The 73rd Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 73) opened at UN Headquarters on Tuesday, September 17, 2018. The General Debate of UNGA 73 opened on September 24, 2018. SDSN and our partners hosted the following events in and around the UNGA:

Launch of the SDG Center for Latin America and the Caribbean | Friday, September 21st

On Friday, September 21, 2018, students, professors, and professionals crowded the Mario Laserna auditorium at the Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia to hear from Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, university Rector Pablo Navas, and Colombian president Iván Duque. They spoke about the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the world’s agenda for economic growth, social equity, and environmental protection.

Read the full summary here.

Renewable Energy and the SDGs: Exploring Links with Extractives, Agriculture, and Land Use | Monday, September 24th

Alongside the UNGA, the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Thematic Network on Good Governance of Extractive and Land Resources (“SDSN Thematic Network”), the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM), GIZ, and the World Bank hosted a strategic meeting to discuss opportunities and challenges arising at the intersection of renewables and extractives, agriculture, and land use, as they relate to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event conversation drew on the experiences of companies, civil society and communities, donor and multilateral organizations, and others to assess how the private sector can promote accessible, low-carbon energy use while at the same time reducing poverty and respecting human rights.

Presentations covered recent work on anchoring renewable developments and rural electrification through mining projects, the need for improved planning for extractive companies to meet increased mineral demands from green technologies, mapping renewable company practice to the sustainable development goals, and how to leverage renewable energy to provide electricity to indigenous communities while also respecting land tenure and rights to free, prior, and informed consent.

Attendees then discussed

  • How can we promote responsible mining conduct and sustainable sourcing throughout supply chains to meet demand for critical minerals like manganese, lithium, cobalt, and copper?
  • How can we better encourage companies to integrate community participation into land and extractive project decision-making from the project planning stage, and to hold them accountable when they violate rights? and
  • What technical, political, and cultural barriers impede uptake of renewable energy by mining companies?

A complete outcome document, with recommendations and action items, will be available in the coming weeks on SDSN’s website and CCSI’s website.

SDG Costing & Macroeconomics: Spending Needs for Achieving Selected SDGs | Monday, September 24th

The SDG Costing event featured presentations from both the IMF and SDSN on the topic of the domestic budget needs, costs, and potential revenue sources for achieving select SDGs in the world’s emerging and low-income developing countries (LIDCs), defined as the world’s 59 countries with per capita income below $2,700 which are eligible for IMF concessional assistance.

Read the full summary here.

The Global Pact for the Environment: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives on the Future of International Environmental Governance | Wednesday, September 26th

In June 2017, President Macron of France launched a new initiative to create a Global Pact for the Environment. The Pact aimed to strengthen environmental protection by unifying international environmental governance around key rights and principles.

On May 10, 2018, the UN General Assembly near-unanimously voted to create an ad-hoc working group to identify and assess gaps in international environmental governance, and propose potential new instruments to fill those gaps.

Following their successful conference in September 2017, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), and Le Club des Juristes, with support from Iberdrola, brought together diverse leaders to discuss the Global Pact and the path forward for international environmental governance.

The expert panelists discussed the Global Pact from legal, diplomatic, economic, ethical, and business perspectives. Overall, the panel noted the great need to consolidate 500+ existing sectoral, regional, or non-binding agreements related to the environment into an overarching universal framework for international environmental governance.

Participants at the conference usefully raised important areas for the drafters of the Pact to consider, including with respect to indigenous peoples, international trade, and unemployment and a just transition away from fossil fuels. Cautious about overloading a new international agreement, the panelists suggested that the drafters look for ways to connect other areas of domestic and international governance to the principles laid out in a new Pact. Additional expert opinions on the contents of a proposed Pact were published in advance of the event by CCSI, SDSN and the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law.

Climate Change, the Courts, and the Paris Agreement | Wednesday, September 26th

In recent years, citizens, sub-national governments and NGOs have turned to litigation to hold governments and corporations accountable for their contributions to climate change and to spur action to hold global warming to well below 2o C.

SDSN, the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment and the Sabin Center on Climate Change Law assembled leading litigators on cases related to climate change to showcase a panoramic snapshot of the state of climate litigation around the world, highlighting a remarkably diverse and innovative array of legal strategies to tackle climate change.

In the Philippines, the National Human Rights Commission is investigating carbon majors like Exxon, Shell, and BP about the human rights impacts of climate change. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, Colombia, Ireland, Switzerland, New Zealand, and the EU, citizens have used constitutional protections to challenge their governments in court, hoping to improve ambition and implementation of emissions reduction plans, with some success.

Similarly, a group of children in the US are suing the federal government for mismanaging the atmospheric public trust by failing to take responsible climate action, and a group of state Attorneys General and NGOs have challenged over 100 climate-related regulatory rollbacks in court.

Enterprising lawyers and organizers at the Sierra Club and Earthjustice have sought strategic venues to challenge climate-aggravating fossil fuel infrastructure development. A campaign to challenge utilities before state utility commissions has led to the closure of 274 coal plants, and the increasing deployment of renewable energies.

Finally, a number of cities and the state of Rhode Island have piloted their own innovative climate litigation tactic, bringing tort claims against Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips over their historic contributions to climate change and efforts to mislead the public about its reality and urgency.

Panelists made clear why litigation has become a critical tool for climate advocacy, in catalyzing the transition to a low carbon economy through legal force, but also in otherwise building political will to tackle climate change.

International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) |September 26-28

The 6th Annual International Conference on Sustainable Development took place in Alfred Lerner Hall on September 26th and 27th, 2018, with additional side events on the 26th and 28th. On Wednesday the 26th, over 200 presentations were given across more than twenty parallel sessions and a networking poster session. The research presented covered all 17 SDGs, with an emphasis on climate change, agriculture, health, and gender.

The 27th was spent in a high-level plenary, opened by Patrick Paul Walsh, Chair of the Academic Steering Committee of the Global Association of Master’s of Development Practice Programs, and Stefano Manservisi, Director-General of the European Commission for International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO). Following these opening remarks, keynote addresses were given by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand and HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway. The Prime Minister highlighted the importance of addressing injustice and reducing equality in her speech, including ways her administration is working to do so and actions we can all take to realize this goal. She also offered advice for getting more women into politics, including making it easier for parents to balance a career in politics with family life. The Crown Prince explored the history of human advancement, and the effects, both positive and negative, it has had on humans and the environment. He called on participants to remember that humans are part of nature and that we need to weigh our choices carefully, because “taking care of the environment is taking care of ourselves.”

Following the opening keynotes, a panel on financing for the SDGs looked at the gap in financing the SDGs as well as innovative ways to increase financing, including blended finance models. An interactive lecture which included elements of performance and gaming, Dancing with the Future, invited the audience to negotiate a future where natural resources are left for future generations. The Low-Emission Solutions Conference looked at the land-energy nexus, and an afternoon panel explored how science, technology, and engineering can support solutions to achieve the SDGs. At the end of the day, both the UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado joined the event via Skype, delivering messages of hope on how to achieve the SDGs.

Concert for a Sustainable Planet | Wednesday, September 26th

On Wednesday, September 26, 2018 the third annual Concert for a Sustainable Planet: Changing Reality was performed at Zankel Hall within Carnegie Hall. The concert continued in its efforts to inspire an audience in reimagining the SDGs through a creative medium. The pieces performed brought the audience on a tour through a blooming landscape, a bustling metropolis, and onwards with harmonies reflecting the Brazilian rainforest, the Middle East, and more expansive still.

The concert featured the artisanship of a wide range of musical ensembles, including an orchestra, string quintet accompanied by piano, a Jazz quartet, and vocalists, at a time accompanied by a dancer.

Through voice, musical expression, and dance movement, the performers of the concert aim to express the issues of the SDGs in a humanistic form. By doing so, they intended to relate the pressures on ecosystems, the hope for younger generations, and the ultimate desire for peace to an experience that unifies and inspires us all.

A live stream of the concert can be found on Youtube, with accompanying program notes on the concert’s website.

2018 International Forum on Food and Nutrition | Friday, September 28th

On September 28th, 2018, the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition in partnership with SDSN organized the International Forum on Food and NutritionThe conference was organized around three main themes. In the morning, the focus was on understanding key issues for sustainable food systems and the global nutrition crisis. Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard delivered a keynote address on the current state of malnutrition, and the causes and solutions were discussed further by a panel moderated by Gerda Verburg and consisting of David Katz of Yale, Robert Lustig of UC San Francisco (UCSF), Sandro Demaio of EAT, and Shauna Downs of Rutgers University.

The second session explored the key role agriculture, nutrition and food plays in the global phenomenon of migration in the Mediterranean region. Rajeev Patel of the University of Texas at Austin delivered a keynote address, followed by interviews with Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Social Sciences and Shenggen Fan of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The third session presented solutions effective at different scales. Solutions were presented by Angelo Riccaboni of the University of Siena, Barbara Buchner of the Climate Policy Initiative, Guido Schmidt-Traub of SDSN, Maria Helena Semedo of FAO, Mark Watts of the C40 Climate Leadership Group, Aline Cardoso of the Municipality of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Linda Veldhuizen of SDSN, and Lindsey Lusher Shute of the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC).

IEEE Participatory Workshop: Technology for the SDGs | Friday, September 28th

Coming soon.

Aligning the Local and Global: TReNDS’ Annual Data Day | Friday, September 28th
TReNDS hosted Data Day 2018, a series of presentations and breakout discussions on the alignment of local and national monitoring efforts to support the SDGs. Read their recap here.

The gargantuan task of monitoring progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) necessitates the involvement of a wide range of actors across government and other sectors. Attempts to align the work of these actors have exposed many gaps, from the quality and frequency of data to how various stakeholders in the monitoring pipeline communicate. At Data Day 2018, TReNDS shed light on one particular type of gap–that between local and national SDG monitoring efforts–through presentations from practitioners and experts and breakout sessions with contributions from all attendees.

We were fortunate to hear from:

The multitude of experiences shared and programs described were clear evidence that there is no single solution to align local and national SDG monitoring, and that issues in financing and collaboration still hamper these efforts. However, many of the solutions out there are showing promising, initial returns and have high potential for scale and replication.