Helen Clark: Speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Skills and Technology Accelerating Rapid Transformation (START) Technology for Sustainable Development Programme

Jul 8, 2015

It is an honour to join Sri Mata Amritanandamayi, Amrita University, and United Nations Academic Impact in welcoming you to the Skills and Technology Accelerating Rapid Transformation (START) for Sustainable Development programme. Sustainable development is at the very heart of the new global development agenda being negotiated at the United Nations this year.

When the new agenda is launched in September, it will contain Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These will supersede the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which have guided global development priorities for the last fifteen years.

The new agenda is shaping up to be ambitious and transformational. It will apply to all countries, and span the three strands of sustainable development – the economic, social and environmental. It will address the many interlinked challenges our world is facing.

In the course of 2015 three other major development related agendas are also being advanced.

• The future framework for financing development will be discussed next week in Addis Ababa at the third international conference on this topic.

• The COP21 climate change talks in Paris at the end of this year are expected to reach a new global agreement.

• The new global framework on disaster risk reduction was agreed in Japan in March.

Taken together, these four major processes and outcomes make 2015 a once in a generation year for global development. We need to maintain momentum and global solidarity on building a more peaceful, just and prosperous world.

Without doubt there has been tremendous progress on lifting people out of poverty during the period targeted by the MDGs from 1990 to now. Growth in emerging economies has been driving convergence between what was traditionally regarded as a poor and developing ‘south’ and a rich and developed ‘north’ – although clearly huge gaps remain between the poorest and most vulnerable nations and those with high levels of human development.

Between 1990 and 2010, extreme income poverty halved, and the likelihood of a child dying before their fifth birthday was nearly halved. More children in developing countries are enrolled in primary schooling for at least some time, and infant and child mortality rates are well down. Maternal death rates are down too, although not nearly enough, and significant progress has been made on combating HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis.

Yet there is considerable unfinished business from the MDGs, and both new and old challenges are daunting. For example:

• Inequalities are growing in the majority of the world’s countries, developed and developing, with very few exceptions. Wealth, opportunity, and ultimately power is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of the few. High levels of inequality limit the political will to address poverty, tearing at the very fabric of our societies.

• Protracted conflict has badly destabilized countries from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa and from the Maghreb to Iraq and Afghanistan. Radical insurgents from Boko Haram to Al Shabaab on the African continent and Al Qaeda and IS in the Middle East are making life unbearable for those on whom they prey. War and conflict bear a huge responsibility for generating the displacement of almost sixty million people from their homes in our world today.

• Then there is the devastating impact of natural disasters where disaster risk reduction either hasn’t been undertaken or hasn’t been adequate. Climate change, and rapid urbanization are putting more and more people in harm’s way. Severe floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, and tsunami still cause immense loss of life, livelihoods, and infrastructure. Nepal has suffered extraordinary damage from earthquakes in April. Vanuatu and Tuvalu in the South Pacific were devastated by Cyclone Pam in March.

• Other shocks also flow from under-development. Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are still trying to stop the deadly outbreak of Ebola. Before the outbreak, the economies of the three countries were among the fastest growing in Africa. They were knocked sideways not by commodity price shocks or global recession, but by the failure of health and other systems to contain the outbreak at the earliest stage.

• Last, let me emphasise that global environmental challenges, including the costs of climate change, are mounting. The impact of climate change threatens all countries, but especially the poorest and the most vulnerable. While low income countries are the least responsible for climate change, they are bearing the greatest costs in terms of lives lost, livelihoods damaged, and housing and other infrastructure destroyed.

These challenges call for bold approaches to building a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world. The alternative is a world characterized by even more turmoil and instability than the one we know today.

In the current set of proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before UN Member States, there are goals and targets which relate to economic growth, infrastructure, energy, and strengthening capacities to trade and attract investment. The agenda tackles the MDGs’ unfinished business, and the challenges of environmental degradation and rapid urbanisation. It prioritises tackling inequalities – indeed the importance of leaving no one behind is a defining feature of the new agenda.

As well, and for the first time explicitly, the proposed new global development agenda affirms that development requires peaceful and inclusive societies, justice for all, and effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels.

So what is it going to take to achieve this ambitious vision? The SDGs will remain mere words on paper unless they can be implemented.

Financing is obviously important, and that will be the subject of the international conference in Addis Ababa next week. But achieving sustainable development is an all-of-society endeavor. Governments cannot achieve such an agenda alone. The participation of citizens and civil society is needed at every step, along with the input of science, research and academia, and the dynamism of the private sector.

From the contribution of architecture, engineering, and environmental and other sciences to sustainable development; to that of the health sectors and sciences to public health; to the humanities as a basis for tolerance and intercultural understanding; and to the legal, accountancy, and public service professionals, everyone’s input is needed so that, by 2030, for example:

• extreme poverty could have been completely eradicated;
• all forms of discrimination against women and girls could have been ended;
• modern sanitation facilities could be provided to the one in three people who still don’t have them;
• the amount of wastewater being dumped – untreated - into watercourses and coastal areas could be significantly reduced. Currently around eighty per cent of wastewater worldwide is untreated;
• the water stress which two thirds of the world’s population are expected to be facing by 2025 could be alleviated;
• a huge drop in HIV/AIDS infections could be achieved. The SDGs foresee ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as of tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases by 2030;
• biodiversity loss which undermines livelihoods, health, and food and water security could be curbed. This is critically important to the post-2015 development agenda;
• the drivers of conflict and instability could be addressed by strengthening social cohesion, establishing the rule of law and the capacity for peaceful dispute resolution, and making governance more inclusive and effective.

To achieve all this – and much more - all countries will also need to have:

• reduced inequalities, so that women and men, and girls and boys, can be equal partners in the life of their countries, and have equal life chances;
• given youth more voice and opportunities;
• improved jobs and livelihoods;
• built greater resilience to disasters; and
• taken a wide range of actions to combat climate change and its impacts.

These challenges call for big partnerships to tackle them head-on. The communities of endeavor represented here today must be part of these partnerships.

Some solutions will demand policy, legislative, financial, and/or regulatory changes. Overall, radical adjustments are needed in the way we live, work, produce, consume, generate our energy, transport ourselves, and design our cities.

There have been many calls for a “data revolution” to go hand in hand with the new agenda. Progress needs to be measured. Data for that must be available, be of good quality, and be easily accessed. Capacities to analyse it are needed for good policymaking and for effective monitoring by parliaments, citizens, and media.

Through meetings like this one, global knowledge and insights can be shared and applied to building the better, fairer future the world’s peoples want and deserve.

By harnessing humanity’s knowledge and technologies, and by ensuring access to finance, we can fulfil our destiny of being the first generation able to eradicate extreme poverty, and the last generation able to prevent catastrophic climate change.

The United Nations attaches great importance to the START programme. We look forward to hearing of the outcomes of this meeting. Thank you for joining us in New York today.

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