Ahead of Earth Day, U.N. gathers to talk SDGs

Apr 21, 2016, 2:42 PM EDT
Geneva - United Nations logo. (Source: Harshil Shah/flickr)
Geneva - United Nations logo. (Source: Harshil Shah/flickr)

On Friday, Earth Day, leaders from more than 160 countries will gather at the U.N. headquarters in New York to sign the Paris Agreement adopted last December at the U.N. climate change conference (COP21). That historic movement will be preceded however by a debate on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on Thursday.

President of the General Assembly, H.E. Mogens Lykketoft, convened the High Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals to support implementation of the 2030 Agenda, which goes beyond addressing climate change. Lowering greenhouse gas emissions is one element of the U.N.’s sustainable goals; the agenda also expands upon the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) which include 17 SDGs and 169 targets that aim to wipe out poverty and fight inequality. After all, maintaining a global temperature of below 2 degrees Celsius — the primary goal of the Paris Agreement — has major significance for infrastructure build out, economic changes, and political responsibility from every country on board. 

The U.N. writes that the debate on Thursday will "serve to significantly increase international awareness and political momentum around the implementation of the SDGs. It will bring together global political, business and civil society leaders in New York to focus on kick-starting SDG implementation." The debate will also open the doors for looking at how the outcome of the COP21 can fuse with the 2030 Agenda, since they are necessarily intertwined. 

Though these issues of global inequality and climate change may appear monumental, and oftentimes insurmountable, many world leaders and visionaries are hopeful. Before the December meetings in Paris, Dr. Daphne Wysham, Founder and Co-Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network, pointed out at the 2015 Blouin Creative Leadership Summit that she has seen progress via projects implemented by the World Bank and others to "get them out of fossil fuel investments." Noting that the climate science tells us that we need to keep 80% of fossil fuel reserves in the ground, she dubbed the Obama administration's 2013 appeal to the World Bank to get out of coal as a "breakthrough”. Wysham said that Obama’s move has led to other milestones, including a major campaign in which $2.6 trillion of investment was divested from fossil fuels.

The signing of the Paris Agreement, the convergence of the SDG debate, and other impactful work at the U.N. this week are historic moments worthy of international praise. But they remain mere baby steps on the path to achieving sustainable systems that can carry humanity through the next foreseeable generations.

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