16 June 2016 – Participating in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted the importance of robust political leadership, smart spending, and contributions from all sectors, including civil society and private business, as the international community continues to work towards implementing various landmark agreements for the benefit of all.
“You gather at an important moment, when the world is striving to get a strong start in implementing four landmark agreements reached last year by the Member States of the United Nations: the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; the Addis Ababa Action Agenda on financing for development; the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development; and the Paris Agreement on climate change,” the Secretary-General said.
“Our shared challenge is to translate these promises into tangible gains for people,” he added.
The UN chief underscored that Russia, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a critical role to play in this work and in addressing other pressing global issues, from ending the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, to safeguarding human rights and controlling the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Thanking Russia for signing the Paris Agreement on climate change in April, Mr. Ban emphasized that the country has tremendous scientific potential to develop technologies for mitigating the adverse effects of climate change, and encouraged it to continue along that path.
He also urged Russia to continue to diversify the Russian economy away from the energy sector, and to reduce reliance on fossil fuel exports. There is also an urgent need to protect Russia’s vast forests, which provide a natural sink for carbon, but which are under threat from illegal logging and forest fires, the Secretary-General said.
Building stronger ties with the private sector
Turning to the private sector, Mr. Ban noted that as the UN continues to forge ever stronger ties the sector, one main platform for engagement is the UN Global Compact, which has brought thousands of companies together to advance sustainability.
“The Compact is built on the belief that businesses everywhere can play a role in improving our world by doing business right. That means addressing human rights, labour standards, environmental protection and anti-corruption issues in business operations and strategies. It also means transforming business models to serve societal needs and responsibly tapping into new markets,” the Secretary-General said.
Noting that he was pleased that nearly 100 Russian companies and civil society organizations are involved in the Global Compact, including through an active national network, Mr. Ban highlighted that the Compact’s Caring for Climate initiative is the world’s largest partnership for business leadership on climate change.In that vein, he said that the 2030 Agenda provides new arenas in which to work together, for the benefit of shared goals and core business.
“The new framework is universal; it applies to all countries. Even the most developed have yet to fully empower women, safeguard the environment or conquer inequality,” Mr. Ban said.
“In this first year of implementation, we are appealing to all governments to align their policies behind the goals. In the same way, we are asking businesses to place sustainability at the heart of their operations,” he added.
Welcoming Russia’s indications that it will work through new institutions such as the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to finance sustainable infrastructure and other areas of sustainable development, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of further economic integration and cooperation.
“At the moment, however, we see countries breaking ties and building new barriers. History tells us that this is not the right direction for Europe. We need to strengthen ties and build bridges,” Mr. Ban said.
Noting that the UN is “well placed to facilitate this dialogue,” the Secretary-General encouraged all countries to participate in a process initiated by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), together with the Government of Belarus, starting with a conference in Minsk in October on “Economic Integration in Europe towards 2030.”
“The world needs a Europe in 2030 with more trade, more transport, more tourism – and more cooperation. This will help us to implement the Sustainable Development Goals and sustain peaceful ties across the continent,” the Secretary-General said.
“The world also needs the Russian Federation and the West to work towards the resumption of fully constructive, positive relations and cooperation on regional and global issues,” he added.
Working towards a sustainable future
The Secretary-General also underscored that as the international community works to build a safer, more sustainable future, it faces serious threats.
“Terrorists and violent extremists continue to commit horrendous crimes. Security and military responses are necessary but not sufficient. We must address the complex factors that drive such acts and ideologies,” he said. “Violations of human rights in the name of countering violent extremism give terrorists their best recruitment tools.”
Conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Mali, the South Caucasus and Ukraine continue to cause widespread instability, displacement, death and destruction, Mr. Ban said. Moreover, he pointed to the fact that some 130 million people around the world need humanitarian assistance and more than 60 million have been forced from their homes – the most since World War II.
For its part, one of the hallmarks of the 2030 Agenda is its recognition of the links between development, human rights and peace, the Secretary-General said.
He noted that Goal 16 in particular commits Member States to fight corruption and build trustworthy institutions.
“It calls on all Member States to ensure independent judiciaries and access to justice. Our efforts must promote inclusive societies rooted in human rights for all, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or other status,” the Secretary-General said.
“No State can single-handedly meet today’s complex national and global challenges. A wide range of actors must work together, including parliament, the business community, academia, labour movements and, not least, civil society,” he added.
The UN chief also noted that he is “deeply concerned” about the escalating pressures being faced by civil society worldwide.
As such, restrictive laws are infringing on the rights of the media and on freedom and funding for human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations. Moreover, security crackdowns, arbitrary arrests, harsh prison sentences and exaggerated definitions of national security are being used to suppress “the peaceful voices of the people,” he said.
“This shrinking of democratic space is an expanding threat to good governance, sustainable development and durable peace. Restrictions on human rights defenders and other NGOs are constraints on progress itself. The silencing of the media only quiets the voices we need to hold leaders accountable,” Mr. Ban said.
“When civil society can play its full role, all of society benefits,” he added.
The necessity of economic reform
The Secretary-General also noted that the Government of Russia has initiated studies for economic reform, which he said is widely recognized as necessary.
“I am convinced that Russian civil society can play an active role in both the design of reforms and their implementation,” he said.
The UN, for its part, has tools to offer in supporting civil society’s efforts, both in Russia and around the world, the Secretary-General said. This includes the UN Democracy Fund, which has supported eight projects in Russia, ranging from migrant workers’ rights to participation of indigenous people.
“These are times of turmoil, but above all this remains an era of opportunity. The UN looks forward to working with the private sector, civil society and all partners to meet today’s tests, advance the climate and development agendas, and build a future of dignity for all,” Mr. Ban concluded.