Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, Speech at a meeting with Danish Ambassadors

Aug 21, 2017

Supporting youth empowerment and engagement with the SDGs in all development is critical to 2030 Agenda. Photo: UNDP

As prepared for delivery.

I am honoured to address this distinguished group, representing a country that is such a long-standing, committed partner of UNDP. I will speak on the topic “The United Nations in a time of change”, more specifically “UNDP in times of change”.

The Vision & Momentum of the 2030 Agenda

Recent international debate has crystalized a widely-held conviction that promoting sustainable, inclusive development is the best way to counter negative impacts of megatrends such as population growth, climate change, food insecurity, water scarcity, violent extremism and conflict, and rapid urbanization.

This is reflected in one of the most remarkable global commitments of our time: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

For the first time in history, all countries share a common, universal development agenda. It acknowledges that nations depend on one another and must work together to solve the world’s most critical challenges. Its underlying motivation is to transform our world, in the way we live, work, and do business.

Poverty eradication is at the heart of the 2030 Agenda, and so is the commitment to leave no-one behind.

The MDGs taught us to look beyond averages. Unfortunately, despite real progress, the poorest, most marginalized and excluded have largely been left behind.

Leaving no-one behind demands new ways of doing business, with more emphasis on empowering the poorest. It means a renewed commitment to tackle gender inequality, as it is most often women and girls – particularly poor women and girls – who are left behind, without equal resources, rights, opportunities and voice.

The 2030 Agenda is about other vulnerable groups too – people with disabilities, indigenous people, or the blue collar worker in the manufacturing sector who feels left behind by the currents of globalization and technological change.

Just two years into 2030 Agenda implementation, we are seeing important advances:

First, governments across the world are translating commitment into concrete action.

Reflecting the importance attached to this task, we see that for most countries implementation is either led by President’s or Prime Minister’s office, or a central ministry – such as the Ministry of Finance in Denmark’s case.

Parliaments, which the 2030 Agenda recognizes as having a key role in implementation, are considering how best to fulfil their role. Denmark’s multi-party group of Members of Parliament on the SDGs is a model worth highlighting in this context.

Countries are also sharing approach and progress across regions -- as we saw at this year’s High-Level Political Forum in New York where 43 countries made presentations on their 2030 Agenda implementation to date. Denmark presented a very impressive Action Plan at the Forum. We look forward to Denmark’s first progress report in 2018.

Second, wherever people hear about the SDGs, there is an eagerness to take part.

Indeed, without popular engagement, the SDGs will fail. In the run-up to the new Agenda, over 10 million people voiced their expectations and priorities. Strong communication and engagement with all levels of society remain essential.

Business engagement to achieve the 2030 Agenda is vital. In fact, across the world, the private sector is finding the SDGs easier to work with than the MDGs. When I met with Japanese business leaders on my recent visit to Tokyo, I was impressed with the level of engagement that the private sector has with this agenda. I am aware that a SDG partnership platform is currently being set up here in Denmark, and we at UNDP will be keenly following its progress.

Promoting inclusive and sustainable business models can also be profitable. Indeed, at Davos this year, CEOs and CSO leaders revealed that inclusive and sustainable business models could open economic opportunities worth up to US $12 trillion .

I would venture to say that the “could” is happening as we speak. In Colombia, for example, the microfinance institution Crezcamos provides financial and insurance services to around 100,000 micro-entrepreneurs. Crezcamos’s inclusive business model has resulted in tremendous growth for the company, which is already one of the most prominent employment generators in rural Colombia. We are proud to say Crezcamos is a member of the Business Call to Action, for which UNDP hosts the secretariat.

Meaningful youth involvement is also absolutely critical. This is why UNDP is supporting youth empowerment and engagement with the SDGs in all development contexts through our Youth Global Programme for Sustainable Development and Peace. Denmark is an important partner of this programme.

The level of engagement here in Denmark, be it by civil society, young people, business groups, and trade unions, is impressive. Later today I will join the UNLEASH Award Show in Århus, and look forward to meeting many of the 1000 global talents who have been working in innovations labs to solve global challenges. Denmark’s hosting of the 2017 UNLEASH conference truly exemplifies the momentum that has been generated around the SDGs in this country.

Optimizing UN support to 2030 Agenda implementation

Two years into SDG implementation, countries are moving from the initial stages of creating SDG plans and governance models to seeing policies and partnerships emerge that are specifically aimed at accelerating SDG achievement.

This requires that the integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda is at the heart of all efforts, recognizing that the SDGs are mutually reinforcing, with progress in one translating to others. This calls for whole-of-government approaches, working across ministries.

The UN development system too must become much more integrated in its response, better aligned and equipped to work seamlessly across sectors and specializations.

Our goal must be a 21st century UN development system that is more focused on people, less on process; more on results for the poor and marginalized, less on bureaucracy; more on providing integrated support across familiar silos, less on business as usual. This means asking difficult questions about our structures, skillsets and architecture.

To make the United Nations optimally equipped to support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda, the UN Secretary General has embarked upon a series of interlinked reforms across the organization’s mandates.

These include:
-    reform of the UN development system, so it is able to work seamlessly across sectors and provide integrated and effective support to realize the 2030 Agenda;
-    reform of the peace and security architecture – giving adequate priority to prevention and sustaining peace; and
-    management reform – to simplify processes and decentralize decisions, with transparency, efficiency and accountability.
The SG has outlined three key UNDS reform priorities: (a) strengthening impartial leadership for coherence and integration at all levels; (b) addressing the trust deficit; and (c) ensuring that country-level results remain the litmus test for any reform.

We at UNDP are fully committed to the SG’s vision, and to equipping the UN to better help Member States deliver on the 2030 Agenda. We agree with the SG that the litmus test of success must be impact at country level, ensuring countries have tailored and effective support to attain their development ambitions.

UNDP sits at the heart of the proposed reforms, including for a new generation of UN country teams, and empowered Resident Coordinators. We are already at the centre of multi-entity, integrated UN support for SDG implementation. This ranges from active engagement in the UNDG’s country-level Mainstreaming, Acceleration, and Policy Support approach, to the global-level SDG Action Campaign.

Other reforms are underway too. A review of UN regional structures will help rationalize system-wide efforts. Globally, development of a system-wide strategic document for collective UN action to support Agenda 2030 continues; as do consultations with Member States to strengthen system-wide governance.

UNDP is equally committed to reform beyond the development system, including by taking a lead role in driving the ‘New Way of Working’ that emerged from the World Humanitarian Summit. We were pleased to co-host with Denmark here in Copenhagen in March a high-level workshop on this important initiative.

Reform requires more than internal change. Funding, including from the most committed donors, should be structured to incentivize coherence and accountability, rather than fragmentation and blurred mandates. The SG’s proposal of a ‘funding compact’ with adequate levels of core resources points in this direction.

At the same time, the UN must be fully committed to maximum accountability and results for the resources entrusted to us. In this context, let me stress that UNDP is proud to have been ranked first on the independent Aid Transparency Index for the second year running, and remains committed to continually improving our results.

Against the overall backdrop of UN reform, and the global context which they take place in, UNDP is developing a new and ambitious Strategic Plan, which will serve as the central guidance for our support to Member States for implementation of the 2030 Agenda over the next four years.
We will leverage UNDP’s expertise, relationships, and presence, maintaining our position as a development partner of choice around the world. The Plan will build on lessons from our last Strategic Plan, and benefit from feedback from a range of critical partners. Denmark has been constructively engaged throughout this process.

UNDP’s Offer

In many ways, the 2030 Agenda reflects what UNDP was created for. With expert staff working in nearly 170 countries and territories, UNDP is present across the world. UNDP has people, connections and access across the globe, representing the most cost-effective and strategic complement to bilateral cooperation. Every day, our people leverage UNDP’s comparative advantage and continuously fine-tune our approach to tackle effectively the world’s most critical challenges.

This near-universal presence means UNDP is on the ground before, during and after crisis. We work with humanitarian actors at all stages of crises and emergencies,  to share local knowledge and relationships. In 2016, we spent $57m of our core resources to help countries prevent and recover from crises, while building more resilient societies.

Allow me to highlight areas of UNDP work of particular interest to Denmark:

A critical element of our support to SDG achievement is our focus on the importance of SDG16 - for peaceful, just, and inclusive societies - as an enabler for the entire 2030 Agenda. We co-facilitate the Global Alliance for reporting progress on SDG16, in which I am happy to say Denmark is increasingly engaged.

Our work on governance and peacebuilding reinforces this focus on SDG16.

Every year UNDP supports electoral processes and institutions in over 60 countries on average. This support ranges from countries in crisis and transition to middle-income countries, and is provided jointly with other UN entities. UNDP is the largest global implementer of parliamentary strengthening programmes, including capacitating parliamentarians in partner countries to champion gender equity.

UNDP is also responding to the rise in violent extremism  as the leading UN agency implementing projects that address or contribute to the prevention of violent extremism (PVE). We work in more than 40 countries to help reduce radicalization and build social cohesion, with a focus on women and youth.

We particularly appreciate our partnership with Denmark on a joint global study on Young People, Violent Conflict and Peacebuilding, which will provide much-needed evidence on young people’s contribution to conflict prevention and peace.

UNDP is also the largest provider in the UN system of support to over 140 countries to address climate change and protect the environment. For example, through UNDP projects financed by the Global Environment Facility in 2016 alone, more than 1.4 billion people benefitted from better access to clean water.

As part of our commitment to leave no one behind, UNDP supports financial inclusion of women, who often lack access to financial services. In the DRC women comprised half the 2 million new clients who accessed basic financial services in 2016 with help from UNDP and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).
Since financing needs for sustainable development are substantial, UNDP is looking at non-traditional tools to raise capital from private or public sources. They include tools lile pay-for-success financing , forecast-based finance, impact investment and crowdfunding. We are testing use of blockchain technology for better development impact, for example in Serbia to lower costs and target use of remittance transfers.

To meet the SDGs, we must also invest in innovation, testing alternative ways to address development challenges.

Denmark has been a critical partner to UNDP’s Innovation Facility, enabling us to support innovation in 85 countries so far. This catalytic funding has made possible the creation of innovative solutions for the SDGs, for instance in Sudan where we are developing cost-effective ways to measure poverty by analyzing satellite images, electricity consumption and mobile phone use.

With the support of Danish funding, UNDP has also supported the establishment of Innovation Labs within a number of Governments, bringing together expertise in innovation and public sector reform to improve public policies and service delivery. 

The critical role a strong and vibrant private sector plays in development is something too that UNDP clearly recognizes.

Through our Istanbul International Centre on Private Sector in Development, we led preparation of the pioneering “G20 Inclusive Business Framework”. This sets out recommendations on how to create an enabling environment for, and to scale-up, inclusive business. This is complemented by the “Business Call to Action”, a UNDP-led partnership that includes almost 200 companies committed to implementing concrete inclusive business initiatives worldwide.


In conclusion, let me emphasize that the 2030 Agenda offers a unique opportunity to put the whole world on a more prosperous and sustainable development path.

As all of you in this room know, however, achieving this will not be easy. Adopting a truly integrated approach presents complex challenges. Leaving no one behind is hard to visualize in so many contexts today. And wisely identifying and managing risks requires a different set of skills. For these reasons, strong and broad-based partnerships become ever more important for SDG achievement.

Here, the longstanding UNDP-Denmark Partnership is of significant value.

Together, we are:

•    Identifying cutting-edge and innovative solutions to advance the 2030 Agenda (through UNDP’s Innovation Facility);

•    Promoting youth empowerment and enhancing young people’s contribution to conflict prevention and peacebuilding (through UNDP’s Youth Global Programme ‘Youth GPS’);

•    Strengthening parliamentary action for sustainable development, specifically in the area of renewable energy (through the PARE project).

UNDP greatly values its partnership with Denmark, grounded in a shared commitment to peace and development for all.  

At UNDP we see a strong complementarity between Denmark’s bilateral efforts and the multilateral norm-based support UNDP delivers - both at the level of headquarters and even more so at the country-level.  

Denmark’s emphasis on innovation, working across sectors and specializations to find solutions to global challenges, and use of ODA as a driver for coherence, efficiency and results continues to inspire us.  

We look forward to continuing our fruitful collaboration to address complex issues like stabilization and displacement in MENA and Africa, which is essential to put all people and countries on the path to achieving the SDGs.  


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