Regional Director's speech at the "Acting Together for the SDGs” conference

May 30, 2019

Bratislava, Slovakia.

Deputy Prime Minister,

Minister Lajcak,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear colleagues,

I sincerely thank and commend the Government of Slovakia and Presidency of the Visegrad Group for hosting this timely discussion. As UNDP Assistant Administrator for Europe and Central Asia, covering a region of predominantly middle to upper middle-income countries, I want to emphasize at the outset that the Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals is equally relevant for all countries around the globe.

·      First and most importantly, the Sustainable Development Goals constitute a global reference framework for development. They are not a solution in and of themselves, but rather a common language that enables us to communicate across cultural and geographical boundaries about the incredibly complex and fast changing challenges of the 21st century.

·      And while certainly not perfect, the SDGs provide every Government in the world with the same, smart and unique compass for public policy development and national resource allocation.

·      Second, the SDGs offer ways to achieve win-win outcomes rather than trade-offs. Their key driver is sustained economic growth that protects the planet and that leaves no one behind.

·      Third, the SDGs are a universal declaration of interdependence amongst issues, countries and, most importantly amongst us, peoples and societies.

·      Take for instance Goal 10 on reducing inequalities. Persistent and growing gaps between the rich and the poor undermine democracy and stability for all.

·      On the other hand, tackling inequalities is inherently linked to issues like access to quality education, the right social protection schemes, agricultural development and climate action.

·      Fourth and finally, the SDGs are a common way to measure progress against global commitments. They provide national governments with the right set of tools to assess where they are successful and where they will need to invest more in the future.

So where do we stand today, almost one third of the way to 2030?

Recent UN reports have highlighted there is much more progress still to be made.

But this negative trend can still be broken, if societies mobilize around common goals, united by the commitment of their political leaders.

Policy makers today acknowledge that the SDG won’t be met unless they are translated into concrete actions at the regional, national and down to the local level.

Yet, the SDGs weren’t developed for Governments alone. They equally require public and private sector leadership, though the latter will be fostered through smart policies developed by strong and accountable public institutions.

SDG implementation also requires innovative approaches that take into account scientific progress and new technologies.

In other words, the SDGs need to become as much of a framework for decision making by private companies and research institutions as they are a basis for national development planning.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Getting the financing right is absolutely critical if we are to meet the goals by 2030. But until recently, a lot of the focus in development financing discussion was put on aid.

The generous contributions of funding partners in international development cooperation will of course remain critical in the future; and international development programmes including UNDP wouldn’t be able to operate and lead on SDG implementation without this support.

But in view of the size of global financial flows, ODA can only play a catalytic role, helping countries collect and spend better the money in the public purse.

Enhancing the capacity of tax administrations, widening the tax base and making it more progressive, and more effective taxation of multinational enterprises are vital for effective domestic resource mobilization.

Here I would like to acknowledge UNDP’s long-standing partnership with the Ministry of Finance of Slovakia, which is funding public finance reform initiatives in several countries of Europe and CIS, starting from its own transition experience.

Yet, financing the kinds of transformations called for in the SDGs demands going much further than public finance.

I have just come from UNDP’s Development Dialogues which took place in Istanbul, where our Administrator Achim Steiner impressively laid out the point that there is no shortage of capital in the global economy to achieve even the most inflated price tag for implementing the Agenda 2030.

The total stock of global financial assets has been estimated at close to 300 trillion USD.

But today’s global financial system is not channeling those vast sums effectively, either towards investments for sustainable development, or to the countries and regions which have traditionally been left out.

Reorienting even a fraction of global investments could move us away from the carbon economy much faster than is currently happening.

But for this, the business case for investing in sustainability needs to be clearly made.

Private companies and private investors need to be supported and incentivized to become more active in developing markets, and to look at sustainability as a critical component in the success of their businesses and investments.

Which takes us back again to the issue of political leadership pushing for the right policy frameworks, both national and cross-border. I am therefore truly happy to see that fora like the Visegrad Group, with its own notable experience and track record in development, are looking at the SDGs as a guiding framework for cooperation among countries in Central Europe. 

Throughout the Europe and Central Asia, governments are ‘walking the talk’ and the region is already making progress in three key areas:

·      elimination of extreme poverty;

·      achieving overall high levels of human development; and

·      fostering stronger economic growth trends.

But let me touch quickly upon three of the key challenges and opportunities which are UNDP’s main preoccupations in this region and the reasons we continue to invest in our work here, even as more countries achieve higher levels of national income.

First, inequalities are rising across the board. Inequality undermines democracy by fuelling exclusion, instability and insecurity.

Second, while the region’s economies are generally growing, this growth is largely neither inclusive nor sustainable.

Many economies in the region are still dependent on one or two core industries.

The participation of women in the labour market is still below the global average.

Pockets of poverty remain a persistent challenge for the region, as evidenced by the outmigration flows which are deeply troubling to many countries, perhaps most visibly in the Western Balkans.

Third, no country will be able to sustain growth or ensure the well-being of its people if it does not proactively manage risks posed by climate change.

Not taking action will guarantee that decades of hard-won development gains will be undone.

Dear Deputy Prime Minister, Dear Minister

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I have already mentioned before, UNDP works with all countries and across the whole specter of the Sustainable Development Goals. In this, we also work with and support all Goverments in the region. Some are donors, some are programme countries, and some are both.  Your continued partnership with UNDP, and with each other, is indispensable.

I wish you a very successful conference.