The United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent a global commitment to address some of the most pressing challenges facing our world, from poverty and hunger to climate change and inequality. As we approach the midway point in the SDGs’ timeline, it is evident that we are indeed halfway to the goals. Yet many nations–including Canada–are nowhere near achieving them.
This past September, I had the privilege of participating in the SDG Action Weekend hosted at the United Nations headquarters in the vibrant heart of New York City. The purpose of the weekend was to gather stakeholders such as civil society, youth, scientists, local and regional governments as we all have a key role to play in the implementation of the SDGs. Over the course of this transformative week, hundreds joined from around the world including more than 600 passionate and motivated youth united by their shared commitment to actively participate and amplify youth voices on a global scale.
The first day was electrifying- with the theme of the day being mobilization- marked by a palpable sense of anticipation and energy as we kicked off the weekend with a resounding focus on youth. During these sessions, I was profoundly moved by the stories and experiences shared by young people from every corner of the globe. They articulated how they are spearheading climate action, championing environmental sustainability, and striving for justice in their communities and asking other stakeholders to join in their fight by using their influence, helping to break down barriers such as tools and funding.
From those who stand on the front lines of environmental crises to the youth who take to the streets in protest, the resounding message is clear: youth-led solutions serve as the driving force for change, extending far beyond a seat at the decision-making table.During New York Climate Week, which kicked off after the SDG weekend, we witnessed countless examples of the remarkable achievements spearheaded by youth from around the globe. One of the most meaningful spaces that I attended was the launch of the Youth Climate Justice Fund, an initiative that is committed to supporting young climate justice leaders with vital resources, capacity building and unrestricted funding. Their mission is to break down barriers that youth face and to amplify their voices, sustain their vision and continue to action positive change in their communities and beyond.
Throughout the SDG weekend, many sessions delved into various SDGs, ranging from education to poverty. Immersing myself in each of these sessions was both enriching and disheartening. It was enriching to gather with like-minded individuals in a shared space, delving into the wealth of information and initiatives driving positive change in communities worldwide. Yet, it was equally disheartening and frustrating to realize how those with the fewest resources continue to achieve so much, and that nations with significant influence and resources, such as Canada, are falling behind in their goals of the SDGs. This disconnect between potential and action underscores the urgency of mobilizing all nations, especially those with the capacity to lead, to expedite progress and bridge the gap between ambition and achievement.
One of my favourite sessions that I attended was on the topic of transforming education, where the focus was on two themes – of equity and quality. Naming that education is a human right and that all should not only have access to education but a global and just standard of education as well. The topic of education holds immense significance in my life. As someone who is the first in my family to receive a university degree, I understand the importance of having access to education and seeing first hand the doors that it can open. A statement made by a representative from Sierra Leone during the session has remained etched in my memory: “Education is the key to unlocking the potential of our people – we must invest in education at all levels to ensure that our people have the knowledge and skills to transform their economies.” This encapsulates the transformative power of education, and the vital role it plays in not only enriching individual lives but also in catalyzing societal and economic progress on a global scale.
Overall, the SDG action weekend underscored the need for more meaningful global collaboration. We must transform the ways in which we work together as everything is interlinked. Education is a climate issue, health is a climate issue, gender equity is also a climate issue. I think by breaking down these silos, sharing information and resources, and focusing on accountability, we can make greater strives towards the goals and a just and climate resilient future for all.