The seventh edition of the annual International Conference on Sustainable Development brought together around 1,000 participants to talk about Models, Partnerships, & Capacity Building for the SDGs. This two-day event was a forum for scientists and policy makers to come together to share practical research and solutions. The logos of the Kapuscinski Development Lectures, European Commission, and UNDP were used on conference materials throughout the two days; however, the main Kapuscinski Development Lectures program occurred on the morning of the 25th. The first day of the conference, September 24th, featured around 350 presentations across 30 parallel sessions and a poster exhibition. Researchers and students shared their work on climate change, energy, agriculture, demography, and other SDG-related topics. In discussion sessions as well as question and answer periods, researchers and student presenters benefitted from feedback on their research. Conference proceedings for these sessions will be released in early November.
On the second day, high-level participants from the private sector and government shared their challenges and how researchers can help address them. Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians opened this event, delivering a lecture that was co-organized by both the Kapuscinski Development Lectures and the Columbia University World Leaders Forum. Her speech emphasized the need to implement the SDGs in an integrated manner, for example looking at agriculture and health collectively rather than individually. She asked the students and faculty in the room to think about how they can be communicators to help citizens understand and act on complex issues such as climate change. She also called on all participants to use respectful dialogue and mutual understanding to foster SDG achievement, especially in the context of different actors sharing tools, knowledge, and best practices with each other to accelerate progress.
Following the speech by Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians was a panel discussion on Culture, Cities, and Communities, with Radhika Iyengar (Columbia University), Aromar Revi (Indian Institute for Human Settlement), and Andreas A. Hutahaean (Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia). Aromar Revi noted that most of our challenges, including climate change, waste management, and service provision in slums, have rapid population growth at the root. He argued that the systems we have in place to deal with these challenges were designed for a world with far fewer people, and that we need to transform governance, management, and accountability frameworks to work in our new world.
A keynote address from SDG Advocate Edward Ndopu focused on the challenge of ensuring no one is left behind in the SDG Agenda. In a conversation with Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Ndopu highlighted his activism to ensure equal access to education for persons with disabilities, particularly young people, noting that worldwide 32 million children with disabilities have no access to education. He also elaborated the way different people, including his mother and his teachers, help him realize his dreams, but also the many ways he found to raise his own voice and advocate for both himself and the community of persons with disabilities. Ndopu also challenged policymakers and people with access to leaders to not just talk about the importance of inclusion and leaving no one behind, but to ensure they are making space for these voices to be present in the discussion, at the table, bringing those that are farthest behind to the front. He also elaborated that this needs to be meaningful participation because these are the voices of leaders with talent and solutions, as opposed to superficial participation for show.
Two discussions on the role of the private sector shared the common theme about the need for innovation to drive the transition to sustainability. Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, highlighted the need to transform our agriculture and food system, and the way scientists at impossible foods were able to develop a meatless burger patty offering all the taste of beef without the environmental footprint. Gayle Schueller, Vice President for Sustainability and Product Stewardship and Chief Sustainability Officer of 3M, presented a history of the company and how innovation has been fundamental to their business since their founding over 100 years ago. Schueller shared 3M’s recent breakthroughs in green chemistry, and a commitment that every new product will have a sustainability value commitment.
The afternoon featured a speech by the Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs of Indonesia Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, who shared Indonesia’s commitment to sustainable tourism and SDG implementation. It was followed by a broad conversation between David Lipton, Acting Managing Director of the IMF, and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, which touched upon how we finance the SDGs and Paris Agreement, what we have learned from past financial crises, and the need for greater multilateralism.