Achim Steiner, UNDG Chair: Opening speech at UNDG side event at the 2017 High Level Political Forum: The SDGs in Action: Eradicating Poverty and Promoting Inclusive Prosperity in a Changing World

Jul 17, 2017

The 2030 Agenda provides a unique opportunity to put the whole world on a more prosperous and sustainable development path. Credit: UNDP.

As prepared for delivery.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the UN Development Group, I am pleased to welcome you to this side event. It focuses on the “SDGs in Action”, and how countries are taking concrete measures to achieve the global goals by 2030.

The 2030 Agenda raises the bar of ambition beyond development frameworks of the past. It is universal in application, and its underlying motivation is to transform our world, in the way we live, work, and do business. This is about building low carbon, climate resilient, peaceful and inclusive societies of the future.

The challenge is formidable but today’s event will show that the commitments of the 2030 Agenda are being translated into action.

Indeed, over the past two years, we have seen SDG implementation take off in every development setting. Countries are aligning their national development plans and government programmes with the SDG targets and building their capacity to work across sectors in a more coordinated way. They are assessing bottlenecks to progress, and identifying innovative ways of financing SDG achievement.

This is clearly manifested in the scope of countries’ SDG Roadmaps. In Jamaica, for example, the SDG roadmap is focused on expanding social protection programmes; promoting health through disease prevention; and improving justice and police systems.  We see a similar momentum in the Voluntary National Reviews being presented this year – already double the number of those that volunteered last year.

In a strong signal to the rest of the world, some of the most inspiring examples of SDG action come from countries in complex situations. These include countries recovering from the effects of pandemics; those addressing the risks posed by natural hazards such as earthquakes and flooding; the collapse of commodity prices; as well as countries working to establish the conditions for peace and development despite violent conflict.

The three countries that were worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, for example, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, have taken concrete measures to foster rapid return to a sustainable development path – and are doing so in the context of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs.

During our discussion today, we will be giving special attention to the challenges, and opportunities, faced by countries in complex situation as they put the SDGs into action.

The role of the UN development system

Successful implementation of the 2030 Agenda requires coherent and integrated support from the UN development system.

This is the raison d’être of the UNDG in this new era: a partnership of over 30 UN entities that pool their expertise and operational capacities to help deliver on the promise of the SDGs.

In line with the Secretary-General’s vision for the UN, ‘integration’ also means better connecting our efforts across the peace and security, human rights and development pillars of the organization. The overall emphasis is on the principle of ‘prevention’ - prevention of natural disasters, conflicts, human rights abuses, and economic and financial shocks.

Some 114 governments have already requested support from UN Country Teams in achieving the SDGs.  And we are responding in two crucial ways:

1) Guided by the UNDG’s Mainstreaming, Acceleration and Policy Support – or MAPS – approach, we work with national authorities to speed the pace and advance Agenda 2030 concretely.

While the first year of 2030 Agenda implementation focused on laying the ground work by integrating (or ‘mainstreaming’) the Agenda in national plans and governance structures, countries are now increasingly looking to design policies and build partnerships that can accelerate progress.

In Somalia, for example, the Government is focused on establishing a sustainable peace after decades of violence and is now moving ahead with the implementation of its national development plan. By re-establishing basic services for people based on justice, security and inclusion, Somalia is accelerating the conditions for a sustainable development pathway.

2) We focus on providing joint support from across the UN system especially for complex and crisis-affected contexts.  By working together, the UN is better able to support our national partners. 

The UN development system has a strong commitment to partnerships with humanitarian stakeholders, specifically on the New Way of Working that was agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit last year.

Together with the World Bank and humanitarian partners, we are focused on support to Yemen as the people face a crisis of an increasingly complex and dangerous nature.  And through Recovery and Peacebuilding planning, the UN, European Union and the World Bank have been working with Cameroon, Central African Republic, Nigeria and others to address the needs of populations affected by conflict and violent extremism. 

Together, we ensure joint support to rule of law and security sectors in 19 crisis affected countries, for example in The Gambia following the recent political transition.

These types of joint initiatives exemplify how the UN should support partners in implementing the SDGs.

Building on these approaches, I would like to offer three guiding principles, which I believe are essential in these efforts:

1) The need to pursue an integrated approach versus “cherry-picking” priority areas: here the UN can help identify synergies and trade-offs in different country contexts to determine interventions that yield benefits across several SDGs;

2) The critical importance of leaving no one behind and reaching the furthest behind first: here the UN can help countries better understand and address inequalities in all their forms; and,

The imperative of risk-informed development: to mitigate adverse effects for example of natural disasters, economic crises and violent conflict. In this regard, I note the strong conceptual linkages between the 2030 Agenda and sustaining peace.  Both agendas have Member States firmly in the lead and the UN is committed to working in a more unified, efficient and effective manner to support their implementation.

Based on these three principles, the UNDG has pulled together a collection of approaches in an “SDG Acceleration Toolkit”. We will be hearing more about that at the end of this session.

In conclusion

In conclusion, let me stress that this is the first time in history that all countries are guided by one common development agenda. This is a unique opportunity to put the whole world on a more prosperous and sustainable development path.

I look forward to an inspiring discussion and to hear about different pathways to ensure that the SDGs are achieved for everyone, everywhere.

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