#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. 

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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.

Can the 2030 Agenda change the norm?

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Today, the prestigious Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation published my new piece on the role that the Sustainable Development Goals can play in changing the normative work of the United Nations to make it fit for the purpose of implementing the 2030 Agenda.

I am honored to be featured by an organization which seeks to uphold the crucial role of multilateralism in solving today’s complex challenges, in the spirit of a man whom John F. Kennedy once called “the greatest statesman of our century”.

In the article, I argue that in order to transform the UN approach to the development of new norms, it is necessary to understand what the Agenda itself implies for the evolution of international law, and more specifically for the establishment and further specification of sustainable development as a legal principle of integration between economic, social and environmental considerations.

You can read the article here.

Youth, the SDGs and the Food Sustainability Index

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On December 1, I was honored to be invited to take part in the 7th International Forum on Food and Nutrition, hosted by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BFCN) at Università Bocconi in Milan, Italy.

There, I had the opportunity to join Peter Bakker (CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Hilal Elver (UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food) and Rosie Boycott (Chair of London Food Policy) in a panel discussion on the launch of the first-ever Food Sustainability Index (FSI), a joint publication by BCFN and The Economist Intelligence Unit which ranks countries according to the sustainability of their food systems across the pillars of food waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges. In line with the work that is being undertaken at the UN level on a robust indicator framework to monitor the implementation of the SDGs, the FSI represents a helpful, if perfectible, tool to assist and empower communities, including young people, to take action to transform their agricultural and food systems for sustainable development. You can read more about it here.

At the event, which among many others was co-organized by the the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, I also joined my colleagues and fellow SDSN Youth delegates Andrea Zucca (National Representative for Italy), Fabrizio Saladini (Regional Representative for the Mediterranean) and Michela Magni (Project Officer, Solutions Initiatives) to celebrate and connect with youth solutions presented at the annual BCFN YES!, a competition for young researchers in the food and agricultural sectors.

Throughout the world, young farmers, young entrepreneurs, young leaders in rural communities are taking the lead to achieve SDG2 and positively impact their countries and regions. It is crucial that we recognize them not only as a key demographic for policy-makers to target, but also as exceptional problem-solvers and active contributors to the implementation of the food and agriculture-related targets of the 2030 Agenda.

  • You can watch the panel discussion on the launch of the Food Sustainability Index here (the panel starts at 53:07).
  • You can also watch the highlights of the 2016 edition of the BCFN Young Earth Solutions competition here.

Youth Solutions Report: celebrating and showcasing youth-led Solutions for the SDGs

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When ‘Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development‘ was agreed at the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015, there was widespread agreement on the fact that the international community’s progress towards a sustainable future should be a matter of utmost importance for all inhabitants of this planet, but particularly for younger generations. The Agenda emphasized the need to address some of the most daunting challenges affecting youth worldwide, including unemployment, access to education and health care, and general lack of opportunities for the full realization of young people’s rights and capabilities. Moreover, it identified children and young women and men as critical agents for change, and lauded their ‘infinite capacities for activism in the creation of a better world’.

Yet, when describing the situation facing young people, who currently comprise one fourth of the global population, one aspect is often overlooked: the incredible potential of mobilizing and supporting their active contribution, rather than just discussing about their needs and problems. Young people not only have a stake because they will be the ones implementing the Sustainable Development Goals and because their well-being will depend on achieving them, but also (and especially) 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.

Ranging from entrepreneurship to charity initiatives, scientific research, educational projects and all sorts of innovative endeavours, young people are already playing a major role in pushing our countries towards sustainable development. In the words of the former President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council, Martin Sajdik,

“The energy that helped us take the Millennium Development Goals from New York into local communities in countries around the world was to a large extent driven by the passion of youth-led organizations and their members […], and young people, once again, can be called upon to transform the SDGs from words in a document into a real and tangible guide for the next fifteen years that will determine the future of people and the planet.”

This is why, now more than ever, the efforts of young people should be celebrated and showcased at all relevant levels. This is also why we believe it is crucial to bridge the gap that still exists between youth-led solutions and those stakeholders, including businesses, governments, and fellow citizens, who could further empower, support and invest in them, once they know more about the incredible impact that youth are having across their communities and regions.

Today, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network – Youth announces the future launch of the Youth Solutions Report, a new major initiative which aims to identify and celebrate youth organizations, youth-led projects and ground breaking ideas that are successfully working towards achieving the targets set in the 2030 Agenda. Covering an international spectrum, it will consolidate information on 50 Solutions run by youth organizations and individuals committed to implementing the SDGs and making them a reality.

By launching the Report, we aim to give further voice to young leaders and innovators, by allowing them to communicate their undertakings, forge new partnerships and ultimately be the driving force behind the 2030 Agenda. As such, I strongly encourage you to be part of this exciting initiative, by submitting your own Solution or partnering with us in the launch and dissemination of the Report. Let’s make sure that the untapped potential of youth is finally mobilized to meet the challenge of sustainable development.

Learn more at youthsolutions.report.