COVID-19, War in Ukraine, Environmental Crisis ‘Wake-Up’ Call for Action to Achieve Sustainable Development, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Commonwealth Ministers

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, to the “Sustainable and Development” session during the Pre-Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Commonwealth Foreign Affairs Ministers Meeting, in Kigali today:

I am delighted to be here and to contribute to this important Commonwealth gathering, with so many friends and colleagues in person, at this critical moment in our world.  The 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals, adopted nearly seven years ago, grew out of the belief that sustainable and inclusive development — the topic of today’s session — is the only durable development.  We’re almost to the halfway point of the 2030 Agenda.

To be sure, we have made progress.  But, I think it’s fair to say that this is not the “halfway there” world that we imagined in 2015.  We did not envision the COVID-19 health pandemic and its dire social and economic fallout, or the war in Ukraine.  These two acute crises add to the devastation wrought by the ongoing triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution — and to the reality that we were not doing what we needed to do long before the pandemic hit.

Each of these crises are wake-up calls, reminding us that we must act together in our fully globalized and interdependent world.  Disease ignores borders, conflict in one region contributes to hunger in another, and environmental degradation and unsustainable consumption patterns threaten the lives and livelihoods of all.

Inequality has deepened, within and among countries.  Women and young people have suffered disproportionately from the social and economic hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, with lost opportunities for education and employment, spiking domestic violence and heavy care burdens.

We are also facing a “great finance divide”.  While developed countries were able to borrow for their recoveries at ultra-low interest rates, most developing countries could not afford to do the same.  These countries continue to face increasingly high costs of lending and have had to cut their education and health budgets and other Sustainable Development Goal investments.

And I don’t need to tell you in this room that the impacts of climate change are not felt equally across the globe.  Four key climate change indicators set new records in 2021, with devastating consequences for small island developing states and other vulnerable countries.

Across this work, there is much to do, and I know that the Commonwealth will play a leadership role.  The Commonwealth is a powerful example of the promise and potential of multilateralism — bringing to life the ideal of strength through cooperation.  You are defined by your diversity.

Small states in the Commonwealth face myriad challenges, but they are also natural leaders in sustainable development and in the existential fight against climate change, providing moral leadership and implementing innovative approaches to adaptation.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an example of the organization in grasping the opportunities that the blue economy offers and showing that cooperation is the right approach to better stewardship of our ocean for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and ocean ecosystem health.

The international community must step up, too.  We need to commit to a 1.5°C world, reach net-zero by 2050 and cut global emissions by 45 per cent this decade.  Emerging economies will need an estimated $4 trillion per year in additional investments by 2030, if they are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and invest in climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.  It is more important than ever to deliver on official development assistance (ODA) commitments.

Rapidly transitioning to decarbonized energy systems is also key.  By 2025, we must provide 500 million more people with access to electricity and 1 billion people with access to clean cooking solutions.  We must also rapidly and vastly improve energy efficiency.  To advance the energy transition, the Secretary‑General has championed shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to support vulnerable people and tripling global investment for renewables.  This cannot wait.

The United Nations development system has been working hand in hand with many Commonwealth countries to advance sustainable and inclusive development.  For instance, in Mozambique, the United Nations contributed to the new 20-year national development strategy in collaboration with a broad array of stakeholders, including the business sector and young people.  The United Nations country team in the Pacific supported seven Commonwealth countries in developing ambitious national pathways for sustainable food systems.  And the United Nations country team in Malawi has implemented a joint programme to promote integrated social protection with a focus on food security and leaving no one behind.

Furthermore, I am pleased to say that the United Nations General Assembly is working to develop a multidimensional vulnerability index.  This type of index could provide a far more equitable platform for vulnerable countries, particularly small island States, to access much needed concessional finance based on their vulnerabilities rather than on indices that have little relevance to real needs.  I urge you to actively participate in the General Assembly debate on the multidimensional vulnerability index when it is tabled for consideration later this year.

A remarkable 1 in 3 young people aged 15 to 29 live in the Commonwealth.  With their high energy, open minds and technological know-how, they will be the engine of our transformation.  I commend the extensive efforts you are making to ensure they are actively supported in their development and empowered to shape a sustainable and inclusive future.

The Secretary-General’s proposals in Our Common Agenda call for a transformed education system, a high-ambition coalition to promote green and digital-economy jobs, and efforts to remove barriers to young people’s political participation.  I urge you all to actively engage in making these proposals a reality — in particular in the preparations for the Transforming Education Summit this September.  Young people inspire the work of the United Nations, and I know that they inspire and animate your work in the Commonwealth, as well.  We must support them.

Across all of this important work, I thank you for all that the Commonwealth is doing to advance sustainable and inclusive development.  The United Nations continues to be committed to this collaboration with the Commonwealth.  I wish you all the best in your deliberations.

For information media. Not an official record.