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“We have a great opportunity to do things right, and if universities do not lead, no one will.” With these words, Professor Jeffrey Sachs started his lecture at the School of Medicine of the Universidad Complutense in Madrid on Tuesday, 14 March. The event was attended by 1,000 people, mostly professors and students from two of Spain’s largest public universities, Universidad Complutense and Universidad Politécnica.

Professor Sachs reminded participants of the unprecedented global growth of per capita production, which currently exceeds $17,000 per person. “That level of wealth and productivity was impossible to imagine in previous eras,” Sachs explained. However, we must not forget the continued lack of social justice and growing inequality. According to Professor Sachs, the response to this situation lies in pursuing sustainable development, and specifically in achieving the 17 SDGs adopted in 2015.

“Sustainable development is the reflection of an urgent need, but also of an opportunity: to take advantage of our knowledge and the technological advances to face this crisis and to help humanity.” Sachs called on Spanish universities to work together and demonstrate that the SDGs “are viable and will generate more justice and employment opportunities, as well as protect the fragile ecosystems we have on the planet.” These words resonated strongly with Spain’s student community as youth unemployment (aged 20-24) has risen steeply over the last decade, reaching 45.5% in 2015.

In this inspirational lecture, Professor Sachs compared the immense challenge of achieving the SDGs by 2030 to U.S. President Kennedy’s 1961 goal for the United States to land a man in the moon within a decade. Achieving the SDGs will require a focus of global efforts and resources on a shared vision of a more prosperous, fair, and environmentally sustainable world.

The lecture was organized by the Spanish SDSN and hosted by two SDSN member universities in collaboration with the Master in Strategies and Technologies for Development.  In addition to this public lecture, Professor Sachs had a closed meeting at the Spanish Congress, with congressmen and congresswomen from all political parties, to discuss how different Parliamentary Commissions, such as the commission of agriculture, the commission on climate change or that of education, can use the SDGs as a framework for their daily work.

As the Spanish government prepares a national strategy to implement the SDGs, in the coming months, the Spanish SDSN will be co-organizing several activities to help define the specific role that universities can play in achieving the implementation of the SDGs. This will include two side events in the Congress on Universities and Cooperation. This congress will also be the venue of the official launch of SDSN Youth in Spain in the next year.

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