Looking back and ahead for better life

KEY GREEN EVENT: Three environmentalists wearing polar bear costumes as they take part in a demonstration near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, earlier this month. Paris played host to the World Climate Change Conference 2015, where new climate change goals were set.


    Dec 30, 2015

    Looking back and ahead for better life

    ASK anyone for their abiding memory of 2015 and they will most likely recall a negative one.

    Some will recall the horrifying stories of death and destruction caused by conflicts around the world, most notably in Syria where more than 250,000 people have lost their lives and almost 11 million people have been displaced. Others will recall a sense of grief, fear and anger after violent extremists attacked, tortured, kidnapped and executed innocent civilians around the world. Still others might recall a simple but disturbing fact they heard in passing - that 2015 was the hottest year on record or that more than 15,000 children continue to die annually, mostly from preventable diseases.

    Yet despite all of this, 2015 was also a year of progress and breakthroughs.

    It was, for instance, when health workers and public officials supported by the international community brought an end to the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

    It was the year when the UN Millennium Development Goals expired, having helped reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty globally by more than 50 per cent.

    And it was the year when talks not tanks led to improvements in Cuba-US relations, an Iranian nuclear deal, a breakthrough in peace talks in Colombia and transition in the Central African Republic.

    And most recently, a road map on resolving the Syrian conflict was agreed on in the United Nations Security Council; the hope is that finally we can begin to contain this horrible humanitarian disaster.

    In September, world leaders descended on New York to embrace a new compact for people and planet anchored in 17 Sustainable Development Goals. In Addis Ababa, just two months earlier, the same leaders committed to a new global framework on finance, capacity building, technology, trade, debt and other issues to support the realisation of these goals. And in Paris earlier this month, after years of disappointment, they overcame divisions and agreed on how to avert catastrophic climate change while advancing human progress.

    Through these agreements, governments everywhere have committed to advance three critical transformations in our world.

    First, they committed to address the root causes of poverty and hunger and to advance human development and gender equality everywhere.

    Second, they agreed to promote shared prosperity while transitioning to a low-carbon climate-resilient economy and protecting our natural environment.

    And, third, they agreed to improve governance at all levels so as to build more peaceful, just and inclusive societies.

    GOALS FOR 2016

    In 2016, however, we must build on this momentum and secure early implementation.

    Governments, for example, must identify and plan for the changes they need to undertake to reach these new goals. They must invest in essential services so that all people can fulfil their potential.

    At the international level, we need a UN system that is ready to give countries the support they need. We also need to ensure that exclusive economic decision making forums, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the G20 and other international organisations become more aligned with this new agenda.

    In the area of peace and security, we need changes at the UN so that we can become better at preventing conflicts and protecting human rights, before it is too late.

    The Sustainable Development Goals also demand action from the private sector. They must align their corporate activities with the essence of the new goals. They can turn their innovation towards finding sustainable development goals solutions, and partner with governments and other key actors to support and finance implementation.

    This includes the global finance industry which must now embrace the shift. Governments must ensure a framework of regulation and taxation for the private sector that makes it obvious that green investment is not just the best for the environment and the future of mankind, but the best for business too.

    Finally, change will not happen without action and pressure from civil society and ordinary people everywhere. Non-governmental organisations need to hold governments to account for the commitments they have made in this year. Philanthropic foundations need to support causes that are aligned with the sustainable development goals and work more effectively with governments and other actors. And ordinary citizens, young people and others can use the incredible explosion in information technology in recent years to become key drivers of implementation.

    If 2015 was a year of incredible breakthroughs, then 2016 must mark the moment when all of us begin to deliver, when we begin to make the transformation needed to a more sustainable and just world.


    The author is president of the UN General Assembly.