Environment & Climate Change World Politics & Affairs

The United Nations and a Move Towards Sustainable Development

The high-level scene: a strategic answer for global sustainability?

With less than 5000 days left to achieve the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) took place in New York from July 10 to July 19, “convened under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council.” The theme for this year’s HLPF “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world” focused on six of 17 SDGs:

  • Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
  • Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
  • Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
  • Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
  • Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
  • Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

This political forum involved 2458 registered stakeholders, 43 voluntary national reviews, along with 147 side events and 10 learning courses and workshop, all in efforts to collaborate and discuss the progress of SDGs adopted in 2015.

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This event provides a great opportunity for global leaders to share the lessons learned thus far, and reaffirm the global commitment to sustainability in this changing world. However, there are only less than 5,000 days left to achieve all 17 SDGs and meet 169 targets. Despite the value gained at the high-level discussion, what about the rest of global society who face challenges every day as recognized by the SDGs? Although there are “major stakeholders and other groups” participating at high-level forums, it is not enough to engage the global citizens and address the issues deeply rooted on ground level. How will these high-level discussions transform into actions at the ground level?

In order to avoid, “business-as-per-usual” (which we cannot risk any more), it is important for leaders to explore and recognize populations beyond the general and traditional labels such as “marginalized” or groups simply categorized by gender, religion, cultural groups etc. It’s time to recognize the population in between, those behind the scenes and interconnected across all “categories.” The world is changing, and so are the needs and the population. From the ground level, in-depth focus in recognizing the inter-sectional population, who may often feel “placeless” must be shined spotlight into the development agenda. With multidimensional challenges, unique and malleable strategies are required at the local, national and international level. It is true that the United Nations have set these SDGs for “all” but it is important for global leaders to acknowledge the uniqueness of individuals, environment, and customs in this changing world all in an equitable manner.

It is indeed a milestone to engage global leaders in collaborating at the higher-level, but in order to create an impactful social movement to achieve the SDGs by 2030, step by step, civil society must be empowered to champion these goals into their daily life. In other words, it is not enough for high-level stakeholders to simply recognize that an inclusive, bottom-up approach must be incorporated.

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Now that the high-level foundation and support for global sustainable change is established and have already had experiences and lessons learned with two years of implementation, it is time for civil society to have the opportunity to lead the movement; Meaningful capacity building opportunities and participation in decision-making opportunities to adopt methods that work for them from the local perspective can help achieve milestones towards SDGs.

With less than 5,000 days it’s time for leaders to listen to the stories, experience, and daily life hurdles, rather than waiting for the civil society to adapt to the leaders’ “high-level” discussions and strategies (which often do not even reach the ground level). Voices and actions from a diverse array of the population must not only be listened to but also amplified and advanced for a wave of sustainable change.

From a retro perspective, we, as the civil society, must recognize and mobilize actions to close the gaps unaddressed from the high-level discussions. There is no time to wait for high-level stakeholders to initiate the movement. By actively voicing the needs, empowering those surrounding us through small but impactful and innovative capacity-building opportunities as actors of change, a sustainable movement as a global society can be mobilized. Each person has the unique capacity and capability to contribute to the world to bring our globe closer in reaching the SDGs by 2030; It starts from ground level.

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