New York

19 December 2019

Deputy Secretary-General's Opening Remarks to Informal briefing to Member States on the Decade of Action [as prepared for delivery]

Thank you all for joining us for today’s informal briefing.

I am grateful that H.E. Ms. Mari Skåre, Chef de Cabinet of the President of the General Assembly, has also joined us.

2019 has been a busy and fruitful year; thank you all for your support and leadership. 

But before many of you depart for a well-deserved break, I wanted to engage you on a critical area for all of us in 2020: kickstarting the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.

September’s High-Level week of Summits and High-level meetings was encouraging. 

We saw leadership, ambition and solutions at the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit; a commitment to the most vulnerable at meetings on Small Island Developing States and Universal Health Coverage; and a determination to step up implementation at the SDG Summit and the Financing Dialogue. 

But High-Level week also provided a wake-up call, particularly from young people and civil society. Four years after the historic agreements of 2015, we are seeing growing awareness and pockets of progress but our collective efforts are not approaching the scale we need, if we are to deliver the SDGs by 2030. 

We have an enormous hill to climb.

That is why the Secretary-General issued a global call for a Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, and why you requested him, through the political declaration at the SDG Summit, to mobilize all actors for SDG action in the lead up to the Summit to mark the 75th anniversary of the UN, and to convene an SDG Moment each year during high level week.

The Secretary-General and I have consulted across the system and with stakeholders from civil society, business, the arts, academia and beyond. Today, I will share some of our initial thinking, and I look forward to hearing your views.

The 2030 Agenda is a universal roadmap for the world we all want and need. There has been some remarkable engagement over the past four years -- but we have not seen the deep transformative change that this Agenda requires. 

Across the world, people are expressing their frustration around issues that are central to the SDGs: inequality, the climate crisis, corruption, violence against women and more. 

The Decade of Action is an opportunity to respond to those concerns, to course correct, and to bring the SDG roadmap to life.

Above all, it is an opportunity to unleash a new wave of implementation efforts that will deliver for people and planet.

As we move forward, Governments must lead the way, working hand in hand with stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and beyond.

The Secretary-General will also prioritize the Decade of Action, with a special amplification around climate action and gender equality.

Based on our outreach thus far, we have identified three fronts on which to advance our work:

The first is mobilization.

The SDGs demand a transformation of economies, societies and human behavior. This will not happen unless people across the world are aware of the goals, see their own concerns in the Goals, and know what they can do to implement the Goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals are more widely recognized than the Millennium Development Goals were at the same point. But in some countries, the vast majority of young people do not see a connection between the SDGs and the issues they care about.

We must bring SDGs awareness, localization and activation, particularly youth activation, to another level. 

That means making a conscious effort to bridge the divisions that dominate global and national politics today.

It means thinking again about our narrative and our strategies; about the mediums and the messengers that can bring the SDGs to the wider world.

It means harnessing the power of the media, community leaders and local influencers that are setting the agenda online, in schools, in communities and at the dinner table.

It means strengthening our existing engagement at the national level with parliaments, business and local government, while building new relationships to expand our engagement.

It means empowering people to take action themselves, from starting their own sustainable businesses, to influencing consumer behavior on food, fashion or finance.

Above all, mobilization means connecting networks and movements to create an unstoppable force that pulls us all towards sustainable and inclusive development.

The United Nations can and will do more to support this mobilization, through strategic communications, and by leveraging the reach of the broader United Nations system and our country teams.

The second front for the Decade of Action is raising ambition.

No government can claim to be on track to meet the Goals by 2030.  Therefore, every government must aim higher. Every government must raise its ambition. 

The disappointing outcome of COP25 shows just how much we need to do. 

As the Secretary-General said, the international community missed an opportunity to show increased ambition in mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis. 

All must dig deeper to update and strengthen Nationally-Determined Contributions at COP 26 next November, and to turn these commitments into action. 

Several other important international meetings next year will address gender equality, biodiversity, the oceans and sustainable transport. They will all provide opportunities to demonstrate fresh commitment and increase ambition around the SDGs.

The Decade of Action can also inspire governments to review their broader national development plans and financing frameworks, ensuring that those plans and frameworks correspond to the magnitude of the change needed to deliver by 2030. 

The repositioned UN development system is now much better placed to accompany governments in these efforts, with empowered Resident Coordinators and a new generation of UN Country Teams. 

The upcoming review of the High-Level Political Forum and ECOSOC is also critical and could pave the way for a new wave of voluntary national reviews that showcase ambition and the milestones governments will pursue between now and 2030.

At the same time, all stakeholders, including business, cities, the finance community and others, must translated their existing SDG engagement into clear and measurable action to implement the 2030 Agenda. 

The United Nations mechanisms for engaging the private sector, local government and others, including Global Compact, Local 2030 and our extensive networks across the world, will be ready to coordinate, advise, convene and support. 

Accountability – to citizens, constituents and consumers – is an essential part of raising ambition. 
 
And here, we need to step up efforts around public engagement, transparency and data, strengthening national data systems and looking at ways to gauge our speed and direction of travel.

A third way to advance the Decade of Action is through solutions.

Since 2015, we have seen a wave of initiatives to support the SDGs. But too few of these have delivered concrete results at scale in the countries and communities that need it most.

We know that certain policy changes or specific breakthroughs around key challenges have the potential to catalyze progress on several SDGs simultaneously, at speed and at scale.

The Decade of Action must ensure that those changes and those breakthroughs are advanced as a matter of priority.

Game-changing solutions of this kind range from increasing access to finance for climate-vulnerable countries to equipping young people with skills for the future; from improving renewable energy-related battery technology to closing the digital connectivity divide.

The could also include developments ranging from creating a new consensus on sustainable food to removing fossil fuel subsidies; and from ensuring equal access for women to leadership positions in all spheres to strengthening the resilience of communities and people at significant risk of crises.

As we work to identify and action these solutions, we will take inspiration from the Global Sustainable Development Report, including the entry-points it highlights for transformative change. We will build on initiatives that are already underway, including the Secretary-General’s Strategy on Financing the 2030 Agenda. And we will draw on the mandates and capacities that exist across the UN system and beyond.

Assessing progress, highlighting success and identifying where we need to do more will be essential to the Decade of Action. 

This is precisely what we can achieve through the annual SDG Moment during high level week, called for in the political declaration of the SDG Summit.

Drawing on the best data, analytics, innovation and technology, the SDG Moment can provide a snapshot of what’s working and what’s not; where we need to step up; and how we can do so.

It can showcase the best SDG solutions adopted not just by governments but by the full breath of SDG stakeholders.

And by ensuring that the SDGs remain at the top of the political agenda, it can complement the much deeper engagement and analysis conducted annually by the ECOSOC High-level Political Forum.

In September 2020, we believe that the SDG Moment could be best convened either in conjunction with the high-level meeting to mark the UN’s 75th anniversary on 21 September or on the opening day of the General Debate on 22 September.

A meeting in conjunction with the 75th anniversary would highlight the essential role of the SDGs in achieving the future we want and the United Nations we need. 

However, I am aware that GA Resolution 73/299 regarding the 75th anniversary, captures member state concerns regarding the holding of intergovernmental meetings or side-events in parallel with the High-Level Meeting.

I therefore welcome your views and engagement on how best to take this forward.

This is the first meeting on the Decade of Action and the SDG moment.

We have much work to do.

I look forward to hearing your insights and perspectives, and to engaging with you in the months ahead as we mobilize, raise ambition and catalyze game-changing solutions for the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs. 

Thank you.