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Speech by Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the Global Engagement & Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development in Seoul

Mr Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr President Heinz Fischer, Mr President Kim Yong-hak, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much for your invitation.

It is an honour for me to participate in the Global Engagement & Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development here at Yonsei University today.

And I am delighted that we have been able to establish a close partnership with the Ban Ki-moon Center to implement the SDGs and that we will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding on this matter today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of upheaval in which the global order around us is changing. China is becoming a new superpower that is growing into the world's largest economy with a different societal model from the USA, Korea or Europe, for example. At the same time, the US's relationships with the rest of the world have become more unpredictable and, in some areas, more complicated. And tensions between Russia and its western neighbours remain unresolved. Ongoing conflicts in the Middle East are leading to violence, hardship and displacement. Africa's young population is seeking education and career opportunities that cannot yet be provided by every country on that continent. Europe finds itself facing constant migration flows that present a challenge to our community. At the same time, our economic competition is becoming increasingly global. And technological progress keeps accelerating. Rapid change is now our only constant.

Wherever there is change, we need guidance. As people, as societies and as international communities, we must keep reminding ourselves of where we ultimately want to go and what our priorities are so that we can react appropriately to the changes around us. I view the Sustainable Development Goals as a compass that provides precisely this guidance.

I am speaking to you today as an Austrian, of course, but above all as a European. As a European who is thinking about how we, the European Union, can play an effective role – today and in the future – in helping to ensure that the SDGs are achieved worldwide. To do so, we need to work at different levels:

  1. We must maintain a 'big picture' view of our goals.
  2. We must build on international cooperation.
  3. We must never let up, despite our successes.

1. Our goals

I am convinced that every policy that focuses on the interests of people ultimately pursues the same goals: peace, justice and prosperity. Peace, which enables people to live in safety and freedom. Justice, which means that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights, and can rely on the rule of law. Prosperity, which promotes health and personal development as well as creating a social network for the weak.

In order to accomplish these goals, we need to agree on many things. We must first lay the groundwork: combat poverty, end hunger, and create security and strong institutions. We must offer personal development opportunities – through education, work and competitiveness – in which all segments of the population participate: women and men, old and young alike. And we must take care of our planet, treat our environment with respect, and protect our resources and climate. In the long run, we cannot have one without the other. The greatest prosperity and economic progress will be of little help to us in the long term if we ruin our planet along the way.

The best universities will not help us if men and women do not have the same right to study at them. And the greatest technological progress will be of little help to us if not everyone can benefit equally. This is where the SDGs are such a good compass precisely because they provide us with a 'big picture' view of everything that counts. Progress in just one, two or a few dimensions will not help us reach the goal, will not enable peace, justice and prosperity to be secured in the long term. And here, every country, every society is called upon to always tackle the relevant issues.

In Austria, for example, we are certainly fortunate to be among the leaders when it comes to the groundwork. Hunger, absolute poverty and armed conflicts are now behind us. And I am glad and grateful that this means we are in 9th place in the SDG Index. But we have also set ourselves the goal of being in the top 5 of the SDG Index by 2020, and there are a number of areas where we can and must do more. We must do more, for example, to help people – especially young women – balance family and work. This is a question of infrastructure and equality of income.

We must use resources carefully and not become a throw-away society that swaps today's convenience for tomorrow's habitat.

And we must not make the mistake of reacting to today's challenges with yesterday's political responses. The rule of law, strong institutions and clear rules are important pillars of our success. At the same time, we have created too much in the way of rules and bureaucracy in the EU over the years. This adversely affects the freedom and autonomy of the individual citizen, and it also limits our innovative potential. Here, we – Europe and Austria – must take countermeasures if we want to maintain our competitiveness, and thus our prosperity and welfare state, in the long term. This will also contribute to the SDGs and to our responsibility. Only an economically successful Austria and an economically successful Europe will be able to play a significant international role in future in achieving the SDGs.

2. International cooperation

Furthermore, there are of course a number of areas where international cooperation is needed in order to make a difference. One of these is climate protection. If we want to make real progress here and meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals, every continent and every country must take its fair share of responsibility. I am delighted that we will once again be able to hold the R20 Austrian World Summit in Vienna this May, in partnership with Arnold Schwarzenegger and politics and business leaders.

I am convinced that our success in the international fight against climate change will primarily depend on how much we encourage and allow innovation. This is where environmental and business interests meet. And the more this cross-border cooperation takes place, the sooner the innovations that we need will rapidly spread. From hydropower and solar energy to batteries for e-mobility: innovations from Asia, the USA, Europe and other regions are providing global impetus for competition and progress in all these areas. As an Austrian, I feel proud when I regularly hear on my travels how technology from Austria is helping to promote renewable energy in Africa or Asia. This is not just important for our climate; it is also a priority for development cooperation – another area in which international cooperation is necessary.

In December 2018, President Paul Kagame and I hosted an Africa-EU Forum in Vienna to strengthen economic cooperation between our continents – especially in the field of technology. At our forum, it could be seen how more than 1 000 business people from both continents took the opportunity to network and initiate cooperation. I believe that, alongside traditional development cooperation, this makes an important contribution to the future: politics must provide an environment in which business people can create jobs and drive innovation across borders.

3. Never let up

With all that there is to do, however, we must reconcile ourselves to the fact that it is not easy and probably never will be. Social progress does not follow a straight line that only ever goes up. No – there are often setbacks, disappointments and conflicts. This is something we can clearly see today. If individual countries question their role in the fight against climate change, it hurts us all. If geopolitical tensions increase and countries start toying with the idea of rearmament rather than disarmament, it threatens us all. And if, in conflict regions in the Middle East or Central Africa, a generation of children grows up that is largely exposed to violence rather than education, it affects us all. We cannot be happy about any of this, but it should not make us despair either. Above all, it should encourage us to do even more and work even harder wherever we can. Because despite the ups and downs, the successes and setbacks, our human history over the past few decades is a great success story. The proportion of the world's population living in extreme poverty has more than halved since 1990 – thanks to global economic growth.

Serious diseases such as polio are on the verge of being eradicated thanks to international vaccination campaigns. The global number of deaths caused by war and violence has, thankfully, been falling steadily since the Second World War. There is still a great deal to be done, of course, and any individual can only ever play a small part. But we are heading in the right direction and must never relax our efforts.

It is of particular concern to me that the young people of my generation, who were able to grow up in Europe in security and freedom, never let up here. We must always remember that we cannot take our fortunate situation for granted. On the contrary: it requires constant effort. Peace, justice and prosperity do not appear out of nowhere. They need the active involvement of every individual – in politics, business and civil society. It is our responsibility to preserve these achievements for the future generations of Europe and at the same time to play our part in making them a reality in other parts of the world too. With this in mind, I am delighted to be here with you today so that we can work together to make progress towards achieving our goals.

Thank you very much.