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Ambassador Power: Remarks at Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda
August 2, 2015

U.S. Mission to the United Nations: Remarks at the Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
New York, NY
July 31, 2015

Thank you, Mr. Co-Facilitator, Ambassador Donoghue. Thank you also, Ambassador Kamau. You all have worked tirelessly over such a long period of time.

Others, including from the United States, have spoken about textual changes that they would like to see. I just wanted to pull back from the nitty-gritty that everybody is so steeped in and offer a few thoughts about this truly historic process.

Let me begin by thanking the delegations from all the Member States who have invested a superhuman amount of time and effort working toward an agenda that is worthy of such an ambitious and critical life-saving global undertaking. The agenda that you all are defining here will provide a blueprint for the international community’s actions for years to come. And it is an unprecedented opportunity – and I know I personally feel very privileged to have been part of this process with my team.

When we speak of the unique opportunity this agenda presents, we don’t need to use our imagination. We’ve all lived with the effects of the Millennium Development Goals, which show the absolutely transformative impact that we can have when we unite on a game plan to tackle global poverty.

You know the statistics, and we rattle them off so often that sometimes we can forget that each statistic stands for tens of millions of individuals whose lives have been dramatically altered, in some cases, transformed. That there are mothers out there who would have died during childbirth, kids out there who would have come into this world living with HIV/AIDS, or not have come into this world at all – were it not for the efforts that gave rise to the MDGs. And that the generation of girls who have today finally found their way into classrooms in equal numbers will before long find their way into board rooms and into UN negotiation rooms just like this one. These are the kind of changes we can help make possible when we are a truly United Nations and we come together.

The MDGs also demonstrate the importance of setting a concrete set of benchmarks against which our progress can be measured. Because, important as it is to see the areas where we’re succeeding, we’ve also got to dig deep and look at the areas in which we’re coming up short – so we can actually change the approach. I’ll just give one example of this – there are many out there.

By 2012, we recognized that we were not making sufficient progress toward reducing the number of deaths of children under five, which is, of course, the fourth MDG. So we came together to draft an action plan – the Child Survival Call to Action – and the United States doubled down on its efforts in 24 of the most affected countries, working with local partners, who are the most, of course, invested in the effort. The First Lady of Zambia unveiled a four-year roadmap aimed at saving 27,000 mothers and children a year; the Government of India teamed up with civil society organizations and the private sector to launch the Reproductive Maternal Neonatal Child and Adolescent Health Strategy. In the next two years, it is estimated that some 500,000 children’s lives were saved.

Of course, the reason we are here – the reason that so many of you have dedicated so much time to shaping this new agenda – is because even with the momentous progress that’s been made, progress we can measure, grave problems persist. And we are here because our understanding of how best to tackle those problems has evolved, thanks to data and thanks to our own lived experiences since we created the MDGs. As we affirmed at the Rio+20 Conference, we recognize now that sustainable development and poverty eradication are inextricably linked. We also recognize that the targets we set must be directed at all countries – not just developing nations.

And I want to stress this, because this is why, in addition to continuing to direct significant resources abroad to reducing extreme poverty, President Obama has made it a top priority to tackle what is rising inequality in the United States. You see some of this – many of you live here – you see this inequality every day. President Obama is determined to tackle this and believe that these goals apply also to our inequality. Inequality is bad for our economy, bad for our families and communities, and bad for our democracy. And this is true, of course, all around the world. And that is why at the same time as President Obama has launched initiatives like Power Africa to help get electricity to underdeveloped communities, he has also committed our nation to growing renewable energy sources at home, and cutting our country’s greenhouse gas emissions to 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. We recognize our responsibilities in this global endeavor.

While these national efforts are critically important, no single nation or even group of nations can dedicate the resources or succeed itself in tackling these problems. This has to be global. It has to be unified. And to that end, just in closing, I would offer three closing thoughts as we enter this grueling final leg of shaping our shared development agenda.

First, an appeal: land a text that people can understand and relate to. And by people I mean people outside of the conference rooms where we all have been working tirelessly for months, you all especially, and beyond the bubble of our wonky UN world. George Orwell, the master of language that gets to the point, once wrote that political language “is designed to…give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Avoid letting political language overtake this text. Speak the language of the people whose lives depend on this effort. They are the ones who must be able to approach this agenda, see themselves in this agenda, feel that it represents them, and hold us on the back-end to the commitments that we make. Consider the enduring power of the UN Charter which, 70 years after it was drafted, still conveys to anyone who reads it a purity of purpose. Our aim is to be the generation that ends extreme poverty. Let’s be sure our language clearly states that goal, and inspires the people of all our nations to join us in reaching it.

Second, we know we can get to closure, and we can get to closure soon, if we bring a spirit of compromise. For the Financing for Development Conference, we spent eight months, eight long months, integrating the substantive contributions of many of the delegations represented in this room. It was a grueling process, and I know for many a painful process. It’s fair to say that all of us were asked to make concessions we never thought we would make going into the process, and there are certainly parts I think that each of us, still, think about and would like to rewrite. But we worked through the challenging parts, and collectively pushed ourselves further than ever before to reach consensus on an ambitious, modern approach to mobilizing partnerships, assistance, and resources. The Addis Action Agenda contains more than a hundred concrete measures that can make a major contribution to economic development. We should take advantage of the innovative ideas and ambition enshrined in the Financing for Development outcome document, and we should make sure that the entire, comprehensive package that we are still negotiating is worthy of those who are counting on us.

Finally – and this is really for those of you who’ve put in all of the labor over such a long period of time – if you can find it in yourselves, finish strong. This is the homestretch. Everyone here, it seems, if I project outward from my own team, is completely exhausted. But the consequences of coming up short are too great to let that exhaustion or politicking get in the way of producing the agenda the world needs. So I just urge you to redouble your efforts to empower the people who have the most at stake in this effort. And I would remind you just – in moments of frustration or fatigue, and I’m sure there are many still that lie ahead – that in every one of our nations, millions of people’s lives could be transformed by the agenda we agree upon. Imagine, if those individuals were here in the negotiations: What would they advise us to do? What would they want for their families and their communities?

If we keep those individuals at the forefront of our minds – as I know so many of you do – I’m confident that we will strike the right balance, and bring this process to a worthy and exciting close.

Thank you.