Report by Katsuhiko Mori. Katsuhiko Mori is professor of the Department of Politics and International Relations at the International Christian University, Tokyo. He previously studied and worked at the Matsushita Institute of Government and Management, Japan International Cooperation Agency, International University of Japan, and Yokohama City University. Mori received his Ph.D. in political science from Carleton University, Canada, where he was a visiting associate professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.
The 70th anniversary of the United Nations is an opportunity to transform our world. The UN Sustainable Development Summit, which adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was held in New York September 25-27 and Katsuhiko Mori (International Christian University) and Nicole Fassina (Balsillie School of International Affairs/Wilfrid Laurier University) attended as ACUNS representatives.
Due to high demand from the NGO community for limited passes to the summit, logistical information provided by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-GNLS) was delayed and somewhat confused. This sort of complication is the downside of openness and democratization of the NGO participation arrangements in the UN. We actually had to queue for one hour to obtain the pass to observe plenary and interactive dialogue sessions as well as side events on the first day. We knew that we could watch all of the proceedings live on the UN Web TV; however, it is always a privileged opportunity as an ECOSOC NGO member to hear what political leaders and other key stakeholders are actually saying on the ground. We found that the UN summit was a very informative and revealing event on the status of sustainable development policy, particularly regarding areas where the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) need closer attention.
I have asked the following question to many people: “What do you think would be the fourth pillar of sustainable development?” When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Japan last March for the third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, he replied to me that it would be “justice.” Peace, justice, and accountable institutions became one of the SDGs. Johan Rockström, who proposed the planetary boundaries approach, told me this time, “Get rid of the pillar of sustainable development in favor of a new paradigm of prosperity with a stable and resilient planet.” Many people call for a transformative change by breaking silos between social, economic, and environmental sectors, between global, regional, national levels, and between governments, businesses, civil society and epistemic communities. Paula Caballlero Gomez, a former Colombian diplomat who introduced SDGs and is currently working at the World Bank, emphasized at a side event that “dimensions,” rather than pillars, of sustainable development are to be recognized, and development “trajectories,” rather than outcomes, would be more important for transformative change.
The UN Commission on Sustainable Development was replaced by the High-Level Political Forum, and the UNEP Governing Council was reorganized as the UN Environment Assembly. The UN Global Compact and business leaders have developed a concise guide, SDGs Compass. Civil society is also changing by further networking across issue-areas and strengthening public-private partnerships with people. Susan Alzner, Officer in Charge at the UN-NGLS, made great contributions the NGO involvement in this summit. I was impressed by the story that one of the leading climate change activists—who was in street outside the conference venue in Copenhagen six years ago and very disappointed by disastrous climate talks—now plays a leading role in strengthening multistakeholder dialogues within the UN Headquarters.