Helen Clark: Speech at the Ministerial Session on SDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda of the First United Nations Environment Assembly

26 Jun 2014

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
Speech
at the
Ministerial Session on SDGs and the Post-2015 Agenda
of the
First United Nations Environment Assembly
Nairobi, Kenya

My thanks go to the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner, for his invitation to me to address this session as UN Development Group Chair and UNDP Administrator. I very much welcome the engagement of the UN Environment Assembly with the debate on post-2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The new global development agenda is a huge opportunity for the international community to unite around a transformational and universal agenda. That agenda should seek economic and social progress, in harmony with maintenance of the world’s ecosystems.

This will require a major departure from business as usual.

It will require significant capacity building, technical assistance, knowledge transfer, exchange of experiences, and finance.

Above all, it will require a change of mindset to see both the opportunities of pursuing sustainable development, and the costs and high risks of not doing so.

Take, for example, the climate change challenge. The longer the world fails to act decisively, the higher the risks and the costs. All countries face these risks; yet the poorest who have contributed the least to the problem have the least capacity to adapt and manage the risks.

Take also the threat to the world’s wildlife species, whose survival is so critical for biodiversity and for the opportunity of economic development through tourism and related sectors. Driving species to extinction is the antithesis of sustainable development.

We live in a world of fast depleting natural resources, where 1.2 billion people continue to live in extreme poverty, and 870 million go to bed hungry every night. These issues are linked.

We also live in a world of great inequalities – between and within countries. More than 75 per cent of the populations of developing countries live in societies where income distribution is less equal now than it was in the 1990s. A number of developed countries have also experienced growing income inequality. Poverty down; inequality up: this is a paradox of our times, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Overall, our world is experiencing many crises – financial, food scarcity, extreme climate events, and armed conflicts – to name a few.

An inspirational and highly motivational post-2015 agenda is needed to tackle our shared challenges.

This is also what the global citizenry is calling for. Over the past eighteen months and more, the UN development system has facilitated a worldwide conversation on post-2015, in which more than two million people have participated.

Overwhelmingly the feedback is that people want poverty and inequality tackled, they want better services, they want honest and effective government, and they want the world’s natural environment safeguarded for future generations.

Achieving all these ends will require a capacity for integrated decision-making like never before. It will require leaders who see the links between the challenges we face and their solutions.

It is now widely recognized, for example, that to save iconic wildlife, we need not only stronger institutions and law enforcement, but also a full assault on poverty, the creation of economic opportunity, and the full involvement of communities in decision-making.

To preserve our forest cover, alternatives to wood and charcoal for energy, more productive use of existing agricultural land, more diverse livelihood opportunities, and action against illegal logging are all needed.

If we tackle poverty, inequality, and environmental issues in separate silos, we can’t succeed. We have to join the dots.

This, to me, is the excitement of the post 2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals called for by Rio+20. We need an agenda which will inspire action and mobilise broad partnerships around clear and measurable targets.

I am convinced that we can eradicate poverty, we can achieve greater equality, and we can restore and maintain the integrity of our ecosystems if we are prepared to do business unusual.

We in the UN development system must ourselves step up to that task by working together in support of sustainable development. If we are fit for purpose for that challenge, then we can support countries to make the transition to a sustainable and inclusive future for all.