UNGA Debate Highlights SDG, Climate, Environmental Priorities
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Speakers at the 71st UN General Assembly's (UNGA) general debate highlighted their efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and galvanize climate action, including through the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The theme for the 71st annual debate is ‘The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): a universal push to transform our world.' It is taking place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 20-26 September 2016.

ga-71-logo23 September 2016: Speakers at the 71st UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) general debate highlighted their efforts to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and galvanize climate action, including through the Paris Agreement on climate change. The theme for the 71st annual debate is ‘The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): a universal push to transform our world.’ It is taking place at UN Headquarters in New York, US, from 20-26 September 2016.

Several countries shared national SDG implementation efforts, including Andorra, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Lao Peoples’ Democratic Republic (PDR), Lesotho, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Moldova, Morocco, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Countries underscored the importance of: all countries, big and small, developed and developing, listening to each other and collaborating to resolve global issues (South Sudan); mainstreaming SDGs’ goals and targets in all activities and work of the UN system, its agencies and committees (Indonesia); and deepening understanding of the SDGs at international, regional and national (Lao PDR). Venezuela identified capitalism as the main obstacle to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

On financing the SDGs, governments recommended: increasing aid effectiveness, introducing innovative financing sources and fostering development partnerships (Moldova); strengthening and reforming UN financing to promote collaborative efforts and avoid duplication (Sweden); ensuring stable and predictable funding mechanisms and innovative approaches to financing for development (FfD) (Indonesia); providing financing through mechanisms included in the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) (Sao Tome and Principe); meeting ODA commitments through additional, predictable and adequate financing (Nicaragua); and supporting ocean economies and resilience to climate change through a financial and technical assistance package (Mauritius). Luxembourg highlighted its official development assistance (ODA) contributions, but said mobilization of additional sources of funding is critical.

On partnerships, many recognized their role in assisting countries to achieve the SDGs, including Indonesia, Jamaica, Moldova, and Tuvalu. Moldova described the UN Development System (UNDS) as indispensable in forging such partnerships.

On follow-up and review, countries shared efforts to establish a mechanism to monitor implementation progress (Moldova) and develop national and sub-national action plan guidelines and a monitoring, evaluation and reporting mechanism (Indonesia). Samoa highlighted the SIDS Partnership Framework, a platform for monitoring implementation of commitments and pledges through partnerships. Botswana underscored the importance of reviewing, monitoring and evaluating progress in SDG implementation.

On oceans, several countries underscored the role of healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas in poverty eradication, food and livelihood security, economic development and ecosystem services, including Jamaica. Countries also: described threats from overfishing, loss of habitat, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification, stressing the protection of oceans as critical to SIDS’ economic survival (Samoa); supported the UN Conference on SDG 14 (Sweden, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu); and supported the Preparatory Committee process on the elements of a draft text of an international legal binding instrument under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) (Jamaica, Solomon Islands). Solomon Islands also called for establishing a World Ocean Authority to coordinate all ocean related treaties, entities and programmes to move beyond the current sectoral approach.

On food security, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines shared its ‘Zero Hunger Trust Fund,’ a series of tools to ensure no citizen will go to bed hungry by the year 2020. On fisheries, Solomon Islands highlighted World Tuna Day, underscoring the importance of fisheries for SIDS’ economies, and supported a right-based approach to fisheries management, such as through the Parties to the Nauru Agreement’s (PNA) Vessel Day Scheme (VDS). On biodiversity, Uzbekistan urged the preservation of the natural biodiversity of the Aral Sea region and the fair distribution of water resources.

On gender equality, countries recommended: a shift in approach to enhance rights, representation and resources for women and girls all around the world and increase women’s participation in peace processes (Sweden); full implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Jamaica); and access to land, credit and resources for women to participate in economic activity (Lesotho). Sweden also urged strengthening women’s political and economic empowerment, calling on the UN to lead the way by improving the gender balance in the UN, having its own gender-responsive budget and using gender-disaggregated data when dealing with peace and conflict.

On sustainable economic growth, countries called for: financing and partnerships to accelerate growth (Guinea); economic governance that balances speculative financial capital and industrial capital, including to ensure investment in sustainable development (Niger); employment for youth and women’s empowerment alongside education, health care and social protection (Mali); and a private sector-led growth strategy to, inter alia, expand trade and investment and promote infrastructure, industrialization and technology (Lesotho). Lesotho also shared its work to enhance the capacity of youth-owned small, micro and medium-sized enterprises (SMMEs).

Countries highlighted a range of national SDG priorities, including: reducing inequality between the poor and rich (Central African Republic); eradicating extreme poverty and achieving climate, biodiversity and ocean-related SDGs (Mauritius); achieving economic growth, job creation, security and poverty alleviation (Jamaica); ensuring quality education (Andorra); generating renewable energy, including hydro and solar (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines); and focusing special attention to women and youth, particularly on education, training and jobs (DRC).

On SDG 16 on peace and justice, countries highlighted the importance of peace within states (Jamaica) and efforts to prevent corruption (Azerbaijan). Mauritius stressed its commitment to achieve SDG, reflecting that “the test for the UN will be to achieve Goal 16 on the international front.” Albania informed it is a pilot country for designing global indicators for SDG 16, explaining that its judicial reforms have improved the rule of law and contributed to sustainable economic and social development.

On the relationship among development, peace and security, several stressed that sustainable development will not be achieved without peace and security, including Azerbaijan, Comoros, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Mali, Moldova, Morocco and South Sudan. Albania and others said implementing the 2030 Agenda could strengthen the connection between development and security. Lao PDR announced it has adopted national SDG 18, ‘Lives Safe from UXO’ “to ensure that by 2030 residual UXO activities are undertaken and all known UXO contamination in high priority areas and all villages defined as ‘poor’ cleared; that annual causalities from UXO accidents are eliminated to the extent possible; and that all identified UXO survivors and victims have their needs met.”

On the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III), Albania highlighted it as an opportunity to adopt a New Urban Agenda to strengthen relationships among urbanization, sustainable development and climate change. Solomon Islands welcomed a phase-down of the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

On countries in special situations, Lesotho stressed the unique and special challenges faced by the least developed countries (LDCs), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), small island developing States (SIDS) and post-conflict countries, calling for their consideration in the SDGs. Guinea said Africa requires particular attention in implementing the SDGs, including deep structural transformation and a vibrant private sector. Luxembourg recommended education and job creation to support African youth. Armenia highlighted the integration of the Vienna Programme of Action for LLDCs into the 2030 Agenda as a key step in promoting sustainable and inclusive development, informing his country had adopted a national implementation strategy. Tuvalu urged full implementation of the SAMOA Pathway on SIDS, stressing, “the success of the SDGs, mainstreamed through our national plans, will be measured by what we do to the least of us in the UN family.”

Jamaica highlighted the special situation of heavily indebted middle-income countries (HIMIC), saying such countries’ potential is threatened by choosing between debt repayment and growth spending. He urged taking into account other development measures than gross domestic product (GDP) and allowing MICs’ access to ODA and concessional financing, among other measures, as part of a ‘HIMIC initiative’ to facilitate investment, favorable trade, technology transfer, and security and energy financing.

SIDS, including Jamaica, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, highlighted the impacts they face from climate change, including on their tourism industries (Mauritius). Tuvalu observed that climate change could reverse sustainable development gains and compromise long-term security and survival.

On ratification of the Paris Agreement, Albania, Mali, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu highlighted their ratification. Albania, Mauritius, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu called for accelerating the Agreement’s entry into force, while Lao PDR expressed hope that the Agreement will enter into force within 2016. Luxembourg aimed to ratify by the end of 2016. Andorra, Indonesia and Moldova said they are in the process of ratification.

Solomon Islands and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines urged scaling up ambition, with Solomon Islands calling on developed countries to scale up ambition of nationally determined contributions (NDCs), recommending closing the pre-2020 ambition gap and ratifying the Doha Amendment. Tuvalu urged action to keep global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels.

On climate financing, countries called for: the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other funding institutions to help SIDS access resources (Samoa, Solomon Islands); providing available financing to ensure implementation of the Paris Agreement (Morocco); and debt for climate change swaps (Jamaica). Saint Vincent and the Grenadines said current promises on climate finance provision are inadequate and unenforceable, and accessing ODA and climate finance “is like pulling teeth without anesthetic.” Tuvalu informed it has used its own financial resources to establish a Tuvalu Climate Change Survival Fund and expressed appreciation for GCF funding.

Also on climate, countries highlighted: the launch of market and non-market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as a priority (Russian Federation); increasing food insecurity and water stress and declining agricultural production (Botswana); and integrating climate change, disaster risk reduction (DRM) and management into Lao PDR’s national development plan.

Within the context of the Paris Agreement, Ecuador called for establishing an international environmental justice court to punish crimes against nature and to establish obligations on ecological debt and the consumption of environmental goods. Observing increasing temperatures and little ambition to reduce GHG emissions, Nicaragua demanded a Global Compensation Policy that takes into account “damage recovery.”

Solomon Islands called for a legal framework to address and protect the rights of forced climate migrants and compensate climate impacted populations for the loss of their livelihoods. Tuvalu called for a legal framework to protect the human rights of people displaced by climate change and sea level rise, noting that it has proposed a UN resolution to establish such a legal process.

Countries called for UN reform, particularly on the UN Security Council and peacekeeping and to make the organization fit for purpose in a changing environment. Countries also addressed health-related SDGs and challenges related to migration, refugees and terrorism, among other topics. [UNGA General Debate Website]

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