So we met our “helpers” at the front reception of our hotel and received our security passes and food passes. Yes we got United Nations food passes! Then the time had come to actually set of for the United Nations Headquarters itself. The queue for security was sooooo long but after getting a having a rushed breakfast in the Riverview cafe in the headquarters we headed to the opening session. In the General Assembly chamber……
The moment you walk in you fall in love I think. The decisions and debates had in the General Assembly room (rather monster of a room) are kinda rather important and you defiantly feel the importance and pressure come and sit on your shoulder when you enter.
To open the conference there were speakers of all ages and backgrounds who had a role with in the United Nations or the United Nations Youth organisations or Assembly. I will mention a few of them and give you a brief (my brief isn’t very brief-sorry) introduction to selected speakers as well as their statements to the opening session but if you would like to hear more please please ask me.
Both the Permanent Mission Representatives to United Nations from Denmark (Mr Ib Petersen) and Australia (Ms Gillian Bird) sponsored and supported the conference on behalf of the world and both were invited to speak in the opening session. They both talked about their own experiences of growing up in their country and the world as well as their experiences witnessing the problems of our planet evolving and changing. Neither of them had any similarities in their lives yet they both used a single message to close. The world has been to slow to realize that its attitude needs to change so action can start from grassroots level. Governments can talk and discuss solutions but unless the people (grassroots) of the world start to take action huge improvements can never be made. Powerful and so very true!
We were very lucky to hear from Mr Peter Thompson too. He is currently the President of the 71st United Nations General Assembly (where all the important decisions about the world’s future gets made) and has two main passions in his current role. The first is to save the oceans of the world. As he is from Fiji, a archipelago of 333 small islands in the South Pacific, the threats of polluted oceans are right on his door step. This is a large part of his focus during his year as President of the General Assembly. His other passion is for the Sustainable Development Goals, which was the theme of the is conference, so it was very appropriate that he spoke . He threw shocking facts and figures at us but constantly reminded us that the problems that the Sustainable Development Goals are trying to solve are all man made, so for each man made problem there is almost always a man made solution. Not a bad though if I may say so. To solve these problems he believed we have to be agents (for change not the MI5 type), educators, motivators, responsible consumers, voices and activists within our communities and most importantly to remember that these are our right as humans to prevent the 17 issues the Sustainable Development Goals focus around so why aren’t they being treated with the same urgency and commitment as the Humans Rights bill (neither of which are legally binding)? Mr Thompson spoke with such ease and passion spurring on a sense of hope and possibility at the start of the conference, which everyone I am sure is grateful for.
Each United Nations Conference has a Chair and there was no difference here with it being a youth conference. This year it was a wonderful women from Nepal called Jolly Amatya. She is a natural born leader and spoke with confidence and style. Much of what she said was from the opinion of a young person involved in the United Nations which was a refreshing and new experience to see how she approached and viewed the challenge of the Global Goals. Leading the Youth Assembly she had the power and responsibility to inspire all 900 delegates in the General Assembly to allow the conference to run successfully and great things came from it. She reminded us that the youth of the world shouldn’t be seen as a vulnerable group in society, we are the blueprints for change within the world and no not everyone will play their part but if enough of us do the world will be changed for the better. It is all about the small conscience choices we make as individuals that allow little steps to be taken everyday. Having thrown a lot of facts and figures at us about the awful truths of the world Jolly finished with a question, “What will be your legacy to ensure you leave a prosperous and sustainable world behind?” Now, after my two weeks in New York, I know what mine will be. Do you?
Next we had talks from a leading expert on the three of the seventeen goals that were being reviewed in particular during this years conference. Goal 1: No Poverty. Goal 4: Quality Education. And Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. Each speaker was also asked questions at the end of their speech taken from twitter that us delegates could post during each talk. If you would like to to hear about the very interesting questions and responses please ask. I took too many notes I know! I loved it too much I suppose.
Aaron Benavot, the director of the Global Education Monitoring Report, working as part of UNESCO spoke first splitting his talk into the five “W” questions. What, when, who, where and why focusing on Goal 4: Quality Education.
What type of education? Should children just be learning the basic English, Maths and Science or should there be a a chance to really learn about the world, its amazing opportunities and the people and problems they face in their day to day lives? For example if you look at Primary school textbooks across the world 60% of them didn’t mention anything outside of the country they were produced for. Only 30% of textbooks considered climate change as a global problem (and subject to views in the world currently I will say that climate change is real and threatening people across the world everyday and that is fact!). Shockingly only 9% had any reference in text or images of disabilities and only 3% had any kind of mention of LGBT.
When should education happen? The Sustainable Development Goal 4.1 to occur by 2030 is that every child should have had or be in both Primary and Secondary education. However, education should be about lifelong learning as that is how we grow and develop as humans. All should have access to education in what ever form through out their lives and this should be encouraged through out societies for both women and men.
Who should have access then? Perhaps this is one of the more obvious answers that education should be truly inclusive. For everyone. If you come from a poorer background you are four times likely to be out of school than people who are not in poverty and the same pattern follow for children in areas of conflict with an average of 35% of children out of school in these areas. Should these areas of the world perhaps have more focus and new strategies to tackle them?
Where should education take place? The message is simple everywhere and anywhere there are people…..
Finally why? Why is this so important to the world having everyone learning rather than just children and do all children need to have such an extensive education? Well the bottom and top of it is that it is a right as a person to have access and receive an education in the form you want and at any age (Please remember that this is just opinion based around the speakers topics. I would love to hear differing opinions and am open to new viewpoints). The huge thing around all the Global Goals is the way they interlink. Often one can’t move forward with out improvement of other goals and when it comes to Quality Education it is very much the case. Educating a population causes economic growth, reduces inequalities, reduces poverty and promotes gender equality. How awesome is that! With 61 million children still out of Primary education there is a long way to go and if the current rate of progress continues the goal of having every child educated to Secondary level will be achieved by 2084. 54 years too late. So the trend needs to be broken and quality education needs to become a catalyst for Sustainable Development. Can you tell how engaged this topic makes me? Awesome speaker and he truly inspired me!
Next Goal-No Poverty. Mr Vinicius Pinheiro. Mr Pinherio suggested that often the best route out of poverty was a decent job and allowing economic growth within that persons life. But getting a job as a youth is proving the hardest part. Through out the world and very commonly within the UK graduates, in all sectors, struggle to find work that matches the degree they have achieved and most commonly after months of trying people take the work they get rather than the work they are capable of. This is causing a skills mismatch across the planet allowing no escape from poverty even if you are educated. To combat this world wide problem of poverty and skills mismatch a three step action plan is in place. 1. To get people motivated and given the opportunity and access to work. 2. Allowing people to access any education that can help them towards of job or to further their expertise. And finally 3. To ensure good infrastructure is begin built and maintained so economic growth can continue in a way that is sustainable for the country and planet. Sounds spot on.
And last but not least Goal 12- Responsible consumption and production lead by Jamil Ahmad. He was a character to say the least, full of jokes and brought a different atmosphere to the General Assembly hall. He is currently the Deputy Director of the UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme). Quite a job in our increasing damaged world due to climate change. As all speakers he mentioned one or two facts. One that stuck was the fact that by 2050 the world will need four planet earth’s to sustain its greed and growth. Although there are disputes and issues between countries to be successful when it comes to responsibly consuming we need to pull together and become integrated societies. It is about doing more with less. Continuing to do what we do but with better safety and less pollution while continuing to generate economic growth and gain. Each and every person as well as companies and countries needs to shift towards having a sustainable lifestyle. Here in the UK I think this will be a great issues to tackle as we use and consume so much, producing so much waste too. Certainly a challenge for all and a cause for massive shifts within in the world.
Well that was the opening session. Long but AWESOME! And I do thank you if you made it to the end for sticking with my enthusiasm and rather over descriptiveness. Questions and comments always welcome!
Picture: General Assembly Chamber. Can you tell someone is excited? United Nations Headquarters New York. 2017