UN Secretary-General: Towards a fairer, more peaceful world

Op-ed by UN Secretary-General António Guterres for Impact Journalism Day

Three years ago, world leaders unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Negotiating this framework for a better future and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals spanned three years and involved hundreds of meetings, thousands of documents and millions of people.  That was the easy part.  The harder work is now under way: bringing the blueprint to life.

The Goals were adopted with justifiable enthusiasm.  Covering everything from energy to education, infrastructure to institutions, urbanization to innovation, they offer a holistic roadmap for addressing the world’s ills.  They apply to all countries, reflect the priorities of all countries and were embraced by all countries, with presidents and prime ministers putting their weight behind the Goals’ core promise: to leave no one behind.

In this third year of implementation, momentum is still with us.  Many countries are aligning their policies and budgets behind the Goals.  More and more businesses are recognizing the opportunities to invest in new technologies, open up new markets and build the sustainable and inclusive economy of the 21st-century.  Civil society organizations are using these global Goals to drive local change.

At the same time, progress is too slow to meet the targets by the deadline of 2030.  Armed conflicts and humanitarian crises are also throwing us off course.  Action in three areas is especially urgent.

First is climate change.  The nine warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005.  Last year, the economic toll of climate-related disasters hit a new high: $320 billion.  People’s lives are being shattered.  We need greater ambition, including a 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020.  These are the facts.  Fortunately, there is another, more hopeful reality: Clean energy is more affordable and competitive than ever.  The International Labour Organization reported recently that common sense green economy policies could create 24 million decent jobs globally by 2030.  Climate change is still moving faster than we are; our challenge is to usher in a race to the top.

Second, like global temperatures, inequality keeps rising.  Globalization has brought remarkable benefits – increased wealth, a growing global middle class and major inroads against poverty.  But  more than over 800 million people continue to live in extreme poverty. And many people, sectors and regions feel they are being left behind, unable to participate in this visible prosperity.  This, in turn, undermines social cohesion and heightens the appeal of populists and xenophobes.  Our responsibility is to invest in people and build a fair globalization that works for all.

Third, we will neither conquer inequality, nor halt climate change, nor indeed achieve any of our shared goals, without empowering the world’s women and girls.  Yet gender-based discrimination remains entrenched.  Representation in political life and the business world is growing, but slowly.  Within their own households, women’s voices are frequently stifled.  And violence and harassment are pervasive, most often with impunity.  The imperative is clear: change power dynamics as a matter of basic rights, but also because women’s participation makes economies more dynamic, societies more resilient and peace agreements more durable.

Sustainable development also depends on upholding human rights and ensuring peace and security.  After all, leaving no-one behind means reaching the furthest behind first: those facing armed conflict, governance failures and political repression and instability.  This is why the framework includes a dedicated goal on inclusive societies, access to justice and accountable institutions.  Sustainable development is an end in itself, but it is also the best way to prevent crisis and build a safer world.

The Sustainable Development Goals take us to the year 2030.  But even today we must look to the farther horizon of frontier issues.  Technological innovation continues to provide answers for many pressing challenges.  Yet developments involving artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and cyberspace also have dark sides and will lead to upheavals in labour markets, global security and society in general.  We must work across sectors to move forward in ways that ensure the benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are enjoyed by all.

The Sustainable Development Goals are our pathway toward a fairer, more peaceful and prosperous world on a healthy planet. They are also a summons to inter-generational solidarity.  We have no greater duty than to invest in the well-being of young people so that they can realize their potential.  I am determined to ensure that an effective, reformed United Nations is up to the task in enabling people everywhere, today and tomorrow, meet their needs and realize their aspirations.

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