Annual High-Level Meeting of the UNAOC Group of Friends “Shaping a Better World: Building Cohesive and Inclusive Societies in a Challenging COVID-19 Environment”

Your Excellency, Mr. Miguel Angel Moratinos, High Representative of the UN Alliance of Civilizations,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A few months ago, a tiny virus began to cause a global cataclysm, touching every aspect of our civic, economic, and political lives.

The pandemic hit all the world, but its effects were very different. While the most vulnerable are being hit hardest – with 1.6 billion workers in the informal economy losing some 60% of their income[1] – the digital economy is booming. The capacity to resist the virus was determined by access to the technologies that are keeping our economies and education afloat, but a huge digital divide exists, with just 19% of people in least developed countries having internet access, as compared to 87% in the developed world[2].

And levels of inequality, growing already before the pandemic, are having a severe consequence on material opportunities open to people in its wake. UNESCO statistics show that 825 million students remain affected by school closures[3], creating a real risk of a generation lost to unequal chances, whilst levels of human development are projected to decline for the first time since records began in 1990, with the biggest reductions recorded in those states with already low levels[4].

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The pandemic is a warning shot, showing us the catastrophe that emerges when development is not fair, when too many people are left behind.

It has underscored that when there is despair, trust will be lost and division will grow, rendering intercultural understanding and sustainable peace as elusive goals.

And it has reminded us of the importance of hope; hope that emerges from solidarity and compassion, of which we have seen countless examples emerge in our shared struggle against the virus. 

Excellencies,

To create hope, to build back better, we need to work together to create fairer, more inclusive, and more sustainable societies.

For all of this, we believe dialogue is key;

…to show diversity is, and has always been, a source of strength;

…and to empower individuals and societies alike to make the most of this reality for the benefit of all.

This is what UNESCO seeks to achieve through every one of our activities:

It is why we have created an innovative framework to measure the enabling environment and impact of intercultural dialogue, looking to strengthen the evidence-base on what works and why.

It is why we are working with communities to develop intercultural skills – respect, empathy, mutual understanding – empowering them with the competences to resolve issues before they lead to conflict.

It is why we mobilise the arts to advocate for human rights and dignity as the inalienable foundation of intercultural exchange, working with the most vulnerable to facilitate post-conflict reconciliation and integration.

It is why we are developing a normative instrument on the ethics of artificial intelligence, ensuring that the benefits of technological progress are fairly distributed.

And it is why we created the COVID-19 Global Education Coalition, ensuring that every single learner continues to be able to exercise the right to learn.

Excellencies,

If we are here today, then we are heeding the charge of UNESCO and the UN AoC.

We know that a world of more hope is possible, and we understand that we have both the roadmap and tools to realise it.

Now is the moment for action – action that is more relevant, more ambitious, and more coherent.

In the words of Kailash Satyarthi, Nobel Peace Prize winner: ‘we have globalized everything. It is time to globalize compassion, and ensure that human dignity is upheld in all corners of the world.’

Congratulations to the UN AoC on your 15th anniversary – we look forward to expanding our joint action towards this vision that I know we share.

Thank you.


[1] United Nations (2020). The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2020. https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2020/

[2] ITU Publications (2019). Measuring digital development. Facts and Figures. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Documents/facts/FactsFigures2019.pdf

[3] UNESCO. Education: From disruption to recovery. https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

[4] UNDP (2020). Human Development Perspectives: COVID-19 and Human Development: Assessing the Crisis, Envisioning the Recovery. http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/covid-19_and_human_development_0.pdf

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