Today, the 24th of October, is the United Nations Day. It was on this day in 1945 that the UN officially came to exist. Since its inception, the UN has done extraordinary work in promoting sustainability, protecting human rights, maintaining international peace and security, delivering humanitarian aid, and upholding international law.
2019 has been an interesting year of consolidation and awareness building for the UN. From organizing the first-ever youth climate summit to youth-led climate action in Africa to providing IDs, and therefore a lifeline, to a rapidly increasing number of stateless refugees, and supporting the efforts of peace and justice led by the African Union, it has been an eventful year. Let’s take a look back at the major events that shaped this year.
In an important attempt to raise awareness about the repercussions of the endangerment of indigenous languages, the UN announced 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages, with particular focus on raising awareness about the 4000 plus languages spoken by indigenous peoples all over the world. Languages are important and inseparable parts of our lives but they’re slowly disappearing – the majority of at-risk languages belonging to indigenous people.
The biggest milestone of the year so far was perhaps the reception of the first-ever youth climate summit. Youth has brought a special focus on inclusivity, particularly regarding indigenous leaders in the climate movement. The UN Youth Climate Summit hosted a diverse group of over 700 young changemakers, climate activists, and leaders from around the world. The current climate crisis poses a severe threat to the survival of future generations. Since today’s youth will suffer from the consequences of climate change tomorrow, it is important that our voices are heard and our actions valued, in this fight against climate change, and the UN Youth Climate Summit has been a welcome start. We eagerly anticipate the UN building on the work achieved in 2019. Now that youth have a seat at the tables of decision making, it is essential that further summits progress such sessions into mobilized action in 2020.
While the UN is supporting youth in mobilizing for climate action and social justice, there are also forces of nationalism embedding worldwide, challenging global cooperation for solving our world’s greatest problems, and compounding these issues. Of particular concern, being the Rohingya refugee crisis, which is the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis. The Rohingya, one of the ethnic minorities in the country of Myanmar, the majority of whom are Muslims, fled to the neighboring country of Bangladesh after the Myanmar government stripped them of their citizenship, beginning in 2015. Since most of these refugees are stateless and don’t have a document of identification, the UN worked alongside the Bangladesh government to issue ID cards to about half a million Rohingyas. According to the UN, these ID cards will be critical to safeguarding their right to return home.
With our environmental crisis hitting primarily the world’s most vulnerable, the UN is working carefully with developing countries and small island states to develop climate resilience. In the African country of Malawi, a UN Development Programme (UNDP) project is helping to adapt to and fight against the changing climate by introducing new crops and practices, and installing solar-powered irrigation systems. Another project supported by UNDP is driving environmental and climate change awareness amongst the African youth. These energetic young people have supported rubbish clean-up campaigns around their schools, established agricultural co-operatives, and learned how to farm sustainably in the face of the effects of climate change and the degradation of the environment.
With the world sitting at the tipping point of an environmental crisis, established institutions are legitimately under question and in need of reform, and in such a vacuum of trust, peace, and justice are on shaky ground. The UN Secretary-General’s Chief Cabinet, Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti recognized the efforts of African countries to build strong partnerships for advancing peace and security. According to UN News, progress is evident at regional and national levels “such as the peace talks, led by the African Union, in the Central African Republic which led a Political Agreement which is being overseen by the UN; the signing of a Constitutional Declaration in Sudan, which has allowed for the establishment of a civilian-led government, following efforts led by Ethiopia and the African Union (AU), with UN support; and free and fair elections in Madagascar, supported by the Southern Africa Development Community, the African Union, and the UN.”
According to the UN regional commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Asia and the Pacific are bound to miss all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) unless progress is accelerated. As a Girls in Science 4 SDGs advocate from Asia, I urge all Asian-Pacific countries to approach a greener and more sustainable way of living, increase efforts to combat climate change, be responsible for what they produce and consume, and invest more in sustainable development.
Although a lot of effort has been put in by many to achieve the 2030 Agenda, progress overall is extremely slow, and at this rate, we will not be able to achieve anything close to our global targets. The UN, having successfully engaged youth with the universally acceptable SDGs in 2019, must now further mobilize intergenerationally to ensure the proactive implementation and deployment of solutions for climate and social justice in 2020: at the core of this being a need to strengthen their decision – and policy-making, enhance cooperation between organizations and countries, and secure adequate financing.