India Vital for Sustainable Development Goals’ Success, Fighting Climate Crisis, Debt Relief Reform, Secretary-General Says at Country’s Anniversary Celebration
Following are the UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks on the partnerships between India and the United Nations on India’s seventy-fifth anniversary, at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, in Mumbai, today:
I am delighted to be here with all of you. This institution is 54 years old, and as it was said, 54 years ago, I was a student at a university in Lisbon, and my school was called — I will say in Portuguese, but you will understand — Instituto Superior Técnico. And my dream at the time was to be a researcher in physics.
Now, we don’t control our destiny. We lived in a dictatorship that was at the same time an oppressive colonialist regime. We had fortunately a revolution, and that revolution led to the liberation of the former colonies and to democracy in Portugal.
And, at that time as a student, I was as a volunteer working in the slums of Lisbon in different areas related to health and education and I felt the compulsion to get involved directly into politics. And so, I never became a researcher in physics.
And I am envious of all those who will be able to contribute to the well-being of humankind, to the scientific work that is as necessary as the political work, to make sure that we can live in a better world.
And I am very pleased to start this visit to India because I have a double love affair with India. First, because of India’s culture, history, India’s people, its contribution to today’s world, and to the world civilization. And the second reason because my wife was born in Goa. So, with this double love affair, I am delighted to be here with all of you.
And it is indeed a pleasure to be here at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, to talk about the partnership between India and the United Nations and strengthening South-South Cooperation.
I am also delighted to celebrate with you the seventy-fifth anniversary of India’s independence; Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. I congratulate India on its achievements over the last 75 years as the world’s largest democracy, and now, as the fastest-growing major economy.
As an engineering graduate, with a lifelong commitment to education, I feel, as I said, very much at home at IIT Bombay. The Institute’s global mission and long history of transformative education make this the ideal place to talk about the strong partnership between India and the United Nations.
India was a founding member of the United Nations. The drafters of the United Nations Charter took great inspiration from Gandhi-ji’s message of peace, non-violence and tolerance. And thanks to an Indian woman, Hansa Mehta, Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes the equality of women and men: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Human beings, some people thought that it should be all men, linking to the old traditions of the past.
As a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, India has always been a leading advocate for the concerns and aspirations of developing countries. India is also the biggest provider of military and police personnel to United Nations missions — including the first all-women United Nations police contingent to a peacekeeping mission. Over 200,000 Indian men and women have served in 49 peacekeeping missions since 1948. A remarkable contribution to peace in the world.
As a member of the Security Council for the past two years, India has contributed significantly to promoting multilateral solutions and to address crises. We welcome India’s initiative on greater accountability for those who target peacekeepers.
So, dear students, dear members of the faculty, our world today faces mounting global challenges. Countries still reeling from the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic are being battered by energy, food and cost-of-living crises, accelerated by the war in Ukraine. Old and new conflicts have displaced more than 100 million people all around the world.
The devastating impact of climate disruption is more apparent by the month. You have felt this across India, from heatwaves in the grain-growing heartlands to flooding in the north-east and coastal states. Halfway to the finish line, some of the most fundamental Sustainable Development Goals have gone into reverse. Moving backwards, instead of moving ahead. More people today are hungry. More people are living in poverty than a few years ago.
And today, I would like to focus on India’s unique opportunity to shape the global agenda, as a principal player and a model for others. As the home of one-sixth of humanity and the world’s largest generation of young people, India can make or break the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. India’s success in translating the Sustainable Development Goals into action will mean the difference between success and failure for up to half of the global Sustainable Development Goal targets — far more than any other country.
India’s recent development journey is characterized by high-impact programmes delivered at scale. This includes the world’s largest food-based social protection scheme and the massive expansion of access to clean water and sanitation services. India’s whole-of-society approach to development combines old-fashioned community outreach with cutting-edge technology. Many of your most successful programmes are driven by world-class public digital infrastructure, which aligns more than 1 billion mobile internet users with financial inclusion initiatives, online health services and more.
Indian women have played a central role in many of these initiatives, from health workers at community clinics, to scientific research and technology. And today the number of Indian women and men taking STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] degrees are nearly at parity. India’s digital health platform, CoWIN, hosted the world’s largest vaccination programme for COVID‑19, delivering more than 2 billion doses.
And the United Nations has accompanied India in all these development milestones, from the World Food Programme’s support for India’s Public Distribution System to the United Nations Development Programme’s partnership with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
India also demonstrates a practical and generous approach to global solidarity and South-South cooperation. It was the first country to launch a single country South-South cooperation support framework, via the United Nations-India Development Framework Partnership. And indeed, our relationship with India on development is a two-way partnership.
From your donations of medicines, equipment and vaccines at the height of the COVID‑19 pandemic, to your humanitarian assistance and development finance for Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, you are increasing your impact on the international stage, India is today, a partner of choice of the United Nations. India’s upcoming presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) will be an important opportunity to bring the values and vision of the developing world to the top table of the global economy.
There is an interesting coincidence. We have the presidency of Indonesia, followed by the presidency of India, followed by the presidency of Brazil, and followed by the presidency of South Africa. Which means that for the first time in history, four crucial developing countries will lead the G20.
And it is an opportunity that cannot be missed to make our international economic and financial relations, that are extremely unfair — there is an opportunity that we cannot miss — to deeply reform institutions, procedures, regulations and norms to make sure that we have a world economy for all, and not only a world economy for the rich.
I welcome your declared aim of sharpening the G20 approach to the 2030 Agenda. Four successive G20 Presidencies by developing countries could be used to create the space for comprehensive strategies to address current global crises.
And I count on India’s support in mobilizing G20 countries around debt relief. Many developing countries are at or near debt distress and require multilateral action, including the expansion and the extension of the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative.
We live in a dramatic situation for developing countries. When COVID‑19 emerged, there was a huge inequality in the world in relation to vaccines. But as important as the inequality in relation to vaccines, was the inequality in relation to the resources available for the economy. Sixteen trillion dollars in the world were mobilized for recovery, through direct financing by states to guarantees and other financial mechanisms.
The United States and Europe have printed money. Now, of course, printing money is done in a very sophisticated way, through interventions of the Central Bank, through different kind of buying bonds. It is like in the past. Printing money. But most developing countries could not print money, because if they would print money their currencies would go down the drain.
And so, the truth is that the recovery from the pandemic was largely concentrated, from a financial point of view, in the developed countries. Developing countries have received very little from the financial instruments of recovery. And the result, because of the direct impact in their societies and the need to support their people, was a dramatic increase in debt. And we have today a large number of countries that are on the verge of collapse. And we do not have any effective instrument of debt relief in today’s world, especially for middle income countries that have been dramatically impacted.
Imagine a small island developing country, like countries in the Caribbean, in the Pacific or even in the Indian Ocean. That small island has 40 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) from tourism. But for two years there were no tourists. That small island had to import fuel, food. And now, the price of fuel and food are skyrocketing.
So that small island accumulated debt, but it is considered a middle-income country, so it has no access to any debt relief instrument and no access for concessional funding from international financial institutions. That is why I’ve said several times, the international finance system is morally bankrupt. It was devised by the rich, to serve the interests of the rich. This is the moment to change it.
And that is why I encourage India’s engagement in deep reform of the global financial architecture, which, as I said, favours those that conceived it and is terribly detrimental to the interest of the developing countries, especially the least developed countries.
Now, the climate crisis could be the greatest barrier to our collective development aspirations, and India is no exception. It is already a grave threat to India’s economy, agriculture and food sector, and to the health, lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people. Record-breaking heat waves, droughts and floods in parts of India are causing havoc already. These are a foretaste of what is to come without much greater global climate action.
Climate devastation is a reality at 1.2°C of warming. Now, current global commitments put us on track to more than double this level. And let us not forget, G20 countries are responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions. And they must take the lead in cutting greenhouse gases.
It is important to fully recognize the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and the respective capacities in light of national circumstances. This is the sentence that resulted in a compromise in the Paris Agreement on climate change to take into account that the effort that it is required to developed countries must be bigger than the effort that is required to developing countries. Even if all must contribute to all objectives.
Now, while we fully recognize this principle, the truth is that I’ve also asked the emerging economies to take an extra step to close the so-called mitigation gap. But they can only do this with the financial and technical support of developed countries. This is the moment in which we will be defeated by climate change forever if there is not a historical pact between developed countries and emerging countries. Of course, small island developing States do not contribute much to climate change; most African countries do not contribute much to climate change.
But today, thanks to the development of countries like India or China or Indonesia, there is a contribution also from emerging economies. But it is clear that those emerging economies can’t go as fast as developed economies because of their industrial structure, their agricultural structure, and because, in the past they have contributed much less to climate change.
So, we need a historical pact in which developed countries strongly support with financial and technical resources emerging economies, to allow for combined efforts of the two, with extra requirements from developed countries to allow us to defeat climate change, and to keep the temperature under control if possible, and I would say, it is necessary at 1.5°C.
Now, this is why I have called for coalitions of support around countries, I did it in Glasgow at COP26 [twenty-sixth conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], namely India, with ambitious plans to accelerate the deployment of renewables.
And I therefore welcome the establishment of the Just Energy Transition Partnerships. Such partnerships can help emerging economies to accelerate the deployment of renewables, through a closely coordinated process that is nationally owned. And above all, a just energy transition will benefit millions of Indians and other peoples who suffer the triple impact of pollution, energy poverty and the climate crisis.
I welcome India’s leadership in converting domestic climate action into international collaboration, through the International Solar Alliance and the International Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
The United Nations and I have a very clear perspective: we need a renewables revolution, but that renewables revolution will only be possible with the effective solidarity of the developed world with developing countries that are also needed in this revolution — also to the benefit of their own populations.
Critical renewables technologies, such as battery storage, should be treated as global public goods. I had the opportunity to see a very interesting development just a few minutes ago.
So, we need to diversify supply chains and manufacturing capacity. And we must reduce the cost of capital for renewable energy investments in the developing world. One of the problems we have today is that it's much cheaper to produce electricity with solar or wind than with coal or gas. But the cost of electricity produced by solar or wind is essentially the investment cost, and the cost of electricity produced by gas or coal is the running cost of burning those fuels.
And today we have a dramatic situation. Already 20 countries are paying interest rates 10 points above the American Treasury bills. So the only way to allow for a renewables revolution in the developing countries is reducing the cost of capital in developing countries. And for that, there must be a concerted effort, namely making the multilateral development institutions — the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — understand that beyond the loans that they can provide, they need to be able to leverage some guarantees. Through, first, the risk takers, to leverage massive doses of private finance to allow to reduce the cost of capital in the developing world, for the developing world to be able to do the just transition that is necessary for their economies.
I urge India to become a global superpower in renewables technology and a manufacturing hub to fuel this revolution around the world. And I've seen through the examples that were shown for me that you will have the capacity to do so. And I look forward to working with Prime Minister [Narendra Damodardas] Modi and the Indian Government to drive this agenda forward. And I will continue to urge developed countries who bear a historic responsibility to provide the necessary finance in adequate conditions to the developing world.
The Lifestyle for Environment initiative that Prime Minister Modi will launch — I will be there tomorrow — seeks to create a self-reliant model that transforms consumption habits for the benefit of all – in India and around the world.
I can see here today that India’s research and innovation ecosystem is strong and vibrant. And if I may be allowed to address the students in the hall: I urge you to use your considerable talents to tackle the planetary emergency we face; to develop renewable technology; to find new solutions to pollution and to biodiversity loss.
Naturally, I respectfully urge you not to work for those who are wrecking our climate. I’ve been saying that to university students all around the world. Don’t look only at your future goal. Look at the contribution of the countries or entities for which you work, to have a better world, a more sustainable and inclusive world. And you will feel much happier afterwards.
There are unfortunately a number of people in the world that still have only one objective, one day be the richest person in the cemetery. That doesn’t bring happiness.
Now, COP27 [twenty-seventh conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] in Cairo will demand strong leadership from India, as we accelerate implementation of the Paris Agreement. I count on India to participate at the highest level, and to deliver a balanced outcome that recognizes the importance of adaptation, mitigation and finance.
We also need to make serious progress on loss and damage in Cairo. Loss and damage will be crucial to establish trust between developing countries and developed countries. And loss and damage is, first of all, the recognition that it exists. And second, the assumption of responsibilities to be able to address the needs that it generates.
And that is why adaptation is so important and funding to adaptation is so important. If you have a flood and you have a road at the level of the ground, the road will disappear. If you have a road system that is higher, the road will not disappear. If you have mangroves all around your coastal areas which are more vulnerable, the coastal areas will resist. If the mangroves have been wiped out, the coastal areas will not resist.
And all that requires huge investment. And that investment needs to be financed through international cooperation. And the recognition of loss and damage might be a very important instrument to do so. As climate impacts grow, we must scale up financing for loss and damage to support the world’s most vulnerable people, communities and nations.
On this global challenge, all countries have to move together. We need an honest conversation around rights and responsibilities. It is clear that countries that had no part in creating this crisis cannot continue to pay the highest price for it.
India has been a global leader from the moment of its birth. Your non-violent independence movement encouraged anti-colonial struggles around the world. Your victory was a catalyst that helped to end the long epoch of European imperialism everywhere. As an elected member of the Human Rights Council, India has a responsibility to shape global human rights, and to protect and promote the rights of all individuals, including members of minority communities.
India’s voice on the global stage can only gain in authority and credibility from a strong commitment to inclusivity and respect for human rights at home. The Indian model of plurality is based on a simple but profound understanding: diversity is a richness that makes your country stronger.
The understanding is the birthright of every Indian, but it is not a guarantee. It must be nurtured, strengthened and renewed every day in this and every other society. By practicing the values of Gandhi. By securing and upholding the rights and dignity of all people — especially the most vulnerable. By taking concrete action for inclusion, recognizing the enormous value and contributions of multicultural, multireligious and multi-ethnic societies. By condemning hate speech unequivocally. By protecting the rights and freedoms of journalists, human rights activists, students and academics. And by ensuring the continued independence of India’s judiciary.
This is the India that the world has celebrated. I urge Indians to be vigilant and to increase your investments in and inclusive, pluralistic, diverse community and society. In India, as across the world, much more needs to be done to advance gender equality and women’s rights. This is a moral imperative, and a multiplier for prosperity and sustainability. No society can reach its full potential without equal rights and freedoms for women, men, girls and boys.
India is at a decisive moment. You have an unprecedented opportunity to speak up for the Global South and to lead by example, as a model of resilience and an advocate for sustainable development, global financial reform, and climate justice. The decisions you make today and the path you chart over the next 18 months could have a global resonance for decades to come.
I urge India to continue speaking up for peace; to expand its global leadership; to align its development and its foreign policy with the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and the Paris Agreement; to find innovative solutions to today’s global crises.
As your first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, said at the dawn of Independence 75 years ago: “Our dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for any one of them to imagine that it can live apart.”
Across the United Nations system, at the global level, through the UN Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Country Team of Agencies, Funds and Programmes, we are proud to be your committed partners. Let’s work together for the next 75 years to create a more peaceful, just, sustainable and inclusive world for all. And I trust that India will be the fundamental contribution for that to be possible. Thank you.