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“UN City – Copenhagen: Culture Night 2017”

Michael Møller

13 octobre 2017
“UN City – Copenhagen: Culture Night 2017”

Speech by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

“UN City – Copenhagen: Culture Night 2017”

UN City
Marmorvej 51, 2100, Copenhagen, Denmark
Friday, 13 October 2017, at 19h00

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure for me to be here with you in this magnificent UN City complex. A pleasure not only because it gives me the opportunity to return to my city, but because this very building makes my work here easier. Allow me to explain. UN City symbolizes the three points I would like to make tonight. First, that a more sustainable future is possible. Second, that a change of mentality – as embodied by the SDG Lab – is needed. Third, that the UN is adapting to these changing times. I would like to thank the organizers of this event for the opportunity to speak on these three particularly timely topics.

Timely because we are facing today a series of unprecedented, global challenges. Seemingly intractable conflicts and the ravages of climate change fuel economic uncertainty and mass displacement. Stalled development efforts prevent millions from reaching their full potential. Human rights and the very principles and values of the United Nations are too often disregarded. Faced with these realities, it would be easy to give up. To see these trends as immutable. This would be a mistake. In truth, these problems can be tackled, but only through collective action. Why? Because today’s problems are global in nature. No state, no entity, can tackle these challenges alone. Carbon emissions know no boundaries, distant conflicts lead to population flows and weak healthcare systems in one country – even in the most remote state - can lead to worldwide pandemics.

Fortunately, we have a plan around which we can all rally: the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. Adopted by our Member States in 2015 with the engagement of civil society, business and academia, it is the most ambitious development agenda in human history. A truly global roadmap for a global century. It’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals address everything from poverty and gender equality to urban development and the rule of law. It is built on the realization that progress in one area depends on action in another. In other words, the traditional lines that divide one discipline from another narrow our field of vision. They prevent us from appreciating the interactions that shape our lives. For example, promoting sustainable consumption – the twelfth goal – has a role in the struggle against so-called “super bugs” by promoting a rational use of antibiotics. This interdependency is rooted in the Goals’ 169 targets, which are more tangible and helpful to define precise action. Action on one Goal also brings significant windfalls in another. For example, analysts estimate that achieving gender equality – Goal 5 – would generate 17 trillion dollars for the global economy, contributing to Goal 8 on economic growth. The product of lessons learned from decades of development work, the Goals are more than a wish list. They are a universal blueprint for progress that will “leave no one behind” and forge a safer, fairer and more sustainable world. The Goals recognize that focusing on economic growth alone does not work. Instead, we need a balanced approach. One that gives equal weight to what we call the 5 Ps: People, Planet, Profit, Peace and Partnership. The Goals challenge us to re-examine the way we work, collaborate and innovate.

Member States are in the driver’s seat of the 2030 Agenda, but their success depends on adopting a new collaborative approach in their capitals and beyond. Governments are better placed to deliver on their promises if they break down the silos between different ministries and begin operating in a more integrated, horizontal way. Parliamentarians, regional governments, city and local authorities, for their part, have a vital role to play by serving as conduits in a vertical exchange that must flow in both directions. Implementation will ultimately be carried out on the ground. That is why we have to be responsive to the lessons learned and the wisdom of those who face these challenges at the grassroots every day. We cannot help others if we are not willing to listen and learn, if we are not willing to help empower local communities.

Just as new bottom-up relationships are needed to tackle today’s global challenges, so are international, horizontal partnerships. This is particularly the case in light of the holistic interconnected nature of the Sustainable Development Goals. Their success will ultimately depend on the close collaboration between various actors that were previously isolated in their respective fields. Home to over 100 UN and other international organizations, 178 representatives of Member States, some 400 NGOs, over 250 permanent missions and other delegations, a dynamic private sector and prominent academic institutions, the Geneva region is the ideal place to facilitate this kind of cross-cutting collaboration and exchange of knowledge across traditional divides.

Why? Because Geneva is more than the sum of its parts. It’s also home to a cooperative mentality. It is a veritable laboratory, where the proximity of actors fosters collaboration, deep institutional knowledge is shared and parties are willing to experiment, to sometimes fail, but ultimately to make breakthroughs. Earlier this year, for example, the Geneva-based Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Microsoft launched a new initiative to use the big data revolution to help detect human rights crises. Geneva is also more than a place where discussions take place. It is also a place where norms, standards and global decisions that impact all of our lives are made. Mobile phones, car seats and safe vaccines are just three examples of modern life made possible by norms forged in International Geneva.

Geneva’s concentration of actors and expertise, as well as its cooperative mentality and incredible number of initiatives, are what make it a global hub for action on the Sustainable Development Goals. In an effort to leverage this potential, I set up in my office an SDG Lab earlier this year. It is focused on supporting actors in Geneva and beyond who are dedicated to delivering on the Goals. The SDG Lab does this by convening and connecting, creating avenues for knowledge exchange, showing and amplifying best practices, and fostering innovation and collaboration. Looking at the challenges faced by Member States and their Partners, the Lab is prioritizing four themes: (1) Urban Development, (2) Financing of the Goals, (3) the Indivisibility of the Goals and (4) “a whole-of-government approach doesn’t just happen”.

The Lab’s activities embody the guiding principles of the Goals. First, multi-stakeholder collaboration. In only a few months, the team has grown to 8 individuals, coming from International Organizations, Permanent Missions and NGOs. They represent a variety of disciplines, stakeholder groups and all regions of the world. This diversity is the Lab’s strength, enabling it to draw on different perspectives, resources and connections. Second, the indivisibility of the Goals. For example, in an effort to foster a change in mentality regarding development, the Lab has launched its “So What” Series that explores the integrated nature of the Goals in practice. The first event, co-hosted by WIPO, explored the links between gender (Goal 5) and innovation (Goal 9). The second event, co-hosted by the Global Commission on Drug Policy on Health and Peace, looked at the nexus between healthy lives (Goal 3) and peaceful and inclusive societies (Goal 16). Each event demonstrated that progress on one Goal depends on action in another. The Series represents a new holistic mentality based on collaboration, not on ring-fencing and silos.
The embrace of technology, the private sector and innovative start-ups. Recognizing untapped potential, the SDG Lab helped the Millennium Institute promote a tool that helps governments understand the impact of their actions on the Goals. The Lab amplified this tool, which is now used by five countries in Africa.
The need for partnerships. The SDG Lab played a key role in the creation of the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem, a gathering open to the UN family, NGOs, academics and the private sector. It is working to spread the ideas generated in summits like the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF).

In its first few months of existence, the Lab has focused on changing the mentality around development. Going forward, however, it will focus increasingly on the practical implementation of the Goals, with an emphasis on results at the local level. Ultimately, the Lab wants to ensure that practical realities and local contexts are heard. That they inform the international community’s response. Because as we work to implement the Goals, we cannot forget that results on the ground, not process, will define the success of the Goals.

This brings me to my third point: that the United Nations is reforming to meet the challenges of today. To better serve “We the Peoples” in our communities. To meet the scope and ambition of the Goals, the United Nations will need to undertake bold system-wide reforms. Recognizing this reality, Secretary-General António Guterres has outlined a set of ambitious, mutually-reinforcing reforms of the UN.

First, a reform of the UN’s approach to peace and security. If the nature of conflicts has changed since 1945, the UN has largely failed to keep up. It remains focused on managing conflicts. A costly and prolonged undertaking with mixed results. Instead, the Secretary-General is now focusing the entire Organization on prevention. Prevention is not only cost-effective, it saves lives, preserves institutions and safeguards and promotes development. To that end, the Secretary-General has announced a “surge in diplomacy for peace”. He is bolstering the United Nations’ capacity to convene parties and mediate conflicts. He has unveiled an ambitious proposal to reform the UN’s peace and security pillar. To break down bureaucratic silos, the proposal would bring the UN’s political and peacekeeping structures into a single political and operational hub.

Second, a reform of the UN Development System. This is intended to help ensure that the UN can better serve Member States as they implement the Sustainable Development Goals. It would align resources and manpower behind these Goals, as well as encourage partnerships with the private sector and civil society. To ensure flexibility and cost savings, UN Country teams would adopt a modular approach and their Resident Coordinators would gain greater authority and accountability. To streamline collaboration and avoid new bureaucracies, reforms would also be instituted at the regional and headquarters levels. We will provide greater accountability and transparency to Member States and the public.

Third, a reform of the administration and internal management of the UN. To that end, the Secretary-General outlined his vision for a “UN that delivers”. A vision centred on bringing decision-making closer to the point of delivery. One that trusts manager to makes decisions, but also holds them accountable. One that links planning and budgetary processes to the Goals and deliverables. The reforms would reinforce the push for gender equality across the organization, building on the Secretary-General’s success in reaching gender parity at the most senior levels of our organization. Coupled with this we have instituted a new whistle-blower policy, a new approach to preventing sexual exploitation and abuse and putting in place a modernisation of our public outreach efforts.

These reforms ultimately aim to foster a new working culture in the United Nations. One in which information is shared, not hoarded. Where coordination and collaboration enable the UN to do more to support Member States. But the UN cannot do it alone. It is only if this new mentality is shared beyond the Organization and beyond governments that we can reach the Sustainable Development Goals. They are everyone’s responsibility, including every single one of you in this room. We all need to get to work!

Thank you.