Can the UN protect the planet and humanity?
When world leaders met in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa in July there was great enthusiasm for developing practical sustainable development goals (SDGs) that would eliminate income equality, eradicate poverty, address climate change, and reconstitute fair trade between rich and poor nations.
It was a gathering that was to lay the foundation for the more serious deliberations in New York and provide a sound basis for the preparations from September 25 to 27 to approve a new development agenda beyond 2015 – not to mention the general assembly debates due to take place from September 28 to October 6.
However, by the time the UN’s 70th session opened on September 15, the world was horrified by the haunting image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian immigrant who, along with family members and 11 others, drowned and washed up on a beach in Turkey, while trying to cross to the Greek island of Kos en route to Canada.
“The world has not seen a global humanitarian crisis of this magnitude since the Second World War, and with winter approaching in the northern hemisphere it is only going to get worse,” newly elected president of the UN General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft said on Monday.
“The tragic stories and heart-breaking images we are seeing in the media are only the tip of the iceberg – the manifestation of much bigger issues which only multilateral cooperation and global leadership can solve… This is a global crisis and it requires a global solution.”
So serious has the immigration crisis become – or the absence of empathetic humanitarian responses from European Union (EU) member states – that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited EU member states to a special meeting in New York on September 30 to discuss the refugee crisis.
Ban called on “all European States to ensure that they abide by their international obligations, including the right to seek asylum, and the prohibition of refoulement.” Refoulement refers to the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees.
“All persons must be received with dignity and their human rights must be respected. The Secretary-General has followed with increasing concern the closing of some borders in Europe, as well as the lack of proper reception facilities, as well as the increased use of detention and criminalisation of irregular migrants and asylum-seekers,” Ban noted.
All eyes are now on whether the world’s most recognised organisation, tasked with protecting human dignity across the globe, will deliver what is expected to become the practical post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Or will the SDG summit be distracted by the immigration crisis confronting Europe, and how to solve the war in Syria and other parts of the world, which saw people fleeing their homes in vast numbers?
With the UN Sustainable Development Summit taking place later this week, there is much talk about the new SDGs and how they will improve people’s lives, while protecting the planet over the coming 15 years.
“If all of the world’s people lived like people in the developed countries do, then we would need three or four earths to support the demand in terms of natural resources. So, sustainability is the word for the whole world,” said Wu Hongbo, UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, this week.
“The way it is currently, with consumption and production, and with the ever-increasing population, the planet’s resources will not sustain us unless something is done to change the way we treat our planet,” he said. The issue of sustainability is one that belongs to everybody because the impact on the natural environment and the depletion of essential resources will affect generations to come, regardless of location.
Should the world exceed its two-degree warning limit and become a lot warmer, the consequences could be more natural disasters, poverty and famine. In order to prevent this, governments and businesses from across the world need to work together to ensure that economic growth does not come at the expense of the planet.
“If we can have better development, economically, socially and environmentally, some of the crises can be addressed properly, ” he said.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire in December with a mixture of successes and shortcomings, especially on income equalities, gender balance, and poverty eradication.
In view of the new SDGs, Ban has said: “2015 is not just another year, it is a chance to change the course of history.”