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Opening remarks by Mr. Michael Møller
United Nations Under-Secretary-General
Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva

Bi-Annual Civil Society Briefing

Palais des Nations, Room XXIV
Tuesday, 10 October 2017 at 15:00

The following remarks were originally published on the UNOG website. For the complete remarks in English and French, as well as more information about the United Nations Office at Geneva, please click here.

As the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals is on the agenda of every actor in Geneva, I am pleased to let you know that the SDG Lab in my Office is now fully functioning. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the purpose of the Lab, it is a new unit within my Office focused on supporting actors in Geneva dedicated to delivering the 2030 Agenda. The SDG Lab does this through convening and connecting, creating avenues for knowledge exchange, showing and amplifying best practices, and fostering innovation and collaboration. The team has grown to 8 individuals coming from a variety of disciplines and representing different stakeholder groups, and from all regions of the world.

The SDG Lab continues to convene meetings of the Geneva 2030 Ecosystem that are open to UN entities, NGOs, academics, and the private sector. In partnership with other organizations in Geneva, the Lab started a “So What” Series that explores the integrated nature of the 2030 Agenda in practice. The first event, co-hosted by WIPO, explored the links between gender (Goal 5) and innovation (Goal 9). The second event, co-hosted by the Global Commission on Drug Policy on Health and Peace, looked at the nexus between healthy lives (Goal 3) and peaceful and inclusive societies (Goal 16). The next event in the “So What” series will focus on inequality (Goal 10) and sanitation (Goal 6). It will be co-hosted with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, and it will take place early December.

Finally, on 24 October, the SDG Lab will be holding a briefing on the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) with Member States and other stakeholder. If you are interested in attending, please visit SDGLab.ch and send an email to the team to be added to the distribution list to receive invitations to events and other updates about the Lab’s activities.

Let me now turn to the International Geneva Perception Change Project (PCP) in my Office, which continues highlighting the impact of the work done by all relevant actors in Geneva for peace, rights and well-being for all.

The PCP’s #YouNeedToKnow campaign to raise awareness about the Sustainable Development Goals, which was launched last November at the Geneva Airport, quickly expanded worldwide, into Heathrow Airport in London, Zurich, Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Serbia, Belgium and it will soon be displayed in airports in America and Asia.

In another effort to spread the word about the SDGs, the PCP recently produced the booklet called “170 actions to transform our world” – an easy guide to help people integrate the Sustainable Development Goals into their daily lives. It is available in English and French, in print and online at youneedtoknow.ch. We have some copies here. I invite you to use it in your work.

The storybook “Fairy Tales for a Fairer World” I told you about last time we met, has now been translated into all 6 official UN languages, which made it more successful when it was exhibited at the Salon du Livre in Geneva and the World Expo in Astana in July. Some countries are now looking at distributing the book in all class rooms. A good measure of the success.

The team is working on other projects like Young Reporters for students to engage with experts in a press briefing setting, and KidsWannaKnow one-on-one interview sessions between youth and representatives from international organizations. In addition, the PCP team is writing a series of books to tell the positive stories that don’t make headlines, and developing infographics on each of the SDGs to reinforce the message that International Geneva is a major hub for fostering the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

In addition, the SDG Studio was launched in UN Geneva this April. The Studio produces short videos with leaders from United Nations, Governments, business, academia and civil society on how to contribute to the implementation of the SDGs.

Turning now to the International Gender Champions initiative, am very pleased that it is expanding quickly. A New York chapter was launched in March, with the Secretary-General joining in, as well as UN Women Executive Director, the President of the General Assembly and several UN Under-Secretary-Generals. A Vienna hub was launched in June and another chapter will be launched in Bonn-Berlin during COP 23 next month. We have also received expressions of interest from Rome, The Hague, Washington and Nairobi. There are now more than 200 Champions, and more are still coming on board.

As you may recall, the members of this network pledge to lead by example through practical, implementable and measurable actions that bring genuine change in the organizational culture and programming. The big success of this first year was clearly the Panel Parity Pledge, as it has raised awareness and led to change in the composition of panels. During this second year, the network has started working also on key areas of strategic focus such as Trade, Health, Environment, Standards, Representation and Change Management. We also published a joint report with UN Women in March on representation of women in intergovernmental fora.

Many leaders in the NGO community have become gender champions, and I urge all of you once again to adopt the panel parity pledge and ensure that women get the visibility and voice in all public discussions you hold in Geneva and beyond. This is a concrete and tangible contribution to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as a whole.

My personal commitment as Gender Champion for 2017 is to take steps to implement the UNOG Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, which I promulgated last September. UNOG is now one year into the implementation of the policy. As at 18 August 2017, the representation of women at senior levels stood at 43% – a significant increase compared to 34.4% two years ago. The shift from having no policy to having a clear accountability framework, coupled with strong commitment on the part of senior management to implementation, has had a significant impact on UN Geneva, helping to mobilize staff, create momentum and achieve small but important breakthroughs in parts of our office where little or no progress towards levelling the playing field had been made in years. The policy takes into account the new Secretary-General’s system-wide strategy on gender parity, which it complements and supports. We will continue our efforts in this direction.

Let me provide you some updates from our Library. The knowledge kept at the Library is a treasure of the entire UN system. It is also an important asset for implementing the SDGs. A new Resource Guide has been put online this year at libraryresources.unog.ch/sdgs, in which the knowledge available through the Library is categorized by individual goals. For example, if you look up Goal 4 (Quality Education) in our catalogue, you have access to over 33 million items.

As you well know, the Library is also at the heart of the cultural and intellectual life at the Palais. Apart from the cultural events organized together with Member States, the Library organizes some 40 debates and book presentations each year. Many of these host speakers from the NGO community, and we are very happy that you take such an active part in this work.

We are also examining the possibility to transform the Library and Archives into a Knowledge & Learning Commons at UN Geneva. Taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by the Strategic Heritage Plan and our new Centre for Learning and Multilingualism, this initiative will allow beneficiaries to find in one location all the services pertaining to knowledge, learning and records.

In addition, we are working with the Dag Hammarskjold Library in New York and other UN Libraries on the idea of mobilizing the knowledge of the UN through a global knowledge network connecting UN libraries and documentation centres to national experts and the general public. This will reframe the knowledge support services that the UN can provide to countries in their implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and other global policy frameworks.

I will now turn to the UNOG Strategic Heritage Plan project, which is going well and proceeding in accordance with the overall project timeline, cost and scope targets. The approved budget remains at CHF 836.5 million. Our host country has demonstrated its unwavering support towards the project.

We have completed the excavation works, and the construction of the new permanent building is about to start, with a completion date by the end of 2019. We are making sure that access to and from the secured construction area should cause minimum disruption to traffic and pedestrians in and around the Palais des Nations.

The renovation of Building E will not start before end of 2020.

During the renovation works of the Building E, the NGO Resource Centre will need to be temporarily relocated into the new permanent building. Details of the movement of entities in Building E will be fine-tuned in 2020. We will continue keeping you informed on the progress.

As many of you must have seen, this year we have been gradually introducing a new online conference management platform, InDiCo, which helps all events organizers at the Palais, including NGOs, to manage their meetings in a more efficient and modern way. The system allows for a faster accreditation process and access to the Palais. Currently, all events organized in the Palais are processed through InDiCo. Several NGOs have used the system this year for meetings they organized at the Palais, and we have received positive feedback. With the single conference management platform at UNOG, we remove the barrier of having different registration procedures and systems.

We have also been promoting the system with various UN counterparts, and I am pleased that New York is in the process of transitioning to InDiCo, and Nairobi, Bonn and Bangkok will join soon. This will offer consistency and one unique platform for the registration to all UN meetings in different locations. Some NGOs brought up a number of concerns about this platform for participants from abroad, with difficulties in Internet access or challenges in operating the system in English. Let me assure you that we hear and appreciate your feedback because it helps us improve the system.

As many NGO representatives present here actively participate in the Human Rights Council, let me say a few words about our perspective on the important work of this body. For UNOG, with the constant decrease of its budget over several years despite increased workload, servicing of the Human Rights Council has become more difficult.

With the joint efforts of UNOG and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management (DGACM), and with strong support from the Council’s Secretariat, some measures were put in place. These include the decrease of evening meetings during the last three sessions of the Council, reduction of the speaking times and right of reply every second day [instead of every evening]. However, lunch time sessions were held nearly every day. This has implications for all UNOG divisions and services given our increasingly difficult and uncertain budgetary situation. Providing full services to the Council and the UPR in 2018 will be even more problematic.

A Joint Task Force, composed of representatives of the Bureau of the Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNOG is reviewing possible short-term gains and long-term options. At the end of the September session, the President of the Council reported on recommendations to undertake additional measures to manage the Council’s workload, which include further modifications in speaking times and a recommendation for the Council to request support from the General Assembly for 20 additional regular session meetings.

Consultations on the issue will continue, with a view to reaching consensus at the extraordinary organisational meeting of the Council scheduled to take place on 20 October. I very much hope that the members of the Council will find a way to organize the work of the Council so that the number of its meetings is commensurate ‎with the resources given to UNOG and OHCHR to support it. Civil society must continue to have a strong voice and contribute to the vital work of the Council.

I would like to conclude by stressing once again that civil society organizations are increasingly important partners for the UN, and your knowledge, expertise and inputs are essential to connect the work done in Geneva with the developments on the ground. It is vital for us at the UN Office at Geneva to ensure an enabling environment for the inclusive and meaningful engagement of civil society, and to remain vigilant of situations of intimidation and reprisals against civil society participants.

My Office continues to work closely with OHCHR, and I am pleased that last month we hosted a briefing for NGOs by the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, who was designated by the Secretary-General as senior official to lead the efforts within the UN system to address intimidation and reprisals. Together, we will continue our efforts to ensure the safety of human rights defenders in this building and beyond. At UN Geneva we will continue working closely and partnering with NGOs and civil society actors for the implementation of our global goals.