October 16, 2018
Second Committee Statement on Sustainable Development

Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See

Seventy-third Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Second Committee
Agenda Item 20: Sustainable Development

New York, 16 October 2018


Mr. Chair,

The Holy See watches with hope as governments around the world, the United Nations and its agencies, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders, work to achieve the great promises of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, whose adoption Pope Francis considered “an important sign of hope.”[1]

Making this hope a reality, however, is no easy task, particularly since the 2030 Agenda unites the three dimensions of development — economic, social and environmental — as one interconnected reality. For the past three hundred years, many have been trained to think of these dimensions as separate and autonomous realms of existence. Economics is where this isolation was most visible, where not only the market was an autonomous system, but individuals were understood as separate from society and culture, motivated only by self-interest, and the environment was viewed as simply a collection of commodities to be exploited for profit or for self-satisfaction. The old, common paradigm was held together by the commodification of each of the three dimensions, bringing them together only under the same drive to accumulate wealth and what wealth could obtain.

The new paradigm proposed by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs a stronger bond, more than the motive of profit, to hold the three dimensions together. It needs to build upon the inherent dignity of each person and a vision of development that is fully human and integral. It requires people-centered and environmentally sensitive ethics.

While this new paradigm calls for novel forms of social accounting, we need to make sure that we are not replacing an old problem with a new one. We cannot allow the SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) indicators to become what the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has become, a statistical goal that substituted for the lived experience of real people. As Pope Francis said in his 2015 Address to the General Assembly: to enable “real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc.” [2]

Mr. Chair,

One of the vehicles for promoting sustainable development, as mentioned in the Secretary-General’s report, is tourism[3]. It is necessary, however, that we do not stop at examining the significant economic and material benefits of tourism, but see tourism for what it is more deeply: a mutually enriching encounter of persons and peoples of different cultures and backgrounds. When this encounter is based on the dignity of both the tourists and the residents, it will build many helpful bridges.

Unfortunately, too often we see the opposite, like the walled off tourist areas in developing countries that allow affluent visitors to see the beauty of nature without encountering the people who live on the other side of the wall. Moreover, there are also invisible walls of indifference that allow tourists to overlook individuals and thus not really encounter the local culture and people. Integral human development requires instead a “culture of encounter,” which enables us to bring together all three dimensions of development, as we admire not only the environment and its beauty, but also the beauty of the people in their social and economic conditions.

Mr. Chair,

The culture of encounter, with the human person at the center, can and should be the driving force of integral human development. The lack of physical encounter can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses that neglect parts of reality. This happens, for example, when, solutions to the problems of the poor pass through eliminating them through progressively reducing their birth rate.

Integral human development requires ultimately a renewal of humanity that enables people to discover who they really are and learn to build a hospitable, inclusive society with room for everyone, especially the weakest and most marginalized, and where economic wealth is not merely a personal possession but also as part of the common good for the benefit of all.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

1. Pope Francis, Address to the Members of the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, 25 September 2015.
2.  Ibid.
3. Cf. A/73/283.