27 September 2016
71st General Debate Concludes with Reflections on SDG Implementation, Calls for Climate Action
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The 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA) has concluded its general debate.

In a closing address delivered on his behalf, UNGA President Peter Thomson welcomed Member States' work to implement the SDGs and their support for the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) and the UN Conference on SDG 14.

He urged all governments to include the SDGs on their country's education curricula, stressing that youth are the ones who will inherit the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

ga-71-logo26 September 2016: The 71st UN General Assembly (UNGA) has concluded its general debate. In a closing address delivered on his behalf, UNGA President Peter Thomson welcomed Member States’ work to implement the SDGs and their support for the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) and the UN Conference on SDG 14. He urged all governments to include the SDGs on their country’s education curricula, stressing that youth are the ones who will inherit the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Thomson also: urged countries to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change promptly, scale up ambition to limit temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and mobilize climate finance, particularly for small island developing States (SIDS); recognized calls for dedicated efforts for the promotion of human rights, empowerment of women and girls and an emphasis on the inter-relationship between human rights, peace and sustainable development; on UN reform, recognized many interventions stressing the need to reform the UN Security Council; and committed to manage the UN Secretary-General’s selection and appointment with “transparency and accountability and with a view to ensuring a smooth transition.”

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

On the last day of the debate, many countries described SDG implementation efforts and synergies between the 2030 Agenda and their national development plans and strategies (Bahrain, Belize, India, Palau, Seychelles, Tanzania, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, and others). Belarus urged the UN to align itself with “the practical implementation of the Agenda” instead of report writing. Denmark supported rethinking and reforming the UN Development System’s (UNDS) operational approach, including by ending internal competition for resources.

On follow-up and review, countries supported: establishing a high-level panel to find practical solutions to improve UN decision-making mechanisms (Bahrain); and developing national capacity for monitoring and follow-up (Cabo Verde). India said it has dedicated one day in each session of its Parliament to review and monitor SDG progress.

On SDG financing, countries urged: enhancing means of implementation (MOI), particularly financing, technology transfer, capacity building and participation in international trade (Cabo Verde); and meeting commitments under the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) on financing for development (Tanzania). Denmark noted its development cooperation, urging more countries to meet the 0.7% gross national income (GNI) target in official development assistance (ODA). Denmark also described its SDGs investment fund, which has an initial government contribution and aims to raise capital from private investors. He also underscored government’s role in encouraging private business and investors to contribute to SDG implementation.

Several countries stressed partnerships’ importance for achieving the SDGs (Denmark, Palau, Seychelles, Singapore, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, and others). Singapore described its Sustainable Development Programme, which works with UN agencies to support developing countries in implementing the 2030 Agenda. Trinidad and Tobago said the cessation of correspondent banking relations by international banks undermines efforts to build a global partnership to achieve the SDGs. Palau said monitoring and surveillance of vast ocean areas will require genuine and durable partnerships like those advocated for in the SAMOA Pathway.

On achieving biodiversity-related SDGs, countries highlighted sustainable forest management (SFM) and prevention of land degradation and biodiversity loss (Singapore), and protection of 36% of its territory (Belize). On transboundary forest and peatland fires, which destroy biodiversity, accelerate climate change and damage economies, Singapore reported that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has adopted a roadmap to achieve a haze-free zone by 2020.

On oceans, countries supported: the UN Conference on SDG 14 (Belize); sustainable ocean economies (Cabo Verde) and the blue economy (Seychelles); the Safe Ocean Network (the Bahamas); and the Preparatory Committee process on the elements of a draft text for 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) (Belize, Cabo Verde, Palau, Trinidad and Tobago). Palau described its implementation of a National Marine Sanctuary as the best way to achieve the SDGs, outlining how the Sanctuary will help it achieve goals on biodiversity, oceans, food security, poverty, water and sanitation, health, and others. On fishing, countries: noted accession to the FAO Port State Measures Agreement to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) (Bahamas); and called for addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, describing its impacts on marine ecosystems and food and livelihood security (Seychelles).

On efforts to achieve gender equality, countries shared: achieving the highest growth rate of women’s participation in economic activities, as documented by the International Labour Organization (ILO) (Bahrain); promoting and strengthening the role of women and girls in society (Trinidad and Tobago); removing discriminatory laws and policies, including reform of land laws to permit inheritance and equal access to land for all and ensuring increased representation of women in decision-making (Tanzania); and efforts to ensure women’s and girls’ full and equal enjoyment of all human rights (Denmark). Trinidad and Tobago reported that it aims to enhance the quality of life and standard of living for all who have been systematically marginalized, including women, girls and the differently abled.

Countries addressed the relationship between development and security, with several stressing the importance of good governance and solid, effective institutions in achieving development goals, including Bahrain. India stressed there can be no prosperity without peace. On SDG 16, countries supported: ensuring the rule of law at international and national levels alongside good governance, transparency and strong institutions to sustain development (Singapore); promoting human rights and fostering good governance and the rule of law (Cabo Verde); and combating corruption by mainstreaming transparency, accountability and effectiveness (Tanzania).

Describing the correlation between violent extremism and development, Trinidad and Tobago suggested empowering young people to prevent them from being recruited by extremist groups and further suggested harnessing them as advocates for the SDGs. Tanzania shared its Youth Development Fund, which aims to prevent youth from joining radical groups or terrorist cells or turning to drug trafficking by empowering youth. Bahamas reflected that young males are struggling to survive and keep up, and said it aims to ensure they do not fall further behind, and that all youth, both men and women, are integrated into the formal economy. Also on youth, Denmark and others called for strengthening focus on the role of youth.

On national SDG priorities, countries identified: ending poverty, growing prosperity, achieving gender equality and ensuring peace across boundaries (India); building peaceful and inclusive societies with equal opportunities for all, including through structural reforms and innovation and technology advances (Suriname); and ensuring the security, health and social development of its people while addressing drug use and trafficking (Trinidad and Tobago), among others.

On ratification and entry into force of the Paris Agreement, Belize, Palau, Seychelles and Singapore noted that they have ratified. India reiterated its intent to ratify on 2 October 2016, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. Denmark, Tanzania, and Trinidad and Tobago said they are in the process of ratification. Bahrain and Palau expressed hope that the Agreement will enter into force in 2016. Some called for increased ambition, including Palau and Tanzania.

On climate finance, countries: highlighted common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capacities, calling for finance and technology transfer (India); called for new and additional financing to support developing countries and maintaining efforts to develop financial and technical support mechanisms within existing frameworks (Suriname); and urged financial resources for adaptation through the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other sources, saying the least developed countries (LDCs) need to access resources urgently and without conditionalities (Tanzania). India addressed the importance of climate justice.

On climate action, countries shared efforts to: transform India’s energy mix, including through an International Solar Alliance (India); mainstream adaptation into development policies and investment strategies (Belize); and encourage investment and job creation in renewable and clean technologies in its transport and industrial sectors (Trinidad and Tobago). Palau recommended appointing a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Climate Change and Security to enhance linkages among the Secretary-General, the UNGA and the UN Security Council (UNSC).

Suriname highlighted its status as a carbon-negative country, noting that it has over 90% forest cover and a deforestation rate of 0.02%. Tanzania also described its forested land as contributing to a carbon sink.

On countries in special situations, several highlighted the unique and special challenges faced by small island developing States (SIDS), including as a result of climate change (Cabo Verde, Palau, Seychelles, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago). Singapore reflected on the vulnerability of small states to external shocks and threats. Seychelles said strong partnerships and adequate financial support are needed to support SIDS and other small States to achieve the SDGs.

On sustainable urban development, Singapore highlighted the role of Habitat III in reinforcing the link between urbanization and sustainable development. On levels of development, Bahamas argued that gross domestic product (GDP) per capita should not be the primary determinant to qualify for international economic assistance or concessional access to development financing, and recommending broadening and modernizing development financing indicators. Trinidad and Tobago also highlighted middle-income countries’ (MICs) difficulty in accessing development assistance, recommending that the UNDS be better tailored towards national priorities and specific needs. Seychelles supported a vulnerability index as a fairer measurement of economies than GDP.

Countries also discussed education, health, sustainable economic growth, and challenges related to de-risking. Others highlighted the human rights of migrants, called for action on displaced persons and refugees and urged UN reform, particularly within the UN Security Council. [UNGA General Debate Website] [UN Press Release on Closing Day] [Meeting Summary]

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