Following is UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s opening remarks, as prepared for delivery via video teleconference, at the opening of the Regional Forum on Sustainable Development for the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), in Geneva today:
We meet today during a growing global crisis. The coronavirus pandemic is a deadly threat to the world’s most vulnerable people, to the global economy and to the progress that Governments have been making since the Sustainable Development Goals were agreed in 2015. It is a crisis that demands decisive action now from all Governments, all partners, all individuals and the international community alike.
In time, this crisis will pass. The challenge for everyone joining this year’s Regional Forum is to be ready when it does; to unleash an economic response every bit as large as the potential economic loss; to build systems that address the inequalities that this crisis has laid bare for all to see; and to put in place national and global measures to prevent or prepare for future health emergencies. If we get our response right now and when this crisis is over, then we can push forward together and make good on the Decade of Action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals.
Over the last five years, the global Goals have brought hope that we may, as an international community, forge durable peace and prosperity on a healthy planet. Policymakers, and societies as a whole, have become more aware of the need for sustainable development. Many actors are joining in and helping to strengthen the momentum: investors, innovators, young people, cities and communities.
But, the truth is that we have not yet seen the broad and deep transformative change that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development requires. People across the world, including in this region, feel that pressing challenges affecting their daily lives are not being sufficiently addressed — from the climate crisis to inequalities, environmental degradation, lack of inclusive growth and persistent gender inequality. We need far more ambition, mobilization and solutions.
In this context, all regional fora for the Sustainable Development Goals take on an added sense of urgency. Region by region, we must come to terms with the disruption of COVID-19 and build momentum for the Decade of Action. And I can assure you that the United Nations development system will be with you every step of the way.
Action in three areas in particular will help us succeed. First, a broad mobilization of all actors. Governments are leading the way in Sustainable Development Goals implementation through policies, programmes and budgets. But, more sectors of society need to join in. People need to be aware of the Goals, what they mean for them and what they can do to contribute. We need to bring the Goals to schools, communities and homes.
Young people in particular are a substantial force for positive change, already placing climate change and inclusive sustainable development higher up the political agenda. A strong and vibrant civil society continues to be one of the crucial drivers of sustainable development. Let me stress that we need protected civic space for non-governmental organizations and citizens to engage. We must also encourage the private sector to continue to align its business models with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Secondly, we need to raise ambition. This means Governments meeting their commitments for international development cooperation, including on climate finance. At the international level, several important meetings provide opportunities to demonstrate fresh commitment on the Sustainable Development Goals, from gender equality to oceans, climate to biodiversity.
Thirdly, we need game-changing solutions and breakthrough innovations that deliver concrete results at scale in countries and communities that need them most. These include equipping young people with skills for the future, building smart cities, improving renewable energy-related battery technology and ensuring equal access for women to leadership positions in all spheres.
Despite some progress, none of the UNECE countries have taken sufficient action yet to combat climate change, and progress towards other Sustainable Development Goals has also been mixed. Inequality is increasing, running counter to the ambition of leaving no one behind. Gender disparity continues to hold back a faster pace of improvement across multiple Goals.
And while unemployment has fallen across the region, it remains very high in some countries, and the share of young people not working or studying continues to be elevated. Concrete action, scaled-up commitments and strengthened partnerships and cooperation are needed to tackle these challenges at local, national, subregional and regional level.
You can count on the United Nations to help tackle these difficult issues, uphold your ambition and deliver on your needs and priorities. The reformed United Nations Resident Coordinator system and a new generation of United Nations country teams now offer a stronger and more cohesive platform to provide Governments with integrated policy and programmatic support, centred around a strategic United Nations sustainable development cooperation framework.
The Secretary-General and I are very grateful to the support provided by Member States to these reforms — from the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council in New York, to governing bodies in Geneva and across the world. We are also concluding an ambitious process to reposition the United Nations development system at the regional level to foster collaboration on sustainable development across all entities of the United Nations development system operating at the regional level. I am confident that you will see a step change in the depth and impact of our operational and other interventions.
There is no denying that we have a mountain to climb over the coming decade. The Regional Forum provides an excellent opportunity to discuss ways to scale up action, formulate more ambitious goals and deepen and forge new partnerships.
It will take all of us — national and local governments, international organizations, civil society, business associations, youth, scientists, academicians — to deliver on the Decade of Action. I call on all to reflect on how we can raise ambition and achieve our common vision, through the days, weeks and years to come. I wish you all a good and productive meeting — as virtual as it may be.