María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés: "Multilateralism is not only urgent. It is a matter of survival"
The President of the United Nations General Assembly for the 73rd session, delivers her keynote speech at the Opening of the 2019 Bled Strategic Forum “(Re)sources of (In)stability)”
Your Excellency, Mr. Borut Pahor, President of the Republic of Slovenia;
Your Excellency, Ms. Kersti Kaljulaid, President of the Republic of Estonia;
Your Excellency, Mr. Marjan Šarec, Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia;
Your Excellency, Mr. Miro Cerar, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Slovenia;
Mr. Peter Grk, Secretary-General of Bled Strategic Forum,
Distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen,
It is truly an honour to participate in this prestigious forum. I am deeply grateful to the President of Slovenia:
- for inviting me to beautiful Bled;
- for enabling me to see dear friends and colleagues
- for the exemplary support that Slovenia has given to the United Nations: from the important role you play in the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group, to your advocacy on issues such as biodiversity and the importance of bees for keeping our ecosystems healthy, and for your commitment and active role in our peace and security efforts, currently as part of UNTSO and UNFIL, where the first women contingent commander was also from Slovenia.
So, it comes as no surprise to see the Bled Strategic Forum go straight to the core of the defining challenges of this turbulent time – and to capture the paradoxical nature of contemporary global affairs so succinctly, with the use of two sets of parentheses: (Re) sources of (In) stability.
Because the greatest challenges we must address – the climate crisis, the disruptive effects of new technologies, rapidly changing demographics, inequality, migration – also offer us the greatest opportunities: to reap the benefits of human mobility, as we have the mobility of goods and capital; to harness the creativity of youth; to revolutionise our cities, our societies and economies; and to make them safe, fair and green.
A desire to close this gap – between the future we want and where we currently stand – underpinned the founding of the United Nations nearly 75 years ago. And we have come a long way since then.
Today, we have international laws and mechanisms on almost every aspect of human life and planetary resource. Today, we have the concept of an international community – one that is expected to work together on shared challenges. We have a UN system that feeds over 90 million people, vaccinates nearly half the world’s children, has cleared landmines and eradicated smallpox, and has supported the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change and Sustainable Developments Goals – our “survival kit” for humanity, our new social contract.
But, as we all know, too many of us still endure violence and material shortages. Even more troubling: the gains we have made are now at risk, as a confluence of crises – environmental, political, economic and social – is driving conflict and instability.
So how can we move forward? I believe there are three areas that we need to address:
The first, of course, is climate change. We urgently need to increase our ambition. We urgently need to unlock the benefits of climate-smart development – which the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate estimates could be as much as $26 trillion dollars in the next decade if we do it right.
We need to use opportunities such as the September Climate Action Summit to focus on the most transformative, scale-able steps we can take immediately to tip the scale back in our favour. Wiser public and private investment in low carbon sectors, green jobs, new energy matrixes, better urban planning for greater resilience, just to name a few.
The second is the fraying of the social contract, which no longer seems credible, given the waning ability, or seeming inability, of governments to protect their citizens and promote their welfare. I am certainly not someone who believes the days of the nation-state are numbered. Far from it.
But today, there is virtually no problem that does not require global cooperation. That is obvious when it comes to issues like climate change and violent extremism. It is also increasingly true of traditionally domestic issues, such as fiscal balances and job creation.
And we are now at a point when the gains we have made in previous decades are slowing, even reversing. Add to that the fact that these gains were never distributed equally, and you have a lot of unsatisfied constituents and growing inequalities.
Millions have been excluded of the promised gains of globalization: 840 million without access to safe water; 820 without sufficient food; two billion with no access to improved sanitation; some four billion without adequate healthcare.
And you have a younger generation – the largest, most educated in history – that worries it will be less well off than its parents. Youth unemployment is already high, and could worsen if we don’t get to grips with the fourth industrial revolution. The World Bank estimates that automation could put two-thirds of jobs in developing countries at risk.
The result of all of this is a growing disconnect between people, governments and institutions – as they lose faith in our capacity and will to deliver.
And this is contributing to the final tipping point: the health of our international system. We have seen a rise in nationalist sentiment, in unilateral approaches, in attacks on international laws and norms. The complexity of the challenges we face has opened the door for those who promise simplistic solutions; who peddle an insular vision of nationalism.
As we know only too well, these trends can lead to war. And this time, war could wipe us out – through nuclear weapons, but also by preventing action on the climate emergency or in eradicating poverty or countering terrorism.
Multilateralism is not only urgent. It is a matter of survival. It is the only way we can tackle the challenges we face. And it is the best way for states to pursue their national interests – by sharing the costs, risks and burdens with others. We must make this case vigorously to political leaders.
We also need an international rules based system, that is predictable, that is strong and reliable.
And we must do more to convince ordinary people that the multilateral system can deliver for them. That has been the challenge I have set for this session of the General Assembly: My theme has been to make the UN relevant for all.
And I firmly believe that the best way to achieve this is to realize the Sustainable Development Goals and to harness the opportunities that the transition to carbon zero will bring. This must be our aim for the crucial meetings that will take place during High-Level Week at the UN this month.
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the UN next year, I hope that all of us – governments, business, academia, civil society and youth – will work together: to make the case for multilateralism, and to make the UN more inclusive, transparent, accountable and effective, for ¨we the peoples¨, that very powerful first phrase of the UN Charter.
Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, a renown Diplomat of India, and the first female President of the UN General Assembly in 1953, and a visionary stated that:
“We cannot think in terms of national issues; that has been disastrous in the past. In the future we need a wider vision, and international rather than national perspectives. I appeal to you to consider matters from a wider view, thinking of the world as one family where each nation can contribute to the welfare and strength of the other”.
And today, more than 60 years later, her call is so pertinent, and much needed.
Today we have a golden opportunity to talk the talk, to revitalize our narratives and our commitments, and it is one we can ill afford to miss. So, I commend you for beginning this conversation today, and I look forward to engaging with you throughout the Forum.