Helen Clark: Opening Remarks at Ministerial Conference on Implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in Arab Countries Social Dimensions

Apr 6, 2016

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Opening Remarks
Ministerial Conference on
Implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in Arab Countries
Social Dimensions

Cairo, Egypt
Wednesday, 6 April 2016

I am delighted to join you at this Ministerial Conference on “Implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in Arab Countries – the Social Dimensions”.

My thanks go to the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, His Excellency Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, for his patronage of this event, and for his personal leadership in support of sustainable development, not only at the global United Nations summit last September, but also in spearheading Egypt’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2030.

I wish to express my appreciation to His Excellency Engineer Sherif Ismail, Prime Minister of Egypt, for joining us in inaugurating this conference, and to the Ministry of Social Solidarity of Egypt, the League of Arab States, and my UNDP colleagues for jointly organizing the conference.

I thank the Kingdom of Bahrain, the current Chair of the Arab Council of Ministers of Social Development, for its vision in initially preparing the concept of this conference. And I wish to recognize particularly H.E. Nabil AlAraby, Secretary General of the League of Arab States, for his leadership and keen interest in partnering with UNDP to advance the Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 in the Arab States Region.

The 2030 Agenda – a breakthrough for sustainable development

Last year was a watershed year for global development. Member States reached major new agreements which set the global development agenda for a generation – across the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Climate Agreement, the Sendai disaster risk reduction framework, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development.

The 2030 Agenda was shaped by many voices, including from this region. Six Arab Member States participated in the UN General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the Post-2015 Agenda. All Arab States’ Governments, regional organisations - and civil society and the private sector were involved in the lengthy processes leading up to the agreed agenda. The League of Arab States, through its specialized Ministerial Councils, particularly those for Social Development and Environmental Affairs, was closely involved throughout.

At the UN Sustainable Development Summit last September, the highest level of leadership from the Arab States region committed to the new agenda. This commitment is reconfirmed at this conference, which I understand is the first such intergovernmental meeting on SDG implementation in any region of the world.

Agenda 2030 belongs to the Member States of the United Nations and to the world’s peoples. This is our shared agenda. This conference will help make the SDGs’ vision a reality. At UNDP, we commit our support for your efforts over the next fifteen years.

In the formulation phase of the new agenda, UNDP and sister agencies in UN Country Teams supported nine national consultations in this region and a number of region-wide consultations. We are currently supporting efforts to galvanize national consensus around SDGs implementation in Algeria, Morocco, and Somalia. And we are also supporting voluntary reporting to the UN’s High Level Political Forum in July on the SDGs by Egypt and Morocco.

Work begins on implementation of this new global agenda in much tougher times than those which prevailed when the MDGs were launched.

  • Global economic growth now is far from robust.

  • Fast technological progress and deepening globalization create opportunities for some people, but profound challenges for others, including for young people who struggle to find work.

  • Many communities and countries are being affected by severe natural disasters, and with climate change we can expect worsening weather events for decades.

  • A significant number of countries are experiencing violent conflicts causing loss of life, major development setbacks, and the displacement of people on a huge scale. Around our world, a staggering 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2014.

In the Arab States region, a number of countries are grappling with these challenges – low growth, high unemployment – especially for youth, climate change, and conflicts.

The good news is that the 2030 Agenda sets out a bold and universal agenda which responds to these volatile and unpredictable times. It aims to complete the unfinished business of the MDGs, to advance economic and social development and environmental sustainability simultaneously, and to build peaceful and inclusive societies. The preamble of the 2030 Agenda itself notes that “there can be no sustainable development without peace, and no peace without sustainable development”. The new agenda is as relevant to the Arab States region as it is to other regions in our world.

Implementing the 2030 Agenda

But agendas remain mere words on paper unless they are implemented. So what will it take to achieve this bold new Agenda?

  • First, let’s affirm the critical importance of strong national ownership of and leadership on the 2030 Agenda. In this, we are off to a good start: many countries are already working on integrating the SDGs into their national policy frameworks and plans. Somalia, for example, is using the SDGs as the basis of its first national development strategy since the 1990s. As of last month, more than ninety U.N. Country Teams had been approached for support on domesticating the SDGs, and all are delighted to assist. Egypt’s new Vision 2030 is closely aligned with the vision of the SDGs.

  • Second, sustainable development requires whole of government and cross-sectoral approaches. Often the key obstacles to achieving an important goal will be outside an immediate sector targeted for attention.

This became clear when obstacles to achieving the MDGs were analysed. Levels of poverty and unemployment, for example, are affected not only by economic conditions, but also by whether all people, including women and youth, are able to access labour markets and are empowered with the skills required for effective participation.

Access to quality education and skills training is vital for that, as is the removal of legal and other barriers to full participation in social and economic life. Addressing the social dimensions of development, which is the focus of today’s important conference, must be seen as integral to achieving both national development priorities and the SDGs.

  • Third, broad coalitions around the SDGs are needed. Government commitment is vital, but insufficient on its own. Parliaments and civil society must be engaged in meaningful ways, and the ways in which business does business will also have a big impact on whether development is inclusive and sustainable.

Last November, UNDP partnered with the Arab Women Organization to organize a conference here in Cairo on Women in the Arab Region and the 2030 Agenda. The outcome was a gender-sensitive platform for action to implement the SDGs in the Arab States region which is providing guidance to other regions.

Last month, UNDP supported a workshop on sensitization of the SDGs in Algeria, and next month along with the League of Arab States and other UN Agencies we are organizing a conference in Doha on the role of civil society in implementing the SDGs. Other regional events will follow, with one focusing on the role of the private sector to be held in UAE, and another on youth to be held in Bahrain.

The role of parliaments, civil society, and media in monitoring progress on the 2030 Agenda and ensuring accountability for commitments made will be important. To be effective in this role, they will need access to data, and the capacity to analyse it. These capacities too may need to be built.

We have concrete plans to engage with National Statistical Bureaus and knowledge institutions across this region to strengthen their capacities to meet the information needs for the SDGs and to enhance public access to data.

  • Fourth, finance. Money isn’t everything, but it helps. All available resources must be drawn on for the new agenda – domestic and international, public and private, and environmental and developmental.

Official Development Assistance (ODA) will remain important, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable countries, including Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States - many of which struggle to raise domestic revenue and attract private finance. It is clear that small middle-income countries facing crises also need specific support. UNDP therefore welcomes the opportunities being created for Lebanon and Jordan to access concessional financing, and we look forward to continuing to support both countries as hosts of very large numbers of Syrian refugees, as we also support Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq as hosts.

  • Fifth, generating and sharing new ideas, knowledge, and technologies. Every country has relevant experiences to share, and every country has new things to learn. South-South Co-operation is playing a growing role in development, as evidenced by this very conference, and is greatly valued by developing countries. It will be significant in achieving the SDGs.

The role of the UN Development System in supporting implementation

The 2030 Agenda calls on the UN development system to provide integrated and coherent support to Member States’ efforts to achieve the SDGs. We are intent on doing just that by supporting every country in which we work, including here in the Arab States region, and by partnering with important regional bodies such as the League of Arab States to achieve results.

Prior to the adoption of the agenda, new Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) guiding UN Country Teams on how to deliver as one had been developed. This is critical – a fragmented approach to the SDGs by UN agencies does not assist governments which are trying to co-ordinate action across the agenda. Supplementing the new SOPs is an agreed approach across the UN Development Group to SDG implementation.

Called MAPS, our offer to governments is support for:

  • Mainstreaming the agenda into national plans and budgets,

  • Accelerating progress across the agenda, and

  • Joined-up policy support from across the system.

UNDP, working within the overall UNDG approach, will focus its support on three aspects:

  • First, we will help advance a ‘whole of agenda’ and ‘whole of society’ approach to the SDGs which is coherent across thematic issues and encourages broad partnerships for implementation.

  • Second, we will leverage our policy and programming expertise in those areas which are good entry points for SDG implementation.

  • Third, we will support countries to monitor, report, and apply lessons learned on SDG implementation, based on our many years of experience in working to advance the MDGs.

Within this context, and important in this region, UNDP will also provide specific packages of support in fragile and conflict-affected settings. In recent years, as some crises in this region have become protracted, UNDP has championed a resilience-based approach which better joins up humanitarian and development responses. The aim is to help strengthen communities’ capacities to cope even in the most dire circumstances, and to provide a basis for more rapid recovery when peace is secured.

This approach got a big boost from the Resilience Development Forum we convened with the support of the Government of Jordan at Dead Sea last year, and then at the London Conference on Supporting Syrians in February - where support for resilience-based approaches dominated the discourse. I expect it will get gather even more momentum at the World Humanitarian Summit in May in Istanbul.


The 2030 Agenda is a comprehensive agenda which is highly relevant to the Arab States region. Now the hard work must begin to implement it. This conference is being held in support of that. I am encouraged that so many of the issues which are critical to implementation of the SDGs are reflected in the agenda of the conference. UNDP stands ready to play its full part in support of implementation of the SDGs in this region.

We look forward to working closely with the League of Arab States and governments, and civil society and private sector actors across this region to progress the new agenda.

The Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 provides an historic opportunity to put development on a positive track for the future of the world’s peoples and our planet. In this part of the world which was the cradle of human civilization, it provides a most promising prospect to rekindle centuries of achievement, leadership, and stewardship for people of the region, especially for its young women and men and their precious cultural and natural environment.

I wish you very productive discussions here in Cairo.

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