Sustainable Development Centered: The First Ever Sustainability Week

Theodora Terracina
Poster for the UN General Assembly Sustainability Week. Image Source: United Nations.

Earlier this April, New York hosted the first-ever Sustainability Week, from April 15th to the 19th. Gathering all delegates to the United Nations Headquarters, the week’s intention focused on making headway towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Proceeding the event on April 10th, Dennis Francis, the President of the 78th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, announced the upcoming event by sharing with the public its theme and asking the audience to “Choose Sustainability.” Francis presented the hopes that Sustainability Week can be utilized to ‘supercharge and galvanize’ momentum around implementing sustainability initiatives. Spread across five days, the conference discussed critical parts of the economy – energy, transport, tourism, and infrastructure.

Day 1: Debt Sustainability and Socio-Economic Equality for All

The conference kicked off on April 15th, with a high-level thematic debate on debt sustainability and socio-economic equality for all. The main discussion of the day: debt sustainability.

One of the SDGs’ main targets is improving poverty and inequality standards. Especially with concern to developing countries, debt sustainability is a considerable area of priority, needed to achieve these changes. The first day’s discussion consisted of an in-depth analysis to find solutions to the debt crises.

As of 2023, the global public debt reached $235 trillion US dollars. Such public debt accumulates if governments cannot fulfill all current and future payments without accepting financial help. However, since 2019, the public financial debt has risen nine percentage points, an increase noticed particularly in developing countries. 

Such an economic burden has become problematic in areas of development, specifically in the devaluation of the currency. This devaluation has led to limited development in financing and an increase in inequality and poverty. As a result, an increase in higher borrowing costs keeps developing countries from being able to pay off such debt. In turn, this continues the cycle of unsustainable debt affliction. This prevents adequate, sustainable progress and encourages cuts to areas of education, health, and social protection programs. 

The President of the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Dennis Francis, addressed the public. Image Source: Business Standard.

Under the 10th Sustainable Development Goal, the aim is to reduce inequalities in said developing countries. This comes from taking multilateral action and coordination to tackle debt sustainability through the support of debt relief initiatives. 

Day 2: Tourism

Tourism remains a focal point of the economy. It creates jobs, contributes to local infrastructure, and allows the population to enhance and conserve social, environmental, and cultural traditions. Overall, tourism aids in economic activity by driving up business. This inevitably reduces poverty. However, ensuring that tourism can be promoted sustainably to include ecotourism, environmental protection, and poverty eradication remains debated. This was the focal point of the second day’s high-level thematic event.

Within the 17 SDGs, tourism is explicitly mentioned in numbers 8, 12, and 14. Tourism, as explained, has the potential to achieve the goals of sustainable economic growth, production, and consumption. As one of the most significant economic sectors globally, in areas such as small island developing states (SIDS), it accounts for most of its exports, which calculates a high level of national income. Ensuring that such tourism contributes to a national economy by empowering women, indigenous groups, and the youth, the conference aimed to discuss its ongoing potential to improve the livelihoods of disadvantaged socio-economic countries through a concerted approach to boost partnerships for sustainable tourism.

Day 2 Solutions


One of these solutions includes launching The Statistical Framework for Measuring Sustainability of Tourism, adopted during the 55th Session of the UN Statistical Commission in February of 2024. This framework aims to understand better sustainable tourism’s impacts by measuring statistical data and indicators of the economy, society, and the environment at the global, national, and subnational levels.

The second thematic debate in the day’s session introduced the necessity of fostering resilient tourism. Given the fragile state of the globe, experiencing traumatic events from crises, environmental factors, or the most recent pandemic of the coronavirus, ensuring that destinations have the capabilities to recover from and withstand such setbacks through proper management and planning is essential.

Panel in attendance for UN Sustainability Week. Image Source: Mission4point7.org.

Day three: Sustainable Transport 

Beginning at 10 a.m. on April 17, the high-level meeting on sustainable transport answered questions related to transport infrastructure to ensure it’s effectiveness for greener solutions and inclusive of all communities. 

This section of the conference placed a magnifying glass on the specific needs that least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDs), and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) all hold when diversifying and amplifying their global trade. Ensuring that each country’s needs are addressed to support trade systems includes providing access to safe, convenient, affordable public transport and rail lines for rural communities.

Conversely, the international community’s trading through transport consumes approximately ¼ of the global energy carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, the adverse effects of noise and air pollution on the environment provide a developed drive to ensure that transport is sustainable for the climate and the advancement of social progress.

The presented solution: intermodal transport policy design. This depicts how transport can be available and inclusive for the environment through international cooperation amongst countries to benefit all communities at stake simultaneously. 

Day Four: Informal Dialogue on Building Global Resilience 

On the fourth day, the UN held a conversation to promote proposals and possible solutions to reliable and widely connected infrastructure.

Safe and resilient infrastructure remains the backbone of all other modes of sustainable development discussed including tourism, transport, and the development of international trade. The reliance on sustainable infrastructure determines a country’s progression towards increased development or an increase in global inequalities. 

When instances of systematic damage and service disruption occur, not only do these costs estimate annual drainage of 700 billion US dollars, but an escalation in stagnant development and risk becomes at play, creating a further dilemma in reaching the 2030 SDGs. Ensuring that disruptions are as minimal as possible to guarantee the sustainability of both economic resources and political and societal progression requires multilateral cooperation in science, finance, technology, innovation, and education for amplified regional and interregional infrastructure connection. 

Dennis Francis speaks with Melissa Flemming, Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications on UN TV. Image Source: UN News.

Day Five: Taking Stock to Review the Sustainable Progress Achieved 

The conference came to a close through a dialogue of perspective and reflection. First, a review of the progress achieved successfully at the end of the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All, which ran from 2014 to 2024. As the stakeholders discussed the active changes thus far, such dialogue provided a sense of amped-up determination in the continuing strides. Specifically, these strides pointed toward attaining Sustainable Development Goal 7 of the 2030 Agenda.

The 7th goal is access to reliable, sustainable, affordable, and modern energy. Connected to the goal under the Paris Agreement on climate change to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, there is encouragement to move further away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy systems to create inclusive and equitable energy transitions. The emphasis on the 7th goal grows out of a realization that ensuring energy transitions in turn, ensures “no one will be left behind.”

As 675 million people continue to lack access to electricity, the push toward actualizing the goal of transitioning to inclusive and equitable energy continues. Wanting to successfully achieve SDG 7 and invest in renewable energy, addresses the varied interconnected nature of its progress. Ultimately, this aim seeps into the development of other areas of progress, such as food security, gender equality, eradication of poverty, and the empowerment of underserved groups.

Conclusion

With a swift “Call to Action” by the President of the General Assembly, a renewed focus is established. The leading solution for making advancement possible remains the most common and diligent suggestion: international cooperation. Only through the means of global connectivity can the 2030 Agenda continue advancement.

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Sustainable Development C…

by Theodora Terracina time to read: 5 min
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