UN Summit on Sustainable Development

September 25-27, 2015 - UNHQ New York
By: Alexa Ward and Rebecca Ward

Adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

The UN Summit began with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The adoption of the agenda set the global direction for development for the next 15 years. This agenda builds off of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), tackling issues such as poverty, inequality and climate and will replace the MDGs, established in 2000, effective January 1, 2016.

Education advocate Malala Yousafzai (third left) addresses the General Assembly during
the opening day of the UN Sustainable Development Summit. UN Photo/Mark Garten

The Summit opened with an address to the General Assembly by Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel Laureate from Pakistan, and an advocate for female education. In her address, Malala urged the General Assembly to work to ensure that every child receives a quality primary and secondary education. At seventeen years of age, Malala reminded the Assembly that she and the other 192 youth representatives from the UN's member states who stood with her are the world's future. Each of the representatives held a blue lantern which, Malala noted, represented the hope that each youth representative holds for the future which the General Assembly would commit to improving through the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. She addressed the crowd, saying, "World leaders sitting there, look up because the future generation is raising their voice." Malala addressed the General Assembly from the highest mezzanine in the hall.

Malala's speech was followed by a performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" by Shakira. Following speeches by Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, who stressed the need for action following the adoption of the agenda, and others, the Assembly was ready to vote. The 17 goals and 169 targets encapsulated within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted unanimously by the Assembly.

Ahead of the UN Sustainable Development Summit from 25-27 September, and to mark the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, a 10-minute film introducing the Sustainable Development Goals is projected onto UN Headquarters. UN Photo/Cia Pak

The first day of the Summit included two interactive dialogues titled "Ending poverty and hunger" and "Tackling inequalities, empowering women and girls and leaving no one behind," respectively. The Assembly also heard from many heads of state and senior officials as well as from the International Monetary Fund, African Union, Eurasian Development Bank, and others. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda led to widespread enthusiasm throughout the hall, though following the adoption a number of states, particularly island and landlocked states, voiced concerns over the difficulty of attracting funds in order to achieve the goals of the agenda.

On the second day of the Summit, Chinese President Xi Jin Ping addressed the General Assembly and pledged $2 billion to support south-south cooperation and to assist developing countries with the implementation of the agenda goals. The second day of the Summit continued with further interactive dialogues.

Deputy Director of the WFWPI UN Office, and International Vice President of WFWPI, Alexa Ward, had the opportunity to represent WFWPI at this historic Summit. She attended the third interactive dialogue, which was titled "Fostering sustainable economic growth, transformation and promoting sustainable consumption and production," and remarked, "I was encouraged by the number of speakers who understood the importance of investing in women in order to achieve the SDGs," and went on to say, "It was clear from the many speakers that all involved are very serious about providing and securing the resources needed to give this set of goals every opportunity to succeed."

Heads of state and ministers, as well as leaders of financial institutions, spoke about the need for strong economic growth in order to eradicate poverty and achieve the SDGs. Kailash Satyarthi, the Nobel Laureate from India, emphasized the need to focus on children and youth as the "change makers," as well as on collaboration and compassionate intelligence. Mark Zuckerberg, the Founder of Facebook, spoke about the role of the internet as an "enabler of global justice and opportunity." Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, spoke passionately about the need to invest in women, stating "If we do not invest in women, we will not reach the goals. If we invest in women, they will take care of the family and the children." The final interactive dialogue of the second day dealt with protecting the environment and climate change.

The third and final day of the Summit covered two more interactive dialogues. The first, co-chaired by the presidents of South Korea and Chile, both of whom are women, was titled, "Building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions." The dialogue touched on many elements of the SDGs, including the need for all citizens to take ownership over the 2030 agenda and the importance of partnerships as a foundation for the realization of the entire agenda. This dialogue overlapped nicely with the final interactive dialogue, which covered strengthening partnerships in pursuit of the realization of the 2030 agenda. In this final dialogue, the importance of public and private, as well as domestic and international, partnerships were highlighted as a cornerstone for engaging civil society in the 2030 agenda.

The UN called the MDGs "the most successful anti-poverty movement in history." Member states were not collectively able to fully accomplish all of the ambitious goals set out in the MDGs, but the success of the MDGs cannot be ignored. The MDGs provided a framework through which UN member states, in just 15 years, were able to halve the number of people living in poverty. The rate of infant mortality has been halved and the rate of mothers dying in childbirth has declined by 45 percent. More than 2 billion people have improved sanitation conditions, more girls are attending school and more women are acting in representative positions in almost 90 percent of the countries committed to the MDGs.

The success of the MDGs lends hope and promise to the SDGs and the future of the world, but the adoption of the agenda is only the first step. Following the momentous unanimous adoption of the agenda, it falls on the states to implement the agenda items contained within the document. The real leg work now begins.

More information on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.