New York

27 February 2020

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks to the Meeting of the African Group [as prepared for delivery]


It is a pleasure to meet you all in the first quarter of 2020 – a year that is shaping up to be critical in our efforts to advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

I would like to begin by once again thanking you all for your consistent support to the Secretary-General and I over the past three years.

Together, we have taken some solid steps forward – whether in terms of reforms of the UN development system, delivering the Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit, or boosting the AU-UN relationship, not just on peace and security but also on sustainable development.

After all, sustainable and inclusive development is the most transformative pathway to achieve a future of peace, dignity and prosperity.

But we still have a great deal of work to do, if we are to meet the ambitions of our people, as captured in the agreements your delegations delivered in 2015.

Today’s meeting is an opportunity for an exchange of views and I look forward to hearing your perspectives and to responding to any questions you may have.

But allow me to first provide an update on where we stand on three key issues: the regional review process; the Decade of Action and Climate Change.


I returned just yesterday from the Africa Regional Forum for Sustainable Development in Zimbabwe, where I also participated in a special session of the Regional Coordination Mechanism and further discussed the transition into a new regional collaboration mechanism with the African Union, ECA and Regional Directors of the UN development system.

It was an inspiring few days and the appetite for better collaboration, for greater impact, was palpable.

It provided us with both valuable insights for advancing the final stage of the regional review in Africa while also reinforcing the sense that we must make the best of the unique window of opportunity that is currently available.

The regional review is indeed one of the most complex endeavours of the UN development system repositioning.

Your feedback is crucial to inform our direction of travel and I thank you for engaging in informal consultations on the regional review with the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Reforms, USG Wandel.

Repositioning the regional assets is a critical priority to ensure that the UN lifts its capacity to support the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063, moving from loose coordination and cooperation to true collaboration on challenges that transcend borders.

We continue to unpack the Secretary-General’s recommendations to provide further clarity region-by-region. I will brief the membership again on the regional review and the Multi-Country Office review tomorrow, 28 February.

But I already pleased to report that we have made progress on the development of solutions to restructure the regional assets of the United Nations in Africa to better support countries in accelerating the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, along with responding to regional, sub-regional or cross-border priorities.

Under the leadership of the ECA Executive Secretary and UNDP Regional Director for Africa, planning for the Secretary-General’s recommendations II-V in Africa, including the knowledge management hub, the SDG Gateway and in terms of efficient regional operations is at an advanced stage and ready to be rolled-out. System-wide Business Operations Strategies will be piloted in Nairobi, making this the first of its kind.

The Africa region has also taken a unique approach to the proposed issue-based coalitions as it focuses on challenges as well as opportunities. Seven such “opportunity issue-based coalitions” have been identified.[1] These are mapped to the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063, as well as to the AU-UN Development Framework. Co-conveners have initiated discussions to formulate the vision, scope, operational modalities, key deliverables, challenges, opportunities and roll out plans. This will include identifying which flagship initiatives will start in 2020-2021.

Let me reiterate that your feedback is key to informing the Secretary-General’s report on the QCPR to ECOSOC which will be released prior to the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment.

I am keen to conclude our discussions on the regional review at the ECOSOC Operational Activities Segment in May and look forward to continuing to engage with the Group to ensure that the UN’s regional assets are leveraged for accelerated action on the 2030 Agenda and Agenda 2063.

We look forward to your guidance and support to implement after discussions at the ECOSOC OAS.

I also look forward to engaging further with you on the next QCPR, to be adopted by the General Assembly in the final quarter of 2020.


The repositioned UN development system will serve as the backbone for the UN to step up our contribution throughout the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs.

As you will recall, in his address to the General Assembly in January, the Secretary-General identified the Decade of Action as a key response to the four horsemen that are threatening global peace and prosperity.

He noted that over the next ten years, we must generate much greater mobilization around the goals, much more ambitious decisions from governments, the private sector and others and SDG solutions that are capable of delivering change at the speed and scale that the Goals require.

Underpinning all of this will be a strong effort to further mobilize resources for sustainable development. Here, the rollout of integrated national financial frameworks will be essential. And I am confident that the Secretary-General’s new Envoys Mr. Mahmoud Mohieldin on Financing the 2030 Agenda and Mr. Mark Carney on Climate Finance, will also play a pivotal role.

Since January, there has been a strong response to the Secretary-General’s call from a range of stakeholders.

The Decade of Action was also a prominent focus in Zimbabwe these past few days and I intend to discuss it with States at each of the regional sustainable development forums.

The measure of success for the Decade of Action will be its ability to generate concrete improvements in people’s lives at the country-level and here, you can rely on the Resident Coordinator and the new generation of UNCTs to be your strong partner.

At the global level, together with UN agencies and partners, we are working to build out our work on mobilization, ambition and solutions.

We are also developing the scope and concept for the inaugural SDG Action Forum that the Secretary-General will convene - over 3 hours - on the afternoon of either Monday 21 or Tuesday 22 September.

The SDG Action Forum will be a strong complement to the ECOSOC HLPF and will help to bring the HLPF’s annual findings to the attention of world leaders and the external public.

We will place a keen emphasis on reaching new audiences and setting out a vision for realizing the Goals over the final ten years.

We will shortly be providing more information to Member States on the Decade of Action and the SDG Action Forum and I look forward to discussing this further.


The Secretary-General has highlighted three issues as requiring specific amplification during the Decade of Action – poverty eradication; gender equality and climate change.

Allow me to focus right now on this third issue.

Climate change is one of the Secretary-General’s foremost priorities.  And, 2020 is a “make or break” year for climate action.

In 2019, the Secretary-General hosted the Climate Action Summit, which put ambitious climate action back on the map.

At the Summit, we saw the release of new member state commitments to all areas vital to changing the course of climate change – from net zero by 2050 commitments, to new coalitions on adaptation and resilience to elevation of biodiversity and nature as vital solutions for both Greenhouse Gas reduction and adaptation to new public-private finance platforms.…

We are now at a critical moment where we must turn these commitments to action at country level.

And, we must ensure that all Member States deliver enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions this year, to ensure that COP26 in Glasgow is the success the world needs it to be.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The African continent is in quite a unique position.  The lion share of African countries contribute the least globally to Greenhouse Gas emissions and yet face the greatest impacts.

Your countries – and mine -- are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. 

We are seeing water scarcity impact rural regions and city centres, floods destroy crops, halt transport and food distribution throughout regions and cyclones wreak unprecedented havoc.

At the same time, we know that economic, infrastructure and urban growth on the continent is booming. 

And such growth traditionally brings the construction of fossil fuel reliant infrastructure, which will lock us in to a more dire climate change scenario than we have today.

We can – and must – show the world that Africa can grow and thrive in a cleaner way.  We can be the leaders that decouple economic growth from environmental destruction and air pollution.

This year, we will be putting increased pressure on major emitters to announce new, enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and finally stand accountable for the high emission trajectory the world is now on.

But we also must all own this fight and recognize that, if we do not ensure that Africa’s development plan prioritizes renewable energy, clean transport and biodiversity, the list of major emitters in ten years could well include many on our continent.

We must seize on the unique opportunity today to change this course.

2020 brings a unique moment for African leaders to deliver enhanced, ambitious NDC’s.

These NDC’s are opportunities to showcase economy-wide plans to commit to adaptation and resilience steps that will save lives, to carve out steps to phase out of coal and fossil fuel and invest in the massive renewable energy potential the African continent holds.

And, they are opportunities to elevate Nature Based Solutions – to re-invest in the impressive, enviable natural resources that African countries hold through vital programmes like the Great Green Wall.

By putting nature at the forefront of the climate fight, we will both have an opportunity to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions and provide buffers for the increase and frequency in cyclones and floods. 

I commend the 19 African countries that have committed to enhance their NDC’s in 2020. And, I count on all countries in the Africa Group to follow suit.

I urge you to stand ready to announce new levels of ambition or enhanced NDC’s at the earliest by the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in June, and at the latest, by COP26 in Glasgow.

The UN system will stand ready to support you on this effort.

The COP 27 will take place in Africa, we should work more closely from now and beyond COP 26 to sustain the momentum on climate action to finally achieve our ultimate goals.


Let me conclude by reaffirming what I said at the opening of the Regional SDG Forum in Africa last Tuesday, alongside President Mnangagwa – Africa has the leadership, the energy and determination to fully achieve the SDGs and the goals of the 2063 Agenda.

My meetings with young Africans, in particular, have left with a great sense of hope.

I am convinced that Africa is on the rise and youth is at the center of this transformation.

Let us work together to make it happen.

Thank you.