2015 International Conference on Sustainable Development

September 23-24, 2015 - Columbia University, New York
At-the-UN/Past-Reports/Past-Reports/SDGs-Conference
By: Roshan Wolff

Implementing the SDGs: Getting Started

Mr. Jeffery Sachs, the Director of the SDSN (Sustainable Development Solutions Network) warmly welcomed 1,100 professionals, students, academia, stakeholders from government, and the United Nations at the Albert Lerner Hall at Columbia University for the Third Annual Conference on the Sustainable Development Goals. Her Excellency Elle Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO and Jan Elliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, were keynote speakers at the Kapuscinski Keynote lectures and discussants panel on: 'How we Get Started: Perspectives from the Experts." The afternoon session began with Stephen P Groff, VP Asian Development Bank, moderating the session on Mobilizing the Private Sector for Sustainable Development. Robert S. Chen followed with moderating the session: "Monitoring the SDGs: Are OECD Countries Ready?"

Kofi Annan, in his foreward to Christian Kroll's published magazine, 'SDGs: Are the rich countries ready?' thanked Bertelsmann Stiftung for its first systematic assessment of what will become the global policy goals for the next 15 years, outlining the strengths and weaknesses of each country and highlighting best practices in ways of achieving the SDGs. The study advocated for workable and understandable SDGs which would allow civil society to put pressure on governments to hold them accountable for what they pledge at the UN summit. One of the lessons learned was that the biggest challenges cannot be solved in isolation and that the new SDGs would be a universal set of goals for all countries, both rich and poor; with the top priority of the rich countries to end extreme poverty (SDG goal#1) in the poorest regions of the world.

The day sped by all too quickly. Some participants, (including my boss, myself and a new-found friend) attended the Music for a Sustainable Planet concert. It was an interesting medley of the depiction of the forces of nature gone awry, Tchaikovsky-like and intense - conjuring up images of volcanoes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, leading us to give thought to the impending dangers of climate change.

The second day of the conference began with Benjamin Christ, MDP Candidate from the University of Florida, moderating the session on Careers in Sustainable Development. With the growing concern of youth, faced with the need for looking for new ways to equip themselves in the job market, Gabrielle Lindau, Director of Sustainability Marketing and Communications at Emerald Brand, encouraged using creativity and all of one's past experiences to brand oneself successfully away from the traditional jobs. She gave an example by sharing that wastage from products like plastic and styrofoam, which are used by many corporations, can be replaced by plant-based, biodegradable plastic and styrofoam-looking products. Analysis shows that this replacement successfully contributed to sustainability and water reduction in processing. Both Michael Berkowitz, President of 100 Resilient Cities, Rockefeller Foundation and Mathilde Mesnard, Former Senior Advisor to the Secretary-General, The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), made the case for cities that could thrive in a changing landscape.

Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca, President of the Republic of Malta, gave the keynote address after which the best paper award was presented to Patrick Paul Walsh, Chair Academic Steering Committee, GAMD. Sam Vaghar, Executive Director and CoFounder of the Millennium Campus Network, moderated the session on "Empowering Youth for Sustainable Development."

I attended the session on Ending Extreme Poverty moderated by Dileni Gunewardena. Her Excellency Lorena Castillo de Varela, First Lady of Panama spoke on "Biocommunity: A Multidimensional Approach to address Poverty in Panama." Fluent in both English and her native Spanish, expressing great hope in her staff, she uplifted her audience by vibrantly proposing ending poverty in Panama by the year 2030!

His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, gave the World Leaders Forum Address at the Closing Plenary on: "Beyond Policy and Financing: How to Sustain Development." The Farmer's Market outside the conference venue was an encouraging sign of lifestyle changes being implemented.