Strengthen Rather than Breaking Ties, Build Bridges, Not Walls, Secretary-General Urges Europe, in Remarks at Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation, today:

Good morning.  It is a pleasure to visit the historic and beautiful city of Saint Petersburg.  Thank you for inviting me to take part in this international forum, which continues to grow in ambition and scope.

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 on 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.

Our shared challenge is to translate these promises into tangible gains for people.  We will need robust political leadership, smart spending and contributions from all sectors, including civil society and private business.  The Russian Federation, as a permanent member of the United Nations 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.

I thank the Russian Federation for signing the Paris Agreement on climate change on 22 April in New York.  Now 177 States have signed, and we are pressing to obtain the ratifications it needs to enter into force this year.

Russia has tremendous scientific potential to develop technologies for mitigating the adverse effects of climate change.  I know you have upgraded many production facilities, and adopted more efficient industrial processes in order to reduce the energy intensity of the Russian economy.  I encourage you to continue along this path.

I also urge you to continue to diversify the Russian economy away from the energy sector and to reduce reliance on fossil fuel exports.  This year’s Saint Petersburg Forum rightly includes a session on “life after oil”.  I have no doubt that Russia’s engineers and entrepreneurs can help the world to usher in a new energy future.  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 United Nations continues to forge ever stronger ties with the private sector.  One main platform for engagement is the Global Compact, which has brought thousands of companies together from all sectors and all regions 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.  I am pleased that nearly 100 Russian companies and civil society organizations are involved in the Global Compact, including through an active national network.  The Compact’s Caring for Climate initiative is the world’s largest partnership for business leadership on climate change.

The 2030 Agenda gives us new arenas in which to work together, for the benefit of our shared goals and your core business.  Over the past 15 years, the world made remarkable progress under the Millennium Development Goals.  Many millions of people left poverty behind.  For the next 15 years, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will seek to leave no one behind.

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.  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.

As you make massive investments in infrastructure, we ask you to do so with sustainability foremost in mind so that we do not perpetuate bad approaches for decades to come.  I welcome the Russian Federation’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.

I would also like to stress the critical importance of further economic integration and cooperation in this region.  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.

The United Nations is well placed to facilitate this dialogue.  In that spirit, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, together with the Government of Belarus, has initiated a process, starting with a conference in Minsk in October, on “Economic Integration in Europe towards 2030”.  I encourage all countries to participate.

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 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.

Our work to build a safer, more sustainable future holds great promise, but also 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.  Violations of human rights in the name of countering violent extremism give terrorists their best recruitment tool.

Conflicts in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Mali, the South Caucasus and Ukraine continue to cause wide-spread instability, displacement, death and destruction.  More than 130 million people around the world need humanitarian assistance.  More than 60 million have been forced from their homes, the most since the Second World War.  The World Humanitarian Summit last month in Istanbul reached important agreements on better protecting people, providing aid and preventing conflicts.

One of the hallmarks of the 2030 Agenda is its recognition of the links between development, human rights and peace.  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.  No State can singlehandedly 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.

I am deeply concerned about the escalating pressures being faced by civil society, near and far.  Restrictive laws are infringing on the rights of the media and on freedom and funding for human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations.  Security crackdowns, arbitrary arrests, harsh prison sentences and exaggerated definitions of national security are being used to suppress the peaceful voices of the people.  This shrinking of democratic space is an expanding threat to good governance, sustainable development and durable peace.  Restrictions on human rights defenders and other non-governmental organizations are constraints on progress itself.  The silencing of the media only quiets the voices we need to hold leaders accountable.  When civil society can play its full role, all of society benefits.

The Government of Russia has initiated studies for economic reform, which 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.  The United Nations has tools to offer in supporting civil society’s efforts, here and around the world.  This includes the UN Democracy Fund, which has already supported eight projects in the Russian Federation, 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 United Nations 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.

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