Here’s a curious fact. Homelessness is entirely absent from the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their 169 sub-targets…yet it is key to achieving the 17 essential components of the 2030 Agenda for People and the Planet.
Its absence jeopardizes the ultimate success of the Agenda and the New Social Contract it calls for. Persons experiencing the extreme manifestation of poverty, homelessness, or at risk for it, must not be ignored if we are to fulfill the pledge to “leave no one behind.”
On a simple circle of life we might put a job, which produces money, which allows nutrition, which leads to good education, which then means a good job in the future. A productive circle. But a home lies at the center of that circle. A home is the heart of it all. And without a stable home, one lives in perpetual survival mode.
In systemic change thinking, we know that social issues are connected, that in fact nothing happens in isolation. The 17 Goals are threads of one garment. Some connections are completely obvious, while others might be less so. Let’s take a brief look.
SDG #1 posits No Poverty. We couldn’t agree more. But poverty and homelessness are inextricably linked. Persons living in poverty, often with jobs and housing, are often one illness or accident, one stiff health bill or one paycheck away from homelessness.
SDG2 calls for Zero Hunger. People experiencing homelessness (PEH) encounter multiple barriers to food and nutrition, regularly facing risks of malnutrition. This is especially dangerous for children’s development both physically and mentally.
Number 3 speaks of Good Health and Well-Being. Simply accessing healthcare can itself be a daunting task for anyone, but we can only imagine the nightmare faced by PEH in this regard. With or without pandemics.
SDG 4 seeks to reduce educational disparities so everyone gets Quality Education. To be homeless is to face a myriad of barriers to education. Some overcome the odds—it’s astounding to know that so many US college students are homeless yet somehow pursuing their degrees. But not all are so fortunate and fall behind as complications with nutrition, transportation and housing instability mount up.
Gender Equality, #5, aims to eliminate gender-based discrimination to ensure an equitable and empowering approach to economic development for women and girls. But women and girls are likely to suffer more without a home. Being homeless greatly increases the possibility of suffering sexual violence, trafficking and other forms of abuse.
SDG 6 speaks of Clean Water and Sanitation, important aspects of health but again out of the reach of PEH as these two goods are mostly delivered and accessed through buildings and residences. Water infrastructure typically does not include less formal living arrangements.
Affordable and Clean Energy, # 7. Technology has become essential for social and financial functioning. Cell phones are no longer a luxury. Yet PEH often cannot afford to pay for energy. It is now the case that “Leave No One Behind” also means Leave No One Offline.
Decent Work and Economic Growth? #8 pursues this important goal, one that PEH face enormous challenges to achieve without a fixed address, easily available transportation and the inability to maintain good hygiene, etc.
SDG 10 is one readers of this article will applaud: Reduced Inequalities. But homelessness is both a cause of, and/or effect of, existing inequalities. Rising global inequality is deadly, and until we build an inclusive social contract protecting the basic needs and rights of all people, including PEH or those at risk, current inequalities in so many areas will blunt the impact of work for a better world.
In summary, fully half of the SDGs are directly affected by homelessness, whether street sleepers, refugees, migrants or the internally displaced. We’re talking about real people, in serious numbers, with real suffering: over 200 million homeless globally and 1.6 billion stuck in inadequate housing.
The Working Group to End Homelessness, with the active participation of our VinFam’s NGOs, has successfully achieved a UN resolution on homelessness that for the first time will treat homelessness as a major issue on its own (instead of merely as one aspect of poverty). On its own a significant achievement, but the real impact of the resolution will come when it takes flesh within the national social policies of governments around the world.
The Vincentian Question always is “What must be done.” Let us ask ourselves: Can I educate myself more on the issue of homelessness, and then be an advocate on the issue? Do I know about the Family’s Homeless Alliance and can I support this successful global initiative in some way? Is there a local effort where I live to help PEH? They are among the most vulnerable of the people in poverty our charism seeks to serve, and they may become a great source of grace in our lives.
NGO representative of the CM to the UN
We work in hope at the UN.
We hope the ambassadors of the Member States listen to the concerns we raise about the major issues humankind faces today.
The countries’ ambassadors own the UN. They are the UN. Not much can happen without them. So we hope they take our ideas and recommendations seriously, and solidify their words and documents of agreement into tangible commitments. We hope they then push their governments to fulfill those commitments, putting the Common Good ahead of national self-interests.
And we hope the complex and often irritatingly slow UN process allows adoption of measures aligned with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the “leave no one behind” mantra.
After all, NGOs, especially those representing religious congregations, do not pursue the narrower interests of a particular country but those of the poor and suffering everywhere, concerns for People and the Planet, concerns for the elusive Common Good.
Let’s take a recent example. The Vincentian Family of five NGOs, with initial inspiration from the FamVin Homeless Alliance and with significant ongoing support from other like-minded colleagues, labored since 2017 to have the UN declare homelessness as a stand-alone issue that must be addressed worldwide, instead of lumping it in with other aspects of poverty. Following many rounds of discussion and countless edits, success came last month as our resolution passed the all-important third committee of review. A four year effort!
Now comes the critical work: making the resolution meaningful within the calendar and processes of the UN, hopefully—there’s that word again—and in shaping the national policies of many nations. After all, as Pope Francis reminds us, reality is more important than theory.
It also points to the need to change ourselves, our perspectives and ways of thinking, leading us to become systems thinkers, seeing the connections among the social issues keeping people poor and how by addressing one issue—like homelessness-- we begin to heal other connected issues as well, like health, education, employment, etc.
Vincent de Paul worked in hope by following what he discerned as God’s Providence and by his own careful planning as his extraordinary charitable efforts expanded to meet the growing numbers of people in need.
Many beautiful things have been said about hope. One Christian leader says “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and then watching the evidence change”
(Jim Wallis). There’s a Spanish saying that hope is the last to die.
And it’s a timey moment to think about hope. At this writing the great Desmond Tutu has died. South African cleric and Nobel Peace Prize laurate, he called himself “a prisoner of hope” as he worked tirelessly to abolish apartheid.
But maybe there’s more going on than merely hoping. E.B. White observes his wife’s final days. She knew she did not have long, yet there she was in the garden busily burying bulbs in the black earth “under those dark skies in the dying October, calmly plotting the resurrection.”
May all of our Vincentian ministries watch the evidence change as we plant seeds of resurrection!
Jim Claffey, NGO representative of the CM to the UN
I recently participated in a panel discussion, part of a Business Ethics Conference sponsored by DePaul University, on religious charisms and the Common Good, with Dominican & Jesuit colleagues. I was drawn by the topic—the Common Good, a concept seemingly lost these days, perhaps too utopian for many, yet without a shared concern for all members of a society it’s hard to imagine much improvement.
I presented five ideas gleaned from St Vincent’s legacy. I invite you to read this with your own Vincentian creativity: what elements from our charism would you have presented to discuss the Common Good?
My five were the following:
My conclusion was that we sorely need a new social contract, an implicit agreement among members of society to cooperate for social benefits, one that guarantees for everyone equality of opportunity, human and civil rights, and basic social protections. To put it simply, no child should be penalized for being born into poverty.
The UN’s 2030 Agenda for People and the Planet posits 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and to reach them, to make them reality, without leaving anyone behind, would build the Common Good and a new Social Contract.
How we treat the world’s impoverished, the last and least among us, is the best judge of society and of ourselves as Christians and followers of the Vincentian charism.
NGO representative of the CM to the UN
As we saw in a previous article, Our Common Agenda looks ahead to the next 25 years and represents the Secretary-General’s vision of Building Forward Better by re-invigorating global cooperation to fulfill commitments already made.
Member States themselves identified 12 areas of action that can only be addressed through greater multilateralism. This does not guarantee action on their part, however, as too often States make public commitments with little or no follow-through. That is up to citizens the world over. It is often only with grassroots pressure from the bottom-up will “leaders” do the right thing for their people. And even then, as Vincentians know all too well, the impoverished of every society may be left out.
So as Antonio Guterrez says, “Now is the time” to think big and act without delay on the following major issues we should all care about. Of the 12 action areas, it seems to me there are six we can actually do something about ourselves in small but significant ways by looking at them with a Vincentian eye, i.e. asking What Must I Do on this issue in my current ministry? So let’s look creatively at those.
LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND: especially the most marginalized, whose voice should be heard on every aspect of social change. Build a new social contract for all anchored in Human Rights. This includes leaving no one offline now that broadband access has become such a critical factor for life today.
PROTECT OUR PLANET: we only have one and it’s crying out for care, attention and protection. The great issue of our lifetime. Laudato Si a beautiful guide.
PROMOTE PEACE & PREVENT CONFLICTS: we can promote respectful dialogue in local neighborhoods and communities, we can seek ways to listen—too often a lost art—to those with different opinions to chip away at today’s divisiveness.
LISTEN TO AND WORK WITH YOUTH: again listening is key, help them trust in a better future, ensure meaningful youth participation at every appropriate opportunity.
PLACE WOMEN & GIRLS AT THE CENTER: they suffer the most in poverty and in every crisis, it’s time to give women & girls primacy in efforts to Build Forward Better. Speak out against all gender discriminatory language and laws.
BUILD TRUST: faith in institutions is at an all-time low, especially among the young, and this must be reversed if we are to move forward. Promote integrity and transparency, tackle corruption and demand accountability at every level.
The other 6 action areas:
ABIDE BY INTERNATIONAL LAW & ENSURE JUSTICE
IMPROVE DIGITAL COOPERATION
UPGRADE THE UNITED NATIONS
ENSURE SUSTAINABLE FINANCING
In closing, remember that the entire report can be found on our website below under “News and Updates.”
NGO representative of the CM to the UN
“Now is the time….
Responding to a request from the UN’s Member States, Antonio Guterrez, the secretary-general, recently issued a report focusing on recommendations to advance the agenda for people, for the planet, for prosperity and for peace.
It does not reinvent the wheel, nor cloud the moment with new proposals. It is an agenda of action to accelerate the implementation of existing agreements and commitments, especially the Sustainable Development Goals we discussed in these pages in recent months. And it should speak clearly to Vincentians.
Our Common Agenda is the fruit of a year-long global consultation process on the occasion of the UN’s 75th anniversary, and involved the visionary thinking of thought leaders and the innovative ideas of youth re-imagining a new social contract for humanity and the earth.
The document is a wake-up call at this “inflection point” for humanity. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed how unstable and inadequate existing systems of social protection really are, and Our Common Agenda points to re-invigorating multi-lateral solidarity as the only way forward for humanity in an increasingly interconnected world.
In the past, multilateralism has successfully contributed to advances in world health (85% of children regularly vaccinated, smallpox eliminated), world peace (neither another world war nor nuclear holocaust), increase of respect for human rights, humanitarian action that helped 98 million in 25 countries, increased attention to climate change, to mention only the more obvious.
And so Our Common Agenda proclaims to the world “Now is the moment to embrace global solidarity, to take the next steps in our journey together,” to protect our (only) planet and to “leave no one behind.”
“Leaving no one behind” should speak loudly to those of us who try to follow the Vincentian Charism, because the poor are routinely left behind, if not entirely out, by policymakers the world over. Poverty is a policy decision: some people don’t count as much as others. The impoverished peoples of the world are our reason to exist as people and groups within the Vincentian Family. They are the reason we work as a FamVin Homeless Alliance to end homelessness. They are the focus and principal concern as we work in multiple ministries in so many countries to alleviate suffering in the same creative, practical and efficient ways we learn from St. Vincent and St. Louise, from Rosalie Rendu DC and from Blessed Frederic Ozanam.
In a second article, we will describe the 12 areas of action proposed in the report. We may find there challenges to incorporate into our current ministries. Finally, for now, anyone who would like to read the entire 76-page document will find the link on our UN website, www.congregationofthemission-un-ngo.com, under “News and Updates.”
NGO representative of the CM to the UN
Welcome to “The Enabler”!
A summer blockbuster movie? No, and not just another Sustainable Development Goal, but the one
that facilitates the realization of all the others: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. Talk about
pressure! Without peaceful inclusive societies, without a broad sense of basic justice, without
accountable institutions, there will be very limited progress, at best, on all 17 SDGs.
It would be so much easier if we could simply drill down on one Goal, any one of the 17—say hunger--,
understand it fully and go about fixing the issue permanently. But that is not possible. As we’ve said so
often in this series, the 17 goals are inter-connected and mutually affect each other:
Even pre-COVID, and despite international law, so many people died daily from armed conflicts. Already
in 2019 the number of migrants and refugees fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 79.5
million, the highest level recorded. And the pandemic with its panic and uncertainty worldwide, its
revelations of broken response systems and vaccine nationalism only further exacerbated global peace
and security as it elevated levels of suffering for the more vulnerable among us.
Alarmingly, the implementation of #16 looks grim. With the rise in extreme nationalism and
xenophobia, democracy worldwide has taken a few steps back. Many of the 12 Targets of this SDG are
in decline, e.g. fighting corruption, building transparency. The 10-year trend on growing civic space and
participation has stalled.
Here is something to contemplate. On the one hand, the SDGs, this UN 2030 Agenda for People and the
Planet, in some quarters is seen as important enough to be listed as a key document alongside the
United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Paris Agreement on Climate
Action. Heady company indeed!
Yet on the other hand, in the Voluntary National Review process of countries presenting on the SDG
process in-country, we sometimes find backward movement when governments report honestly
(without the fluff often accompanying Member statements of every kind). So while the 12 targets are
clear, and the 634 suggested actions compelling, the challenge is reduced to simply ask a country “What
is your Plan to Restart the Process of Implementing the Agenda”?
Here’s a lofty goal: to revitalize a global partnership for sustainable development.
But it makes sense: development cannot be sustainable if it is not shared. Across
countries and regions. Not in the sense of perfect equality—there are too many
variables for that—but in a real sense of shared positive upwards movement.
Global partnership is the only way forward.
So far progress has been mixed. World trade and global foreign direct investment
have declined, and remittances sent home, a lifeline for so many families in poorer
households around the world, are projected to remain low for the foreseeable
We often say “it’s a small world.” To concern ourselves with overseas peoples we
will never meet is not just charity but our own self-interest. Take COVID—we
will never be fully safe until everyone is safe.
Nonetheless this sounds a bit beyond those of us living ordinary lives. But wait--
AI to the rescue! If we’ve occasionally wondered how Artificial Intelligence is
doing these days, well, at the Olympics the other day a robot hit a three-point shot!
A basketball challenge many people would struggle with. Enter “Waves,” an AI
advisor that recommends initiatives to invest in, providing users the positive
feeling of giving to charity while simultaneously supporting sustainable
development. So far $7 trillion has been raised for investment in the SDGs.
Humanity will need all the help it can get to achieve what this Sustainable
Development Goal calls for:
Mobilizing resources to improve countries’ abilities to collect revenue;
Sharing knowledge and cooperation to spread access to science, innovation
Collecting relevant data and statistics: We cannot fix what we do not
measure to fully understand;
Increasing broadband access. As said previously in these pages, “leave no
one behind” also means leaving no one offline because technology means
access to vital services.
SDG17 is no small feat. But there are ways we contribute, from insisting
candidates to higher office have a healthy global view of shared development, to
doing a little research ourselves, before we buy, to find products sustainably and
ethically produced, making a global issue truly local.
Often quite a lot.
Look at name changes among major sports teams. In an effort to (finally) drop names offensive to Native Americans, the football franchise in Washington dropped “Redskins” and baseball’s Cleveland team stopped using “Indians.”
Recently the Global Catholic Climate Movement changed its name. Discerning that GCCM was a mouthful, that it didn’t translate well to different cultures and languages, and that it had sort of a corporate or institutional feel, the board and organizational leaders consulted widely, prayer about this move, and finally decided on “Laudato Si Movement” as its new name.
One of those consulted, who blessed the new name on Pentecost, is the author of Laudato Si, a document considered by many the most outstanding accomplishment of Pope Francis to date.
It’s an interesting change. Often a “movement” achieves some success and then becomes more institutional, or at least is considered as such. In this instance, a “movement” very much remains one with a name indicating even less institutionalization and more action, walking together, creating something, pushing forward—well, moving!
The change also has a fascinating feature. “Laudato Si” is a prayer praising our Creator God: praise be to you. Not a God who once created, but One who is creating. Who’s not finished. Who works through us to continue creating, or re-creating, the face of Mother Earth, our Common Home. So when we say “Laudato Si” we’re doing a lot more than referencing a great document; we’re praying.
So let us celebrate the name change in the best possible way: by becoming real stewards of creation, and by consciously praying that name. Laudato Si!
NGO representative of the Congregation of the Mission to the United Nations
Life below water? Why should I care—I live above water! Sustainable Development Goal 14 talks about life below water, and we should care, and we must if we want sustainable resources for a healthy future.
Did you know that about 71 percent of the Earth's surface is water-covered, and the oceans hold about 96.5 percent of all Earth's water? Just think, for a moment, where we would be without our oceans. The issue extends much further than a lack of beach vacations. In fact, the UN notes that without oceans, the earth would not be a habitable planet.
“Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.”
Our waterways serve many functions. Besides feeding us, regulating the climate and producing much of our oxygen, they also serve as the “foundation for much of the world’s economy, supporting sectors from tourism to fisheries to international shipping.” Luckily, prioritizing our waterways has increased recently, and according to the UN, “97 countries signed the Agreement on Port State Measures, the first binding international agreement on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.” Likewise, COVID-19’s impact on reduced human activity has given our oceans a bit of time to breathe and heal. Still, pollution and acidification continue to threaten our marine ecosystems.
So what can we do? Or as the Vincentian question states: what must be done? In our daily lives, there are several steps we can take to reduce the harm we might cause. Firstly, we can avoid single use plastics and try to live a more minimalist lifestyle. That’s a heavy lift and not likely to be attractive to many of us, but something must be done.
We can eat only MSC-certified fish, and less of it as 85% of the world’s fisheries are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. We can switch to eco-friendly products while being aware of false green-marketing. We can actively work to reduce our carbon footprint. Eat, shop, plan and live strategically with the environment in mind. As we grow more aware, we can share our actions with others to start a growing movement of people who care about life- above, below, between or behind water- recognizing the intricate connection of it all, and especially the connections we all have with one another.
Jim Claffey, NGO for the CM @ the UN
Chloe Bergeron, UN intern for the CM
Surely many of us played with dominos as a kid, setting up every single piece in beautiful formation only to knock one down, which inevitably knocks down another, and another, and another… Today, we continue to play the same game. Everyday many of us walk through our cities, breathe in polluted air, buy food that is often not locally grown, misuse resources and go home to a false comfort thinking all of this is normal and everything is fine.
It may be normal but all is not fine. Immediate lifestyle change and significant action are critical to restore the future of our planet. And technology contributes in both directions: we buy a new tech device, making life easier, but also then validate dangerous mining projects that produce the metals while severely damaging the lives of poor, and often indigenous, peoples. We eat meat—of course we do—but we also then increase carbon emissions. All actions have reactions followed by more reactions, in our inter-connected world and life.
Sustainable Development Goal 15 speaks to protecting, restoring and promoting sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation and cut down on biodiversity loss. As you can tell, there are many facets to this SDG, but like all 17, the elements and components of one are connected to one another. And like many of the SDGs, the change starts with us.
According to the 2020 UN Targets, we are falling short on halting biodiversity loss. Our forests are home to more than 80% of all land-based species, yet as our forests suffer due to increasing droughts, fires, and deforestation, over 31,000 species are threatened with extinction. Likewise, forest areas are declining at an alarming rate, driven mainly by agricultural expansion.
Each day, we make many choices that affect our life on this beautiful land. There are many ways to get involved: we could plant a tree, pick up litter when we see it, go paperless at home and in office spaces, buy recycled products, support companies committed to reducing deforestation, buy only what we will use, avoid Palm Oil, recycle and plan our shopping strategically.
Politically, there are many steps we can take when it comes to achieving environmental justice. Writing to our legislators and pushing for legislation that corresponds to the need for action against climate change. Showing our local governments that we prioritize alternative energies.
Economically, we can invest in green companies and those who are actively working to build a better tomorrow, and support ideas that are innovative and that rebuild broken systems.
Personally, we can find inspiration from an environmental leader and start a garden. My (Chloe) environmental leader, a Shaman’s son and indigenous Shuar leader, Etsa Kuja, once told me that if you are able to keep a plant alive for 6 months- if you are able to nurture it, remember to water it, support it, diagnose its needs, and prioritize its wellbeing- then, and only then, can you understand love. Then and only then, can you say that you have a healthy relationship with our mother earth. We can all learn from and should listen to Indigenous people, often the greatest caretakers of our Earth.
As we move into the second half of 2021, following a Global Pandemic, it seems as though our dominos are all knocked down. But what did we always do after knocking them down? Well, we picked them right back up, of course, and began setting them up again in an even more magnificent formation.
Jim Claffey, NGO for the CM to the UN
Chloe Bergeron, Intern for the CM @ the UN
By now we all know something about climate change. While COVID19 prevention has been prominent on our collective minds, climate change follows and is in fact potentially the far greater threat in the long term.
I’m tempted to take back that “long term” reference because day after day climate experts and agencies remind us how little time remains to do anything substantive or significant enough to halt our current march toward disaster. So the UN’s SDG #13 is not entitled climate change but climate action, which is so much more to the point. A huge global problem, a shrinking window to address it effectively. On Earth Day I tweeted “the Pachamama (Mother Earth) will not be happy until we take better care of her.”
There is much to learn about the real dangers climate change poses, and how we can become stewards of Mother Earth in protecting and caring for this great gift of our Creator. Obviously we need to be informed on this pressing issue to some degree, and insist on political action to combat our dependence on fossil fuels and promote clean and affordable energy for all. As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (#49) and
“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. (#139)
The Pope elegantly reminds us that no issue is isolated, that everything is connected, While we might debate whether is X an injustice or must Y be changed, we must recognize, as Vincentians who see things through the view of the poor and vulnerable, one stark undeniable injustice: poorer countries contribute less to climate change yet suffer most the consequences of it!
It’s not that nothing is being done. There is remarkable, creative and global advocacy for climate action on many fronts. Recently, for example, the US Administration hosted a Global Summit on “Adaptation & Resilience Challenges” for Climate Security, with the participation of world leaders from government, business, and banking. Commitments were made on carbon reduction, and monetary pledges followed. Huge sums in fact, $5 billion here and $10 billion there, in a way payback for how corporations have benefitted from the earth’s resources, but welcome funding that could underwrite great efforts nonetheless. But I remember thinking social problems cannot be solved by throwing money at them. While expert activists like Bill McKibben admit that real solutions ultimately depend on government action and policy, God help us if we wait for change from those beholden to the profit or influence motive. Bottom up is key, grassroots advocacy. Push the “leaders” in hopes they’ll follow!
Closer to home and on a more personal level, we need to think about our everyday tasks and how our actions, though miniscule in comparison to the immense global task imposed by climate change, contribute to a lifestyle that pollutes and simply ignores what we are leaving behind to future generations. Having a vegan meal now and then, or recycling plastic, will not solve climate change. But small personal efforts create a consciousness in us, can lead to the courage to advocate more vocally on the issue, and may even generate broader support by others to join in the struggle to halt the current downward spiral.
For example, when we leave a room, do we think to turn the light off? Could we walk or bike more often, or occasionally use public transit instead of driving? Do we vote for candidates who support clean energy? Do we encourage our work place to invest in clean energy? Do we dare take steps to change our diet—here’s one that stings!—due to how some food production contributes mightily to climate change. There are obviously a ton of other suggestions that flow from such a complex issue. I invite you to take a brief moment to google UN.org/ActNow.
As concern for climate change rise and technology advances, we should realize that this work is sacred work. We become stewards of God’s creation. We show our gratitude for this great gift give to us. And we help our earthly home heal itself once again in the process.
Jim Claffey, representative of the CM at the UN
@cmunnyc, FB congregation of the mission un
One day we’ll all be flying electric cars and living in solar-powered homes, but we’re not quite there yet. In fact, only half of the world’s urban population even has convenient access to public transit, much less a flying or self-driving car. And in recent years, air pollution causes at least 4.2 million premature deaths. So what’s the deal? We’re in 2021--where’s the solar power? The wind turbines? SDG 11 asks this question and many more, striving to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, according to the UN there is a “growing number of slum dwellers, inadequate and overburdened infrastructure and services (such as waste collection and water and sanitation systems, roads and transport).” Although cities only occupy 3 percent of the Earth’s land, they account for most of the world’s energy consumption and carbon emissions! Sustainable and thoughtful urban planning is crucial for a better tomorrow. As we move forward, we must press for functional public transport networks, increased recreational spaces that improve overall health and wellbeing, and inclusive, sustainable housing.
Throughout COVID-19, faulty urban planning was readily apparent. With many people often confined to very small spaces, transmission of the disease was rampant. Proper urban planning is a large driver of pandemic prevention and resilient communities. With access to clear water, improved sanitation, durable housing and sufficient living space, all people would have improved health and wellbeing. Again, we see that SDG 11, like all other SDGs, is interconnected with so many other issues. With better cities, we have cleaner water, better health, greater inclusivity and equality, transportation to employment opportunities, the list goes on and on…
As we rebuild our cities, let us focus on “proven holistic and people-centered approaches to slum upgrading and community empowerment”, “training program[s] for local, regional and nation government officials” of disaster preparation and resilience, “inclusive and gender-responsive governance”, and increased “urban-level data collection” as instructed by the United Nations and various sustainable organizations from around the world. We might not be flying our solar powered cars any time soon, but taking the initiative to improve our urban planning is a good place to start.
“I need this,” an often-heard phrase in the United States by those passing storefront windows discussing items one most likely does not ‘need’ at all. SDG 12 seeks to address this statement by asking us ‘what do we really “need.’” The real answer is not much, despite what our consumerist culture often dictates.
Let’s take a look at the example of food and food waste:
This is the unfortunate pattern in the United States. Other developed nations have a similar problem although not at the level of the US figure of 40% food waste. And it occurs while an estimated 800 million people live in chronic hunger around the world. Consumerism is the culprit, and it must be addressed. It is often accompanied by other wasteful behaviors causing significant negative environmental and social effects in different areas. According to the UN, electronic waste has grown from 2010 to 2019 by 38% with less than 20% of materials recycled. The textile industry is the second largest polluter of clean water and often exploitative to textile workers.
SDG 12 asks us to focus on responsible consumption. Our demand directs the supplier. With proper research to change our habits, we can create a sustainable tomorrow. It is also important to be innovative and focus on feasible solutions.
Although the United States wastes 40% of their food, the French, for example, waste 1.8% of their food. After a study on Parisian and New York college students’ attitudes towards food and waste, St. John’s student researcher Chloé Bergeron—currently the Congregation of the Mission’s UN intern-- created a comprehensive Instagram food waste reduction campaign and yearly pledge entitled @foodjusticeSJU using links, graphics and challenges that highlighted food waste research and student survey responses. Emphasizing portion planning, redistribution potential, individual waste reduction opportunities, French cultural education, ways to get involved institutionally, and how to advocate for the issue on the governmental level, the campaign garnered extremely positive feedback.
Nearly 100% of post-campaign survey respondents committed to be more involved in eliminating food waste either personally, in their school/work communities and/or on a governmental level. The results of the campaign proved that increased awareness of wasteful behaviors and waste reduction tactics increases solution-based activism and decreases waste.
As consumers, we must make changes. As we become more aware of our wasteful behaviors, potential solutions, and ethical responsibilities, we can begin to make a positive difference on our global communities and pressure businesses to adopt sustainable practices. Let’s go to the grocery story. Let’s buy all the food we need, but with awareness of portion control, redistribution opportunities, cultural waste reduction practices, and a genuine understanding of the value of our food. Now, let’s eat all of it. This is the world we can create. Easier said than done, of course, so let’s get to work.
Jim Claffey, UN representative of the CM, with Chloé Bergeron