Forested road
Forested road

“Disruptive change is urgently needed if the world's environment – and its economy – are to flourish”, Naoko Ishii, the Global Environment Facility's (GEF) CEO and Chairperson, told a key development conference in New York today.

The Conference, co-hosted by the Guardian newspaper and UNICEF with the GEF as a strategic partner, focused on “Maintaining the Momentum for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.Taking place at UNICEF's headquarters a year after the 17 goals were adopted by the world's governments, and while the UN General Assembly was meeting just across the road, it was put on for “the development community to come together and discuss how to accelerate progress”.

Ms. Ishii said that “the health of the global commons – such as the climate, forests and biodiversity – is the foundation of sustainable development”, but they were under unprecedented threat. The good news, however was that taking action to protect them “is not just a cost, but an economic opportunity.”

Since business as usual would only make things worse, she called for “disruptive change”. This is possible “because all the key drivers of change are in our hands.”

She added: “Politicians will want to be on the right side of history” but said that environment ministers “do not have enough decision-making power to achieve the SDGs”. Instead ministers of finance would have to be convinced of the need for action.

Kate James, the chief corporate affairs and marketing office for Pearson, which supported the conference, said that her company had “drilled down” and worked out a Sustainability Plan on how to integrate the SDGs into its business.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO said that meeting the SDG on education was a “pre-requisite” of achieving all the others, citing its “role in transformational change” and Justin Forsyth, UNICEF's Deputy Executive Director, said that political leadership was needed but that politicians were unlikely to take action unless public opinion was in favor of it.

Bibi van der Zee, editor of the Guardian's Global Professional Development Network, called the conference “a first-year progress report on the SDGs and an opportunity to probe beneath the grand statements to dig into the practicalities of realizing the goals”.

The Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council was also a strategic partner to the conference organizers.

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