ByÂ Vivek D’souza:
The United Nations had its final Open Working Group (OWG) sessions on Sustainable Development from 14 — 18 July 2014, where member states, UN agencies and civil society organizations negotiated to have a full-fledged working SDG outcome for the post-2015 development agenda. The ‘proposed’ outcome document, consisting of 17 goals for the consideration of United Nations General Assembly will decide the future we want.
‘Sustainable development’ is a phrase that one hears a lot by universities and other institutions in their effort to promote their approach to education. Educators insist they are helping their students be more aware about it, that they are instilling its importance in the minds of young people. Yes, “sustainable development” is surely a wonderful phrase that seeks to promote a lifestyle without compromising the needs of future generations. Nevertheless, with all the wonders associated with it, do many of us come close to qualifying as living in a sustainable world? Sustainable development isn’t a one-sided approach as there are many possible ways to incorporate a sustainable lifestyle. However, as technical as it sounds, the idea of having a sustainable lifestyle implies something far deeper and more complex.
Most of us are blinded by the fact that we can adopt sustainable means of living by ourselves, without knowing what’s at stake and what all we have to face in the future. We happen to be so busy with our impersonal lives, that we do not realize the effect on our families, our society, and the environment.
Our lifestyle affects our environment. We do get reminded every time that the environment plays a vital role not only for us, but also for all liveable ecosystems. But, do we take the necessary measures to reduce environment degradation and climate change? Goal 13 of Outcome Document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development says, “Take urgent actions to combat climate change and its impacts”. However, the steps towards achieving this goal by 2020 are not yet known. As important as all goals are, combating climate change has always been of significant importance because of its adverse impacts. Globalization has changed the world for the better in terms of communication, advancement of science and technology, new inventions and discoveries, but have we become its slaves and forgotten to have a concern for the environment?
Now, considering what has been said and done, many may wonder about how they can be active and participatory members of a society that can help combat the issue of climate change. The United Nations being the best platform for global civil participation in existence can act, even in an ad hoc way, to help solve global issues including that of climate change. It seems easy to dismiss the UN and complain about its work. Nevertheless, it is often clear that those who attack the UN are usually speaking in a position of ignorance and misinformation. Of course the UN is a complex platform that deals with a plethora of socioeconomic and political issues. But at the moment, many people who work within the UN system are working towards the achievement of these goals, so that the needs of future generations aren’t compromised. Member states, UN agencies, and civil society groups have been working hard so that the outcome document produced gets implemented in its actual sense and is not just something written on a piece of paper. Again, many of us who claim to combat climate change may be confused by the post-2015 talk.
Post-2015 development agenda? What about 2014? What is the significance of the year 2015? Well, in order to fight climate change, one must recall the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and have knowledge about the Outcome Document of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development. With climate change as the growing issue of concern, the Cop20 conference by the UNFCCC in Lima, Peru is just around the corner, which would decide the fate of the world in terms of combating climate change. This road is not as easy as it may seem because many countries may be faced by political questions in terms of their contribution and actions to combat the issue, and that of accountability. By 2014, almost everyone has realized that times are changing, and that immediate action needs to be taken in order to save the planet from death and destruction. But how can the average human being be a beacon of change? The answer to this issue and to the ever-growing chain of issues is quite simple — inclusive participation, especially from young people.
Young people play a major role in the society today and are considered the drivers of development. From a youth perspective, I believe that it is very important for young people to play active and participatory roles in policy making and advocacy. Young people need to know that they have a significant role to play in negotiations. They need to find ways of how to get involved. In terms of climate change, young people need to know about the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). They need to develop an interest in such activism and be involved in UN Major Groups (MGs) and constituencies like the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY) and YOUNGO, which deal with climate change. The MGCY allows youth under the age of 30 to partake in policy debates around issues of sustainable development. They also need to be active in civil society organizations that can lobby directly with governments to incorporate sustainable development in their policies. They should ensure that governments should be held accountable in what they say and do. Participation in terms of attending a conference is useless as climate change is not an individual issue, but a global one. Yes, it is important to show up, and young people need to consistently be involved in the policy making processes. As they go back to their countries, they need to disseminate the knowledge in society, spread awareness and should form coalitions with their governments in order to combat the issue of climate change at a national and sub-national level. This so-called “follow-up procedure” is vital as it contains data that may help combat climate change and help incorporate sustainable development measures and mechanisms to be implemented.
We are too distracted, overworked and tired to even think about domestic and political issues, let alone international ones. As a result, the energy necessary to achieve some of the SDG goals may seem like a fleeting dream. Nevertheless, the world has never been more independent than today. The issues of environmental degradation and climate change do not simply affect two states, they affect us all. Now more than ever, we need to look beyond our lives and need to see how we too can contribute to the changing world for our own good and for the future of those yet to come!
‘Be the change you wish to see to see in the world’-Mahatma Gandhi