UN General Debate Opens with Focus on SDG Implementation, Paris Agreement Ratification

20 September 2016: The 71st session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) opened its general debate, which is taking place on the theme, 'The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): a universal push to transform our world.' Many countries expressed support for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change, with Heads of State and Government describing their countries' implementation efforts, highlighting challenges and calling for action on issues ranging from gender equality to ocean conservation.

The UNGA debate began on 20 September 2016, at UN Headquarters in New York, US. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the SDGs and the Paris Agreement offer opportunities for a better future and for tackling key global challenges. Observing that the 2030 Agenda “is not yet producing the results that our world so desperately needs, UNGA President Peter Thomson urged accelerating implementation, including by teaching young people about the Goals. He committed to pushing for a UN development system that works as one and contributes to a universal push for the SDGs.

On SDG implementation, several countries shared progress, including: incorporating the 2030 Agenda into its national agenda (Fiji); and forming a High-Level Council for Implementation, launching a national strategy for social inclusion and setting up mechanisms for monitoring progress (Mexico).

On financing for the SDGs, speakers called for: increasing and dedicating public resources through domestic finance or official development assistance (ODA) (Thomson); addressing illicit financial flows and combatting financial crime, including through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's (OECD) Base Erosion and Profit Sharing (BEPS) Action Plan (South Africa); and ensuring sufficient resources, including finance mechanisms, investment, technology transfer, international trade and debt settlement, for developing countries to have an opportunity to achieve the SDGs (Egypt). Many underscored support for developing countries and the least developing countries (LDCs) as crucial to achieving the SDGs, including Brazil and Turkey. Others reaffirmed ODA commitments to support SDG implementation, including the UK.

On countries in special situations, Fiji underscored the importance of action on climate change and the sustainable management of oceans, including addressing pollution, overfishing and loss of marine habitats, for small island developing States (SIDS). Zambia urged special attention to LDCs and other vulnerable countries in efforts to achieve the SDGs, supporting industrialization in agriculture and manufacturing, and addressing challenges faced by micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Zambia also highlighted the Vienna Programme of Action of 2014 for landlocked developing countries (LLDCs). South Africa said industrialization is critical for Africa to eradicate poverty, reduce inequality and unemployment and contribute to global growth and prosperity, also calling for addressing illicit financial flows to address these issues. Tunisia emphasized the importance of preventing conflict and ensuring stability in achieving development goals in Africa. France proposed a "2020 Agenda for Africa" to enable the region to reach its potential.

On challenges to achieving the SDGs, Uganda described ten bottlenecks, including "ideological disorientation," underdevelopment of infrastructure, service sectors and agriculture, and a small internal market. Observing that corruption freezes development, Nigeria called for fighting corruption to achieve the SDGs, and supported an international legal framework to enforce anti-corruption measures and other actions. New Zealand highlighted a World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement to eliminate agricultural subsidies, calling for additional action on global trade rules to find commitments that benefit all countries.

Several countries reaffirmed commitments to achieving biodiversity-related SDGs, including by: managing ecosystems and conserving forests and biodiversity (Guyana); ensuring conservation and sustainable management of its land, oceans and seas (Fiji); reforesting areas and protecting biodiversity and oceans (Panama); and protecting water and soil and fighting desertification (Poland).

Also on biodiversity, Nigeria supported the African Union (AU) initiative on the Great Green Wall to tackle desertification. Slovenia informed that it will present a resolution on World Bee Day, highlighting the importance of common care for bees and other pollinators in ensuring biodiversity, food security and sustainable development.

On oceans, Thomson said he will oversee preparations for the UN Conference on SDG 14 on oceans, which aims to “be the game-changer for the way we ensure our Ocean's well-being.” Fiji urged full support for the Conference, recommending quick, decisive action to reverse environmental degradation of the oceans. Portugal also highlighted the Conference. Costa Rica supported developing a new international agreement for protecting more than 60% of marine biodiversity in international areas, in line with SDG 14.

On achieving gender equality, the following recommendations were formulated: advancing women's participation in decision-making and ensuring girls get an equal start in life (Ban); addressing gender-based violence (Malawi, UK); balancing reproductive and productive roles to enhance women's participation in decision-making (Malawi); ensuring women have the same economic, political and social opportunities as men (Argentina); championing the rights of women and girls (UK); strengthening its institutional framework to ensure equality between women and men (Mexico); and promoting women's participation in commerce, trade and industry and creating lines of credit for women empowerment programmes (Zambia).

Costa Rica shared conclusions from the draft report of the High-Level Panel on the Economic Empowerment of Women, including that women have half the possibilities that men have to get a paid, full-time job, and undertake unpaid work equivalent to 13% of global gross domestic product (GDP), and recommended that economic empowerment of women be seen as a means of implementation for other SDGs.

Also on the SDGs, countries highlighted the importance of: maintaining a human rights perspective (Uruguay, Poland); promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth (Switzerland, Spain, New Zealand) and green growth (Peru); ensuring alignment between the 2030 Agenda and Africa's Agenda 2063 (Chad, Zambia); accountability and quality of governance in defining the success of the SDGs (Mongolia); ensuring effective and safe water and sanitation for all (Peru); and increased efforts to address non-communicable diseases (NCDs) (Malawi, Uruguay).

On climate change, many urged ratification of the Paris Agreement, including the Secretary-General, the US, France, Argentina, Fiji, Mexico, Costa Rica and Mongolia. The US and Fiji called for scaling up ambition. Thomson observed that adoption of the Agreement and progress towards ratification is "the first great indication of progress” on the 2030 Agenda.

Brazil, France, Mexico and Panama stated their intention to deposit their instruments of ratification. Other countries informed they are in the process of ratifying the Agreement, including the UK, Poland, Costa Rica and Mongolia. Malawi committed to ratify the Agreement.

Speakers also highlighted: low-carbon growth plans (Guyana, Nigeria); commitments to deep decarbonization through forestry and reductions in livestock, transport and waste (Costa Rica); the relationship between climate and environmental issues, including deforestation and desertification (Chad) and desertification, deforestation and biodiversity loss (Mongolia); the importance of ensuring common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) (Chad), and considering equity and the right to development (Egypt); and the need for fully operationalizing the Green Climate Fund (GCF) (Zambia).

Several addressed the relationship between climate and energy, observing that: more energy is being produced from affordable, renewable sources (Thomson); a need to help poorer countries leapfrog destructive forms of energy (the US); the role of biomass, wind and solar in meeting climate goals (Argentina); and the role of the Renewable Energy Initiative in providing support for Africa to address climate change (Egypt).

Also on energy, France highlighted an initiative for renewable energies in Africa; Mexico said it aims to achieve 40% of its energy from clean sources by 2040; and Senegal stressed energy access as vital to its development efforts.

On peace, Thomson said he will advance the sustaining peace agenda, saying there is no sustainable development without sustainable peace. Portugal called for a culture of prevention to maintain peace and security and promote sustainable development and respect for human rights. Zambia urged eradicating conflict to attain the SDGs. Mongolia said the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms for all are essential to achieve development. Brazil highlighted the relationship among peace, sustainable development and respect for human rights. Egypt called for the UN to pay greater attention to addressing the cultural aspects of development and peacemaking in partnership with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Many addressed refugees and related topics. Ban welcomed the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants adopted on 19 September 2016, saying it “points the way towards saving lives and protecting the rights of millions of people.” He called for meeting these promises, rejecting all forms of discrimination, and addressing the factors that compel people to move.

Speakers addressed a range of other topics from UN peacekeeping and nuclear disarmament to the multilateral trading system. Many addressed the UN Security Council, the UN Secretary-General elections and UN reform. The 2016 general debate runs from 20 to 26 September 2016. [UNGA General Debate Website] [UN Press Release on UN Secretary-General Statement] [UN Press Release on UNGA President Statement] [UN Feature Story]