Opening the "UN Theme Week"

State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte's opening speech at the UN students' "UN theme week - still human".

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Ladies and gentlemen, dear students!

It is an honour for me to address so many globally minded students.

We are here tonight to celebrate the inauguration of your festival «UN Theme Week – Still Human».

As a student in Bergen, I was a student activist and organizer myself so I know very well the spirit that drives you now. Your festival programme is indeed an encouraging read. Well done!

Each generation will be defined by how it changed the world. I am thinking of something far more meaningful than labels such as Millennials or Generation X, Y and Z.

Our generation has the chance to put planet earth on a sustainable path.

The concept of circular economy is a good illustration.

It is all too obvious, we have to reduce waste and pollution – from food scrapes to plastic litter in the oceans. Looking beyond the throwaway society, a circular economy aims to redefine growth. It is restorative and regenerative.

There is a world of opportunity to rethink the way we lead our lives. To design products that can be 'made to be made again', while powering the system with renewable energy.

It makes perfect sense to me, not just because I studied economics, but because I believe our generation understands how economic, social and environmental factors influence the quality and, in fact, the very possibility of life. With creativity and innovation, we can build a better tomorrow.

This is exactly the kind of wisdom that is needed to tackle the greatest challenges of our time.

The good news is that there is now a roadmap to guide our efforts. I am thinking of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2015, 193 UN member states adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all.

Basically, what we have here is nothing less than a roadmap to the future of a fed, clothed, educated and working global population.

The Sustainable Development Goals speak directly to the root causes of what is broken in our world.

And these goals are not just applicable for developing nations, they are universal. They are applicable to all countries. Norway is committed to be a champion for global implementation, but we also have a way to go, for instance on food waste.

Grounded in international human rights law, the aim is to realize human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination. To leave no one behind. This means that we must pay special attention to the marginalised groups in the most fragile settings.

We all own these goals – and we can only achieve them together.

Did you know the UN asked to pick your brain too when the agenda was developed? You and the rest of the world are invited to have your say in My World, the UN global survey for a better world. More than 10 million have responded thus far to the question: What is most important for you and your family?

Overall, education, health and an honest and responsive government came back as people's top priorities.

Indeed, education is fundamental to sustainable development. Access to quality education is a universal human right. Still, more than 250 million children are out of school.

Many of them are girls. Many of them live in extreme poverty. And many of them are refugees.

Education is the key to unlocking opportunities for all, so that everyone can enjoy a better life.

This government has made education a top priority in Norway's development assistance.

We promised that we would double our funding for education, and we have delivered on this promise:

  • 14000 teachers have received more education
  • 8 million books have been handed out
  • 3,1 million students have been given access to school

However, increased funding is not enough. This we know all too well. Norway's Pisa rankings prove that money alone does not guarantee results.

Actually, this insight underpins how the goal on education in the 2030-agenda was formulated.

Let me first take you one step back before we continue. In the Millennium Development Goals from year 2000, - the predecessor of the new Sustainable Development Goals - the aim was to achieve universal primary education. To ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere would be able to complete a full course of primary schooling. We counted school buildings, but that only got us halfway through.

In the Sustainable Development Goals, the focus in not on quantity, but on quality.

In all corners of the world, schools carry the promise of opportunity and aspiration for the future. Everywhere education is a prerequisite for development. In countries affected by conflict and crisis, quality education creates the foundation for reconciliation and rebuilding of societies.

Whole generations may be lost in complex humanitarian crises, like the horrible one we are currently witnessing in Syria. But we cannot accept lost generations. We need to acknowledge the human beings behind the numbers, just as your festival aims to do.

That is why Norway supports the Education Cannot Wait fund targeted for education in emergencies.

Syrian children deprived of an education is not only a huge injustice. In the long term, it will undermine the prospects for stability, reconciliation and development in the whole region. Therefore, more than 15 per cent of Norway's humanitarian assistance to Syria is earmarked for education.

We know that investment in education works. Education is key to eradicate extreme poverty. That is why Norway will continue to champion quality education for all, especially for those affected by conflict and crises.

After all, we have made a commitment to leave no one behind. This pledge is the guiding principle of the era of the new goals. Why is this so important?

Eradicating extreme poverty, ensuring that mothers and infants do not die from avoidable complications during childbirth, making sure that everyone is nourished, and gets a quality education – all these things are our common responsibility.

So 'leaving no one behind' is the right motto for our efforts.

The 17 goals are interconnected, and many of them cannot be achieved without cooperation across national borders. That means that we will stand or fall together.

Globally, we are witnessing an increasing pressure on universal values – values that we have taken for granted: democracy, the rule of law, and respect for basic human rights.

In the face of rapid change, feelings of uncertainty are taking root. We sense a growing distrust in international cooperation and commitments.

Now it is even more important than ever that we stick to our fundamental principles.

We must uphold international law and the international legal order that has brought us unprecedented levels of security, prosperity and freedom.

We need close international cooperation, even though it may seem cumbersome and inefficient at times. History has demonstrated that the alternatives are far worse. We are safer and stronger when we stand together.

That is also why we must make sure that international organisations remain relevant and fit for purpose.

The UN is the most important international meeting place. No other organisation has the same legitimacy when it comes to developing international law, global norms and joint solutions.

The UN can be a frustrating place difficult to move. However, we see that the number of progressive countries on many issues are increasing, for instance on gender equality.

The UN must continually revise and renew its approach to be able to function effectively and retain its relevance.

Remember, international institutions and organisations are only as strong as we make them.

The world is changing fast. It is precisely in times like these that we need to renew our commitment to our common values.

Not only because they are universal. Not only out of a sense of moral duty. But also because upholding these values has proved to be the best way to ensure security, prosperity and freedom especially for a small country like Norway.

That is why we are launching a project to discuss Norway's role in a multilateral system under pressure. We intend to present a new government white paper on this next spring. Meanwhile, we will invite you to have your say, engage in debates – we want to hear from you!

Remember, we are the last generation that can prevent irreversible climate change and the first generation in a position to eradicate extreme poverty. I am counting on you to be the brains behind – and the future leaders of – global development.

Thank you – I wish you all the best and interesting discussions throughout the week!