By Doris Abdullah
The 193 nations of the United Nations opened the UN’s 70th anniversary (Sept. 23-Oct. 2) at the headquarters in New York with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that reflect the desires of the world’s people.
Those goals include the elimination of poverty and hunger, promotion of good health, availability of quality education, gender equality, clean water, clean energy, decent work, industry innovation, reduction of inequalities, the building of sustainable cities, responsible consumption, climate action, restoration of life below water and on land, promotion of peace and justice, and the building of strong institutions and revitalizing of global partnerships for sustainable development.
I heard less angry words this year as opposed to previous years, coming from the mouths of the array of presidents, prime ministers, kings, and emirs who stepped to the podium to address the General Assembly. I would like to think that the combination of having heard Pope Francis speak first, and the 17 SDG goals as the theme of the meeting, and the effort to leave no one behind, contributed to a more harmonious atmosphere.
In this report I name only a few of the nations and their representatives I heard speak on the days I was present at this truly remarkable and informative week.
Uruguay's President Tabare Vazquez, an oncologist, spoke with passion about goals aimed at ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition, ensuring healthy lives, and promoting well-being for all ages. He noted Uruguay’s successful anti-smoking campaign and its effect at reducing deaths and related illnesses. He also noted that Uruguay his been sued by the tobacco company Philip Morris, which alleges that because 80 percent of the covering on a pack of cigarettes is anti-smoking information, there is not enough space to display their trademark.
For Jordan's King Abdullah II, the goals to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all, and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels was the main focus. Jordan is the recipient of more than 600,000 Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country, and the King spoke on achieving peace for the Middle East in the face of terrorism. He labeled the terrorists as outlaw gangs and called for a global effort to defeat them. He spoke on Jordan's role in promoting interfaith dialogue and its role in the UN Interfaith Harmony Week.
Countries as diverse as Argentina, Brazil, Liberia and South Korea have women presidents and while each of them touched on the goal of achieving gender equality, their focus appeared mostly to be on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all ages, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education, and reducing inequalities within and among countries. President Dilma Rousseff quoted the Chinese proverb that highlights women as one half of heaven, but she reminded the assembly that women make up one-half of the Earth's people as well.
Columbia's President Juan Manuel Santos spoke about finding solutions to conflict through peaceful reconciliation. He told how his country, after 50 years of civil war and internal conflicts, had come to the table to talk without guns or outside influence. He offered to share with other countries who experience internal conflict the lessons learned by Columbia, once the agreement has been signed.
I was present for four of the speeches by presidents of the P5, the permanent members of the Security Council. President Barak Obama and President Putin held the world’s attention, in so much as not one seat was empty during their speeches.
Here is an excerpt from President Obama’s speech, copied from the State Department release: “Out of the ashes of the Second World War, having witnessed the unthinkable power of the atomic age, the United States has worked with many nations in this Assembly to prevent a third world war. That is the work of seven decades. That is the ideal that this body, at its best, has pursued. Of course, there have been too many times when, collectively, we have fallen short of these ideals. Over seven decades, terrible conflicts have claimed untold victims. But we have pressed forward, slowly, steadily, to make a system of international rules and norms that are better and stronger and more consistent.”
President Vladimir Putin of Russia aimed most of his remarks to perceived arrogance or world dominance on the part of the United States, and appeared not to focus much attention on the SDG goals but wrapped his speech in security issues. He did not address the thousands of talented and gifted Russian people who migrate each year, nor the violence in the Ukraine which has caused the deaths of thousands along with an internal crisis of displaced people in that country.
President Xi Jinping of China offered monetary aid, $50 million towards gender equality, $100 million to the African Union for maintaining peace, and $1 billion to support UN works, along with a commitment to engage with other nations in the goal to combat climate change and the goal of conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas, and marine resources for development.
France's President Francois Hollande also focused on combating climate change. France will host the UN Climate Change summit in December. He also spoke on the refugee crisis facing Europe as millions flee from violence in North Africa, Iraq, and Syria.
At a follow up workshop discussion on accountability, we asked the question: How will we hold the countries accountable for achieving these goals, and accountable for the use of monies received? Methodologies for accountability must be put in place to track the goals.
-- Doris Abdullah is the Church of the Brethren representative to the United Nations. For more information about the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) go to www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals .