World leaders convened at UN Headquarters in New York to consider key issues related to “action for people and planet” during the opening of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA). Inside the halls of the UN and outside on the streets of not only New York, but cities around the world where protests were held, the verdict of the people was clear: leaders are failing to address the environmental and development emergency that the world is currently facing. There was general agreement that the incremental steps announced during the week are unlikely to address the crisis, which requires deeper, more fundamental change.
The week started off with the Climate Action Summit, on Monday, 23 September, convened by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. This one-day meeting aimed to boost ambition and accelerate actions to implement the Paris Agreement. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit, which was also the first meeting of the High-level Political Forum to convene under the auspices of the UNGA since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, took place on 24-25 September, to follow up and review progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs, with just over a decade left to the target date of 2030.
On Thursday, 26 September, the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development, the first such dialogue since the adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) in July 2015, discussed how to accelerate progress in the implementation of the AAAA and financing the 2030 Agenda, through energizing growth and tackling challenges in the global economy, encouraging public and private investment to align with the 2030 Agenda, and promoting new and innovative initiatives that target gaps in financing sustainable development. The week ended on Friday, 27 September, with the High-level Midterm Review of the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway, which discussed progress made in addressing the priorities of small island developing states through the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway.
IISD Reporting Services, through its ENB meeting coverage, provided daily web coverage, reports of each of the Summits and High-level meetings, and a summary and analysis report of the UN Summits Week 2019.
Photos by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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As heads of state and government, and ministers, gathered to review progress made in addressing the priorities of small island developing States (SIDS) through the implementation of the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (SAMOA) Pathway, frustration at the slow pace of progress, despite exponentially rising threats, was clearly evident.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley, Barbados, made an impassioned appeal on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) during the opening session. She lamented the lack of progress since the Barbados Programme of Action 25 years ago and reminded participants that the UN Charter commits to respect the right to life. “We have come to this point of time with a selfishness that is unparalleled,” she said.
The opening segment also heard from Jason Momoa, actor, who appealed to leaders to honor their commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change, warning that humans are the “disease infecting the planet” and that “entire islands are drowning into the sea due to emissions by first world countries.”
The opening segment was followed by two multistakeholder dialogues:
A Political Declaration was adopted during the closing, recognizing progress in areas such as social inclusion, gender equality, peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive societies, as well as in making communities safer. At the same time, it urges international action in a number of areas, including finance, capacity, and institutions.
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Addressing the opening session of the High-level Dialogue, the first such dialogue since the adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), Bill Gates, businessperson and philanthropist, called for realism about the gaps that private financing can, and cannot, fill. While calling for more equitable tax collection systems and more effective spending, he called on governments to “protect aid.”
The Prince of Wales called for a more radical approach. In his video address to the first interactive dialogue, he said the current market system is no longer fit for purpose, and a new approach rooted in sustainable markets is needed to move from billions to trillions, to finance sustainable development.
The Dialogue, held at UN Headquarters in New York, sought ways to accelerate progress in the implementation of the AAAA and financing the 2030 Agenda. The opening session was followed by four interactive dialogues:
During the closing, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed called for the drive and commitment demonstrated during the day to be built upon and go further, and said the next FfD Forum will aim to rally policymakers to tackle systemic challenges in all areas of the AAAA.
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On the second and final day of the SDG Summit, five further “leaders dialogues” were held:
Further statements followed during a plenary session. The youth were scathing in their final assessment: “Leaders of the world, you made a bold commitment in 2015. But you are failing. We need a dramatic change of course in 2020. This is make or break for the planet.” A stirring rendering of spoken word by Ameer Brown reflected similar frustrations: “Those we look up to as masters of the masses/ have enslaved our every opinion/ Allowing us to drift from the problem and not fix it/ It’s a hard pill to swallow when we’re poverty stricken…”
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UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a global call for a decade of action to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the opening of the SDG Summit. “We must regain the trust of the people and respond to the experience of alienation generated by the current model of globalization,” he said.
The SDG Summit, which is also the first High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) to convene under the auspices of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) since the adoption of the SDGs, aims to review progress in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its 17 SDGs, with just over a decade left until the target date of 2030. The opening session of the Summit on Tuesday afternoon adopted the HLPF political declaration (A/HLPF/2019/L.1).
A “fireside chat” on the 2019 Global Sustainable Development Report (GSDR 2019) followed. Presenting the report, Peter Messerli, Co-Chair of the independent group of scientists who produced the GSDR 2019, warned the Earth system is approaching tipping points which may be “irreversible or even unmanageable.” He listed the six “entry points” identified in the report for accelerated action: human well-being and capabilities; sustainable and just economies; food systems and nutrition patterns; energy decarbonization and universal access; urban and peri-urban development; and the global environmental commons.
Statements were then delivered on behalf of groups of Member States and participating states in a plenary session, including by the Group of 77 and China (G-77/China), Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Caribbean Community (CARICOM), African States, EU, Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs), Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), and Like-Minded Group of Countries Supporters of Middle-Income Countries.
A “leaders dialogue” on megatrends impacting SDG achievement featured statements by heads of state and government, and of multilateral institutions. Five more dialogues will take place on the second day of the Summit.
The UN Climate Action Summit, an initiative of UN Secretary-General António Guterres to encourage increased ambition on climate change action, was attended by over 65 heads of state and government, in addition to leaders of sub-national governments and from the private sector. “We don’t negotiate with Nature,” Guterres said in his opening address. He urged leaders to be ambitious in their commitments, saying “the biggest cost is subsidizing a dying fossil fuel industry, building more and more coal power plants, denying what is plain as day, that we are in a deep climate hole and to get out of it we must first stop digging.”
Greta Thunberg, a young activist from Sweden, accused governments of “failing us” in a stirring address during a youth dialogue with the Secretary-General. “People are suffering, dying, ecosystems collapsing,” she said. “We are at the beginning of a mass extinction. All you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
The opening ceremony was followed by thematic sessions, interspersed by general statements by heads of state and government. Thematic sessions were held on: Plans for a Carbon Neutral World; Climate Finance; Powering the Future from Coal to Clean; Unlocking the Potential of Nature in Climate Action; Towards a Resilient Future; Small Island Developing States; Live, Work and Move Green; Cutting Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Now with Cooling and Energy Efficiency; Adapting Now: Making People Safer; Least Developed Countries; People Centered Action Now; and the Economy Moving from Grey to Green.
A number of commitments and announcements were made through the day by national and sub-national governments, and private sector representatives, including:
President Sebastián Piñera Echeñique, Chile, the host nation for the 25th Conference of Parties (COP 25) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2019, said 30 countries have committed to carbon neutrality by 2030, and more than 60 have committed to increasing ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
In the final reckoning, however, observers expressed concern that the sum total of new contributions is “tragically insufficient” in light of the scale of the fundamental transformation that is needed. They wondered whether any of the day’s commitments really strike a fatal blow to the “fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
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