INTERVIEW | Chairman of the General Assembly – about sustainable development and his vision of the future

ИНТЕРВЬЮ | Председатель Генассамблеи – об устойчивом развитии и своем видении будущего

UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming with the President of the 78th session of the General Assembly, Dennis Francis. INTERVIEW | Chairman of the General Assembly – about sustainable development and his vision of the future Sustainable Development Goals

From 15 to 19 April, the first ever Sustainable Development Week will be held at the UN headquarters in New York under the auspices of the General Assembly. Ahead of the event, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications Melissa Fleming spoke with the President of the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly, Dennis Francis.

Melissa Fleming: We’re here today to discuss Sustainability Week and the new Choose Sustainability hashtag campaign. The campaign encourages Member States, civil society organizations, United Nations entities and the public to commit to sustainable development through commitments and actions that can make a difference. The campaign’s theme could not be more relevant today: we are already halfway through the 2030 Agenda and our SDG efforts are facing strong headwinds. However, achieving the SDGs remains the most effective way to build peace and prosperity for future generations. Let’s talk about the ambitious program of the UN Sustainable Development Week. I understand that it will include five industry discussions over five days. Is there any common thread between these events and what key message would you like to convey?

Dennis Francis: You mentioned a general theme, and that theme is really about sustainability. Sustainability is important because it is the key to the success of our existence on this planet. The five sectors you mentioned are key sectors of most of the world’s economies, and if they work correctly, we can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable development is about the gap between those who are rich and those who are less advantaged

Sustainable development is about the gap between those those who are rich and those who are less favored. This gap is widening. If sustainable development is achieved, we will be able to close this gap and ensure that no one is left behind. Thus, it is about sustainable development for all people on the planet. This is the 2030 Agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals are designed to inspire people, give them hope and empower them to achieve their individual goals.

On the first day of the week, April 15, we will discuss debt burden. Many countries in the global South are saddled with large debts that they need to repay. After paying off their debts, these countries will not have many resources left to finance such important things as education, health care, and national security. These countries find themselves in a debt trap from which they cannot escape because they have to repay the loans they took out, and this creates a development crisis. This is one reason why some 860 million people continue to go hungry in the global South. About the same number of people in the global South live in extreme poverty. We must inspire these people, give them hope for a better standard of living and well-being, so that they can take care of their children, so that they can dream and work towards achieving everything they want to achieve.

For this to happen, it is necessary to reconsider the conditions under which loans are provided. Interest rates tend to be relentlessly high, and this of course puts a burden on vulnerable countries. These include least developed and developing countries, landlocked states and small island states. They are trapped because they have to pay off debts. If you don’t pay off your debt, no one will lend you money later. No bank will lend you money if you do not comply with the debt payment schedule. Therefore, they are forced to pay off debts, but at the same time they have no money left to finance things like education and health care. And, of course, this in itself creates additional poverty.

MF: Here we come to the second area , which is the focus of Sustainability Week. We are talking about infrastructure.

DF: Infrastructure is critical to development. We tend to take it for granted, but think about the aftermath of the Baltimore accident, for example. The Port of Baltimore handles a variety of export and import cargo moving into and out of the United States. The consequences will affect the entire American economy. Just one bridge makes a huge difference.

Infrastructure is extremely important for sustainable development. It’s a game changer

Infrastructure is critical to sustainable development. She’s a game changer. Let’s remember the discussion that took place four or five years ago about America’s infrastructure. According to experts, it is outdated and needs to be updated. Infrastructure connects people. Markets do not exist on their own. They are only markets if people can get to them.

Infrastructure that can withstand the stressors of extreme climate events is needed. In the future, the economy will recover much more quickly from, say, hurricanes and tornadoes. This morning the news showed an earthquake in Taiwan. There was a building that was literally lying on its side. This is where resilient infrastructure becomes important.

MF: When talking about climate and weather shocks, not to mention the transition to sustainable energy.

DF: Energy is one of five sectors that will be represented at Sustainability Week. As you know, we have SDG number seven, which specifically addresses the need for people to have access to clean and affordable energy. This transition is extremely important due to climate change. We know that decarbonization is absolutely essential.

As you’ll notice, I’m wearing a badge that says “1.5 degrees.” This is the threshold value. The entire international community endorsed this threshold at the 2015 climate conference, and developing countries are adhering to it. If global temperatures rise above this 1.5 degree threshold by 2050, the consequences for vulnerable countries will be completely catastrophic. In fact, we have already begun to see some of these manifestations. Rising sea levels threaten to inundate some low-lying atolls in the Pacific Ocean. The sustainability that comes with a green energy transition is a recipe for minimizing the damage, displacement and costs, both human and capital, that will inevitably occur if we do not take urgent action to combat climate change.

MF: During Sustainability Week, much attention will be paid to such an important aspect of infrastructure as sustainable transport. What are you going to talk about?

DF: This topic covers the entire range of internal combustion engines, railway , sea and air transport. We look at the transport sector holistically. Transport is absolutely essential for development. Transport connects markets. It moves people all over the world. The tourism market is valued at $3.3 billion per year. This is a huge amount. Therefore, the transition to green energy and electric vehicles is very important in this configuration.

We will not have the level of air pollution that exists now when green energy rids us of carbon

We will not have air pollution at the level that exists now, when green energy will rid us of carbon. Carbon pollutes the atmosphere and causes climate extremes.

Sustainable development will benefit all of society. We’re not just talking about sustainability throughout our lifetime. We are talking about sustainable development that will fuel and support the civilization of two, three, four, five, six generations living after us.

MF : Sustainability Week takes place in the months leading up to the Futures Summit. We think a lot about the future you just described. You are originally from Trinidad and Tobago. It is an island nation at the forefront of many of these issues. Can you imagine a future for Trinidad and Tobago in a world that solves all the problems we are talking about?

DF: It would be heaven. Literally. You know, every time I go there, I drive my car around the city. The city of Port of Spain is surrounded by mountains. Any morning there everything is stunningly beautiful. You can walk around the city, drive around it by car and watch the sun’s rays falling on the mountains. This is an ideal place in its own way. A good place to raise families and raise children to give them hope and a sense of security. Like all people, we deserve to live in dignity and can live in dignity, in harmony with the environment and all natural ecosystems. Be successful professionally and in business.

I expect all countries to reaffirm their commitment to sustainable development. That’s why we decided to launch a sustainability campaign. Each of us needs to make basic changes to our habits. For example, many of us, without thinking, brush our teeth in the morning with a running tap. How about turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth? You’ll save three or four gallons of water. Water is a scarce resource. Water resources are limited. Many parts of the world are currently experiencing rainfall deficits. We must treat resources more responsibly. We must rethink how we use resources.


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