Hello again! It has been three weeks since my last blog, but here I am. These past weeks have been very exciting and I would like to share the highlights of the United Nation meetings I attended.
Internship Week 3
My third week started off by attending the United Nations Intergovernmental Negotiations on the Post-2015 Agenda in the Trusteeship Council Chamber. The purpose of this week long meeting was to gather civil society, Member States, and the private sector for inputs of the Sustainable Development Goals agenda through the editing of the Zero Draft. The Zero Draft elaborates on the moral call for global action of all stakeholders, which will launch at their Summit in September 2015 once the Millennium Development Goals expire. It was interesting to sit in this meeting particularly because of the contrasting opinions, especially when it came to Planetary Boundaries reference since I am including this term in my final research paper for graduation. Several NGO’s asked for a reference to the term Planetary Boundaries in the Draft which some countries opposed as the term is not widely understood and accepted. The Facilitators also regarded the Planetary Boundaries term to be problematic due to the general public’s lack of understanding and it’s stance on climate change and economic development.
Another highlight of this meeting was the consensus of the Blue Planet Project Organization, Christian Aid Alliance, representative of the Maldives, and Small Island Developing States (SIDs) for proposing the inclusion of an explicit reference to human water rights for potable water and sanitation, without unfair privatization of resources for the Zero Draft. This reminded me greatly of the Patel College of Global Sustainability class Economies and Finance for Sustainability because our final project was on the history of the unfair privatization of water in Cochabamba, Bolivia which resulted in the Water War.
The last but not least highlight for me were the multiple statements made throughout the discussion on the sustainable use of the oceans and tourism for the Zero Draft, more so that one of my concentrations is in Sustainable Tourism. The Association of Pacific Island States and SIDs both stated their concern as well as demanded urgency in dealing with coastal erosion and sea level rise as it poses existential threats to their countries. Tonga and Pacific Island States also wanted inclusion of a reference to coastal tourism to support the sustainable development of their ocean based economies.
This week I also attended the United Nations Task Team Habitat III for the development of their new interactive social media platform called Urban Dialogues which will facilitate all stakeholders to discuss sustainable infrastructure and urbanization. The meeting addressed the collaboration of UN-Habitat and UNDP to work on the Urban Dialogues of accessibility, inclusivity, technicality, quality, and the moderator’s role in overseeing the online discussions. For me, I found it intriguing to be in an intimate meeting seeing what goes on behind the scenes of the United Nations work from a social media perspective of achieving inclusivity and communication engagement from all sectors.
Internship Week 4
Every four years the United Nations holds the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF), so for my fourth week, I was assigned to cover such a monumental set of meetings. In this series of meetings, the Heads of State and Government, General Assembly, Economic and Social Council as well as the civil society and private sector representatives are present. This year the HLPF addressed the transition from the Millennium Development Goals to the new Sustainable Development Goals from a multi-faceted viewpoint. The meetings ran for a little over a week and included some very important topics such as:
Changing Approaches to Policy Making: the Role of the Sustainable Development Goals
Keeping Science Involved in Sustainable Development Goals Implementation
Our HLPF on Sustainable Development in the Next 15 Years
Reaching Out to the World:Communicating the Agenda
Reviewing and Monitoring Progress: What Have We Learned and How Can it Advance Implementation?
Shaping the World for 2030: From Vision to Transformative Action
Sustainable Consumption and Production
A Transformative Integrate Agenda: How can Governments, Societies, and the UN Rise to the Challenge
The HLPF was a fantastic experience for me because I absorbed a wealth of knowledge, acquired information for my thesis, and was in the presence of one of my biggest influencers, Jeffrey Sachs, Economist and Director of Earth Institute in Columbia University. Jeffrey Sachs is also part of the Special Advisory team for the United Nations. I felt starstrucked when I saw him as a panelist for one of the meetings because I had only seen him on youtube videos and documentaries. I believe he made one of the best statements of all the panelists in the meetings when he elaborated in a humble and candid manner the shortcomings of the Millennium Development Goals and the mental shift society has to make in order for the Sustainable Development Goals to succeed. Mr. Sachs stated:
“The world is incredibly rich with a lot of poor people in it. There is nothing we can’t do if we try. The Millennium Development Goals was never about resource limit or poverty – it is only about attention and what we care to do. When we try to do things such as delivering bed nets and vaccines for vulnerable people it can get done. The problem is that we are not trying too much. We are overtaken by self interest, greed, lack of attention span, and profits. The fundamental challenge of the Millennium Development Goals was a moral problem not economics or capacity. We are heading into a new era because we have a full fledge environmental problem on top of poverty. Humanity has always faced poverty but now we will face an existential threat to us: climate change. But it has to be whether we care about it or not.”
Usually, in these meetings you can hear people having their own conversations or they are a little distracted by their computers and iphones, but when Jeffrey Sachs gave his statement, you could hear a pin drop. The demeanor of the room shifted in seconds because of the weight of his words and his call for a frank dialogue on our moral obligation to address climate change.
Another fantastic panelist was Edie Lederer, a world renown journalist. She made an impactful statement during the HLPF as she brought up the communication aspect. How was the United Nations supposed to use journalists to sell to the general public the Sustainable Development Goals, which are 17 goals and 169 targets, if most people don’t read something if it is not within a 400-500 word story? This question was thought-provoking for me because it is absolutely true! I, myself have trouble conveying the importance of sustainable initiatives to those in my age group who never put thought into their carbon footprints before! She was on to something!
The HLPF meeting also had the Advertising Executive and Founder of the PR and Advertising company Droga5, David Droga, who gave an excellent presentation on how to reach out to the world about the Sustainable Development goals by using an emotional connection that the general public can grasp. As he stated, “We need the civil society to be able to talk about the Sustainable Development Goals at the dinner table and be interested.” He also gave tactics on how the United Nations and Member States could sell the Sustainable Development Goals using the tactics from the PR and Advertising Industry which were very insightful.
During the HLPF sessions, I was delighted to see my supervisors and Dr. Randle, my Sustainable Tourism professor, all in the same room here in NYC. I remembered how it was back in September, for the United Nations Day Sustainable Tourism Consultation held in the Patel College of Global Sustainability, when I first talked to DPI/NGO Chairman, Mr. Richard Jordan and Senior Counselor of the UNWTO, Mr.Sarbuland Khan about the United Nations opportunities. I remember all the months of waiting with Dr. Randle about the finalization of my internship, and then finally being in the Trusteeship Council Chamber with everyone was such a humbling experience for me. I was overjoyed from the amount of encouragement and support I received from my supervisors and professor. After the HLPF meeting, we all attended the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the International Development Law Organization Reception at the United Nations headquarters to catch up.
Towards the end of the week, I was assigned to the Annual Ministerial Review meeting of the Economic and Social Council. I always enjoy the Economic and Social Council meetings because I get to be in the presence of former presidents and prime ministers, most who are members of Club de Madrid. For example in this meeting Abdurrahim El-Keib of Libya, Damira Niyazalieva of Kyrgyzstan, and Zlatko Lagumdzija of Bosnia and Herzegovina were all panelists. The goal of the Annual Ministerial Review was to emphasize the importance of building on the existing momentum for the new sustainable development agenda that will be adopted in September 2015.
A highlight for me was learning about the state of the global economy in trade since I did not have much background in this field. I learned that the global economy continues to grow at a modest pace, with a gradual improvement expected in 2016. In many countries, growth is too weak to improve gains in employment creation and poverty reduction. Keeping in mind the centrality of balanced growth to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, Min Zhu of IMF stated that Member States need to formulate policies that will push capital growth, demand, and productivity as well as implement regulatory systems for the banking system in order to establish macroeconomic stability for sustainable development.
Another highlight that stuck with me was how the Annual Ministerial Review gave special attention about communicating the new development agenda in order to gain citizens’ buy-in. In particular, young people like me, who are growing in population yet lack resources and opportunities. The youth can be a vital asset to the economy as human capital for the Sustainable Development Goals as Vivian Onano of the UN Women Global Civil Society Advisory Group stated “The youth should be empowered to own the development agenda and be part of the change that is urgently required.”
Internship Week 5
There were no assigned meetings, but there was still research work to be completed. I feel incredibly honored to say that even though I will leave NYC August 1st, my internship will extend throughout the Fall semester. I got assigned four major projects, two of these projects I will be working on with the other UNWTO intern, Yumna. Our projects will deal with data collection, policies, and sustainable development as well as preparing a draft for a delegate statement. My projects include:
Data collection on how each of the United Nations entities conducts their consultancy, contracts, and studies and then propose a new methodology to improve efficiency and lower costs. This project is not associated with UNWTO but will be supervised by Mr. Sarbuland Khan.
Assistant for the CEO4Green platform under the Talah – Abu Ghazaleh Organization. This project is not associated with UNWTO, but will also be supervised by Mr. Sarbuland Khan.
Data analysis on the UNDP/UNWTO Agreement then propose a new draft agreement.
Data collection on each of the G77 & China tourism strategies for their development agenda which will be sent to the Madrid UNWTO headquarters for review.
These past few weeks have been a humbling experience because I have been able to absorb a wealth of information from my supervisors and in the United Nations meetings. Also, I am beginning to feel like the big city of New York City is shrinking because every day I have been able to network or make a new friend. I’m building a sense of community here whenever I visit my usual spots like coffee shops, lunch restaurants, and even the bodegas. New York City has facilitated the environment to pursue a career here after graduation and to live life at its full potential. It has been an incredible experience learning not only academic and career knowledge, but having the city teach me life lessons every single day. As my time in New York City winds down, I am doing my best to savor every single moment of this summer, knowing that I will return as soon as possible.