Thank you, Ambassador Singh. It is an honour to be with you today at the Indian Council of World Affairs.
My best wishes as you celebrate Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, commemorating 75 years of India’s independence and achievements.
In the world of international affairs, there is no place like a think tank or research body. They are seats of learning, analysis, and discussion – aspects all crucial to our work.
Importantly, the work they do, the work you do, brings together the curious, the young, the informed and the inspired to debate and shape our common future.
And, above all, you are independent.
In the 14th century, the King of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund once got frustrated by some priests correcting his Latin, the official language of Europe at that time. But then one of his bishops bluntly told him in front of the court: “Majesty, even Emperors cannot prescribe what opinion scholars should have.”
Yes, you are the scholars, or, should I say, the pundits of international affairs, bringing knowledge, experience, and a new perspective into this volatile and emotional trade of ours.
So, I look forward to your reflections, questions, ideas and suggestions. Because, dear friends, I have always maintained that governments do not hold a monopoly on good ideas.
In fact, the urgency of today’s crises demand that we look beyond business as usual.
That we transcend the confines of convention.
That we think, and act, outside the box.
To put it simply, we need a paradigm shift.
When I assumed the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly last year, I made a promise.
A promise to all 193 Member States of the United Nations and, through them, a promise to you. And to all of our 8 billion constituents and shareholders on this fragile planet.
My promise and the motto of my Presidency is to foster “Solutions through Solidarity, Sustainability and Science”.
Solidarity amongst nations and peoples to foster peace and build prosperity.
Sustainability to ensure our solutions stand the test of time and benefit succeeding generations.
Science to address the dearth of common understanding that plagues our discussions.
I am under no illusions as to the scale of the challenges facing that promise.
But in the UN General Assembly, the parliament of the world, where ambition meets action, I am hopeful that we can, we will, and we must prevail. Inaction is simply not an option.
I have challenged Member States of the United Nations to take a two-pronged approach to our work.
To narrow their focus to achieve real results for those who mandate them and those who rely on them.
To focus on quality of outcome, over quantity of output.
That dual approach is focused on crisis management and transformation.
Excellencies, Dear friends,
The context in which we are operating demands such an approach. It is a context of complex and interconnected crises. A new era of history. It started with the pandemic that bought the prototype of the Anthropocene era crisis, sweeping through our systems and bringing down health services, supply chains, economies, budgets, labor markets, channels of cooperation, budgets, undermining societal and political stabilities in many parts of the world.
As a part of this complex crisis we witness eruptions of new wars or flair-up older conflicts.
We are approaching the first anniversary of the war in Ukraine.
A war that has cost countless lives and caused untold suffering and displacement.
A war that has touched the four corners of our planet.
A war that has unleashed an energy and food crisis across the globe.
A war that even brought back the unconscionable: the threat of nuclear war.
I know many young Indians were studying in Ukraine when the war broke out, and I salute your country’s commitment to their safety and security. Your delivery of humanitarian aid has also eased the suffering of thousands of civilians.
But beyond the physical impacts of this war, its consequences on the international rules-based system, on our multilateral order, on trust amongst Member States and on public trust in the United Nations have been profound.
I have been firm in my calls to uphold the UN Charter, vocal in my support for dialogue and diplomacy and clear in expressing the commitment of the General Assembly to defend the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity.
As a recent member of the Security Council, I commend India for your calls for peace, in Ukraine and across the world.
This represents just one challenge facing the United Nations and our world.
Sadly, it is one of many.
As it stands, we are off track on every goal of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Let me repeat: every single goal.
This Agenda, to which all governments have agreed, is nothing short of transformational.
It is a blueprint for humanity. If achieved, we will not only survive, but thrive.
2023 marks the midway point in the implementation of this Agenda. We will hold an SDG Summit at the UN in September.
By then, we need honest accounts of where we are and where we are going. We need to assess our successes as well as our failures. We need to find our gaps and work to close them.
Because in September, we will have to turbocharge the delivery of the SDGs.
I have called on Member States to remember what is at stake, to identify their responsibilities, and to agree on timeframes for reinvigorated and urgent implementation.
India was one of the first countries to adopt this Agenda. I commend your flagship programmes to accomplish its goals at local, sub-national and national levels.
Even in the remotest villages, the partnership between India and the United Nations to accelerate implementation of the SDGs is making a difference.
This is the SDG slogan of “leave no one behind” brought to life.
What is more: this model can be adapted and applied elsewhere.
India’s leadership in the field of digital public infrastructure, from building innovative governance systems to citizen-oriented services, is transformation in action.
In short, the international community has a lot to learn from your unique experience.
I urge you to engage actively in these discussions to get humanity back on track. We need your help.
Unfortunately, there have been many setbacks on our shared journey to sustainable development.
The COVID-19 pandemic cast a dark shadow over our world for over two years.
Today, we are slowly emerging from that shadow. We emerge humbled, and we emerge steadfast in our conviction that global challenges are too great for any nation to tackle alone.
That is true for all nations: subcontinents and small islands alike.
But let us be honest and admit that while no country has been spared from the pandemic, its impacts have not been equal.
Far from it.
There are some, often the most vulnerable, often in the Global South, who continue to suffer the ravages of this global scourge – and its many consequences.
A major and lasting impact is the debt crisis, looming on the horizon for some, threatening and already towering over others.
It is often said that adversity breeds humanity.
And of course, there have been examples of tremendous ingenuity and solidarity.
I commend India for your generosity in exporting vaccines to over 150 countries and in championing sustainable recovery through your chairmanship of the G20.
This is the kind of inspired leadership that our world needs.
As we step into 2023, we can no longer ignore the pressing need for reforming our global financial institutions.
We can equally no longer ignore the need to revise our definition of growth and well-being.
I have called on Member States to advance discussions on a methodology for measuring sustainability transformation in a way that integrates human well-being, natural capital, and all the other aspects of our investments.
This is the “Beyond GDP” initiative. It is premised on the core fact that we cannot transform what we cannot measure.
Let me be provocative and challenge you all, here at the ICWA, to debate and come up with innovative approaches to support this goal.
Please, tap into the wealth of knowledge and the wide network that you have created.
As we look ahead, it seems that we are standing on the edge of a precipice.
Teetering at the point of no return.
The question we must answer is simple: do we back up, change course, and find a safe way across, or do we continue as we have done, close our eyes and step off blindly?
The answer, I hope, is just as simple.
The challenges facing our world are great. They are cascading, interlocking, exacerbating, and reinforcing. But they are not insurmountable.
I remain an optimist at heart.
I remind myself regularly that we have already weathered many storms together.
And that, to quote the old Indian proverb, “we cannot change the direction of the wind, but we can adjust the sails”.
As I look to 2023, there are reasons to hope and opportunities for transformation.
In March, for the first time since 1977, we will hold the UN Water Conference. I hope this will bring a new “Paris moment”, this time for water action.
We need to raise the level of ambition to achieve the promise of SDG6. To do that we must:
Integrate water and climate policies.
Move beyond reactive water management.
Establish a global water information system to support regional and local predictability and resilience.
These are gamechangers in the world of water.
In our world, where water is scarce and unpredictable at the same time, these actions would put us on the path to sustainably come out of the water crisis.
So, friends, I ask you to think of the future of the Yamuna, the Brahmaputra, the Indus the Godavari and the Krishna.
Think of the future of the Indian Ocean.
Of Vembanad or Chilika Lakes.
If they are to have a future, we must turn our rhetoric to reality.
And we must base our actions in science.
The Namami Gange programme for abatement of pollution and rejuvenation of the Ganges is an excellent example. Let us replicate it and build upon it.
Underpinning all of our work, and an issue which I know is close to India’s heart, is the need for the reform of our multilateral system.
Let us face facts: it is no longer 1945.
Our institutions cannot hope to overcome the challenges of today, when they act in the framework of yesterday.
The need for reform of the UN Security Council was directly raised by more than one third of world leaders during the opening of the General Assembly last September.
That is a clear political signal.
There is a process in place at the UN to achieve this. But its outcomes leave much to be desired.
I have consistently called on Member States to grasp the opportunity and move from a position of “no” and “later” to a position of “yes” and “now”.
I thank India for its continued and active engagement in this process.
I also acknowledge the efforts of Ambassador Kamboj, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, for bringing it to the Security Council itself, and for inviting me to brief the Council on the issue of reformed multilateralism in December.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
India has always been a staunch supporter of the United Nations.
Home to one-sixth of humanity, India’s leadership on global challenges and her strong voice in multilateral affairs have been exemplary.
The journeys of the UN and independent India have been intertwined since our respective founding in the 1940s.
For seven decades we have travelled hand in hand. Through thick and thin.
Through the UN’s expansion, through India’s population growth, and through its decades of amazing development.
You gave the world the first woman President of the General Assembly.
We have been able to count on India in a multitude of issues from fighting polio to promoting equality, from championing democracy to the empowerment of women.
Yet, you are not only active in shaping our discussions, but you have put forward your most precious resource, your people, in support of the UN’s cause.
India is one of the largest contributors of troops to peacekeeping. Thousands of your communities have bid farewell to blue helmets and counted the days to their return.
Finally, on a personal note:
For more than four decades of my work as a diplomat, I have been inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s devotion to peace, the eradication of poverty and harmony with nature.
Friends, allow me to finish in his words, and let me use them as my humble call to you, and to all those listening and watching:
Do what you can to transform our world, and build a peaceful, sustainable future, which upholds equality and human rights for all.
As Mahatma said: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”