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Opening of the 48th United Nations Graduate Study Programme

Sergei Ordzhonikidze

5 juillet 2010
Opening of the 48th United Nations Graduate Study Programme

Remarks by Mr. Sergei A. Ordzhonikidze
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva
Opening of the 48th United Nations Graduate Study Programme

Palais des Nations, Salle VII
Monday, 5 July 2010, at 10:00 a.m.

Dear Friends:

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to the United Nations and to our 48th Graduate Study Programme. You have come to us from all across the world, and we appreciate the time and effort you have all invested in learning more about the United Nations. You have all been carefully selected, so you can already be proud of what you have achieved. And I have no doubt that you will accomplish even more – over the coming three weeks and as you move forward with your lives.

I will admit straight away that I really enjoy the Graduate Study Programme. There is always a particular energy and enthusiasm among the participants, and I am encouraged by the commitment to the principles and values of the United Nations of those who take part. But, I think that this year, the Programme has taken on added significance, as we are now entering the International Year of Youth, as proclaimed by the General Assembly. Officially, the year does not start until 12 August, but for me, your presence here is a very appropriate way to begin that year. Over half of the world’s population is under 25. They represent our present and our collective future. I hope that while you are here, you will spend some time reflecting on what your vision for the future is. And I hope that you will leave here with determination to work to realize it.

Dear Friends:

With this year’s focus on climate change and the link with international peace and security, you will be exploring some of the most pressing challenges before us. In Copenhagen in December of last year, the need to fight climate change was raised to the highest level of Government. There is no doubt that the outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit did not live up to all expectations, but we must build on the momentum and the greater consciousness that was established there. 2010 will be crucial in the international community’s efforts towards a global, legally-binding climate agreement as the cornerstone of an effective response to climate change. We must tackle the root causes of climate change by limiting emissions and we must reverse its effects through better preparedness and mitigation. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún in Mexico in December will be critical in this respect.

It is increasingly acknowledged that our environmental challenge – including climate change – has security implications. Environmental degradation holds the potential to further destabilize already conflict-prone regions. Our changing climate can be a potential driver of conflict by changing or limiting access to energy, water, and food, by inducing population movements or by fuelling border disputes as part of the fight over scarce resources. Sometimes the link is neither clear-cut nor obvious, but it is a dimension that we need to take into account in our efforts to maintain international peace and security.

Climate change also undermines development, and threatens to reverse gains already made towards meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals – the so-called MDGs – by the deadline of 2015. Indeed, the impact of climate change will be felt the most by those least able to cope, and who have contributed the least to the problem.

The fight against climate change must therefore be an integral part of our development efforts. From 20 to 22 September this year, world leaders will come together for a special high-level meeting of the General Assembly to assess progress achieved so far in realizing the MDGs.

The scorecard so far is mixed. We have made significant progress on many targets: the overall poverty rate is expected to fall to 15 per cent by 2015 – that is half of 1990 levels. Globally, the number of people on less than $1.25 has fallen from 1.8 billion to 1.4 billion from 1990 to 2005. Yet, while the share of people living on less than 1.25 US dollars a day has also fallen in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the actual number in these regions has increased over the same period from 877 million to 984 million over the same period.

More children than ever before have access to education, with global school enrolment now at 85%. But, continuing poverty limits the rate and extent of progress, and the quality of schooling must be improved in addition to increasing the enrolment rate. We have seen significant declines in child mortality and the incidence of measles, malaria and neglected tropical diseases, but overall rates remain high.

The progress notwithstanding, we are likely to miss several Goals, especially in the least developed countries, land-locked developing countries, small island developing states and countries in or emerging from conflict. Millions go hungry. Disparities between rich and poor not only persist – but grow in some countries and regions. Let us also not forget that while official development assistance is increasing, it still remains woefully inadequate to meet the challenges before us. ODA rose from 103.5 billion dollars in 2007 to USD 119.9 billion in 2008. By comparison, global military expenditure has now topped 1.5 dollars.

The September Summit will be an opportunity for leaders to accelerate progress on the MDGs, despite the challenges. We can achieve the MDGs, with the right investment. It is not only a moral imperative but it is in our collective interest.

Fluctuating stock markets remind us that recovery from the economic and financial crisis remains fragile. Rising budget deficits and public debt hold the risk of prolonging the recovery phase. In this context of ongoing insecurity, it is crucial that we continue to strive to narrow the development gap as an integral part of the broader objective of achieving sustainable and balanced growth.

Against this background, the Secretary-General outlined at the recent G-20 meeting in Toronto a three-pronged strategy for investment that can yield high returns for the international community. Firstly, we must invest in job creation, in particular in the agricultural sector where there is a strong multiplier effect. Secondly, we need to invest in a green recovery, with a focus on mitigation and adaptation measures in development countries. And thirdly, we must invest in public health and health systems.

The agenda is indeed comprehensive and the challenges are many. Across all of them, there is a need to work towards the empowerment of women, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals and one of the Secretary-General’s strategic priorities. Enabling women to take full part in our societies is not only a goal in its own right. It is widely recognized that it has a particularly strong multiplier effect on other MDGs. Targeted action is needed to help girls from poor, rural areas stay in school. Women are slowly gaining ground in political decision-making – but the progress is erratic and marked by regional differences. Figures from May of this year from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which is based here in Geneva, show that the representation of women in parliaments, at the global level, stands at 19.5%. There is still a long way to go in equal participation. Job opportunities are opening up for women, but they often remain trapped in insecure, low-paid positions.

On Friday of last week, the United Nations General Assembly agreed to establish a single United Nations entity with greater clout to promote equality for women – namely the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, to be known as UN Women. It is our hope that this new entity will provide a solid foundation for advancing gender equality and participation of women.

The gender balance in this course – which actually has a majority of female participants – does remain the exception when it comes to women’s empowerment. I hope that your generation will continue the efforts to change that.

Dear Friends:

I have only touched upon some of the issues that you will look at in much more depth over the coming three weeks. Experts from across the United Nations are volunteering their expertise to give you an insight into their work and how they strive to create a better world for all. My hope is that you will leave here with a reinforced commitment to making a difference wherever you go, and with a readiness to challenge the status-quo. Together with my colleagues here, I look forward to hearing the final outcome of your discussions. I am sure that as you learn from us, we will also learn from you.

Thank you very much.

This speech is part of a curated selection from various official events and is posted as prepared.