INTERVIEW: Sustainable Development Goals must be owned by everyone, says senior UN official

8 July 2016

Ahead of next week’s United Nations High-Level Political Forum, Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Gass talks about sustainable development, leaving no one behind, and why this time “it’s for real”.

When the world’s leaders unanimously approved the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development last year, they did so knowing that there would be a platform within the United Nations where they could discuss sustainable development, get guidance, keep track of progress and address any new issues.

This platform – known as the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development – will meet on Monday, 11 July, for the first time since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were approved in September 2015.

The Forum succeeded the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in 2013. It meets both under the UN General Assembly every four years and the UN Economic and Social Council in other years with technical, ministerial and high level segments.

In an interview with the UN News Centre, Mr. Gass described the Political Forum as “a space once a year where Member States and also the population can see how we are moving on the Sustainable Development Goals and take corrective measures to really achieve them within the next 15 years.”

Speaking on Thursday to the UN News Centre, Assistant Secretary-General Thomas Gass talked about why the Sustainable Development Goals need to become a part of the policy dialogue at the national level, and foster a new social contract between the leaders and the people.

While the international community is only six-months into work on reaching the SDGs, this year’s Political Forum must move beyond just UN Headquarters in New York and be discussed by all people so that everyone does their part. Listen to Mr. Gass explain.

While the international community is only six-months into work on reaching the SDGs, this year’s Political Forum must move beyond just UN Headquarters in New York and be discussed by all people so that everyone does their part. Listen to Mr. Gass explain.

The SDGs include 17 goals, broken down into 169 smaller targets. The first target is to end poverty in all its forms everywhere. Others include ensuring education for everyone, achieving gender equality, fighting climate change, and reducing all forms of violence.

All the SDGs are interconnected, and one of the main ideas tying them together, which is also the theme of this year’s discussions, is to ensure that no one is left behind.

“During the era of the Millennium Development Goals [the precursor framework to the Sustainable Development Goals], we were very much measuring our progress by averages,” said Mr. Gass, whose office is within the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

The new agenda “forces us to take a different approach to sustainable development, mainly to understand from the get-go who the most vulnerable people are, why they are vulnerable and to build [this] into our national policies,” added Mr. Gass.

As part of this year’s Political Forum, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will release on 19 July the first progress report on the Sustainable Development Goals – which will be comprised of data from UN Member States related to the Goals and their targets.

Aside from discussions about date and figures, the Political Forum, which will run through 20 July, will also give voice to non-governmental organizations and to individuals who will be able to directly participate in some of the discussions, follow all of them online, and attend the dozens of side events held in New York in connection with the Forum.

“The important thing to realize is that this new agenda will not be implemented in New York,” Mr. Gass said. “It has to be implemented all over the world. So people, organizations, governments, municipalities, school boards, have to run with it. And for that, it’s important that everyone needs to feel they are part of the Agenda” and the targets belong to them.

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