At its essence, sustainability means ensuring prosperity and environmental protectionwithout compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. A sustainable world is one where people can escape poverty and enjoy decent work without harming the earth’s essential ecosystems and resources; where people can stay healthy and get the food and water they need; where everyone can access clean energy that doesn’t contribute to climate change; where women and girls are afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.
There is no country or society where sustainability is not important or necessary. We all share the responsibility to work for a sustainable future and we will all reap the benefits.
Three high-level international meetings in the year ahead give us the opportunity to chart a new era of sustainability. The first will be the International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa in July. The second will be the special Summit at UN Headquarters in New York in September, where world leaders will adopt a new development agenda, including a set of sustainable development goals, expected to provide a blueprint for action until 2030. Then, in December, the groundswell of momentum for action on climate change will culminate at the UN climate conference in Paris to adopt a universal and meaningful climate agreement.
Many sustainability issues were addressed fifteen years ago when world leaders adopted the Millennium Development Goals — or MDGs — global targets to address extreme poverty and hunger, reduce child and maternal mortality, prevent disease and promote education. The Goals brought together diverse groups from across the world to join forces for what has become the most successful anti-poverty push in history. The lives of millions of people have been improved through MDG action.Global poverty continues to decline, more people have access to safe drinking water, more children than ever are attending primary school, and targeted investments in fighting malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis have saved millions.
We have made huge progress, yet much more is needed, especially to reach the most marginalized and vulnerable — the women, men and children living on a knife-edge of poverty, injustice and insecurity.
While the issues addressed by the MDGs persist, the world is facing a challenge that was not sufficiently high on the international agenda when the MDGs were articulated. We must now keep fighting poverty while addressing the growing impacts of a warming world.
Climate action is integral to a sustainable future. Just as more than 7 million people have participated in the MyWorld survey to share their vision of a sustainable future, this year saw hundreds of thousands of citizens showing their support for climate action — on the streets, online and through the consumer power of their spending choices. In New York City, just ahead of September’s Climate Summit, I joined throngs of people marching for a cleaner, greener future. They sent a powerful message to the leaders — that they want action now. The Summit was a landmark event at which multi-stakeholder coalitions announced important steps to reduce emissions, build resilience and finance the transformation of our economies and societies.
The private sector has an essential role in achieving a sustainable future. Many of the recent successes in development and climate change have been achieved through public-private partnerships with the power to mobilize finance, expertise and knowledge. A sustainable approach to business can also help create decent jobs, improve public health, empower women and protect the environment. It is heartening to see many companies already reaping the benefits of climate action, for instance by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and by using energy cleanly and efficiently. More and more businesses are seeing that sustainability is not just in the common good but that sustainability is common sense.
This month I presented to all UN Member States my latest report, “The Road to Dignity by 2030”, which is meant to assist them as they shape an inspirational vision – including a set of Sustainable Development Goals — for achieving shared prosperity and leaving no one behind. The United Nations is strongly committed to leading and supporting a transformative effort that will end poverty, tackle inequalities, protect our planet and promote just, safe and peaceful societies for all.
As we look back at 2014, we see a year marred by multiple security and humanitarian crises, many challenging the principles enshrined in the UN Charter. The UN is working hard to find solutions to complex crises which, aside from the terrible toll on people, have a devastating impact on development. When a society is affected by conflict, schools have to close, vaccination campaigns have to stop, infectious diseases spread unchecked and mothers have no safe place to deliver their babies. Problems arising from under-development can also be a driver of conflicts in the first place. Without peace and stability, there can be no sustainability; and a sustainable world is a safer one.
Seventy years ago, the crafters of the UN Charter, living in a world torn apart by war and atrocities on a scale never before seen, laid down their vision for a better way of life. In 2015, we have the opportunity to move humankind towards the future we want. We must meet this test and usher in a new era of sustainability for all.
(Top image: Courtesy of the UN)
This piece first appeared in LinkedIn Pulse.
Ban Ki-moon is the eighth Secretary-General of the United Nations.