Final Session of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development
Final Session of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development

We are Here, and We are Heard

Once again, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) played an active role during the final session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development. Between the dates of February 3rd and 7th, the OWG8 discussed important topics including Oceans and seas, forests, biodiversity, social and gender equality, peace, and security. We at the UU-UNO are able to attend some of these larger meetings as well as side events. The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development was formed following the Rio+20 Conference. Recognizing the importance of the environment and its impact on the greater web of existence, member states agreed to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the post 2015 agenda. It was decided to have an  "inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process open to all stakeholders, with a view to developing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the General Assembly".

Ocean and Seas, Forests, and Biodiversity

Day one and two of the OWG discussed the important issues of oceans and seas, forests and biodiversity. While a wealth of information was provided during the high level forms and side events, it can be summarized though a quote made by Dr. Sylvia Earle from National Geographic: “We need to protect our oceans as if our lives depend on it, because they do.” Our oceans are one of the most of our important assets on this earth. An intricate part of maintaining biodiversity, sustaining life, and eradicating poverty, experts presented important areas to address in the post 2015 agenda. Many needs  such as reducing fishing overcapacity, reducing  harmful subsidies and reducing  illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU)  fishing, were discussed. If we fail to acknowledge the importance of what covers 70% of our planet, we will all suffer in the long run. In addition to the importance of oceans for all life on earth, expert panelist discussed the role of forests and biodiversity. We cannot begin to address the well-being of humans without recognizing and protecting the benefits of nature. The role of sustainable agricultural and forests cannot be ignored due to its direct consequences of all life on earth. We must address these important issues, climate change, food insecurity, water security, and the ripple effect produced as a result. Mark Smith of the International Union for Conservation of  Nature (IUCN) stated during the event that without addressing forests and biodiversity in the post 2015 development goals, we are “building a  table with a missing leg.”

Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment

While women continue to  be primary victims of suffering, violence, and conflict, they are also primary actors in peace and democracy. By specifically addressing the role of women in sustainable development, we have the opportunity to empower, protect, and promote these key players for generations to come. The post 2015 agenda must  identify the multiple forms of discrimination and the structural inequalities that exist and perpetuate gender inequality in all areas. The inclusion of women's voices and experiences will lead us to positive development in multiple human rights issues including sustainability.

Women's empowerment must directly address access to resources, basic services, and decision-making power that many women across the world are denied. Addressing these issues is a prerequisite for poverty eradication. Many topics such as access to land rights, essential surgery, prenatal care, education, employment, and social inclusion are the corner stones of improving our world. Many participants expressed the need for a stand-alone goal on  gender equality women's empowering. As stated during the Achieving Gender Equality and Women's Empowerment for Sustainable Development side event, "Can anyone run on one foot? No. That is society without women."


Sustainable development plays a key role in peace building and ending violence. Building economies though environmentally conscience development is a key component of ensuring safety for generations to come. Mary Robinson, Chair of The Mary Robinson Foundation stated that peace, security, human rights,  and development, are both interconnected and interdependent.

The side event, "Peace and Sustainable Development: A Two-Way Relationship" addressed the inherit connection between environmentally conscious economic development  and durable peace. Poverty, refugees, climate change, forced migration, war and conflict, and human rights transgressions have the potential to be meaningfully addressed though sustainable development.

This important side event addressed the dichotomy between development, governmental aide, and economic gains in peace building. It was noted that while many benefits can come as a result of development, if not strategically used, can inevitably lead to greater conflict. Examples given illustrated how many countries use additional revenue on military spending. Panelists went on to elaborate how many countries stress the importance of being "ready for war" yet devote little funding towards prevention and peace building. This important point was in line with statements made earlier during the high level forum by Zambian delegate on behalf of South African Countries. He stressed the importance of addressing conflict prevention, post-conflict support, and the pursuit of lasting peace as key components of the Post 2015 agenda.

A Message of Hope

The OWG8 reiterated its commitment to address all aspects of sustainable development in the post 2015 agenda. This final session concluded the 11 months of work at the United Nations from experts and stakeholders on these and other important issues. Addressing these issues has grown in importance among the international community over this time. Beginning with only 30 Member State representatives, there were 70 representatives active in the final group. These representatives not only represent their countries, they spoke on behalf of a collection of countries thus the majority of countries were represented in these important high level forms. All sessions of the Open Working Group On Sustainable Development  grappled with some of the most cross-cutting and challenging issues faced by the world today. With Economic Social and Cultural Committee (ECOSOC) consultative status at the United Nations, the UU-UNO was able to actively participant in these important talks and represent the values and principals of the larger UU movement. The UU-UNO was able to fulfill its mission of promoting a world community of peace, liberty and justice for all. We encourage all UUs to be a part of this work by becoming an envoy, interning, volunteering, galvanizing your congregation, and donating. We lay the bricks that build our future, be sure to leave your mark.

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