United Nations Sustainable Development Working Group
United Nations Sustainable Development Working Group
Members of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office Climate Change Initiative engaged with member states and many other UN entities at the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which completed its fourth of eight planned sessions last month, June 17th-19th, at the UN headquarters in NYC. Called for by the Rio+20 conference, the OWG learned about specific issues of concern through presentations and side events and had open statements and discussions about these issues. The member states were entrusted to make these goals clear, aspirational as well as limited in number, which proved challenging as many important issues and concerns were raised throughout the OWG. Discussion topics of this Fourth Session were “Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture” and “Health and population dynamics”. These sessions are facilitating the development of a proposal to the General Assembly for a set of sustainable development goals for post 2015, this date marking the end of the Millennium Development Goals. We are in excited anticipation for the final report of the OWG, scheduled to be completed in the next year and hope that the social, economic and environmental dimensions are effectively addressed and integrated to minimize trade-offs between them.

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1)    Main Event: Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture Panel and discussion: Dr. Haroon Bhorat, Dr. Karen Mundy and Mr. Fernando Filgueira

Side Events Attended

2)   Main Event: Health, Population dynamics Keynote address: Dr. Hans Rosling, Panel and discussion: Dr. Janette Vega, Dr. Saroj Jayasinghe and Dr. Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye

Side Event Attended

  Conclusions and Thoughts


Panel and discussion on "Employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture”

Panelists: Dr. Haroon Bhorat, Dr. Karen Mundy and Mr. Fernando Filgueira The themes of the first discussion were employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth education and culture. The seminar speakers reflected on the challenges for job creation and expressed that the SDGs need to be globally relevant and an indicator of poverty reduction. Dr. Bhorat pointed out that the focus on the unemployed is ineffective at addressing poverty as there are over four times as many working poor as unemployed worldwide. Often data is not as thorough on the working poor and so this group is often overlooked and is more challenging to address.   Dr. Mundy described the central role that education has in society to advance health, work, and creative solutions, as well as develop parenting skills and a sense of citizenship. Access to quality education for all with a focus on literacy, primary education for all, and lifelong learning was recommended. Additionally, early education for 2 to 5 years of age was encouraged, which increases early development and allows women to be in the labor force during that time.   Mr. Filgueria discussed the necessity for sustainable and equitable distribution of productivity gains. He explained that an increase in a country’s gross domestic product is not directly correlated to an increase in employment. Additionally, there has generally been an increase in population but a decrease in manufacturing jobs in the last several decades. Thus, the employment gains of the past 20 to 30 years have made for an unsustainable society. Mr. Filgueria suggested that in order for the OWG to reach its goal of global employment, product gains need to be directed to provide private and social employment and wages for social protection. This can be accomplished by changing jobs from informal to formal sectors or increasing the returns of current jobs.

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Presentation of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Report

Organizer: Sustainable Development Solutions Network Speakers: Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and Guido Schmidt-Traub The Sustainable Development Solutions Network was developed to collect and apply scientific and technological knowledge to the creation and implementation of sustainable development for the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Through worldwide consultations with its leadership council and a broader network of thematic groups as well as the public, the SDSN compiled their conclusions and identified ten priority challenges of Sustainable Development.   The goals put forth were: 1) end extreme poverty including hunger, 2) achieve development within planetary boundaries, 3) ensure effective learning for all children and youth for life and livelihood, 4) achieve gender equality, social inclusion and human rights, 5) achieve health and wellbeing at all ages, 6) improve agriculture systems and raise rural prosperity, 7) empower inclusive, productive and resilient cities, 8) curb human-induced climate change and ensure clean energy for all, 9) secure ecosystem services and biodiversity and ensure good management of water and other natural resources and 10) transform governance for sustainable development.   These priority challenges laid out in the report entitled “An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development” were discussed and a call to action was made, which described the current and prevailing need to address these challenges as we reach planetary limits with an ever growing human population.

Click Here for more info and to get the report

Young People and the Post 2015 Agenda: Priorities, Challenges and Opportunities

Organizer: United Nations Population Fund Speakers: Diego Palacos, Kate Gilmore, Kepaulita Rokita, Ahmed Auhendawi and Samuel Kissi Speakers discussed the necessity to include young people and their interests in planning for future sustainable development and emphasized the need to embrace the active involvement and role that youth can play in developing solutions and addressing problems of sustainable development. A youth representative from the Netherlands later stated in the main session, “It is good to talk about young people, but much more powerful and meaningful to talk with young people.” Today around one-fourth of the population are youth and in some places they are the majority. There is no valid approach to sustainable development planning that excludes, marginalizes or negates young people. The panel called specifically for youth to be able to access scientifically sound and culturally appropriate comprehensive sexuality education, high quality and accessible health services--including sexual and reproductive health care--and quality education that is uninterrupted. A report that was produced through consultations with youth across the globe indicated that responsible governance was their primary policy concern and that equality and freedom from discrimination was their primary value. This incorporation is essential and will only become more important as the proportion of youth in the world population increases.  

 Presentation on the Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Organizer: Secretariat of the High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda The report “A New Global Partnership: Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies through Sustainable Development,” which was developed as a recommendation to the Open Working Group over a series of meetings, proposed five guiding principles and twelve specific goals and national targets to incorporate into the development of the post-2015 SDGs. They discussed the need to continue the unfinished aspects of the UN Millennium Development Goals with respect to poverty reduction. Emphasized was the importance of integrating the social, economic, and environmental components of these goals in order to minimize the trade-offs between the sometimes conflicting approaches and aims. An important issue also discussed was that countries may contribute to or be affected by problems differently, and therefore each country needs to understand the cultural issues involved in sustainable development to address the larger issues more specifically and thus more effectively.

Click Here for more info and to get the report

The Health Nexus – sustainable cities, transport and energy delivering healthy people

Organizer: World Health Organization, United Nations Population Fund and Sustainable Energy for All Speakers: Maria Neira, Aslak Brun and Mike Kalmus Eliasz The panel suggested incorporating health indicators in the SDGs for particular goals such as clean sustainable energy, access to energy in heath facilities, energy efficiency, health, and transport. Health indicators imply changes in development and practices through population health, without actually measuring it directly. For example, the number of deaths from indoor air pollution can indicate the amount of clean sustainable energy in homes. The panel also described the importance of access to clean energy in health facilities. Energy saves lives by preventing medicines from going bad, providing light for medical procedures at night, and allowing for better sterilization. Energy improves communication, the ability to see and administer treatments, and the ability to retain health care workers. Additionally, the panel discussed the links between environment and health care, describing how climate change and severe weather events are exposing a serious need for accessible heath care. Mr. Eliasz described his experience that, when the health concerns underlying environmental and development issues are explained, people’s interest in addressing the issue is sparked. He thus emphasized the value of incorporating the health concerns into discussions of environmental issues.

Keynote address, panel and discussion on “Health, Population dynamics"

Keynote speaker: Dr. Hans Rosling Panelists: Dr. Janette Vega, Dr. Saroj Jayasinghe and Dr. Paulina Makinwa-Adebusoye

Dr. Rosling spoke about population dynamics and described the exponential rise in the human population over the last century. In most countries over the last century, the average number of children per woman has actually decreased. At the same time, child mortality has greatly declined. Although age expectancy has also increased, it is the decline in child mortality that is the primary cause of the population rise. Dr. Rosling emphasized the need to provide accessible family planning for everyone. Second, he showed the relationship between economic status, child mortality, and fossil fuel use. Disproportionately, the wealthiest of the world's population use the majority of the world’s oil and energy and have the lowest child mortality rates, while the larger poor population uses the least oil and energy and has the highest child mortality rates.   The additional panelists asserted that health is central to sustainable development and touched on several important health concerns. 1) Pregnancies put women at risk when the mothers are very young or old, they have numerous births, or there are short intervals between births. 2) Child marriage violates human rights of children because of the associated abuse, mortality, unwanted child birth, and removal from education systems. 3) When there are not enough work opportunities or enough of an older working population to support the youth, the disproportionate age structure of the population has negative consequences. 4) Energy is a tool to get out of extreme poverty. 5) The OWG needs to determine a standard level of education that will reach everyone, even if it is low, because school attendance is in itself important for community and national identity.

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Sustainable Development Goals as a Driver for Trans-disciplinary Research and Education – A View from the Nature Article Authors

Organizer: Government of Japan Speakers: Csaba Kőrösi, Norichika Kanie, Dave Griggs, Marc Levy and Faye Leone Earlier this year, an advisement article for the development of the SDGs was published in Nature. The primary author of this paper and other experts spoke about the six sustainable development goals that were presented in the article as suggestions for the OWG: 1) end poverty and improve well-being 2) end hunger and achieve long-term food security 3) achieve universal sustainable water security 4) have universal and affordable access to clean energy, 5) sustain healthy and productive ecosystems, and 6) transform governance and institutions to address sustainable development.

Mr. Kőrösi gave suggestions for scientists to best assist policy-makers in making informed decisions:

1) help people to think in complex systems instead of isolated problems, 2) provide objective data on risk factors, their inter-linkages, and consequences if they are not taken seriously, 3) indicate the danger zones ahead, the tipping zones and, if possible, what is beyond the tipping points, 4) inform the time frames that need to be kept in mind, 5) inform the OWG on the scientific feasibility of projected goals and their consequences, having a council with a science team when the SDGs are concretely designed to indicate their actual feasibility, and 6) develop technologies for necessary future changes.

The panelists explained that ultimately environmental problems require an interdisciplinary approach. No single discipline can solve climate change, biodiversity extinctions, or develop sustainable cities. All dimensions of sustainable development issues need to be brought together in an integrated and interdisciplinary way in order to effectively solve them. Therefore, there must be a conscious effort to bring together people from different fields at every stage of sustainable development.

Click Here for Nature article or Click Here for Citation Info

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Conclusions and Thoughts

The Unitarian Universalist UN Office supports the work of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and feels its long-term vision is very much in tune with our moral, ethical, and survival imperative to ensure ecosystem health, livelihood, peace and justice for us and for future generations. There can be no long-term solution to human-rights concerns without effectively dealing with the environmental impacts, including climate change. Climate change is a human survival issue, interconnected with many social justice and environmental issues including the themes of the Fourth Session: employment and decent work for all, social protection, youth, education and culture, health and population dynamics. We were glad that many important issues were brought up during the session including the need for: inclusive and job-creating growth, worker’s rights, equal pay for women, creation of quality green jobs, social protection, equitable access to quality education, intergenerational partnership, education and employment opportunities for youth, universal access to health care, and human rights worldwide. However, we were surprised at the lack of discussion about indigenous issues, especially under the topic of culture. Indigenous peoples have continually been disadvantaged by development and their concerns should be incorporated into the SDGs.

Click Here for info about our Spring Seminar on indigenous issues

For future sessions, we are looking forward to working with the NGO Committee for Sustainable Development to contribute in future sessions to the NGO voice in the SDGs development process.

About the Author

For more information contact international@uua.org.

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