Excellencies, ladies, and gentlemen, I am pleased to speak to such a diverse group from the Abu Dhabi business community today. I would especially like to thank our hosts at the International Business Women’s Group, as well as the other business councils here this evening.
The UAE believe that business – and its contributions to our society and economy – is integrally linked to our foreign policy. So I appreciate this opportunity to engage with you all.
It was, in fact, a key topic that His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed spoke about with us at our Global Ambassadors’ Forum here in Abu Dhabi recently – the essential role that the full community plays in bettering our society in the UAE and how much we value that contribution.
My job as the UAE Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations is to reflect those values of tolerance and excellence as a model for development in the region.
While I know that Abu Dhabi is far from New York – and the United Nations and its hierarchies, resolutions, and procedures may be foreign to many of you – you should know that the UAE has been highly dedicated to the United Nations since its founding. And the organization is a key platform for the UAE to advance our foreign policy priorities. Why? Because we know that the challenges we face in our region and around the world today cannot be faced alone and we need a place like the UN – where 193 countries have a voice around the table – to address them.
This evening I will speak about our foreign policy priorities at the UN, as well as how those fit in with the UAE’s overall domestic and foreign policy strategies.
Like many other UN Member States, the UAE is navigating a number of interconnected, transnational challenges that are creating volatility and uncertainty for all – especially for a small state like ours in a complex, unstable region.
- The creation of winners and losers due to globalization and the populist pressures and the nationalist backlash that have come about as a result;
- Technological progress and its associated disruptions to society—exacerbating ever further the difference between the haves and the have nots;
- The global displacement of refugees at a level not seen since the end of the Second World War—nearly 70 million today and increasing;
- The rise of non-state actors, including violent terrorist and criminal groups; and
- Climate change and its impact.
We are also witnessing a number of developments – some enormously challenging, others representing unprecedented opportunity – that are unique to the Middle East. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan, for example, is a sweeping reimagining of how that country can enter the 21st century as a role model of governance, economic reform, and cultural leadership.
We believe that this kind of forward thinking is fundamental to the future of our region and our vision of a Middle East led by moderate, modern nation states.
At the same time, that vision is under profound threat in countries like Yemen, large parts of which have been subjugated by radical non-state actors, including Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Daesh. Unfortunately, that competition – between legitimacy and rule of law on the one hand, and lawless violence on the other – is in play countries in the region like Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Libya, as well as further afield in countries like Afghanistan and in the Horn of Africa. As such, countries on the right side of this battle, like the UAE, must take the initiative in working with like-minded countries in the region towards a more peaceful and prosperous future.
In light of the complexity and vastnsess of these challenges, the UAE is dedicated to using multilateral fora to address these issues. We see the UN as the forum where the sovereign rights and interests of small states are protected and the rule of international law is maintained. As such, we work to protect international norms and agreements in these fora, because it is the underpinning of our foreign policy. Without them, we would be left with a world where “might is right” would define international relations and small countries like ours would likely be subsumed.
This is for a number of reasons: first and foremost, the UN is the one place that endures where peace deals can be brokered and major international accords like the historic Paris Agreement on climate change can be reached.
Second, the UN is a uniquely legitimate venue where governments, business leaders, members of civil society, academics and others can convene to address the major challenges and crises facing the world in a collaborative, cross-sectoral, multinational setting.
While the UN faces a number of challenges as an organization – especially in fostering greater equality and ensuring proper representation within the organization of the populations it aims to serve – it nonetheless remains a unique and indispensable arena for addressing the challenges we face. If the UN didn’t exist, we would have to invent it.
One such area where the UN is critical to our foreign strategy is in addressing the core peace and security matters that are affecting our region, some of which pose an existential threat to our way of life. To that end, we support the UN’s mechanisms to resolve and prevent conflict, including the ongoing efforts to address the crises in Yemen, Syria, Libya and Palestine and counter terrorism and counter violent extremism.
The UAE is also deeply dedicated to helping people in need around the world. As such, we are working closely with the UN and its agencies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
A blueprint for development recently adopted by all 193 countries of the United Nations, the SDGs are a set of 17 goals and 169 targets that specify quantitative and qualitative outcomes across all sectors and dimensions of sustainability by 2030. The goals cover everything from the rule of law to renewable energy to women’s rights to newborns’ health. They constitute the most sweeping global development agreement ever reached in the UN’s history. In simple terms, they aim to eliminate the gap between the developing and the developed world by eliminating poverty, ending hunger, and transforming for the better virtually every element of societal life.
In my talk this evening, I will highlight five areas of action that we believe are critical to both of those frameworks of security and development and we are working on at the national, regional and international levels. These are:
- Women’s empowerment and gender equality.
- Alleviating youth demographic pressures and creating economic opportunity for youth.
- Technology and governing the digital space.
- The post-oil economy and leading the energy revolution.
- Region-specific issues like the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
Firstly, the UAE recognizes the role of women and girls in contributing to the progress and development of not only our country, but the world. As such, our leaders believe that empowering women is – simply put – smart foreign policy.
Women are force multipliers in peace promotion, conflict resolution, and societal stability. We know that 50 percent of peace agreements fail within five years. However, when women meaningfully participate in the drafting of a peace accord, there is a 35 percent chance that the peace will last fifteen years or longer. This is not simply because we are including women in the process – it is because women and their unique set of experiences and insights prove vital at the negotiating table.
Including women is also the cornerstone of a more sustainable economic model. We see positive dividends when we prioritize women’s leadership in the economy and the workplace. Research by the McKinsey Global Institute has demonstrated that global GDP has the potential to rise by 12 trillion US dollars by 2025 by narrowing the global gender gap in the workplace. In the Middle East and North Africa, this would mean an additional 15 percent increase in our GDP by 2025.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report for 2017 notes that the UAE is a regional leader in eliminating its gender gaps.
Unfortunately, the global picture is less positive. For the first time since the World Economic Forum’s records began in 2006, the 2017 report shows that the global gender gap is, in fact, widening.
Particularly concerning is the economic pillar of the gender gap, which looks at salaries, workforce participation, and leadership, and which has been one of the fastest-growing gaps. Women across the world are still, on average, earning less than men by a large amount. So much so, the World Economic Forum says, that the economic gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years at the current rate of progress, 47 years longer than last year’s estimates.
I’m proud to say that, in the UAE – unlike in many other countries around the world – equal pay for equal work is enshrined in our laws. Economic participation and empowerment are critically tied to political empowerment, and we must therefore prioritize women’s participation in senior leadership and decision-making in both the public and private sectors.
But that’s also why the UAE’s dedication to women’s empowerment around the world is all the more crucial. While much of the world is failing to advance these issues, the UAE will continue to be a champion for women’s empowerment and gender equality because of the importance of women’s contributions to the growth of our own vibrant domestic economy and modern, tolerant society.
It is not just women’s successes and aspirations that we are working to support – it is also young people’s. Tackling the demographic structure of our region is a challenge, but also a great opportunity.
For the UAE and our region, now is the last chance to reap the ‘demographic dividend’ that is this generation of young Arabs can represent.
In the Arab region as a whole, 60 percent of the population is under the age of 30. And youth between 15 and 29 make up around 30 percent of the population, around 105 million people.
50 percent of the global population growth over the next 50 years will come from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia. The youth unemployment rate in Arab states in 2016 was 30.6 percent – compared to a global youth unemployment rate of 13.1 percent.
Providing youth with the proper tools for success – a good education, competitive job markets, equality of opportunity for both girls and boys – will both alleviate some of these demographic pressures, while unlocking an entire generation of talent, industry, and innovation.
As we believe that proper inclusion of women and young people is crucial to our economic and societal model, we know that we must also harness technology – while also accounting for both the advances and risks that represents. We know that the demands of high technology will require us to reskill our population for a knowledge-based economy. As such, we have been at the forefront of policymaking surrounding frontier technologies with the appointment of the world’s first Minister for Artificial Intelligence in 2017.
While frontier technologies have enabled progress, they also have the potential to cause widespread disruption. It is estimated that between 2017 and 2021, cybercrime will cost the global economy between 1 and 3 trillion US dollars each year. The potential threat from cyber attacks for countries like the UAE – and for private enterprises – will only increase as we become increasingly reliant on digital technologies for every aspect of our personal and professional lives.
Many of these risks and challenges arise because there are no rules of the road – no norms of behaviour or venues to discuss threats. That is why one of our priorities at the United Nations is working to bring different platforms together – governments, civil society, Silicon Valley – to bring about a new paradigm for cooperating in the digital space. This will likely be the defining battle of our time.
The high-tech sector is one part of the UAE’s efforts to set its economy on a post-carbon footing and invest in the energy revolution. This includes developing technological know-how and diversifying our energy mix. We have all seen how new conventional and un-conventional sources of oil and gas are re-shaping the energy market. At the same time, alternative energy sources are ever more cost competitive – the cost of solar has gone down by a factor of 15 over the past 20 years, and the cost of wind energy has halved over that period of time.
In light of these advances, we have been pioneering in our investment in renewable and sustainable energy sources.
We believe that our experience in renewable energy is worth sharing – and we have given more than $1 billion in assistance to renewable energy projects in developing countries to help them achieve the SDGs.
Other elements of the UAE’s national strategy for economic diversification are likely to be well known to you all because you are, in effect, playing a part in it.
We continue to see the UAE’s role as a global transport hub as vital to the success of our economy. The completed expansion Dubai’s Al Maktoum International airport will expand its capacity in order to serve 26 million passengers each year. When Abu Dhabi’s new Midfield Terminal opens in 2019 it will be able to accommodate 30 million passengers per year, in addition to the 45 million that Abu Dhabi International is expected to handle by then.
While the experience of commuting through the UAE’s airports will be well-known to you all, our work at the United Nations aims to ensure that the UAE is a global hub for humanitarian aid as well. Last week at the World Government Summit, Her Royal Highness Princess Haya bint Al Hussein announced the launch of a global humanitarian logistics databank at the International Humanitarian City, a logistics center for the distribution of aid, in Dubai.
This databank will enable organizations like the World Food Programme and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs to understand the logistical needs of and better respond to the most urgent humanitarian crises around the world.
In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s founding in 2021, we will also see the completion or launch of major public and private sector initiatives in line with Vision 2021 and ahead of Expo 2020. All of these projects aim to ensure the UAE’s place as a global leader for economic competitiveness and market sector diversity and tie in closely with our work at the UN.
Lastly, there are a number of region-specific issues that we and our allies and partners are confronting in order to achieve our shared vision for regional security in the Gulf and beyond.
There are several elements that are necessary to ensuring that. First, the success of Saudi Arabia and Egypt – as two of the most populous and critical countries in the Arab world – is paramount to the success of the entire region. Second, we must build additional partnerships, whether by strengthening old ones or building new ones, notably with countries like China and India.
What we cannot do is build walls against what is happening across our waters and around the region.
So at the UN we continue to engage on a number of fronts.
In Yemen, the UAE remains strongly committed to the Arab Coalition, led by Riyadh, to restore the legitimate Yemeni government.
The recent targeting of Riyadh with ballistic missiles only serves to underline the severe threat that the Houthi insurgency represents. We cannot stand idly by while a new Hezbollah is being built with the support of Iranian ideology and money.
The UAE is also working with the Yemeni government’s forces, and with the support of the US, to combat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
We are deeply committed to not only addressing the humanitarian need in Yemen, but also working to rebuild country. As such we have committed a total of 2.73 billion USD in aid to Yemen since April 2015.
This assistance addresses the immediate necessities of food and healthcare, but also address greater societal needs like educational resources, social services, infrastructure, and much more.
And just last month, Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledged 1 billion USD to the UN’s Office of the Humanitarian Affairs, which will be used by a wide range of UN agencies to mitigate the suffering of the Yemeni people. As part of OCHA’s Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, this donation was made with the stipulation of low overhead and administrative costs so that more of the funds are put to actually impact the situation on the ground.
Yet ultimately, the best way to resolve the humanitarian crisis is to achieve a viable political solution to Yemen’s conflict; a goal to which the UAE remains firmly committed.
On Palestine, we continue to push for progress in the Middle East Peace Process as a critical issue for achieving a sustainable, just, and comprehensive peace and for meeting the needs and rights of the Palestinian people, including their right to an independent state.
In Syria, we have seen perhaps the most brutal conflict of the 21st century so far spill beyond borders in the form of an international refugee crisis. Whatever political settlement to the conflict might eventually be adopted, the humanitarian costs of the Syrian civil war will be with us for decades. In our view, the Arab world needs to take a particular and a greater role in addressing these issues since it is in the Arab world where it will be most acutely felt.
One element tying many of these issues together is the malign and destabilizing role being played by Iran. When the Iran Nuclear Deal was signed, there was hope in some quarters that Iran would become a more “normal” force for balance in the region. Instead, Iran’s support for violent proxy forces, its efforts to stoke sectarian tensions, and undermine the sovereignty of its neighbors has only gotten worse.
The UAE will not sit idly while this threat grows around the region. That is one reason why the UAE welcomes the approach to countering Iran’s influence that has been put forward by the US administration. We believe that we need to look beyond Iran’s sectarianism and to work with partners to develop consensus against this malign influence and the violence that it perpetuates.
In many of these arenas, significant progress has been made in the fight against terrorism and terrorist groups, for instance the liberation of territories formerly occupied by Daesh. But we believe that underlying many of our regional challenges is a scourge of extremism that fuels that violence.
That means adopting a forward looking vision for our region and what it can achieve. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan and Egypt’s ongoing economic reform programme are essential to the modernizing and moderation of our region for future generations so that they can choose peaceful reform and development over the violent chaos of revolution or the destructive nihilism of extremist causes.
Whether we are working to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, promote gender equality, empower young people, harness and govern technology, or diversify our economy, the UAE believes that there is a role for the private sector in underpinning all these efforts. We will continue to use the United Nations as a platform for sharing and advancing our national priorities – and we look to the private sector as a true partner for achieving our objectives.
I look forward to your questions and hearing your thinking on the roles and outcomes for the business community and how we can further collaborate in advancing the UAE’s foreign policy priorities and bettering the lives of people in need around the world.