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Progress towards Sustainable Development Goals Has ‘Faltered, Gone into Reverse’, Deputy Secretary-General Warns, in Remarks to Arab Regional Forum

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development, in Beirut today:

We meet at a critical juncture for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Seven and a half years ago, world leaders agreed on a common vision for a brighter future — the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  We are now halfway along this path, and it is time for an honest appraisal to decide on course corrections.

We need to draw on the strong leadership in the region and ask ourselves some tough questions.

I would like to thank Yemen for its leadership in chairing this important forum today, as well as the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in doing the ground-work and preparations to make this event.

But, our work has hardly begun.  There is so much more to do.  Let me be frank:  we are not doing well.  Our progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals has faltered and even gone into reverse on some important targets and Goals, leaving many behind.

Multiple interconnected, cascading crises are playing out on a global stage that is divided and slow to respond.

War is threatening lives and livelihoods and whole generations are at risk of being left behind.

The impacts of the triple planetary crisis of climate, biodiversity loss and pollution are threatening food security and water availability, eroding natural resilience, and exacerbating conflicts.

The Arab region is affected by all these severe challenges.

Inequality has exacerbated poverty, which has risen in recent years, approaching 50 per cent in the Arab least developing countries and countries affected by conflict.

Food insecurity affected more than 30 per cent of people in the Arab region in 2020 exacerbated by COVID, the climate crisis and the war in Ukraine.

The recent tragic earthquake that caused massive loss of life and destruction in Syria and Türkiye has added yet another dimension to the weight of human suffering.

Unless we act now, all these factors could put the promise to reach the Sustainable Development Goals far out of reach for this region and for the rest of the world.

We need an urgent review of how policy decisions and investment can put the region back on track.

Amidst all these challenges, we should not overlook the achievements for sustainable development in this region.  Key building blocks include renewable energy, Internet access and social protection.

The Arab region has some of the lowest costs for the generation of solar power in the world, breaking records in 2020 and 2021, and demonstrating the immense potential for renewables across the region.

There are also promising signs with respect to the digital revolution and access to the Internet.  An important tool for our younger generation.

Many Governments in the region responded to the COVID-19 pandemic in ways that accelerated these trends and unleashed new potential to improve people’s health and well-being.

The pandemic also saw the temporary extension of social protection in many countries to cover millions of people at risk of falling into poverty.

This demonstrated the value of social safety nets in preventing and responding to future crises while addressing inequalities.

As we tackle the challenges ahead, these hopeful examples should serve as inspiration — and as evidence that with the right leadership, collaboration, policies and investments, we can turn the situation around.

Our global financial system is broken.

The collective debt burden of countries in the region has risen dramatically, with averages approaching 60 per cent of gross domestic product in 2021.

Many Governments lack fiscal space to respond effectively to new and ongoing crises.

The Secretary-General has set out urgent and necessary reforms to the global financial architecture so that it serves all countries, not just the wealthy.  In parallel, he has called for a Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus so that Governments have the resources to invest in their people.

The Sustainable Development Goals Stimulus aims to mobilize an additional $500 billion per year, including by better leveraging and improving the terms of lending of multilateral development banks.  This includes calling on multilateral development banks to change their business models, in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals, while including longer-terms, lower interest rates, the use of State-contingent clauses and more lending in local currencies.

Multilateral development banks should also significantly scale up support for least developed and middle-income economies, including through grants based on vulnerabilities — and not only income.  And they should assume more risks and mobilize private finance through a broad range of instruments, from guarantees to insurance products.

We count on the support of countries in the Arab region for these reforms.

I am encouraged by the work of the Arab Debt Management Group and its United Nations partners to support developing countries and urge you to build on these efforts.

We also need to take urgent, collective action to address the humanitarian and health emergency in developing countries.

We need a new approach to risk, through risk-informed planning and decision making.

This year, 2023, will see midpoint reviews of global progress on water, food systems, climate action and disaster risk reduction, under the Sendai Framework.

All resilience strategies must address the climate crisis, which is having a devastating impact in all regions of the world including the Arab region.

And yet, emissions are still going up.  Global warming has reached about 1.1°C compared to pre-industrial levels.

Your region is already suffering from droughts and sandstorms that will only get worse.

The world needs to reduce global emissions by 45 per cent by 2030.  We all know what needs to be done.

Implementing just transitions.  Phasing out fossil fuels and scaling up renewable energy.  Providing universal access to renewable energy by boosting the true treasures of the region:  wind and solar.  Accelerating the decarbonization of high-emitting sectors; industry, shipping, aviation.

The technical solutions exist.  What is needed is political will.  Accelerated transfer of technologies.  And finance.

The United Arab Emirates, as host of twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties, has a huge responsibility to reach consensus around accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels — in the region and around the world.

We also need an agreement at [the] twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties on the design and funding of the first ever loss and damage fund, agreed last year in Sharm El-Sheikh.  There will be huge expectations for the region to succeed under the leadership of the United Arab Emirates.

The world will be engaged, and the United Nations is preparing for this challenge.

I urge all Governments across the region to unify around solutions to the climate crisis, which hold so much potential for jobs and economies across the region and the world.

Sustainable development is essential in itself.  It is also humanity’s ultimate prevention tool.  It is through development that we address the underlying drivers of division, fragility and violence.  And yet a crucial component of sustainable development is often overlooked:  gender equality.

Women, our sisters, mothers and daughters, are being denied equal education, which is a fundamental right.  Women are being forced from the job market as the economy struggles.  We are being targeted for violence and abuse, online and off.  Our sexual and reproductive rights are being questioned and often denied.

In some places, women and girls are being erased from public life altogether.

The United Nations stands for the rights and dignity of all — men and women, girls and boys.  We are absolutely committed to upholding the human rights of girls and women in every country and to promoting their full and meaningful participation in society, the economy and political systems.

I thank those countries across the region that are standing up for the rights of women and girls.  Because women’s and girls’ contributions, experiences and approaches benefit everyone.  Because our religion and cultures recognize this.

The math is simple.  Without the contributions of half their members, societies will only fulfil half their potential.

And I will often say that a bird does not fly on one wing.  We need the full contributions of all, to weather the current storms and build inclusive, sustainable economies and societies for the future.

This is the year when we will determine the future of the 2030 Agenda.  World leaders will need to make a choice — to fulfil their commitment to a better future, or let it fall by the wayside.

The Sustainable Development Goals Summit and the Climate Ambition Summit in September must result in concrete commitment by political leaders to invest in development progress, and to keep the 1.5°C limit of climate change alive.

The first step is here at the Arab Forum for Sustainable Development.

I call on you to create momentum for collaborative action that builds from here to these two important summits in New York in September.  This momentum must lead to unequivocal reaffirmation of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, and carry us forward towards durable, inclusive peace and development.

In the face of today’s immense global challenges, let’s create hope and the actions for our people, young and old, women and men, and rise to meet the needs of future generations.

Let us mobilize a new collective will to drive a sustainable, prosperous future for all.

For information media. Not an official record.