Speaking engagements

DES at 11th edition UNSA

Speaker: UNFCCC Deputy Executive Secretary Ovais Sarmad
Event title: 11th UN Summer Academy

Date: 27 June 2022 

Introduction and context setting

Thank you very much Patrick, Sandhya and the rest of the colleagues from the United Nations Systems Staff College (UNSSC) for organizing the 11th edition of the UN Summer Academy and inviting me to share our views from the UNFCCC secretariat.

My name is Ovais Sarmad, I am the Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or UN Climate Change in short). 

It is a pleasure to join you in welcoming so many young people, professionals, representatives of various communities and institutions to this year’s Summer Academy.

This programme provides useful insights in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially for international professionals like this cohort.

Dear participants, our world is changing at a dizzying pace, with technological innovation, unprecedented changes and conflicts in the world, the onset of the climate emergency, and a widespread loss of trust between people and institutions.

We need education to 

  • reduce inequalities and improve health.
  • to achieve gender equality and eliminate child marriage. 
  • to protect our planet’s resources. 

And we need education to fight hate speech, xenophobia, and intolerance, and to nurture global citizenship. All these are important components of the 2030 Agenda that need to be addressed.

During the Summer Academy you have a chance to continue educating yourselves, develop new ideas or challenge existing ones, and join forces for new initiatives and projects to support progress on the implementation of the SDGs and climate agenda.

Big picture on SDGs and climate change

Ladies, gentlemen, let us look at the big picture. We meet at a pivotal moment in history:

  • 50 years since the adoption of the UN Declaration for the Human Environment in 1972
  • 30 years since the adoption of the UN Convention on Climate Change and anniversary of UNFCCC, and, most importantly,
  • the 2nd year of the decade of action to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement target of halving greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite our current global challenges, climate change remains the most significant, alarming and rapidly escalating crisis facing humanity. It is killing people today and destroying our land, oceans and biodiversity. Every fraction of a degree of temperature rise compounds the collective danger to all. 

Science is clear – the window of opportunity to address the climate emergency is narrowing. If countries, businesses, civil society and individuals do not make the necessary transformational changes in the next two years, the disaster will not be avoidable. The path forward must be one of action.

SB 56 and road to COP 27

The urgent need for action has been discussed also in the negotiations at the last Climate Conference – the Subsidiary Bodies session (or SB 56) that ended a few days ago. Countries came together in Bonn to advance technical work towards COP 27 that will take place in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in November this year.

At COP 27 nations must show how they will implement the Paris Agreement in their home countries through policies and programs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Strengthening the adaptation of vulnerable communities to climate change and enhancing mitigation of climate change impacts through more ambitious climate action plans is crucial.

Another important aspect of COP 27 is about supporting all segments of society, including NGOs, businesses, or individuals, to drive significantly more climate action in a spirit of inclusive multilateralism.

What measures can be taken to address the climate crisis and implement the 2030 Agenda?

Firstly, we must go back to the core human needs and explore how innovation can support the design of alternative value-chains that satisfy these needs while supporting the SDGs. Acting at the sectoral level will not suffice as it can only lead to incremental changes. 

In other words, we need a system design thinking to foster more transformative innovations and disrupt existing value-chains which cannot align with the long-term climate goals and the SDGs. 

Secondly, it is crucial that governments, businesses or technology providers go beyond focusing on addressing their own problem and become solution providers. The SDGs and the goals of the Paris Agreement will be successfully implemented only if we have radical collaboration across nations and within countries, with multilevel climate and sustainability actions. 

This requires a shift in mindset towards solution thinking. We are not yet there. Much more effort is required to design and implement a collaboration framework commensurate to the global threats we are facing.

Finally, the world is smart enough to solve problems but not wise enough to avoid them. To address the climate and sustainability challenge, we need both competences, which requires system thinking.

These issues must be addressed holistically. For example, climate action should not be a pure decarbonization agenda. It should be integrated with a sustainability agenda to become a means to satisfy the core human needs.

One solution is not enough to address the global challenges. A cluster of integrated solutions is required. This can include technology solutions, policy solutions, innovative cooperative approaches, innovative business models and social innovation combined to address a specific demand for climate and sustainability solution.

To conclude, solution thinking, system thinking, and design thinking will enable the reinvention of human communities, including their relationship with nature. These conceptual tools can support the transition to societies that are regenerative rather than extractive, restorative rather than destructive, and empowering rather than alienating, where prosperity flourishes. 

Globally, they can foster a sustainable world with a safe climate, a world without poverty, with prosperity for all, a world of cooperation that can realize the vision of peace, security and human dignity on which the UN is founded.

As I mentioned earlier, during the UN Summer Academy you have the chance to challenge all these ideas, to look at systematic transformation and perhaps imagine pathways to a mindset shift that goes beyond own generations.

I invite you to follow the events at COP 27 in Sharm el Sheikh and please feel free to contact me for any questions.

Thank you!

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