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Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development

Bonn Conference
March 2017
by Tara Scott
American Women’s Club of Central Scotland

We are bombarded with all sorts of stimulus in our everyday lives that consume our thoughts and cause us stress. Sometimes the volley of everything the media throws at us can cause us to feel a bit helpless in remedying the dire circumstances we see on our screens taking place around the world. But, we do have power to make changes, and we cannot let ourselves to feel hopeless.

Inspired is how I felt after the Festival of Ideas on Sustainable Development Goals in Bonn. There were powerful speakers and attendees from all over the world. Hearing their perspectives was of great value to me as it gave me a small window into their lives. For Sustainable Development Goals to truly reach fruition we must hear the voices of those who are often voiceless and invisible.
Keynote Address on Advocating SDGs

Dr. Alaa Murabit, the first speaker, really sets the bar when it comes to taking action to bring about positive changes in our world. Dr. Murabit was raised in Canada, attained her Medical Degree in Libya at the age of 24, and is now a UN High-Level Commissioner on Health Employment and Economic Growth at the age of 28. She is a member of boards such as International Alert and Keeping Children Safe. She has earned numerous well deserved plaudits as a result of all of her hard work.

Dr. Murabit stated that attaining equal rights for women is what gets her out of bed each morning. She explained how educating women and girls is the single greatest economic stimulus. Another step, she mentioned, which must be taken is engaging with local government and businesses. It is important to get them onboard to facilitate the changes which must be made to improve opportunities for women and girls.
Being persistent and focused is key to achieving the UN’s SDGs, Dr. Murabit said. There will be obstacles in the path taken for the manifestation of SDGs, but we need to adapt to these changes such as the changes within governments. SDGs can take root when there is a grassroots implementation. Establish support for them at the community level.

Dr. Murabit words of advice to her audience at the end of her speech could solve so many issues if abided by everyone. She said, “Force yourself to look at things from different perspectives. Cultivate common ground.”

Launch of UN SDG Action Campaign

Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, the CEO of Plan International and former UN Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director for Management at the United Nations Population Fund, also sees educating and preparing girls to become tomorrow’s leaders as an important component in resolving many issues. She said that the budget at Plan International is dedicated towards the education of girls.

She illustrated, through a Princeton University study, why girls are in need of great support. The study found the five-year-old girls are more confident than when they are six years old. Many girls by the time they reach six years of age feel like second class citizens. They need help in becoming confident in themselves, so they can envision themselves as leaders. Ms. Albrectsen said that currently only five percent of mayors around the world are women. Imagine all of the ideas for improving the lives of people around the world which have not been heard, because women do not yet hold an equal number seats of leadership.
Ms. Albrectsen writes articles for the Plan International website which stresses the importance of educating girls to be leaders. In her article, ‘Why Girls Must Have the Opportunity to Lead’ she states, “Girls and women must have opportunities to lead countries, cities and businesses if we are to meet development targets”.

Two of Ms. Albrectsen’s recent articles advocating girls becoming leaders can be found through the web links below:

Tackling Inequalities: Lining Up the Politics with Policies

Decreasing poverty and inequality was at the forefront at the next round of discussions. Starting these discussions was Jose Cuesta, Chief of Social and Economic Policy at the UNICEF Office of Research, affiliated professor at Georgetown University, who formerly worked for the Inter-American Development Bank. He enlightened the audience with the disparity of wealth throughout the world. He said that eight men own more of the world’s wealth than the bottom 50% of the world’s population. Mr. Cuesta also stated that inequality was rising in developing nations over the past thirty years.

Mr. Cuesta spoke of when Chile returned to democracy in 1991, emphasis was placed upon equity through redistribution of wealth. The government decided to maximize revenue collection through increases in VAT, so it could increase its social spending.

Globalisation: Ensuring No One is Left Behind in an Era of Disillusionment

Namhla Mniki-Mangalaliso, Director of the Africa Monitor, pointed out that resources need to be made available so people can be capable of generating a livelihood. Ms. Mniki-Mangalaliso told us how her 19 year old son needed to drop out of university for two months, because it was so expensive. She said they were able to handle this bump in the road, because they are middle class and have resources. She was able to find another strong university that was more affordable for her son to attend. However, for her son’s friend it was a different story. Her son’s friend has many academic achievements, but his mother died from HIV. He has no resources to help support him through university. Currently, his future looks bleak. There needs to be more of a support system for those who are facing such challenges.

Ms. Mniki-Mangalaliso reminded the audience of some facts to keep in mind, especially when it comes
to decision making for developing nations. She said, “The aggregate of voices is from those who do have some privilege. We are not really hearing the voices of those left behind.” We are not receiving the perspectives from the underserved populations. She explained how only 1 in 10 girls in Sierra Leone will complete school. There are barriers to girls completing school such as poverty and the expectation to help at home. These impoverished girls will grow up to be the main providers for the next generation. It is therefore of extreme importance for education to be stressed as an essential step to get out of poverty, so they can help themselves to escape poverty and place an emphasis on education with their own children.
Ms. Mniki-Mangalaliso reminded us how data served to us from the media is not always accurate. She was speaking in regards to child labor and stated how the media will represent a country as no longer having child labor, but in reality 14% could be child labor.

Promoting Economic Growth with Sustainability

Kumi Naidoo was another impressive speaker who has truly dedicated his talent to helping the world’s neediest and finding ways to combating climate change. He was born in Durban, South Africa and experienced first-hand apartheid. As a youth he organized protests against apartheid which led him to being expelled from school and arrested on different occasions. He moved to England and while residing there he earned a doctorate from Cambridge University. He has been the International Executive Director of Green Peace. Currently, he is the Launch Director of Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.

Africa Rising is about organizing civic leaders throughout the African continent to listen to people of all backgrounds throughout their nations to know what is important to the African people and take steps to meet the needs of the continent. Currently, the priorities Africa Rising is focusing upon is:

  • Exposing corruption and opposing impunity
  • Fighting for full gender equality
  • Defending and deepening democratic space generally and civic space specifically
  • Working for poverty eradication
  • Opposing inequality
  • Assertively addressing climate change

(Naidoo, Kumi“Eco Watch for the Love of the Earth’,12/07/2016)

Africa Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity finds that it needs to deal not only with local governments not acting upon the best interests of its people, but also corruption on a global platform which has led to our precarious environmental status. Mr. Naidoo stated that ninety-three cents out of every dollar goes to the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest individuals. The wealth which Africa has in natural resources greatly benefits companies outside of Africa. One member of Africa Rising said, “Africa is rich below ground but poor above it.” As a continent working together, African nations would have more strength when it came to making trade negotiations and working on resolving climate issues.

While, Mr. Naidoo does see NGOs as having good intentions; he feels that they are not as effective as they could be. He said, he sees NGOs as frequently not seeking out the voices of the poorest and most marginalized of our global society.

In reference to Global warming he said that there has been an absence of adult leadership and young people will pay for it. Even though poor people are the ones who contribute to Global Warming the least they are the ones who feel the effects of it the most. He summed up his feelings by saying, “Think globally, act globally”.

Communicating the SDGs: A Universal Agenda

Cristina Gallach, the UN’s Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public Information, stressed how the SDGs should be communicated with others. Ms. Gallach emphasized that just giving information is not communication. She said, “To communicate, you have to connect. To connect you have to understand. If you do not understand you will not care. If you don’t care, you won’t act. All action is emotional.” My interpretation of this is that we need to get to know the people we seek to help, so we can understand what is important to them, because the viewpoint of the people in need must be incorporated into the solutions. Through getting to know people who are marginalized, we can connect to them and be more focused and determined to see the SDGs achieved.

Resource Efficiency: How to Feed an Increasing World Population with Less Resources in Time of Climate Change

Arif Husain, Chief Economist of the World Food Program, explained how if we changed our habits we could potentially feed everyone on earth. However, there are currently 8,000,000 people who do not have food security. They need to constantly be worried about where the next meal will come from. One third of the world’s food is wasted. The food is wasted in developed nations and in developing nations. The difference is in developed nations consumers waste large amounts of food they have purchased and stores throw out food past its sell by date, whereas developing nations waste food through how it is sold to other nations and its land management.

Marta Benavides, Board Member of the Earth Rights Institute, said in his home country of El Salvador trees are being chopped down to grow sugar crops; the sugar is then sent to outside countries. So ecosystems are being destroyed to sell a product which is of no benefit to the people who are food insecure within that nation.

Rose Bell, Director of the Kusamala Institute of Agriculture and Ecology (NGO) of Malawi, spoke of the innovative method Kusamala has for providing food to a large number of households. Kusamala encourages agroecology systems such as permaculture as a solution to helping to feed the nation of Malawi which has 17.1 million people. Permaculture is based upon the principle of using farming techniques which are not detrimental to nature. Kusamala teaches sustainable farming techniques to communities of farmers. Currently, its methodology is being implemented by 20,000 households. These techniques have resulted in sustainable food production, crops becoming more resilient to extreme weather, and crop diversity.
Catherine Geslain-Laneelle, Director General of Economic and Environmental Performance, Ministry of France, also spoke of agroecology. She stated that the objective of it was the reorientation of agricultural production with a view to threefold economic, environmental and social performance. This method of farming greatly reduces the negative impact farming can have on the environment. This method of farming would be based upon emphasis on protein crops, no usage of antibiotics, and implementation of agroforestry. The objective is to have the majority of French farmers abiding by these principles by 2025. Funds have been allocated to further research and the development of innovative sustainable farming methods. Governments need to create laws to support these initiatives.

Daniel Vennard, Director of Better Buying Lab of the World Resources Institute, basically said that a lot of good can be derived simply by people changing their diet so it is more vegetarian. He said if we could put all of the world’s cattle in their own country, that country would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the United States and China. Raising cattle means that there is less land to grow crops. The world’s consumption of beef is so great that 30% of the world’s land is set aside for grazing.

Sabine Werth, Founder of Berliner Tafel, works hard to reduce food waste. Berliner Tafel goes to 600 places
a week to collect food that would have otherwise been thrown out because of best buy dates. This food is used to feed 125,000 people a month. She spoke of how people need to think about how they buy food and consume it to help prevent waste.
Unlocking Green Opportunities: Innovations and Policy Shifts Being Adopted by Leading Countries

“Investing in fossil fuel is an investment in the planet’s death.” Kumi Naidoo

Mr. Naidoo would like to see economic incentives in place for those who invest in solar panels. The energy which is not used, would go into the grid, and the person whose house generated the energy would be paid for it.

Annika Lindblom, Secretary-General for the National Commission on Sustainable Development in Finland, shared Finland’s goal to be carbon neutral by 2045. Finland’s government now has policies in place to ban coal usage by 2030. Also by 2030, it is aiming to increase its usage of renewable energy by 50%.
*Norway is a true leader when it comes to using renewable energy. Norway uses 100% renewable power extracted from geothermal and hydro sources.

Ayman Cherkaoui, Minister of the Environment in Morocco, made it clear that Morocco is adapting more sustainable policies. Morocco plans on having 40% of its energy from renewable resources by 2020. More funding is going into sustainable transport such as trams. Recycling will be increased by 20% by 2020. Now, 97% of its residents have drinkable water, but before 1995 only 20% of its residents had it. It is working towards enhancing its GDP by 8% each year, and it is looking for ways to create greener jobs.

Components of the Festival

The Global Festival of Ideas for Sustainable Development was well organized.

  • The sessions had panels of speakers who were experts in their fields.
  • There was a Live Stage during lunch break where you could go to listen to a ten-minute interview.
  • There were NGO exhibits in the reception hall.
    • Plan International
    • Scriptoria
    • Climate Planet
    • Volunteer Vision
    • 4 Per 1000
    • Global Horticulture Initiative
    • United Nations System Staff College
    • Overseas Development Institute
  • Interactive game tables were in the reception hall for those playing the Hive game. The objective was to bring a made up country out of poverty using sustainable and affordable resources. We had to buy policies off of each other in order to make advancements within our country.

Words of wisdom by the former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, “Let us all work together to help all human beings achieve dignity and equality; to build a greener planet; and to make sure no one is left behind.”

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