New York

18 September 2020

Secretary-General's opening remarks at Sustainable Development Goals Moment [as delivered]

I am pleased to welcome you to this SDG Moment – the first in this crucial Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Our aim is to show that transformation is possible and is happening right now – in so many places, with so many innovations – and with the engagement of so many people.
This annual SDG Moment is our opportunity to demonstrate that, as one united family of nations, we have what it takes to eradicate poverty and hunger, tackle climate change, deliver gender equality and achieve all 17 global goals.
And, through the “Nations United” film that will be broadcast tomorrow, we will bring this message to the entire world.
We can make tremendous progress over the coming decade, especially for the most vulnerable and the poorest of the poor.
When the public appetite for change is matched with political will and smart policy choices, rapid progress is unstoppable.
But our task is daunting.
The foundations of our world have been shaken to the core by COVID-19. 
The pandemic has pushed us towards the worst recession in decades, with terrible consequences for the most vulnerable.
Societies and citizens are reeling from widespread disruption.

After many years of progress, poverty and hunger are on the rise.
Children are suffering from a lack of schooling.
Debt is skyrocketing.
Fiscal resources are plunging.
Even before the virus, inequalities were growing.
The benefits of globalization and growth had failed to reach millions upon millions of destitute people, deepening their already profound despair.
Biodiversity was also disappearing.
Greenhouse gases were at record levels.
We need a path that brings health to all, revives economies, brings people in from the margins of society and builds long-term resilience, sustainability, opportunity and peace.

That path exists.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is designed to address the very fragilities and shortcomings that the pandemic has exposed.
At its heart is a simple promise: to end poverty and leave no one behind.
Indeed, the poor have a special claim on our efforts and energies. 
Those most in need are often those hardest to reach – and must be reached first.
That means expanding social protection and ensuring universal access to essential services.

It means strengthening critical infrastructure like education, health systems and internet connectivity.
And it means placing women at the centre of decision-making.
The 2030 Agenda also demands a swift and just transition to inclusive, low-carbon, resilient economies.
This green transition can deliver more and better jobs and a cleaner environment.
It will reduce the risk of future pandemics and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

In short, the 2030 Agenda provides the guiding light we need to end the pandemic, to respond to its socio-economic impacts and to chart a course for a transformative recovery.
Public appetite for transformative change is growing.
We see it in the leadership of young climate activists and in the global movement for racial justice.
We see it in the millions saying no to violence and discrimination against women; no to inequality; no to corruption; and no to political repression.
We are also seeing key stakeholders using their power for change.
We see it in those who are committed to the global search for a universally accessible vaccine for COVID-19.
And we see it in the fact that renewable energy is now more affordable than fossil fuels.
More and more businesses are embracing the social, environmental and financial triple bottom line.
Cities and subnational governments are developing new models for how we live, work and grow food; how we reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and how we embrace social diversity.
But there is no escaping the fact that one critical ingredient is still missing.
Political will.
Without it, neither public appetite nor stakeholder action will be sufficient.
The science is clear.
The people are clear.
This is no time to procrastinate.
The decisions taken over the next few months and years will have enormous impact on where we will be by 2030.
Three areas are particularly crucial – finance, COVID-19 recovery and ambition.
First, financing.
Right now, developing countries face the dual challenges of funding the pandemic response and avoiding a major debt crisis.
For the Sustainable Development Goals to stand a chance, we must address the immediate, medium and longer-term financing challenges that developing countries face.
Our leaders’ meeting on financing on 29 September is an opportunity to get behind the most significant policy options.
These include boosting the resources available to international financial institutions and extending the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to at least the end of 2021.
This must also entail a broadening of the Initiative’s scope to all vulnerable, developing and middle income countries, such as Small Island Developing States, as well as comprehensive debt relief for countries in need.
The second priority is inclusive and green COVID-19 recovery plans.
Done right, these plans can help countries to transition to a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable economy.
As we spend huge amounts of money to recover from the coronavirus, we must deliver new jobs and businesses through a clean, green transition.
That means ensuring that taxpayers’ money is used for a resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery.
It means ending fossil fuel subsidies, making polluters pay for their pollution and ensuring that no new coal-fired power plants are built.
And it means reducing inequalities and placing women, who have been among the worst affected by job losses and increased care burdens, at the centre of recovery plans.
Women’s leadership and equal representation makes institutions and policy decisions more effective and decreases inequalities in outcomes.
This has never been more important.
The third priority is ambition.
We need ambition and solidarity to provide the 35 billion extra dollars needed so that COVID-19 vaccines and treatments are available to everyone, fast.
Ambition to cut carbon emissions by half in the next decade, paving the way to carbon neutrality by 2050.
And ambition to protect biodiversity, achieve gender equality, end poverty and hunger and fulfil the promise of the Sustainable Development Goals.
In the midst of the greatest international crisis of their time, the founders of the United Nations raised their eyes above the horizon and planned a better, safer future.
The COVID-19 pandemic, the greatest challenge faced by us since the founding of the United Nations has brought us low.
But we will not be beaten.
We, too, must look beyond the current crisis and set our sights high, as we strike out for a world of dignity and opportunity for all on a healthy planet.
Together, let us make this a decade of action; a decade of ambition; a decade of transformation; a decade of hope and peace.
Thank you.