UNGA President delivers impassioned plea to rescue SDGs

78th President of the United Nations General Assembly, H.E. Dennis Francis, Permanent Representative of Trinidad and Tobago to the UN

With seven years left to fulfill the 17 action points of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), President of the United Nations General Assembly, Trinidad and Tobago’s Permanent Representative to the UN, His Excellency Dennis Francis, made an impassioned plea earlier today for the world to do its utmost to rescue the SDGs.

The fact that we have been lagging in our promise cannot be the death knell of our blueprint,” the UNGA President said.

He was at the time addressing the 2023 SDG High-Level Political Forum at the UN Headquarters in New York, in his capacity as President of the 78th Session of UNGA.

Adopted unanimously by all UN Member States in 2015, the SDGs constitute a call for action to banish poverty, protect and preserve the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, Mr. Francis reminded.

Describing the 2030 Agenda as a “beacon of hope and a roadmap for common action to create a more equitable, a more just and a most sustainable world,” he said it was important to take stock of progress and to assess the remaining challenges to achieving the SDGs.

This assessment is necessary to chart a course for success ensuring “no one is left behind.”

Advocating for the concerns of Small Island Developing States (SIDs), Mr. Francis noted that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of climate change, and the war in Ukraine, have “presented a series of complex and intersecting crises.”

While these factors have “dramatically altered” the trajectory of the entire world, he said those in the most precarious circumstances, who are already most vulnerable, suffer the most. These include countries in special situations like SIDs, least developed countries and landlocked developing countries.

Also vulnerable are women and girls, young people, persons with disabilities, older persons, and indigenous people.

Exposing the gravity of the situation confronting the vulnerable, he said it is estimated that approximately eight percent of the global population faced hunger in 2022. Another 280 million will still be facing hunger in 2030 without accelerated action to eradicate this scourge, the UNGA President warned.

He sent a clear message to the Forum, stating, “to carry on with business as usual would be reckless.”

“We must do more to lift people sustainably out of poverty and hunger, not merely because it is the right thing to do in the name of humanity, but to do nothing is to fan the flames of discord…”

He added that bold and transformative actions must be prioritised to support the well-being of the UN’s global constituents, especially those furthest behind.

This is a moment, he told the General Assembly, to rededicate and reinvigorate progress across the entirety of the 2030 Agenda.

Outlining some of the steps that are detailed in the 2023 Global SDG report, Amb. Francis highlighted the need for an ambitious push to improve social protection, strengthen governance, promote a green economy, and address digital disruption while improving access to quality education.

“With concerted, ambitious action, it is still possible that by 2030, we could lift 124 million people out of poverty and ensure that some 113 million fewer people are malnourished,” the UNGA President said.

Such achievements will generate gains in health and education, he said, adding, “adequate investment in the SDGs is a win-win for all.”

Speaking on the heels of the UNGA’s President, UN Secretary-General, His Excellency Antonio Guterres said the 2030 Agenda was a promise to the people “crushed under the grinding wheels of poverty.”

In an emotive appeal for action, he said, “people are starving in a world of plenty; children are denied a seat in the classroom… parents are watching helplessly as their children die of preventable diseases.”

“Only 15 percent of the targets are on track, and many are going in reverse. Instead of leaving no one behind, we are running the risk of leaving the SGDs behind,” Mr Guterres warned.

What is urgently needed, he stated, is a global rescue plan that includes clear support for SDG stimulus of at least $500B a year; an effective mechanism that supports payment suspension, longer lending terms, and lower interest rates.

Mr. Guterres called for a plan that addresses recapitalisation and a change in the business model of Multilateral Development Banks (MBDs) to leverage private finance at affordable rates to assist developing countries.

The reform of the international financial architecture, which he said is outdated and dysfunctional is central to resuscitate the 2030 Agenda.

Secretary-General Guterres said he is encouraged by the detailed and wide-ranging political declaration which was adopted by the meeting. He said it includes considerations to improve the fuel for SDG progress and finance.

The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) was represented by the President of Dominica, His Excellency Charles Savarin, who stated the Community’s support for Mr. Francis’ Presidency of the UNGA.

CARICOM is “very proud to have one of its very own overseeing the activities of the General Assembly,” he stated.

He told the High-Level Forum that CARICOM firmly believes that greater commitment, solidarity and transformative action are needed to achieve the SDGs targets within a realistic time frame.

President Savarin expressed the Community’s optimism that the Summit will provide a unique opportunity to fundamentally address a trajectory for all Member States to take positive action towards the implementation of the SDGs.

He said CARICOM endorses the political declaration set by the UN Secretary-General in a renewed call for all Member States to recommit to transformative progress.

With existential threats of COVID-19 over the last three years, exacerbated by the impact of climate change, and the war in Ukraine, even greater leadership is needed at the multilateral level, President Savarin stated.

He called for a “surge in commitment” from governments and other stakeholders to take the implementation of the SDGs to the next level.

Highlighting specific action points, the Dominican President underscored the need for support to developing countries for long-term lending at lower interest rates, debt relief, and the creation of a robust and effective sovereign debt resolution mechanism.

He added that CARICOM supports the call to align national budgets with the SDGs pathways, gender equality, empowerment of women and girls, reduction in domestic poverty, access to clean water, sanitation, and food security.

Stating that the 2030 Agenda is achievable, President Savarin said the use of technology as a transformative tool must be harnessed.

Closing his presentation, he said CARICOM remains firm in its support of sustainable development goals.

Prime Minister of Barbados, Honourable Mia Mottley, was a panelist in one of the discussion sessions on the SDGs. Sharing her views on what would count as success in the reform of the international financial architecture, she said it is not just about governance.

“For us, it is about longer money, cheaper money, being able to use it for the purpose we need it for and to reduce all of our inequalities.”

She said while emphasis has been placed on short-term lending, if countries are to invest in education and healthcare, they need 20 to 40 years to repay loans.

“We need mission-oriented lending… If we believe that the SDGs are worth attaining, then we need to put a framework in place that allows Multilateral Development Banks to value the SDGs, and to increase the length of time that you can have to repay these funds.”

The General Debate of the UNGA begins on Tuesday, 19 September, under the theme ‘Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all’.

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