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N. Al-Nasser: Religion and the Sustainable Development Goals

Address to a forum on
"The Relevance of Interreligious and Inter-Civilizational Dialogue to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals"
United Nations, New York, USA, March 27, 2015

At the outset, I would like to thank all the partners who are participating in this “Consultation on the Relevance of Inter-religious and Inter-civilizational Dialogue to the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.” We have a long-established relationship with all of them and had many opportunities to work together.

We recently strengthened our cooperation with UPF through the signing of an agreement that highlights our common goals. Both UPF and UNAOC share the belief that the promotion of intercultural and interfaith dialogue is the path for people and nations to live in peace and security. There simply cannot be peace without respect for freedom of religion, tolerance and cultural diversity. Inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogue and sustainable development are therefore inseparable. One cannot exist without the other.

The year 2015 promises to be pivotal. In September, leaders will converge for the United Nations special summit to adopt the Post-2015 development agenda. We gather here today to affirm the importance of interfaith dialogue as the bedrock of sustainable development. We also want to explore how the final statement can effectively acknowledge the benefits of interfaith and intercultural dialogue in the achievement of sustainable development.

Fully aware of the need to go beyond differences of religion, culture and nationality, I already decided, as President of the 66th Session of the General Assembly, that a special area of focus for the General Assembly would be fostering cross-cultural dialogue. I launched a thematic debate on “Fostering Cross-Cultural Understanding for Building Peaceful and Inclusive Societies.” I was determined to make intercultural dialogue and understanding one of the legacies of my tenure as President of the GA.

In my position as High Representative of the Alliance of Civilizations, I have worked continuously at building bridges between societies of different cultures and religions. I stressed the need to develop an action plan to eliminate any divisions that can arise when people from different religious and cultural backgrounds coexist. I have repeatedly drawn the attention of world leaders to the reality that the Post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda requires from them real leadership and political will.

There are many initiatives within the UN system to make implementation of the SDGs more measurable through the use of targets and indicators. Archbishop Bernardito Auza rightly mentioned it yesterday, regarding the presentation of the UN Statistical Commission on preliminary indicators and targets. It is important to emphasize that such targets and indicators must be country-specific and adapted to the needs and capabilities of those using the indicators. Moreover, as he said: “Certain goals and targets are understood differently in different cultural and religious contexts and will translate differently into their national policies and legislation.”

Indicators need to be policy-relevant, feasible and timely, and easy to communicate to the public.

In our globalized world, cultural boundaries disappear and technical innovations bring people closer through the virtual world. However, these interactions have not prevented the surge of conflicts arising from extremist ideologies. Cultural, ethnic and religious tensions fuel terrible hostilities worldwide and especially in the Middle East, parts of Africa and Asia where they rob the poorest communities of any possibility of reaching minimal socio-economic growth. The most vulnerable members of society, women and children, are the first victims of these conflicts. Interfaith dialogue and cooperation are more than ever vital for the peaceful coexistence of people and for achieving a sustainable world.

I have had many opportunities to meet religious leaders from all faiths. I was struck by their unwavering support for the United Nations’ goals of peace and sustainable development. Regardless of faith, all agree that dialogue among people of different religions and cultures is the key to lasting peace. All continuously reaffirm the right to freedom of religion and their commitment to the principles of the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At the Alliance we have launched a number of initiatives to support the goals of sustainable development. If you look at the 17 goals proposed by the Open Working Group, you will see that each and every one of them calls for dialogue across civilizations and religions. Each of these goals can only be achieved if people, communities and nations work together across cultures, religions and ethnic groups. This includes from the first Goal, which demands an end to poverty in all its forms, to Goal 17, which stresses the need to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize global partnership for sustainable development.

The truth is undeniable: there is such interdependence between societies that prosperity and well-being can only be achieved if differences between people are seen as an asset to development. Climate change does not differentiate its impact according to race, religion or nationality. Humans require access to health and education regardless of where they live. All the 17 goals can only be achieved by leaping over the things that divide us to embrace our common and shared cultural heritage.

I cannot repeat enough that the Alliance is dedicated to the proposition that cultural, ethnic and religious diversity are pillars of sustainable development, not obstacles to it. It requires partnerships on all fronts. We partner with civil society foundations and governmental bodies to promote projects to support the role of young people of all denominations in social and economic growth. We have launched projects to make the media more sensitive to these issues so as to provide public information messages that advocate understanding and respect across cultures and religions instead of hate and suspicion.

We are here gathered in the shared belief that the 17 Sustainable Goals are achievable and require our commitment to nurture inter-religious and inter-civilizational dialogue and cooperation among all segments of societies.

I look forward to your ideas and recommendations.

H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser assumed the post of United Nations High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations on March 1, 2013. Previously he was President of the Sixty-Sixth Session of the United Nations General Assembly and for four decades has contributed to advancing the multilateral agenda in the realms of peace and security, sustainable development and South-South cooperation. Throughout his twelve years in New York in the diplomatic field, Ambassador Al-Nasser has established a network of professional relations and forged meaningful friendships with colleagues from every corner of the world. He has collaborated on numerous endeavors in political, economic, social, human rights, environmental and legal fields with colleagues representing most Member States and adhering to various positions and perspectives. It is his vision to enhance respect for human rights, good governance, the rule of law, and dialogue among peoples of the world—all in the common interest of humanity.