Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon looked forward to a “year of opportunity,” as he briefed the 193-Member United Nations General Assembly on his priorities for 2015, and called for transformative global action that would ensure sustainable development and human dignity for all.
“2015 is a chance for major advances across the three inter-connected pillars of our work: development, peace and human rights,” he said during an informal meeting of the Assembly, praising Member States’ work to build a new development agenda, including a set of sustainable development goals.
“In my synthesis report, now delivered to you – The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet – I am offering my support of this work and some further ideas on the road ahead.”
The report aims to support States’ discussions going forward, taking stock of the negotiations on the post-2015 agenda and reviewing lessons from pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It stresses the need to “finish the job” of the Goals – both to help people now and as a launch pad for the new agenda.
Adding that the report proposes a set of “essential elements” to help ensure that States’ vision is communicated accurately to the general public – and achieved nationally – he said adoption of the new agenda would be the “signal moment” of 2015.
Briefing the press on the report earlier in the day, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, Amina Mohammed, said the emerging sustainability agenda is “bold and transformative” and the report highlights six essential elements that will help drive country-level implementation: dignity, people, prosperity, planet, justice and partnership.
“[These elements] are meant to inspire Member States and all stakeholders in their efforts to agree on a transformative and communicable sustainable development agenda,” she said, explaining that the strength of the six elements lies in their interdependence with each other, and they must be considered as a whole.
Mr. Ban stressed that the results of the new development programme would be inseparable from climate action, reminding States of their pledges at the recently-concluded 20th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 20) to the landmark UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Lima, Peru, to present national commitments in the first quarter of 2015.
A slate of upcoming UN conferences this year – on disaster risk reduction in March, on financing for development in July, and on climate change in December, as well as a summit-level meeting in New York this coming September – would seek to tackle the linked challenges of sustainable development.
“At each of these milestones, we will continue to be ambitious to end poverty, reducing inequality and exploit the opportunities that accompanied the climate challenge,” he said.
He made a specific reference to the impact on development of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which was a major setback for the hardest hit countries. Affected nations were beginning to see improvements but people and resources were still needed. At the same time, preparations were needed for the next epidemic, “wherever it may occur.”
The Secretary-General also spotlighted the impacts of war in Syria, Ukraine, Central African Republic, northern Mali and elsewhere, pointing out that several other countries were at risk of conflict because of their domestic situations.
“In several countries, electoral processes and constitutional amendments seem designed to prolong incumbencies instead of strengthening democracy,” he said, calling for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and urging responses to “brutality and extremism” that were not limited only to military action but which included efforts to address the underlying conditions giving rise to extremism.
Welcoming the entry into force of the Arms Trade Treaty, he said peace and security is not achievable in a world where nuclear weapons were available. He urged States to fulfil their responsibilities under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).
“The nuclear powers continue to waste huge sums to upgrade their arsenals rather than eliminate [them],” he said. “The Treaty Review Conference, which will begin in April, will be an opportunity to renew our commitment not only to non-proliferation but also disarmament.”
On the third pillar of UN work – human rights and the rule of law – he pointed to the “deliberate and diabolical slaughter” of schoolchildren in Pakistan and to the frequent targeting of hospitals, schools and other civilian facilities.
“Both Governments and non-State actors are exhibiting a callous disregard for the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian and human rights law,” he said, calling for strengthened protection and greater accountability.
Despite having endorsed the principle of “responsibility to protect” – or “R2P” – 10 years ago, the international community still failed to act on early warning signs in too many crises. He urged reclamation of the people-centred focus that made endorsement of the principle possible in the first place and said his next report would explore how better to operationalize ‘R2P.’
As well as hoping to see moves towards abolition of the death penalty, he hoped for efforts to counter intolerance faced by migrants, refugees, minorities and other marginalized groups and noted that 2015 is the beginning of the International Decade for People of African Descent.
“Over the years, the world has failed to fully recognize the legacy of colonialism and the slave trade, and the discrimination still faced by people of African descent,” he said. “An important part of this observance will be the unveiling here at UN Headquarters of the Permanent Memorial to [honour the Victims of Slavery and] the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.”
To tackle the inter-connected pillars in the coming year, the UN has to be better fit for purpose, and he outlined areas where reviews and improvements are taking place, including peace operations and peacebuilding, financing for humanitarian operations, modernizing the Secretariat and dealing with emerging challenges like cybersecurity.
As the United Nations enters the year marking its 70th anniversary, it is faced with huge responsibilities but also opportunity.
“If our work unfolds as it should, by the end of this year, our Organization will be enriched with a new vision for development, new ideas for the maintenance of peace and security, a renewed embrace of human rights, and a stronger United Nations to help bring it all to life,” he said.