New York

28 November 2018

Note to Correspondents: Secretary-General’s letter to G20 leaders

16 November 2018


In 2008, as the global economy teetered at the brink of collapse, the Group of 20 (G20) came together to address the impending threat to human prosperity through joint action. The recovery we have witnessed over the past decade is testament to the success of your cooperation and coordinated efforts to engender economic stability.

Ten years on, despite notable progress, the goal of coordinated action to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth for all has yet to be fulfilled. Threats to human prosperity are becoming increasingly acute. Climate-related disasters are reversing decades of development gains. An increasing number of people – 821 million across the globe – are suffering from hunger. Income inequality is growing or remains stubbornly high thus limiting people’s choices, while innovation and technology are transforming economies and societies alike, but in many cases, threaten to leave peoples and countries behind.

More, rather than less, cooperation is needed. We must preserve and renew multilateralism to redirect globalization towards sustainable development for all.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide us with an agreed blueprint to tackle the most daunting challenges of our times, with the ultimate aim of prosperity for all. We have a joint responsibility to achieve this Agenda and secure a safe and prosperous future for people and the planet, leaving no one behind. To do so, I call on G20 leaders to accord high priority to the following areas in our common endeavour:

1. Implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Despite positive developments, progress on the 2030 Agenda continues to be slow and uneven. We committed in 2015 to place the SDGs at the centre of policymaking processes. We must now adopt clear action plans to accelerate implementation in order to achieve its goals and targets.

G20 leadership is critical. I urge G20 leaders to take bolder actions to align their domestic policies with the 2030 Agenda in its integrity and scale up their international support, as envisioned in the G20 Action Plan on the 2030 Agenda. The United Nations stands ready to support the G20 in the implementation of the Action Plan, including its updates in Hamburg and Buenos Aires. I invite leaders to prominently reflect on the 2030 Agenda, with its guiding principle of Leaving No One Behind, in the Leaders’ Communiqué.

2. Financing for Sustainable Development

To achieve our common goals, adequate investment is a condicio sine qua non. Investment in green and resilient infrastructure, human capital development, gender equality and universal social protection, including universal health coverage, among others, play a critical role in advancing implementation of the 2030 Agenda, while fostering sustained and inclusive growth.

At this time, available public resources fall far short of the volume needed to implement the 2030 Agenda. All sources – public and private – need to be tapped to support investment in the SDGs. National governments have the primary responsibility to optimize the mobilization of domestic public resources. At the same time, international donors must honour commitments for official development assistance; and efforts should be redoubled at the global level to combat illicit flows, money laundering and tax evasion, which deplete countries’ domestic resource base.

It is imperative that we recognize explicitly the importance of the private sector in implementation efforts and better align incentives in the financial sector with the 2030 Agenda. In September 2018, I launched a Strategy for Financing the 2030 Agenda, which details the actions the United Nations will take to help accelerate and deepen the transformation of economic and financial systems to guide a more balanced globalization and provide development finance efficiently.

Economic stability and sustainability are mutually reinforcing. At a time of great uncertainties and rising risks, I invite the G20 to step up its policy coordination to enhance macroeconomic stability and address the root causes of financial volatility. Advancing effective financial regulation and supervision should not inadvertently penalize longer-term investment flows.

3. Climate Action

Climate action can no longer wait. It is not a distant threat, but a painful reality of today which jeopardizes the achievement of sustainable development and our common prosperity. As climate change-induced natural disasters ravage countries across the globe, we can have no doubt that climate change is the defining challenge of our time. Decisive action to halt the progress of climate change is imperative.

Decisive climate action is also good economics. It is estimated that staying within the limit of the Paris Agreement will create 18 million jobs in net terms, a tremendous opportunity in a context of slow employment growth.

Given their share of global emissions, and as global technological leaders, G20 members have a strong responsibility to act boldly and reject ‘business as usual’ approaches to climate action. G20 leaders must step up their commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement and lead by example to drive momentum for a low-carbon energy future, including stronger mitigation and adaptation strategies. Instituting carbon pricing would be an effective way to reflect the true cost of pollution. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would remove perverse incentives and help level the playing field for clean and renewable energy solutions.

Countries also need to fulfil their commitments to climate finance. In this regard, I encourage all G20 countries to increase their support for those countries that are most affected by climate change, including by fostering adaptation and building resilience in the most vulnerable contexts. In September 2019, I will convene a Climate Summit to mobilize climate action and finance. I look forward to working with G20 leaders to make the Summit a success.

4. Sustainable Food Future

Food and agriculture lie at the heart of the 2030 Agenda. Innovative policies and transformative investments in agriculture – particularly in smallholder and family farms – can drive further progress towards the SDGs, from ending poverty and hunger to improving nutrition, sustaining our natural resources and combating climate change. I welcome G20 efforts towards a sustainable food future and improved food and nutrition security globally. Addressing antimicrobial resistance within agriculture will be crucial to ensure food security and the health of humans, animals and the planet. Agriculture is also a key contributor to growth, rural incomes and decent jobs. These efforts will, in turn, support actions that promote sustainable economic growth.

5. Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

Discrimination, violence and unequal access to resources are still the reality for an overwhelming majority of women across the globe. Not only is the representation of women in labour markets lower than their relative weight in the national population, but women also occupy the lower echelons of the occupational ladder and earn, on average, twenty per cent less than men.

We must, collectively, move beyond pledges to gender equality and take concrete and measurable actions to address the deep-seated structural impediments to the empowerment of women and girls. This includes policy actions to close gaps in pay and labour force participation, reduce the burden of unpaid work and strengthen pension, health and social protection systems, as well as gender-responsive macroeconomic policies that generate employment and strengthen opportunities for women and girls at all levels, and especially in leadership and decision-making roles. We must also continue to fight for the full realization of women’s and girls’ human rights. I call on all G20 members to lead by example in these areas.

6. The Future of Work

Technological progress and digitalization are shaping the way people live, work, socialize, share knowledge and participate in our increasingly interconnected and diverse societies. As these transformations of societies and economies occur, we must shape them to ensure that their impacts on sustainable development are positive. I invite the G20 to give further attention to this issue in its future work.

In preparing societies for the future, we must focus on equipping people with the necessary skills for the work of the future giving everyone equal chances to live a decent life. Governments need to implement a policy mix, including strengthening social protection, and investing in vocational training and education systems, with the aim of reducing inequalities. I call on the G20 to embrace a stronger focus on policies to promote inclusive growth that generates sufficient and decent work.

Investing in education is an effective means to make societies ready for the future. Domestic and international funding for education needs to be prioritized to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all. I support the efforts to ensure complementarity among various financing mechanisms for learning outcomes to achieve sustainable development.

7. Migrants and Refugees

We know that strong and complex linkages exist between migration and development. However, migration – in many cases – continues to be unsafe, disorderly and unregulated. We must strengthen our efforts to counter the adverse drivers of migration, including violence, armed conflict and economic marginalization. We also need to work together to reduce the risks inherent in people’s efforts to migrate, and better protect human rights while assisting those in need. G20 countries include 9 of the top 10 countries of destination and 5 of the top 10 countries of origin for international migration and, therefore, play a significant role in this regard.

Success in the governance of international migration will require a multilayered and multifaceted approach. The two Global Compacts, on Migration and Refugees provide comprehensive frameworks for international cooperation in human mobility. I call on G20 leaders to support a global migration system that can accommodate the demand for mobility that exists in our increasingly dynamic populations.


Many of the most urgent global challenges transcend borders and cannot be addressed in isolation. A global cooperation system, underpinned by a strong institutional framework, can create an environment that is conducive to the well-being of all countries and peoples.

To achieve the future we want, I urge leaders to continue to strengthen a global framework in which countries can thrive, and collectively address humanity’s daunting challenges. To this end, I appeal to G20 leaders to issue an ambitious leaders’ communiqué that responds to the challenges of our time and upholds the spirit of cooperation at the upcoming G20 Summit in Buenos Aires.

The United Nations stands ready to support G20 members on achieving these aims.

Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.

António Guterres