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Address by Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians on the occasion of the virtual event of Solvay Brussels School on sustainable development

11 May 2021

Dear Rectors, Deans, Professors,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear students,

COVID has changed our lives. Working and studying in an environment full of uncertainties is a permanent challenge.  Bringing together students and faculty from four academic institutions, to discuss how best to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals is quite an accomplishment. I wish to congratulate all of you for your perseverance and your dedication. 

As an SDG Advocate, I am looking forward to engaging with you on how we can turn the SDGs into a reality.

Let us look ahead beyond COVID, in spite of all the unknowns. We need to take action swiftly, in order to vigorously accelerate the implementation of the goals which the international community has set for itself. 

Why? Because we do not have much time, and COVID-19 has brought about new disruptions. The SDGs were adopted 5 years ago already. They should be implemented by 2030.

Remember - the world is very slow to react to alarm signals. Think of the famous report “The limits of growth”, an early warning on the risks of exceeding what we call today “the planetary boundaries”. It was published in 1972, almost 50 years ago. But, for a long time, nothing changed. 

The SDGs provide us with both a roadmap and a framework to build a sustainable world and sustainable societies. They are all interconnected. Indeed, we will not fight climate warming without a deep change in the patterns of our energy consumption. Pressure on biodiversity will continue if we do not change our food production models. Equally, we will not build a sustainable world if we do not tackle social injustice - leaving too many people behind.

There is some good news too, though. A growing number of people today are aware of the SDGs. They understand the need to transform our economies and our way of life. They are also willing to think out of the old box.  They are ready to trade the quest for profit for new values, such as solidarity and sustainability.

We need to go faster. To invent, adopt and implement solutions that will contribute to building a sustainable world. Nobody can do it alone. Partnerships, such as the one that has brought you together today, are of the essence. The academic world, civil society, the private sector and the public sector, all have a role to play, especially if their actions are mutually reinforcing.

By participating today, you, the economists and the managers of tomorrow, are demonstrating your interest in becoming stakeholders in the construction of this new narrative. You can contribute to a fresh start.

A growing number of companies, CEOs and managers have begun laying the groundwork for transformation. They have taken the initial steps towards achieving it. But I know that many of them also look to you, the new generation, to bring about real change. They believe in your ability to do away with the old reflexes and templates. To mobilize your imagination for this purpose. They have faith in what you can accomplish, because your generation is learning about a new world view, about new priorities and about new tools. Because you will recognize the real value of common public goods and the dangers of unsustainability, in its many forms.  Because you are more knowledgeable about the real cost of social exclusion.

Dear students,

Allow me to say a few words about a subject dear to my heart: mental health and mental wellbeing, which are part of SDG 3. We know that COVID has created a world full of new uncertainties, a fertile ground for anxiety, stress and depression. This can happen to anyone, to young people at home, in schools and universities, or to adults within their families or on the work floor. Everyone who needs support should be able to access it. Anyone who can help should do so. The pandemic has opened our eyes in this regard. I hope we can build on this new awareness.

Dear students,

In Belgium and abroad, I regularly exchange ideas and opinions, both with the corporate world and with students and young people - like you - who aspire to become the managers of the future. These conversations have given me a better understanding of the obstacles we still face on the path to sustainable societies. They have also made it clear to me where the real hopes and opportunities for change and action lie. They lie with you.