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Without Appetite for Change, Deputy Secretary-General Says World Will Not Achieve 2030 Agenda, Calling for New Partnerships, Tools to Find Solutions

Following are UN Deputy Secretary‑General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the launch of From Summits to Solutions:  Innovations in Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals, in New York today:

On 25 September 2015, the world embraced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first time in history that our global village embraced a universal understanding and ambition of what we must and can achieve together on our planet.  The significance of this should not be underestimated, however the real mark of success will be delivering on the 2030 Agenda [for Sustainable Development] touching all people everywhere.

Today is 16 July 2018 — if our aim is to realize the Sustainable Development Goals by the end of 2030, we have 4,551 days left, or just over 3,000 working days if you insist on taking weekends off.  So, what can we do together in such a short time to achieve such an ambitious agenda?  One thing for sure is that business as usual does not make us fit for purpose.  The important United Nations reform agenda for development is recognition that doing more of the same will not get the job done.

This is true for you as business leaders, investors, policymakers and civil society actors.  If you are not going through your own revolution — transforming the core of what you do, how and why, you may risk becoming irrelevant, or worse still part of the problem.  We may not have the appetite for change, or even fear disruption, but without it the 2030 Agenda will not make its destination.

The good news is we find ourselves in a uniquely advantageous and yet also profoundly disturbing historical moment.  Advantageous because we know how to realize the SDGs, the technologies exist, the finance is there to be unlocked, youth are impatient and our collective knowledge is aligned with the urgency and how to get the job done.  Disturbing because our world of today faces enormous challenges that are outpacing our collective efforts to stand as one.  Conflicts increasing migration in droves, many lives lost; climate change more frequent; our humanity tested by intolerance, displacement, xenophobia and ethnic cleansing.

Our challenge, then, is to use these capabilities in shaping disruption for the greater good by our collective actions in closing the huge gap.  The title of this book says it all.  The SDGs will only be achieved if we make the leap from summits in United Nations conference rooms to solutions in communities on the ground in our countries.

We need to reach beyond simply what has worked in the past.  Yes, many issues need to scale up what already works.  But many of the SDGs’ core challenges are newly emergent, or changing shape rapidly across humanity’s horizon, requiring solutions yet unborn.

New frontiers require a new narrative with innovative approaches, new partnerships and tools that may not yet exist.  This is the story of the Nigeria Green Bonds born out of opportunity and necessity.

The book we are here to launch today — Summits to Solutions — makes clear the imperative of leadership from Governments and the multilateral system.  In that respect I’d like to recognize two leaders — Hiroshi Kato from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency and Mahmoud Mohieldin of the World Bank, both of whom are here with us today — for their important contributions to this book and to the role they played in shaping the SDGs overall.

But the book also draws attention to the need for SDG leadership beyond national Governments — to civil society, the private sector, universities and research organizations and indeed local governments.

The volume’s diverse collection of voices helps articulate crucial new thinking in this regard.  From the task of applying universality in Canada to the imperative of redefining urban governance in Asia.  From the breakthrough opportunities of geospatial data to the potential salience of measuring business contributions to the Goals.  From a proposal to protect half the ocean to a proposition that someone might lose their job if falling short on an SDG.  These are the types of provocative analysis and recommendations that can infuse our debates with the urgency they require.

All the book’s authors deserve congratulations.  Each chapter represents an important contribution to our thinking around capturing value, targeting places and updating systems of governance.

Let me also say how pleased I am that the volume’s opening contribution focuses on expanding women’s economic opportunities.  It is important to remember women as an asset that are key to sustainable growth and development.  The Nigerian Green Bond issuance experience is one such disruptive example.  It is in fact the world’s first fully certified, sovereign green bond, the topic of the essay I contributed to the volume launched here today, along with my co‑author, Simon Zadek.

Whilst the essay tells the fuller story, I want to highlight just a few points that I see as particularly salient to the sizeable challenge of realizing the 2030 Agenda in a timely manner.

Most directly, the green bond offered a new source of funds, front‑loaded, to spend at the nexus between environmental protection, enterprise development (especially those that are women‑led) and Nigeria’s broader strategy of reducing its dependency on a fossil fuel‑intensive economy and contributing to its commitment in the Paris Agreement.

The painful process helped us as a Government to recognize our gaps and to take credit as sector for the hard‑won agreement to have the Ministry of Finance “own” the process and add the green bond to its balance sheet, was a means of engaging across the Government in raising the importance of the nexus of green and economic success, and of strengthening the hand of the Ministry of Environment in cross‑Government strategic considerations and investments.

More expansively, the process of developing and then issuing a green bond provided the opportunity for cross‑sector collaboration within Government, opening partnerships and bringing awareness within the private financial community, including key capital market actors, of the opportunities that green investment present.

In a nutshell, the green bond was a means of creating pathways towards the greater goal of engaging Government and financial markets in the merits and opportunities associated with greening Nigeria’s economy, as well as being about raising some funds to invest in the here and now.

In conclusion, it is fair to say that solutions are “not what they used to be”!  Today, we have to be skilled in the art of crowding in innovations, market making and joining up institutions, all along with the more traditional mobilization of capabilities of skills, technology and finance.

SDG 17 is perhaps the anchor of this new understanding and practice, speaking not just to the need to “get together” or “share common goals”, but of the need for radical innovation and careful attention in shaping pathways to scale.

Summits to Solutions — the volume launched here today — speaks to such realities by providing cases we can learn from, not to replicate, but to draw insight as to how to advance practice in our own spheres of influence.  To its editors, John, Homi, Raj, Hiroshi and essay authors, many thanks for this contribution.  Special appreciation goes to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), my co‑author Simon Zadek, the Nigeria Stock Exchange, Climate Bond Initiative and the Honourable Minister of Environment for State, Nigeria and his team.

For information media. Not an official record.