Youth-led innovation for a world in transition: launching the 2018 Youth Solutions Report’s Call for Submissions

The following is the official announcement, made on behalf of SDSN Youth, of the call for submissions to the 2018 edition of the Youth Solutions Report. You can learn more at http://www.youthsolutions.report.

We are in the midst of an era of unprecedented transformation. Be it in the context of the rapid modifications of the global economy, in the difficulties our societies face in coping with massive technological and other societal changes, or in the dramatic ways in which our ecosystems are adapting and reacting to increased anthropogenic pressures, the world is calling for solutions that can embark us upon a trajectory of sustainable development.

Yet, worryingly, we seem to have lost the notion that it is young people who are the best positioned to analyze and solve this sort of novel challenges. Young men and women between the ages of 15 and 30 today represent the best-educated generation ever; are more intelligent than the average of the adult population, and are far more knowledgeable about new technologies. In addition, and mainly as a consequence of these other characteristics, younger generations also have a grasp of uncertainty and complexity that other age groups often lack. On the one hand, this leads to a better understanding of the synergies and trade-offs involved in addressing the cross-sectoral challenges enshrined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. On the other, it allows young people to think of institutional arrangements and innovations that confront the many forms of path dependency which exist in international organizations, governments, and businesses and usually lead to inefficient, inequitable and unsustainable outcomes.

For the first time in history, young people from different countries and regions often share the same objectives and grievances, usually linked with the negative impacts of globalization and poor governance, and are increasingly part of a common culture as well. This goes beyond the usual notion that “all young people are idealistic”, even though idealism itself is everything but a negative word, in the context of the major challenges we are facing. Rather, it speaks of the incredible, untapped potential of 1.8 billion global citizens who largely hold the same ideas about how to transform our societies for the better through innovative forms of problem-solving along the four dimensions of sustainable development.

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At SDSN Youth, we believe that failing to partner with young innovators and change-makers would represent the biggest waste of human capital in the history of mankind. This is why we are proud to announce that we will be launching the second edition of our Youth Solutions Report in July 2018.

Like its 2017 predecessor, this year’s Report also seeks to identify and celebrate 50 youth-led solutions that are succesfully contributing towards the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in business, charity, education and research. However, the new Report comes with a wider scope and greater ambitions, aiming to inform the policies and actions of all stakeholders through in-depth research and analysis, with a view to substantially increase the support that young innovators receive in their countries and communities.

In 2017, with the first edition of the Youth Solutions Report, we offered young innovators the opportunity to present their solutions and take part in international conferences and events, including the UN High-Level Political Forum, the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), EXPO 2017 Astana, COP23, the Youth Assembly at the United Nations, and UNLEASH Lab 2017. We also helped youth-led solutions become more visible online, not just through our media channels but also with collaborations with websites and media outlets including National Geographic, Impakter, Virgin Unite, and Connect4Climate, among others. Lastly, we shared funding and mentoring opportunities, matched innovators with interested experts and supporters, and launched the first edition of our Investment Readiness Program in collaboration with Babele.co in January 2018.

With this year’s Report, we are confident that we will significantly build on our past successes, establish new meaningful partnerships with UN Agencies, NGOs, companies and media outlets, and overall step up our support to youth-led initiatives in their quest to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through holistic and innovative approaches.

“Young people not only have a stake because they will be the ones implementing the SDGs and because their well-being will depend on achieving them. They also have a stake because they are part of the most educated generation in the history of the world, and through their skills, creativity, and enthusiasm they are uniquely positioned to deliver transformative change across multiple sectors of society.”

Submissions to the 2018 Youth Solutions Report are open until April 30, 2018, at this link.  For more information, contact us at solutions@sdsnyouth.org

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EULawSD Webinar with Guido Schmidt-Traub

On March 1st, in my position of Programme Manager for the the Jean Monnet Module on European Union Law and Sustainable Development (EULawSD), I had the pleasure of hosting the first session of our EULawSD Webinar Series 2018 on YouTube.

The EULawSD Webinar Series complements the activities of the EULawSD Jean Monnet Module, which is coordinated by Prof. Riccardo Pavoni (Department of Law, University of Siena) and co-funded by the European Commission for the period 2017-2020. Each webinar is aimed at fostering a lively public debate on the role of the European Union as a key actor in the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and offers all interested citizens the opportunity to engage with leading experts and practitioners in the fields of European Union law and governance, sustainability science, international economics, and many more.

EULawSD’s first guest was Dr. Guido Schmidt-Traub, Executive Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN).  One of the world’s leading experts on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda, Dr. Schmidt-Traub engaged with the audience to discuss the current trends and scenarios for their implementation in the European context, the challenges of financing and monitoring of progress, and the role that the European Union can play in the achieving sustainable development in third countries. I wish to thank him deeply for his participation in the webinar, which can be watched on EULawSD’s YouTube Channel.

For more information on the future project activities of the EULawSD Module, visit http://www.eulawsd.org.

#2030WhatAreUDoing? SDG ambassador for the 2018 Lavazza Calendar

“These Goals seem very academic and complicated, so we tried to humanize the data and statistics so everyone could see themselves in the story. […] In my role as cultural provocateur, with this project I have tried to ignite a respectful debate about moral compass, and the importance of good leadership. Because here there’s no negativity, no blame is laid, there’s just energy and passion: and so it’s a positive revolution. These are 17 extraordinary stories, which could be a source of inspiration and become the force leading a community of responsible global citizens, driven by compassion and a deep respect for service.” – Platon

Buddy Icon 1Earlier this year, I had the privilege of being invited as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals ambassadors to feature in the 2018 edition of the Lavazza Calendar, representing SDG8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth due to my role in the Solutions Initiatives team of SDSN Youth. The Calendar’s theme is “2030, What Are You Doing?“, and tries to convey the message that the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ultimately rests on the skills and vision of real human beings, coming from all countries and sectors of society.

From the Lavazza family to the incredible Platon, all the way to ASviS and my fellow ambassadors, I would like to congratulate everyone who has been involved in the launch of this project. Communicating the vision of the SDGs through the faces of those who are contributing to their implementation is an extremely powerful idea, and can strengthen civil society engagement across the full spectrum of the challenges addressed by the 2030 Agenda.

PS: if you haven’t already, I urge you to check out (and consider supporting) The People’s Portfolio, Platon’s wonderful initiative to use visual language in support of dignity and human rights for all. 

Field Dispatch from COP23

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A few days ago, I joined the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn. This was the shortest trip among my three COP participations, but on 9 November I had the opportunity to moderate a great side-event co-hosted by SDSN Youth on how public and private actors can invest more effectively in youth-led innovation on climate and energy. It was incredibly interesting to join many young innovators and high-level experts from the Green Climate Fund, the Climate Markets and Investments Association, the SDG Action Campaign and the Government of Canada to explore the gaps in innovation systems that prevent brilliant projects from reaching their optimal scale. Huge thanks to all involved, and vinaka vakalevu to Fiji for bringing their call for global climate action to Germany! You can read the summary of the side-event on SDSN Youth’s website (here).

On a side note, I also had the fortuitous privilege of sitting next to Dënesųłiné Chief François Paulette on my flight to Bonn. To discuss the struggle of the First Nation peoples of Canada against tar sands with him was nothing short of incredible. As it usually happens during COPs, it’s the encounters you have, often with stories so radically diverse from yours, that leave a mark.

In particular, meeting Chief Paulette made me appreciate once again the UNFCCC process and its ability to create an inclusive forum for all voices to be heard and respected. It might not be ideal when negotiations stall (and this year there is indeed much to be unhappy about), but the ever-increasing role played at COPs by non-state and civil society actors is encouraging. It confirms that the climate change regime constitutes the first successful attempt at creating a truly universal movement to protect our global public goods.

  • For an analysis of the key outcomes of COP23, read this report from Carbon Brief.

P.S. I am happy to announce that this blog was recently identified by Feedspot, a popular content reader, as one of the Top 100 Environmental Law blogs on the internet. You can find the full list here.

 

Book Review of ‘Governing Through Goals’

The latest issue of Transnational Environmental Law (Volume 6 – Issue 3 – November 2017) features my Book Review of ‘Governing Through Goals: Sustainable Development Goals as Governance Innovation‘, an interesting volume edited by Norichika Kanie (Senior Research Fellow at UNU-IAS) and Frank Biermann (Professor of Global Sustainability Governance at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development) which analyses the challenges and opportunities of goal-setting as a governance strategy.

The book, published by MIT Press, is available here.

You can read the review, written together with Prof. Riccardo Pavoni (Professor of International Law at the University of Siena), here.

 

Environmental determinants of health: how can global health governance contribute?

The following opinion piece has appeared, in two different forms, on Sense & Sustainability and in ASviS‘s newsletter.

According to a 2012 study by the World Health Organization (WHO), environmental factors are directly or indirectly responsible for almost 13 million deaths worldwide, or about twenty-three percent of all deaths. Overall, more than one third of lower respiratory infections, over half of diarrhoeal diseases, forty-two percent of malaria infections, one fifth of all cancers and a significant proportion of chronic obtrusive respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases are attributable to environmental determinants of health, including household and outdoor pollution, lack of access to clean water and sanitation, proliferation of disease vectors, and exposure to chemicals.

To put it simply, environmental conditions, and more specifically the changing ecological dynamics which characterize the Anthropocene, help to determine whether people are healthy, and how long they live. By undermining the benefits that people obtain from healthy ecosystems, environmental degradation effectively acts as both a cause and a multiplier of health threats, and as the level of global environmental change dangerously approaches the threshold of the planetary boundaries which regulate the resilience of the Earth system, the deterioration of human well-being will likely increase and be characterized by surprise and uncertainty.

Environmental determinants represent an insidious threat to public health for three different reasons. First, because they are driven by unsustainable patterns of resource consumption, technological development and population growth which operate almost entirely outside of the boundaries of the health sector, and thus are particularly difficult for traditional health actors  to engage with. Secondly, because in the past environmental degradation has coincided with a stark improvement in health outcomes, a condition that has described as “mortgaging the health of future generations”. Finally, because environmental impacts on health are usually uneven across life course, geography and gender, and they also operate in different ways with respect to different diseases, thus making it hard to design holistic public health strategies for prevention and response. The question, then, becomes an obvious one: how could health-focused institutions, and particularly the WHO, the United Nations agency tasked with guiding and supporting policy-making on health issues, contribute?

A global health approach to environmental degradation?

At first glance, it would seem misguided to think that health as a sector of global governance could ever be fit for the purpose of addressing the environmental determinants of ill health. From a pragmatic perspective, global health actors are simply not in the position to deal with the whole range of environmental risk factors operating across different levels of governance and spatial scales, including chemicals, biodiversity loss, land degradation, climate change, and water and air quality. From a historical perspective, despite the fact that over the last few decades several environmental agreements have explicitly incorporated health considerations within their preambles, in specific provisions or even as their primary objectives, the international institutions patrolling the two areas of health and environment have usually operated with separate and unlinked agendas.

At the same time, the situation appears to have evolved in recent years, owing to attempts at fostering a greater collaboration between the work of the WHO and other international institutions (for example, the UN Environment Programme/WHO’s Health and Environment Linkages Initiative and the UNECE/WHO-Europe’s Protocol on Water and Health) as well as to WHO’s increasingly vocal leadership on the public health implications of climate change, culminating in the 2016 Marrakech Declaration on “Health, Environment and Climate Change”.

In this context, two important developments can be emphasized. First, from a legal standpoint, the interlinkages between health and environment have increasingly been framed in the language of human rights, through the emergence of the concept of a ‘right to a healthy environment’. Whilst the understanding of the obligations that such a right would impose on governments and private actors varies greatly, the sharp increase in domestic and international litigation linked with environmental health considerations cannot be ignored, and will arguably play a growing role in complementing the ‘compliance’ gap which characterizes many international environmental regimes. Secondly, from a broader political standpoint, health considerations might be used (and indeed, increasingly are) as a catalyst for raising ambitions and creating political momentum around a certain environmental issue, as recently shown by the advocacy of WHO, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) and the Government of Norway on the health risks of short-lived climate pollutants as part of the BreatheLife global campaign.

Environment and health: the necessity of targeting co-benefits

Beyond courts and political leadership, however, there are several additional ways in which the nature of WHO as a normative and technical support agency could be harnessed in addressing the environmental determinants of health. These of course, are not meant to undermine the authority of environmental governance actors. On the contrary, they could be key in reaping the full health co-benefits that can come from environmental policies, whilst in turn encouraging bolder ambition and integration among different regimes.

First, the uptake of multi-sectoral approaches to policy design, such as the concept of Health in All Policies (HiAP) and the One Health approach, appears necessary to operationalise the linkages between Sustainable Development Goal 3 (‘Ensure Healthy Lives and Promote Well-Being for All at All Ages’) and the other Goals and targets contained in the 2030 Agenda. For example, greater mutual supportiveness can arise from the improvement of environmental impact assessment laws, with a view to ensure an adequate consideration of the interplay between health and environment impacts in decision-making. Despite a consensus on the need to integrate Health Impact Assessments (HIAs) and EIAs, such an integration remains problematic. On the one hand, EIAs rarely incorporate assessments of pathways between environmental exposures and health outcomes. On the other, the promotion of HIAs as a separate tool greatly contributes to fragmentation and unnecessary overlaps. In this context, renewed UNEP/WHO efforts under the Health and Environment Linkages Initiative could be instrumental in providing the necessary assistance to countries seeking to develop more integrated frameworks for impact assessment.

Secondly, WHO’s expertise can be leveraged to promote a more effective implementation of multilateral environmental agreements. Focusing in particular on capacity-building for risk reduction, risk assessment and improved coordination among sectors and stakeholders, WHO can help by fostering development of national action plans, use of guidelines and standards, and dissemination of training materials (one recent example involving a Secretariat report on the contribution of the health sector to safe chemical management). In addition, WHO can provide strong evidence of health impacts arising from environmental degradation and/or green economy strategies, due to its expertise on health metrics and indicators, and accordingly contribute to strengthening and harmonizing surveillance and monitoring of progress. Finally, WHO should promote the resilience of health systems in the face of environmental change (including climate change). This would entail encouraging the inclusion of health elements into national climate adaptation plans, ensuring an effective training and management of health personnel to deploy in disaster response, and providing specific guidance on the improvement of public health infrastructure and the assessment of vulnerability and adaptation costs.

During his election campaign, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, the new Director-general of the WHO, has effectively laid out a vision for placing health at the center of the global sustainable development agenda, and accordingly identified environmental change as one of his top five priorities. As the SDGs turn two years old this September, the urgency of streamlining such a vision into the work of the organization and in the wider UN system grows stronger with each day.