Volume 19, No.09 - September 2015

Feature articles

Looking ahead at the Post-2015 Summit

Sporting tournament day in Protection of Civilians Site 3 in JubaMore than 150 world leaders are expected to attend the UN Sustainable Development Summit from 25-27 September at UN headquarters in New York to formally adopt an ambitious new sustainable development agenda. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that the summit “will chart a new era of sustainable development in which poverty will be eradicated, prosperity shared and the core drivers of climate change tackled”.

The Summit will be the climax of a negotiating process that has spanned more than two years, involved all 193 Member States of the United Nations and has featured the unprecedented participation of major groups of society and other stakeholders. On 2 August, Member States reached agreement on the outcome document for the summit with the title ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, which includes 17 new sustainable development goals.

“The summit will chart a new era of sustainable development in which poverty will be eradicated, prosperity shared and the core drivers of climate change tackled.”

Ban Ki-moon,
UN Secretary-General

The Secretary-General said that this agreement, to be formally adopted at the summit, “encompasses a universal, transformative and integrated agenda that heralds an historic turning point for our world.  This is the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere and leaving no one behind.  It seeks to ensure peace and prosperity and forge partnerships with people and planet at the core.  The integrated, interlinked and indivisible 17 sustainable development goals are the people’s goals and demonstrate the scale, universality and ambition of this new agenda.”

Six interactive dialogues

The Summit will feature six interactive dialogues with the following themes: Ending poverty and hunger; Tackling inequalities, empowering women and girls and leaving no one behind; Fostering sustainable economic growth, transformation and promoting sustainable consumption and production; Protecting our planet and combatting climate change; Building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions to achieve sustainable development; Delivering on a revitalised Global Partnership.

Activism against Gender ViolenceIt is envisaged that each dialogue will address the three dimensions of sustainable development. There will also be scope to address in each dialogue issues such as gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, prioritising the needs of all vulnerable groups including children, older persons, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants and ensuring implementation at all levels.

Core Elements of the new sustainable development agenda

The new sustainable development agenda to be adopted in September highlights poverty eradication as the overarching goal of the new agenda and has at its core the integration of the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.  The emerging agenda is unique in that it calls for action by all countries, poor, rich and middle-income.  Member States pledge that as they embark on this collective journey, no one will be left behind.  The “five Ps” — people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership — capture the broad scope of the agenda.

The 17 goals and 169 targets aim at tackling key systemic barriers to sustainable development such as inequality, unsustainable consumption and production patterns, inadequate infrastructure and lack of decent jobs.

The means of implementation outlined in the outcome document match its ambitious goals and focus on finance, technology and capacity development.  In addition to a stand-alone goal on the means of implementation for the new agenda, specific means are tailored to each of the goals.

Member States stressed that the desired transformations will require a departure from “business as usual” and that intensified international cooperation on many fronts will be needed.  The agenda calls for a revitalized, global partnership for sustainable development, including for multi-stakeholder partnerships.  It also calls for increased capacity-building and better data and statistics to measure sustainable development. Displaced People in Shangil Tobaya

An effective follow-up and review architecture — a core element of the outcome document — will be critical to support the implementation of the new agenda.  The High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, set up after the Rio+20 Conference, will serve as the apex for follow-up and review and will thus play a central role.  The General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and specialized agencies will also be engaged in reviewing progress in specific areas.

Based on the outcome document, the agenda will include a Technology Facilitation Mechanism to support the new goals, based on multi-stakeholder collaboration between Member States, civil society, business, the scientific community and the United Nations system of agencies.  The Mechanism, which was agreed at the Addis Conference in July, will have an inter-agency task team, a forum on science, technology and innovation and an online platform for collaboration.

Read more: UN Sustainable Development Summit

70 General Assemblies – 7 decades of commitment

Every year in September, the United Nations – and New York City – get ready for the annual invasion of Heads of States, government leaders, NGO’s, academia, and other change makers that flock into town for the UN General Assembly (GA).  And as the GA is celebrating its 70th session this year, and the landmark Post-2015 Summit will mark the kick-off of the Sustainable Development Goals, this September is bound to be a historical one.

The first General Assembly – held in London in 1946 following the establishment of the United Nations – saw 51 countries come together for a grand exchange of thoughts on international politics. Two world wars in four decades had left countries on both sides of the conflict in physical and financial ruin – and political leaders distrustful of each other. The world needed a change of discourse.

This sentiment was reflected in the opening statement by Eduardo Zuleta Angel, Representative of Colombia and Chairman of the first session of the GA:

“Determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which, twice in our lifetime, has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and imbued with an abiding faith in freedom and justice, we have come to this British capital, which bears upon it the deep impress of a heroic majesty; to constitute the General Assembly of the United Nations and to make a genuine and sincere beginning with the application of the San Francisco Charter,” he said.

First Phase DigitalZuleta Angel called the GA “the town meeting of the world” and reiterated that this was a place where nations would be able to make their voices heard “in as free and democratic an atmosphere as that which prevailed at San Francisco and London.”

70 years later, the GA has grown into one of the most important platforms for world leaders to debate on global questions on peace and security, development, and international political cooperation. But while the fundamental idea of a global town hall meeting remains, much has changed in its organization and execution in the past 7 decades.

As the number of Member States steadily climbed from 51 to 193 today, the assembly eventually moved to its permanent location in the General Assembly Hall inside the UN headquarters in New York.

With the increase of Member States, the size of operation expanded as well: This anniversary session of the GA and the Post-2015 Summit are expected to draw a record number of representatives of nations, NGO’s, the private sector and academia to New York. Last year, almost 2500 media accreditations had been issued, and this year that number could possibly double.

This anniversary session of the GA and the Post-2015 Summit are expected to draw a record number of representatives

The development of modern audio-visual technology have made the meetings increasingly accessible: For those who can’t physically be in the room, all the meetings are broadcast live through the UN webcast page, and covered by UN staff through social media.

Societal changes also placed their marks on the make-up of the GA: halfway through the 20th century the meetings were filled with men and smoke.  Seven decades later, ashtrays in the GA hall have been removed and no-smoking signs installed instead. And with almost a quarter of parliamentarians being female, the gender balance is – albeit very slowly – starting to even out.

First Phase DigitalThe scope and scale of the GA may have increased, but the fundamental elements of these meetings are still the same as they were in 1946: The President of the General Assembly – a position taken up this year by Denmark’s former parliament speaker Mogens Lykketoft – presents the agenda, after adoption followed by the high level plenary debate featuring presentations from all Member States.

Throughout the years, the GA has seen many milestones and memorable historical events. This year will surely be an addition to that list, and for all the changes the UN has gone through in the past 70 years, the words spoken by the first GA president Zuleta Angel in 1946 still ring as true as ever:

“It will be an arduous and difficult duty, but one which we can and must discharge without delay, for the whole world which waits on our decisions brightly, yet with understandable anxiety, looks to us now to master our problems, and we cannot with impunity again fail mankind.”


Read more: UN General Assembly

Sustainable development through geospatial information

UNOG Open DayStatisticians, technicians, ministers, geospatial information management authorities, development experts and other stakeholders showcased the vital role of the collection of geographic information for the realization of a sustainable, inclusive world for all, at the Fifth Session of the United Nations Committee of Experts on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM), which took place from 3-7 August at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

“The monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals over the past 15 years taught us that data are an indispensable element of the development agenda.” Mr. Wu Hongbo, Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs said during the meetings, emphasizing the importance of geospatial information in the opening of this year’s session. “Knowing where people and things are, and their relationship to each other, is essential for informed decision-making, and to measure and monitor the outcome.”

Throughout the conference, delegates focused on the finance, governance, common principles, policies, methods, mechanisms and standards behind the collection of geospatial information.

The committee of experts further aimed to finalize the guidelines to assist Member States in implementing and adopting international geospatial standards and best practices. They addressed geospatial issues that are closely related to sustainable development and the post-2015 agenda.

Peacekeeping - MINURSOGeospatial information is a crucial part of the foundation for development work, as it provides us with important information about where social, environmental and economic conditions occur. It shows development experts detailed information about everything from droughts to rising sea levels, from growing population numbers to declining agricultural yields, and from urbanization patterns to immunization trends.

“While the challenges before us are numerous, so are the opportunities to make a real difference to global development,” Wu said. “This committee of experts, and geospatial information, has a valuable role to play.”

The global importance of geographic information gathering was universally recognized earlier this year, when the first Geospatial resolution was adopted by the General Assembly.

This year’s session saw more than 290 participants come together in New York, showing a growing awareness for the need of geospatial information, as well as a wider reach of the UN initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM).

UN-GGIM aims at playing a leading role in setting the agenda for the collecting and processing of global geospatial information and promoting its use to address key global challenges. It consists of experts designated by member states, with specific knowledge drawn from the interrelated fields of surveying, geography, cartography and mapping, remote sensing, land/sea and geographic information systems and environmental protection. It also comprises observers, who are experts from international organizations. The committee has been up and running for five years, with conference sessions taking place each year.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Mrs. Ban arrive in Madrid.In the previous session, which took place in August 2014, the Committee reached the consensus that the understanding of geographic and geospatial information in sustainable development, particularly at the policy and decision-making levels, needed to be enhanced. Since then, a multitude of accomplishments have been made, among which the formulation of the first geospatial resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in February this year. “This landmark resolution recognizes the global importance of location and positioning for many areas of development.” Wu said in his opening statement at this year’s session.

This year, the committee moved towards the formulation of more operable solutions to the problems to realize sustainable development; a more hands-on approach to preparing the international community to adopt and successfully implement  the Sustainable Development agenda in September this year.


Read more: United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UN-GGIM)