Reflections on the UN General Assembly

David Hallam, UK Envoy for post-2015 Development Goals

Arriving in New York as the new UK Envoy on the post-2015 development goals, I confess to having been a little overwhelmed by the proliferation of both high-level and side events on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) calendar.This week has the unique ability to draw in deeply important voices from all corners of the world and all walks of life, and to land upon the hot topics that really matter.

It is telling and exciting that post-2015 has been at the heart of this week’s discussions. Both the UN Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly should be applauded for their dedication to ensuring that over the coming months, as we maintain the momentum on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), we also start to build a post-2015 framework that is visionary, compelling, ambitious and practical.

As the week draws to a close, I wanted to reflect on some of the discussions and statements of the last few days, and to identify some broad emerging themes.

Firstly, I am delighted that the MDG Special Event Outcome Document is so clear on the need for a single set of goals that focus on poverty eradication and put sustainable development at the core. Indeed, this has been the tone of many of the statements and discussions throughout the week, ranging from General Debate speeches to side events with important civil society voices. We need a holistic approach that integrates the three dimensions of sustainable development, an area where perhaps the MDGs could have gone further.

I sense that this need to build on and go beyond the MDGs, and to address issues that the MDGs didn’t cover fully, has growing momentum.

One particular area I want to flag is the call for a framework that includes good governance, peace, the rule of law and human rights.  Whether it has been the “A Million Voices - World We Want” report, events on the rule of law, Member State speeches throughout the week, or indeed the Outcome Document itself, the arguments are compelling. It is clear to me that safety, access to justice and accountable governments are both enablers of development and outcomes of it – girls getting home safe from school; justice being done and seen to be done; people having a voice in the decisions that affect their lives. And this is what people living in poverty are calling for – dignity, safety, a voice.  As we start to build the new framework, we have no excuse for ignoring their calls.

These calls need to shape the way we view the whole post-2015 agenda. For me, some of the most exciting and inspiring moments of the week have come during the side events held by civil society organisations that have brought the voices of the poorest and most marginalised into the room. From meetings and events with MyWorld, Beyond2015 and Stakeholder Forum, and many more, I am reminded, as I was during the consultations undertaken by the High Level Panel, of the experience, expertise and ability offered by those non-state actors. It is essential that this framework reflects what they are saying and makes them active participants, both in the shaping of the framework and the implementation of it. The inaugural meeting of the High Level Political Forum has reinforced the need, not simply for a bold set of goals, but an accountability and review mechanism that turns goals into actions. This requires political will and leadership, and the messages from the first meeting of the Forum were very positive in demonstrating the recognition of this.

Last, but by no means, least, a prominent theme this week has been the critical importance of girls and women in the post-2015 development agenda. Here, I must declare an interest. On Tuesday the UK, alongside the USA, hosted our annual MDG Countdown, which reflected on some of the amazing progress that has been made in providing girls and women with a voice, choice and control over their lives. The UK’s International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, set out how “investing for women and girls is a virtuous cycle and unlocks progress elsewhere.” This echoes statements and speeches I have heard throughout this week – it is clear that we will not be able to eradicate extreme poverty and leave no one behind if we do not deliver for girls and women. And 113 countries endorsed a historic new ‘Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’ that contains a set of practical and political commitments to end the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war, which terrorises and destroys communities during conflict.

So, as the week draws to a close and those of us not fortunate enough to live in New York pack our bags and head home inspired by the conversations we have had and the people we have met, I urge us all not to lose that inspiration. We need to keep up the energy, maintain the momentum and build on the issues that have been at the heart of discussions here. This week has shown the importance of collaboration, of listening to what people want, and has shown us that there is a need to act now if we are to build a framework that the world deserves.