REMARKS TO THE OPENING OF THE SDG ACTION WEEKEND
New York, 16 September 2023
Excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen,
This week, global leaders are gathering here in New York to discuss their plans and priorities for the future.
They will tell us how their countries intend to contribute to a better, more equal and peaceful world.
And they will outline their commitment to accelerating progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, as we cross the halfway point.
But this week does not belong to leaders alone.
Dear friends, this week, this weekend, this house — the United Nations — also belongs to you.
It belongs to the women and men who are bringing the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals to life, year in and year out in your communities and countries.
It belongs to the civil society groups engaged across every aspect of global development — from health and education, to jobs and social protection, to environmental, climate and gender justice.
It belongs to the young people who have joined us — raising their voices about injustice, inequality, peace and the climate crisis.
It belongs to the activists who are standing against oppression, discrimination and racism, and who are relentlessly holding leaders to account for the decisions they make — or too often, they fail to make.
This week belongs to the scientists and academics who are helping to ensure that evidence is at the heart of countries’ decision-making.
It belongs to the private sector partners here today, who are finding new and innovative ways to support progress in their countries — not for the sake of profit, but for the sake of people and planet.
It belongs to the innovators working tirelessly to develop solutions to climate change — building green economies rooted in renewable sources of energy.
It belongs to the mayors, governors and local leaders, whose dedication to the people they represent inspires us all.
And it belongs to the women and girls fighting for a seat at every table, and standing up for their rights — including the right to live without fear of violence. This is at the heart of the Spotlight Initiative to help end violence against women and girls. And I urge Member States to support additional and much needed investments to tackle this age-old scourge.
The SDGs are not about checking boxes.
They’re about the hopes, dreams, rights and expectations of people and the health of our natural environment.
They’re about righting historic wrongs, healing global divisions and putting our world on a path to lasting peace.
But as we gather this weekend, the Goals are in trouble.
Today, only 15 per cent of the targets are on track, with many going into reverse.
The SDGs need a global rescue plan.
And Monday’s SDG Summit will be the moment for governments to come to the table with concrete plans and proposals to accelerate progress.
But we all need to step up.
To the civil society groups and young people among us — I salute your courage and conviction as you fight for the SDGs.
And I know that true activism is tough.
That it comes at a cost.
That it often comes at a risk to your safety, your health, your liberty — even your life.
I grew up in Portugal under the Salazar dictatorship and did not experience democracy until I was twenty-four years old.
I saw the dictatorship oppressing not only its own citizens, but also people under colonial rule in Africa.
But I also saw something more.
I saw the struggles of people around the world to drive change forward.
So I urge you all to keep going.
And to the members of the business community here today — I urge you to see that sustainable development is in fact the best business plan of all.
That upholding human rights, putting people before quick profit, and protecting the planet and its natural gifts are investments in future prosperity for all.
To the women and young people joining us — keep calling out for change in your communities, and fighting for your rights and a place at every table.
To the scientists, academics and innovators here — a sustainable future depends on pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and finding new ways to serve all people. So keep going.
To the local authorities here — the SDGs will not be rescued in New York.
They will be rescued in your communities.
So continue listening to the people in your communities, and embedding their needs and concerns across your policies and investments.
Thank you all for lending your hearts, minds, ideas and actions to this essential mission.
Let’s transform the world; let’s bring more justice and equality to our international institutions.
Let’s rescue the SDGs and fight for the better future every person deserves.