Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Road to 2030: Paving the Way to Transforming Our World

by Yulia Krylova, UNA-NCA Fellow

On February 17, UNA-NCA Fellows attended the 2017 Members’ Day at the UN Headquarters, which is one of the most important annual meetings for members of UNA-USA. We had a splendid opportunity to hear informative discussions by UN experts on the most pressing issues facing the UN, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The panel titled, “The Road to 2030: Paving the Way to Transforming Our World” focused on three of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Goal 5 Gender Equality, Goal 13 Climate Action, and Goal 16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. This panel featured moderator Donna Rosa, President of the UNA-USA Northern New Jersey Chapter, and three panelists: Rachel Snow, Chief of the UN Population Fund; Juan Chebly, Head of the UN Environment Management Group; and John Romano, Coordinator of the Transparency, Accountability and Participation Network.

Beginning her presentation on Goal 5, Rachel Snow invoked a powerful image of the 10-year old girl for whom this goal is fundamental in terms of the success she will achieve in the course of the next 15 years. Her well-being in 2030 will be a crucial indicator of the success of the Sustainable Development Agenda. In Snow’s words, “Goal 5 underpins the success of all the SDGs because we are talking of whether or not 50% of the world’s population will be genuinely able to bring their intelligence, opportunities, and vibrant interest in making a better world.” Yet, there is much work to do to achieve this goal. Snow highlighted continuing inequality of opportunities for 10-year old girls globally. There are over 16 million girls in the world, with about 89% of them living in developing countries. In West Africa, 43% of girls will be married before the age of 18 and 16% before the age of 15. 1 in 3 of these girls will experience gender-based violence in her lifetime. Snow pointed out that “very few of them will ever achieve the chance to be heads of corporate boards, full professors at universities, or artists exhibiting their works in the world’s finest galleries.” Concluding her presentation, she indicated that the 2030 Agenda is a 15-year window of opportunity for all of us to change the future of these 10-year old girls. And the first thing we can do for them is to ensure that child marriages are over by 2030 and women can participate in this world as full citizens.

In his presentation on Goal 16, John Romano highlighted three groundbreaking fundamental shifts that the 2030 Agenda brings to our understanding of international development. Most importantly, for the first time, the global community acknowledged that governance, peace, justice, and accountable institutions are interlinked with each other and with other SDGs. This gives us a unique opportunity to tackle all these issues at the same time in a holistic manner. Another profound shift in the 2030 Agenda is that it overcomes a traditional North-South divide in international development. It is a universal agenda targeting both developed and developing countries. To illustrate this point, Romano gave an example of the US that faces serious challenges in achieving Goal 16, such as improving access to justice, eliminating small-arms trade, and protecting freedom from violence.  Another tectonic shift in the 2030 Agenda is its people-centered orientation and focus on engaging citizens, holding governments accountable, and promoting fundamental freedoms and human rights. As a concluding remark, Romano noted that the 2030 Agenda is a huge opportunity for all of us to ensure that we all have, and demand from our governments, the same rights notwithstanding the countries we live in.

Introducing Goal 13, Juan Chebly drew attention of the audience to the abstract paintings on the walls of the UN General Assembly. In his words, “it is a real reflection of the work the UN is doing to transform into reality very abstract issues that have all kinds of different interpretations, such as human rights, development, and peace.” As for climate action, Chebly highlighted two issues. First, there has been relatively little progress on achieving Goal 13 so far. Second, global commitments in this sphere, including the Paris Agreement, will never become a reality unless we, as an international community, start “to put money where our mouth is.” Chebly suggested that the only approach to achieve Goal 13 is to act “out of compassion and love to our neighbor.” For example, developed countries produce most carbon emissions, yet, it is the most vulnerable populations in developing countries that suffer the greatest effects of pollution. Despite the difficulties, it is possible to achieve Goal 13 if we remember that the change begins within us. 

In the Q&A section, Donna Rosa raised a very important question about the greatest challenges in achieving the SDGs. As for gender equality, Snow indicated that extreme poverty, education, peace, and justice matter since they are directly related to child marriages, discrimination, and gender-based violence. Speaking about peace and justice, Romano named several issues, such as growing nationalism, populist movements, xenophobia, and shrinking civil space all around the world. Unfortunately, these disturbing trends are noticeable even in advanced economies. In terms of climate action, challenges highlighted by Chebly include the disconnectedness of people across the world, insufficient climate finance, and short-term mentality that precludes governments from assessing long-term environmental risks and damages.  To overcome these challenges, it is critically important for the UN community to make governments and people across the globe understand that the achievement of SDGs is a win-win situation for all of us, men and women, North and South countries, advanced economies and emerging markets. In this respect, the greatest advantage of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development is that it insures that there are no losers and we all are winners.

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