“Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all”
Mr. Shinki An, Chairman of the Institute of Global Engagement and Empowerment,
Students of the Institute for Global Engagement and Empowerment,
Members of the Yonsei Community,
Future Global Leaders (that’s you),
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I stand before you today, deeply honoured to address the Institute for Global Engagement and Empowerment (IGEE), and I savour the opportunity to engage with a remarkable educational institution – and the bright minds it nurtures and shapes for the future.
As I look upon this gathering of young intellectuals – bursting with ideas – I am reminded of my own journey.
A journey that was profoundly influenced by the educators who guided and shaped my path – and led me to who I am today.
Educators are not only guardians of knowledge.
They are liberators of human potential, freeing us from the chains of inequality, intolerance, hopelessness, and inaction.
Universities and institutes like this one are not merely centres of learning.
They are vibrant bastions and hubs of research, teeming with creativity, and vital sources of curiosity.
As young students, you are, and should be, independent thinkers – with fresh eyes and fresh ideas.
Your boundless potential, combined with the wisdom and guidance of those around you, holds the power to drive the transformation that our world so desperately needs.
Let me read that again: Your boundless potential, combined with the wisdom and guidance of those around you, holds the power to drive the transformation that our world so desperately needs.
It is therefore no accident that in September 2015 our World Leaders who gathered in New York saw it fit to adopt SDG4 (on Quality Education), as part of our blueprint – the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Goals.
As you would all be aware, SDG4 seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities.
The Goal aims to invest in the youth dividend, by ensuring that all boys and girls complete free primary and secondary schooling by the target timeline of 2030.
I therefore call upon you all to join hands with other global youths, to promote awareness and full implementation of the 2030 Agenda and its goals. During my Presidency, I have committed to ensure broad youth engagement.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Institutions like the IGEE – as places that inspire innovation and progressive thinking – are critical to helping us tackle the crises of today and mitigate those of tomorrow.
They push us to transcend the confines of conformity and think outside the box.
I eagerly await your suggestions, comments, and, in particular, your innovative ideas.
For governments do not hold a monopoly on good ideas – the very essence of SDG17 (on Partnerships) of the 2030 Agenda.
The urgency of today's crises requires a global and innovative approach – precisely the kind of thinking that institutions like the IGEE promote – and that young people so unswervingly spearhead.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The world faces an array of interconnected crises – from the impacts of COVID-19, the looming climate crisis, conflicts erupting worldwide, backsliding on human rights and aggravated gender inequality in regions across the globe.
This combination of crises is not mere political theory.
It acts as a powder keg, holding the potential to ignite cataclysmic consequences for global stability.
For this reason, for my Presidency of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly I have chosen to focus on the theme: "Rebuilding trust and reigniting global solidarity: Accelerating action on the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals towards peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all."
Indeed – as the United Nations’ chief deliberative and policy making body, and as the most representative organ of the Organization – the General Assembly is the foremost ideal forum for fostering international cooperation and dialogue on the most pressing issues of our time.
We need peace, because, at the outset of its Charter, the United Nations is an organization that was founded on the promise to promote peace and to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.
We need prosperity, because although the world is not short of means, tools or resources to improve the situations of many countries – particularly those facing intersecting crises – too many people are too often left behind, marginalized, disposed, facing hopelessness and indeed, desperate.
Progress, we need, because we are lagging behind on too many fronts – whether for achieving full gender equality, implementing innovative solutions to tackle climate change, or in reforming our unjust global financial architecture.
And, sustainability, because our solutions – to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, not only the climate-related ones – must stand the test of time and benefit future generations.
These four principles will guide my Presidency during the 78th General Assembly Session.
They represent the core values of the United Nations, and I have no doubt that together – as one global community of the older and the younger (and fresher, like you) – we can make them a reality.
However, dear friends, the scale of the challenges ahead cannot be underestimated – and our responsibility is immense.
We need your help.
The United Nations emerged out of the ashes of two World Wars, and was instrumental during the Cold War in averting a third global conflict.
But the world is on the brink once more.
The aggression against Ukraine has triggered food and energy crises across the globe and has revived the unconscionable real threat of nuclear warfare.
This war – beyond its physical impacts – has shaken the foundations of our international rules-based system and eroded trust among Member States, and in the United Nations itself.
For this reason, I have been unequivocal in my calls to respect the United Nations Charter, whose provisions protect all nations, large and small.
But I am alive to the reality that peace cannot be reduced to the absence of war.
This month’s events in the Middle East are a sober reminder of just how quickly tensions can rise and result in unthinkable acts of brutality.
Let me be clear: Violence only begets more violence.
And, in times of conflict, it is systematically civilians, women, children and those most vulnerable who suffer the most.
We must remember – peace is a process, not an event.
This process is the very foundation of our efforts to ensure prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all – as we strive to restore our multilateral system and construct a fair and equitable world.
Peace is the foundation not only of the United Nations as an organisation, but of a world where the nations are genuinely united.
As an incoming member of the UN Security Council, your own country's leadership and fellow diplomats have the opportunity to contribute to our unwavering quest for sustainable peace – as we grapple with these issues.
As President of the General Assembly, I look forward to collaborating closely with the Republic of Korea and all Members in the name of and in the interest of global peace and security.
But, my friends, this represents just one facet of the complex challenges we face.
We have fallen off track on every single goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – yet we have only half of the time – that’s is seven years – to 2030.
Every single one – and I repeat – every single one of the 17 SDGs.
If we do not urgently change course,
While the recommitment to the SDGs we saw at the 2023 SDG Summit in September is encouraging, we need champions of sustainable development – like the Republic of Korea – to lead the way, as our torchbearers.
At the UN, we view the Republic of Korea’s recent adoption of legislation on sustainable development and its staunch leadership in the reduction of inequalities as a true embodiment of the phrase "leave no one behind."
A phrase that without this type of action, is rendered meaningless.
Indeed, we cannot afford to be complacent.
As I indicated, achieving the SDGs requires the collective efforts (or partnerships) by all sectors of society, not just governments acting alone.
I therefore welcome the IGEE's activism and ambition in this regard – from research on climate and peace, to global food security.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
A central focus of my Presidency – and a critical measure of our advancement – revolves around ensuring that each and every one of us has equal opportunities to prosper on a level playing field.
As things stand, it will take 140 years for women to be equally represented in leadership, and a whopping 286 years to close gender gaps in legal protection and to remove discriminatory laws.
We cannot be that patient with discrimination.
We must change with the time – and urgently so.
Continuing to deny half the world's population their most fundamental human rights is not only economically unsound, but it is a moral disgrace, and we must, as the UN raise our collective and individual voices to remedy it.
I recently saw an analysis that suggests that if women were allowed to participate unhindered in the economy, the global GDP would climb to 26 trillion US dollars.
From education, to housing, to health – levelling the playing field so that women can take their rightful place alongside men has benefits and dividends far beyond the family. It manifests in the economy and in the building of strong communities.
The upcoming 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a great opportunity for us to right the wrongs and turn rhetoric into reality.
Within the UN itself, we need to walk the talk. Only four women have held my role as President of the General Assembly – ever.
At the Council of PGAs – the conference I came to Korea to attend – the scarcity of women is embarrassingly glaring.
We need young people's voices – including those in this room – to help us overhaul this discreditable status quo.
Please, do not get me wrong – I am not saying you should mobilize the streets, and protest. I mean through peaceful and constructive dialogue with leaders.
You have the power to effect change, meaningful change.
Use, effectively, all the dialogue spaces at your disposal to deliver a message of change, of justice and of balance.
Importantly, as the UN prepares for a Summit of the Future in 2024 – which strives to have a profound effect on future generations – meaningful youth engagement will be critical to our success.
As Member States work to outline the UN’s priorities to address the challenges that lie ahead – from the opportunities of the digital revolution to a new agenda for peace – your voices will be essential.
From disaster reduction (that is, the Sendai Framework), health, and security, young people worldwide are demanding change.
It is therefore crucial that, as world leaders, we accept to work with the global youth and to ensure that you are afforded an active and meaningful role in shaping policies and decisions that will affect you primarily.
At the UN, we encourage inclusivity in negotiations, listening to civil society, Non-Governmental Organisations, Indigenous Peoples, scientists, and youths – including through the ECOSOC Youth Forum held annually in April.
Dear Friends, and Colleagues,
The goals of peace, progress, and prosperity are meaningless if we cannot live sustainably on this planet.
Our unrelenting desire for economic growth – and our unsustainable development practices and consumption patterns – are driving our planet to breaking point.
But nature is fighting back, and time is running out.
Natural disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, and sea-level rise is more and more becoming a real existential threat – especially for Small Island Developing States like my home, Trinidad and Tobago.
This unprecedented challenge falls directly under the UN’s remit, and it is imperative that we step up and take bold action.
Our pursuit of sustainable development must strike a proper balance between all the dimensions – the economic, social, and environmental.
We must strengthen adaptive capacities, resilience, and mitigate climate-related losses and damages through quick impact projects and other solutions.
Above all, we must be guided and energised by unity and solidarity.
How else can we turn the recent and historic recognition of our right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment into a reality for all to enjoy?
Your innovative minds and wealth of knowledge will – I am most certain – significantly contribute to achieving this goal.
As I visit the Republic of Korea, I am struck by your country's commitment to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Our journeys have been intertwined for decades – as the UN expanded, Korea has gone from being one of the earliest hosts of a UN-authorised force to being one of the world’s leading economies and a major actor in global peace and security efforts.
From Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to former President of the General Assembly and Chair of the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly, Han Seung-soo, through to Korea’s significant contributions to UN peacekeeping missions – your nation has consistently given the United Nations her most precious resource, the Korean people.
For this I am most grateful, and indeed, respectful.
We all share one duty. The duty of hope.
In times like these – where hope may be in short supply – we are collectively dutybound to restore it.
To keep hoping for a future where we can come together to address these challenges.
To reignite global solidarity, implement the Sustainable Development Agenda, and deliver peace, prosperity, progress, and sustainability for all.
For the General Assembly, and I as its President, we count on the invaluable role and inspiring work of the IGEE as well as the confidence and intellectual prowess of its students to be empowered to act as global citizens.
Now, I look forward to your questions, ideas, insights, and indeed, your criticisms.
I thank you.