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UN Secretary General outlines goals for sustainable development, Syria reconciliation

In an exclusive interview to TASS on the sidelines of SPIEF, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres commented on sustainable development goals, the Syrian peace process and other issues
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres Fiona Goodall/Getty Images
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres
© Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

— Mr. Secretary General, we are glad to welcome you again at the SPIEF. What are the priorities of your agenda here? Do you have any bilateral meetings with Russian authorities scheduled during your visit?

During my stay, I will meet with President Putin and other senior Russian officials. Russia is a founding member of the United Nations as well as a permanent member of the Security Council.  It is very important that I have regular opportunities for dialogue with the country’s leadership.

I intend to discuss the crucial issues that concern us all, including sustainable development, climate change, peace and security challenges around the globe, and the fight against terrorism.

I have made clear that I believe in particular that climate change is a major threat to us all and that we are not moving quickly enough to combat it. Scientific experts tell us that the clock is ticking. We are losing the race. But they also tell us that it is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C at the end of the century, if we take decisive action, so I will keep pushing to make sure that action is taken.  And I will also talk about other pressing challenges, including the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

SPIEF this year is dubbed "Creating a Sustainable Development Agenda". UN has Sustainable Development Goals 2030 – how do you estimate achievements in this area especially in regards to drastically deteriorating climate situation? In your opinion, what else should be done to make our planet a sustainable place?

There are many key challenges we must face in order to make the planet more sustainable.  Beyond climate change, which I mentioned just now, we need to deal with rising inequality, both between and within countries, which is eroding trust and deepening a sense of injustice. Globalization has enabled many people to escape poverty – but its benefits are not shared equitably and its costs fall disproportionately on the poor and vulnerable.

Beyond that, infrastructure and energy needs are set to expand enormously, thanks to population growth and urbanization in the Global South.  Some 60 percent of the area that is expected to become urban by 2030 has yet to be built.

We also need to do more to ensure the rights of women and girls. We have seen significant progress for women over the past forty years. More girls are in school; more women are doing paid work. Harmful practices like female genital mutilation and child marriage are in decline. But this progress is not complete; indeed, we are seeing a pushback against our efforts and in some cases the gender equality gap is widening.

We also need to realign financing for sustainable development and unlock the trillions that will deliver the 2030 Agenda, and I will continue to encourage that.

A Russian UN employee was among more than two dozen people detained by Kosovo police in an armed raid last week. A German-Tunisian dual national Mr. Kartas was detained in late March following his arrival in Tunis on a UN mission. How can UN improve protection of its diplomats serving around the world? Can there be legal response to such actions?

In both cases you mentioned, we informed the authorities of the immunities of our personnel, and in both cases, they were released from detention.  We continue to emphasise the immunities that staff members possess under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the UN. The procedure for addressing the immunity of staff members is clearly spelled out in the Convention.

We have a responsibility to ensure that our staff, who work throughout the world, sometimes in difficult situations and on difficult assignments, are protected when implementing mandates that have been entrusted to the Organization by its Member States.

Your Special Envoy for Syria Mr. Geir Pedersen in his first report before the Security Council mentioned that "five international armies operate across Syria's land and airspace". Do You consider illegal foreign military presence in Syria as an obstacle to the peace process? How is it possible to prevent unfavorable consequences particularly given any misjudgment can lead to confrontation?

There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict.  Geir Pedersen is working with the Syrian parties to move forward on a constitutional committee, but there is no way we can have a sustainable peace if there are still different parties conducting military operations in the country.

The only way to end the conflict is to address the root causes through implementation of a political solution in line with resolution 2254. But it is difficult to build trust in a process while hostilities are raging.

Till the last year Yemen was considered a forgotten conflict, it didn’t change till the situation became really desperate. Stockholm agreement was a huge achievement, but it seems it’s not implemented as fast as it was expected. Are you optimistic about progress in Yemen? How many other “forgotten conflicts” are now in the world which are still waiting for international efforts?

 I hope that the parties in Yemen can build on the talks that they had in Stockholm and the agreement on Hudaydah, and my envoy, Martin Griffiths, is working to build on the progress that has been made.

Our UN mission in Hudaydah continues to operate on the ground, working directly with the parties to agree and implement the required steps. To carry this forward, I continue to urge all parties to work with my Special Envoy in a more cooperative spirit and move swiftly to implement their outstanding obligations under the Stockholm Agreement.

You are right that there are too many conflicts that do not attract the attention of the world.  From Yemen to South Sudan to the Central African Republic, we are doing all we can to resolve those conflicts – but we need the world’s media and the public to pay attention, as well.

You always have a very tight schedule, almost every week you visit another country. How do you manage to keep up with everything? Can you share your activity secret?

 My secret is to pace myself and to focus on what the work I do can achieve.  Traveling as much as I do is difficult – but I am aware that it is much more difficult to achieve the sort of goals that are essential to our common good if I do not travel and deal with leaders from around the world.  Just as important, it is crucial to see the peoples of the world – to understand firsthand the challenges that they face and hear from them what they need and expect from the United Nations and the international community. Whether they are refugees, migrants, people uprooted by war or natural disasters, people left behind by globalization, they all need to be heard.  Those are the people that are represented in the first words of the UN Charter “We the Peoples.” That’s a vital interaction for me that helps to keep me going in my work.


Interviewed by Maria Khrenova