Public Panel on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Held in Montreal

Environmental, Refugee and Financial Concerns Among Issues Being Addressed

Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, Marc-André Blanchard was personally disappointed that the UN’s SDGs received so little media attention. Photo Miriam Lafontaine

The United Nations Association of Canada organized a public panel to discuss a set of Sustainable Development Goals and how Canada can help accomplish these by 2030, on Nov. 4 in the OACI building on Robert Bourassa Blvd.

Passed in September 2015, the 2030 Agenda has 17 goals, with a combined 169 targets, that focus on a variety of issues including protecting the environment, ending poverty, fighting against climate change, reducing gender inequalities and financial inequalities, and ensuring quality education for all.

Permanent Representative of Canada to the United Nations, Marc-André Blanchard was personally disappointed that the UN’s SDGs received so little media attention.

“It was the first time, in the history of the UN that the 193 members states came together to decide on a strategic plan for the planet for the next 15 years,” he explained.

Dr. Braulio Diaz, the Executive Secretary of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity, said the UN plans to collaborate with stakeholders to ensure the protection of biodiversity of the planet.

The need is urgent, he said.

“We’re losing biodiversity at an increasing rate,” Braulio explained. “Extinction rate is more than a 1,000 times higher than it was before the Industrial Revolution—we’ve lost almost 90 per cent of all the world’s wetlands, more than 50 per cent of the world’s forests and more than 90 per cent of all large fish species.”

So far the Convention on Biological Diversity have been working with institutions such as national and provincial governments, cities and business by helping them to create policies that protect biodiversity and reduce their ecological footprint.

He also said they are working on creating stricter bio-safety rules for genetically modified organisms, and supporting Indigenous communities in their goals to protect the environment.

Braulio later expressed concern over the recently passed Paris Agreement, signed by 193 countries, to keep a rise in global average temperatures below 2 C to effectively combat climate change.

“Scientists already indicate that even the 2 C ceiling is perhaps too high, and that it will be too damaging to human lives and the environment,” he said.

The targets agreed upon in the Paris Agreement, he explained, would not ensure staying below this limit. “At the best, if all these commitments are really implemented, we will go beyond 3 C.”

He then went on to say that scientists are now estimating we would have to keep average temperatures from increasing by 1.5 C in order to prevent environmental collapse.

Although the 2030 SDG Agenda has no goal which is focused specifically on refugees, Denise Otis—the legal officer at the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Canada—believes the UNHCR will be able to support the UN in achieving their goals to reduce poverty, increase food security, and increase inclusive and just societies through the aid of refugees.

“The agenda makes an explicit pledge to leave no one behind, and this is fundamental for the inclusion of refugees and internally displaced people,” she said.

They will do this by continuing to provide shelter, food, water and medical care to refugees around the world and in Canada, Otis explained. She said this will be accomplished by continuing to make commentaries on country’s laws and regulations surrounding refugees, and holding countries accountable for how they treat them.

Many of the UN’s statistics are collected by their Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Institute for Statistics office in Montreal. Using the collected numbers, the UN says they will be able to accurately monitor if they are reaching their SDGs, or if more action and planning is needed.

“Our data [helps to hold] governments accountable, and helps keep them on track on how they should create policies,” said Dr. Silvia Montoya, the director of UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

But overall, Montoya said what the UN is able to do ultimately is limited. It cannot force countries to act in a certain way. They can merely report on countries and make recommendations to them on how they should structure their policies.