On February 4, 2013, the United Nations Association of the United States of America held its annual Member’s Day conference at UN Headquarters in New York City. Of the various panel discussions, one discussion focused on sustainable development, specifically the future of the implementation of outcomes from the Rio+20 conference held in 2012 and the future of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The results from Rio+20 are lengthy, ambitious, and seemingly non-relevant to an individual. So why should anyone care? Because the seed for change needs to start somewhere. Nikhil Seth, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, believes that “sustainability is the engagement of every part of society,” which includes individual citizens. Through scientific analysis, innovations, and the engagement of all society’s contingents, ripples of change and progress will occur.
The Rio+20 conference focused on specific areas of sustainability such as poverty eradication. According to DoSomething.org, “a child dies from hunger-related causes every 8 to 12 seconds.” No matter how much food and aid is given to poverty-stricken areas, the success of poverty eradication is contingent upon how well governments and societies react to climate change. Dr. Eban Goodstein, Director of the Bard Center for Environmental Policy, believes that in a youth’s lifetime, the average global temperature may increase between 4 to 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Drought will be the defining change of the future, affecting food production, water availability and quality, and fertile land availability. One cannot address poverty eradication without addressing climate change.
There’s a trend of “climate silence” over the years. The 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, renewed the environmental movement and climate change became a hot topic. The momentum for change slowed down as other immediate issues clouded the public’s interest, such as the economic crisis. In 2012, the destruction from hurricane Sandy briefly revived talks on climate change. Now, “climate silence” is settling in again. Breaking climate silence is essential to sustainable development and the future of the Millennium Development Goals.
Perhaps it will seem more relevant to an individual if these daunting goals are scaled down to something that is pertinent to most people, their pockets. The Millennium Development Goals, which were set in 2000, will be approaching its deadline in two years. The goal to halve the proportion of the population without sustainable access to basic sanitation will not be met. Progress to end global hunger has been hindered by global food and financial crises. Increase in global temperatures will only make matters worse. Without proper sanitation, epidemics are likely to occur, affecting public health, which affects global economies. Food production will be challenged, affecting food accessibility, which also affects public health and global economies. Shifts in global economies can be felt on a personal level, as each of us are feeling now in this economic crisis.
According to Minh-Thu Pham, United Nations Foundation, the most important milestone to aim for is the achievement of current MDGs by 2015. Achieving these goals will increase the credibility of the MDGs and the United Nations. The off-track goals should not discourage citizens and organizations from continuing their work. Instead, these should serve as motivators for citizens to talk and act on the issues, breaking “climate silence.”
Off-track MDGs will most likely be included in the United Nations Foundation’s post 2015 UN development agenda. The United Nations is reaching out to citizens for their interests in global issues. Individuals can visit www.worldwewant2015.org and/or www.myworld2015.org to tell the UN what issues should be included in the UN Development Agenda.
“At the end of the day,” said Eban Goodstein, “we will not be able to solve climate issues voluntarily.” Legal changes are needed and a strong national grassroots base can promote these changes. You can become part of the grassroots movement to inspire legal change. You can break the climate silence.