously as the Representatives of the UN Development Programme.
 
Now they dedicate their full attention to the coordination, policy and partnerships needs of the SDGs.
 
And UNDP can focus fully on its important development mandate, and reassert its role as a thought leader that is so deeply valued. 
 
Yesterday, I met with Resident Coordinators from the region, who are here to engage in these regional discussions and return to their countries and teams with new tools to support you.
 
I know they are excited to proceed in this journey with you.
 
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
The clock is ticking on the 2030 Agenda, and the true test of our reforms will be results in each country.
 
It is our collective responsibility to show greater urgency and to act now.
 
I know that we have both the energy and the leadership in this conference room to make it happen.
 
In that spirit of partnership and shared endeavor, I wish you all the best for a successful forum.
 
Thank you.