Editor’s Note: Mogens Lykketoft is president of the 70th session of the U.N. General Assembly. The views expressed are his own.
United Nations General Assembly debate started Monday
Mogens Lykketoft: Follies of war and the threat of violent extremism have increased
Every September, world leaders gather in New York to address global challenges and identify common solutions. This year, they will be discussing conflicts, violent extremism, climate change and an incredible refugee crisis. And for a world in need of hope and transformation, they came together early, to approve a new Agenda for Sustainable Development.
I took office as president of the United Nations General Assembly on September 15, for what promises to be one of the most crucial years in U.N. history, a year that also marks the organization’s 70th year in existence. I do so at a time when the world is grappling with major crises and challenges across a number of areas, not least working out how to set the world on a sustainable course of development.
With that in mind, world leaders came together last Friday to agree to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Breaking from the competition and antagonism that affect many areas of U.N. engagement, they embraced our global interdependence and an agreement that identifies the transformative change that our world so badly needs.
The new Agenda is ultimately about achieving 17 sustainable development goals, by 2030, to end poverty and protect our planet. And these goals are different from any the international community has agreed to in the past – they were negotiated over a three-year period in the most open, inclusive and deliberative process that the United Nations has ever undertaken. They apply to every country in the world and recognize that there is no such thing as rich countries over here and poor countries over there – we all share the same planet, and we all face common challenges.
The goals also represent a major breakthrough in global thinking about the kind of change that is needed in our world. They confront the injustices of poverty, marginalization and discrimination. They recognize the need to reduce inequalities and to protect our planet by changing our patterns of consumption and ending our dependence on finite resources. And they identify the overwhelming need to address the politics of division, corruption and irresponsibility that fuel conflict and hold back progress.
Over the weekend, we heard leaders from around the world outline what they will do to make early progress toward the goals. Perhaps more uniquely for the United Nations, a series of actors – civil society, businesses, foundations, the U.N. agencies, youth groups, tech firms – joined governments and talked about what the goals mean for them and what they can do to support implementation.
Now, however, the real work begins. It is crucial that we maintain the momentum and imperative that we take action immediately. To do so, we need everyone to know about the goals, and we need to engage everyone in implementing them.
The first opportunity to prove that we are serious about these goals comes this December in Paris, where leaders will gather to find a way forward on climate change. An ambitious and universal climate agreement is an absolute must. If we fail, future generations will be left with a global environment of more intense and more frequent disasters, devastating conflicts, uncontrolled migration and fewer resources for human development.
To keep the momentum around the goals and around climate change targets going, I will hold a major meeting next April to showcase where we are making early progress and to identify opportunities for partnerships that deliver change.
But, as everyone knows, the Sustainable Development Goals and their motto of “leaving no one behind” will be realized only in a world of peace, security and respect for human rights. That is what world leaders are discussing at the U.N. General Assembly this week.
In recent years, the follies of war and the threat of violent extremism have increased across the Middle East, in parts of Africa and even in Europe, creating unfathomable humanitarian catastrophes and more refugees than at any time since the end of World War II. Tensions between major powers have grown, as have investments in all kinds of armaments.
As president of the General Assembly, it is my sincere hope that, this week and during the year ahead, we can take some meaningful steps toward addressing these challenges. Building on the recent examples in relation to Iran and Cuba, we need to engage in dialogue to bring an end to tensions, wars and violence around the world, in particular in Syria – and in doing so address the root causes of the associated refugee crisis. We also need to rebuild confidence and trust so that negotiations on disarmament can begin to progress once again.
Given that this is the United Nations’ 70th anniversary, it is only natural that we consider what can be done to make it operate more effectively. We can start by ensuring that the next U.N. secretary-general, to be appointed next year, is selected through an open and transparent process. And, however hard it may be, we need to see whether there is scope for change so that the U.N. Security Council reflects the realities of the 21st century and is better able to fulfill its mandate. I will work with the U.N. membership to take forward both of these issues.
As a politician for over 50 years, I am realistic about what is and isn’t possible. But right now, with the 2030 Agenda agreed and having seen the commitment of world leaders and other actors these past few days, I am hopeful this year can indeed be a transformative one.
We must not let this opportunity pass. Let’s work together to transform our world for the better.