Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Faith, Global Development Goals, and Climate Justice

Hey folks! So I recently recorded a brief video presentation for folks at the Lutheran World Federation Youth Desk who are planning on global web conference on climate justice on 26 October. I highly recommend you participate in the event (more info forthcoming), but even if you're not available on the 26th, you can learn a little bit below about how faith, global development goals and climate justice relate to each other from the rough manuscript I wrote for my presentation below. I'll be sure to post the entire video following the web conference. Thanks so much and I'd love to hear what you think!

Hi, I’m Dustin Wright, a seminarian at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and a candidate for ordination in the ELCA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I also recently completed a year at the Lutheran Office for World Community, a joint ministry between the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) that carries on advocacy work at the United Nations in New York City. One focus area throughout my last year in New York was the post-2015 development agenda, and thus folks at the LWF Youth Desk asked me to speak with you all today about how the post-2015 development agenda interfaces with the global climate justice movement. Thank you all so much for having me and taking the time to engage in the important ministry of advocating for climate justice.

If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from my presentation it is that the next two years are an absolutely critical time for the climate justice movement when robust advocacy on behalf of God’s creation and those people most affected by its degradation is more important than ever. That’s because between today and September 2015, two global conversations that have been going on more or less separately for over a decade at the United Nations and elsewhere will merge: a conversation regarding the Millennium Development Goals and a conversation regarding sustainable development. In the remainder of this presentation I’ll summarize both of these conversations, outline the process of how they will merge over the next two years, and conclude with some brief suggestions about how you can get involved.

First, let’s discuss the Millennium Development Goals- frequently referred to as the MDGs. In 2000, world leaders gathered together to create the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals broken into twenty-one specific, measurable targets to be reach by 2015. In my opinion this was a world-changing event, the first time humanity collectively made specific promises about how it would develop over its next fifteen years.

The good news is that the world has been largely successful in reaching these goals: we’ve cut in half the number of folks living in extreme poverty, as defined as living on less than a $1.25 a day. We’ve moving toward a parity between the percentage of girls and boys attending primary school, and have made a great advances in combating diseases like HIV/ AIDS and malaria. On the other hand, progress towards achieving the MDGs hasn’t spread evenly across countries, and issues like inequalities and environmental degradation are getting worse. Every year, progress towards achieving the MDGs is evaluated by the United Nations, and now that the deadline year of 2015 is rapidly approaching, member states at the UN are beginning to discuss what will follow that deadline.

Alongside but somewhat separate from the Millennium Development Goals discussion has been the sustainable development discussion. It’s important to highlight here that “sustainable development” doesn’t just mean development that is environmentally sustainable. Since the first UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, sustainable development has been defined by the international community as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainable development therefore is comprised of three specific and mutually reinforcing pillars: economic, sociopolitical, and environmental sustainability. Some individuals and groups, especially many indigenous communities, argue there should be a fourth pillar, cultural sustainability.

For instance, if your country were able to immediately convert 100% of its energy production to renewable resources, but that energy remained extremely expensive, it wouldn’t be economically viable and therefore could not be sustainable. Likewise, even in a country that does produce cheap renewable energy, if a quality education isn’t accessible to all individuals regardless of their sociopolitical background, many people may not be able to find jobs and afford to purchase even the cheapest renewable energy. Finally, if an extremely equitable society is sustained by cheap energy from the burning of dirty fossil fuels, the resulting climate change wouldn’t make that model of development sustainable either.

Recognizing that much of the progress under the Millennium Development Goals was not achieved in a sustainable manner, at the Rio +20 Conference in 2012, member states tasked the United Nations with creating a new set of Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. While this process is ongoing and you can follow it via the UN’s Sustainable Knowledge Platform, it was recently announced at the opening of the 68th Session of the UN General Assembly that the SDGs will be combined with the wider post-2015 development agenda to create a one new definitive and sustainable set of targets for global development to be adopted by UN Member States at a high-level summit in September of 2015.

So, I know that may seem a bit a complicated, but in summary, a new plan for global development is being created over the next two years. Whether or not it can be a truly sustainable plan that helps lift people out of poverty while protecting God’s creation is in part, up to you! First, its essential that you help educate your friends and family about the Millennium Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda that will succeed them. What you’re looking at are links to resources that can help you do just that. You can also participate in the MY World Global Survey and the World We Want 2015 platform to make sure leaders know that you and people in your community want a set of global development goals that protect God’s creation. Finally, its not just at UN headquarters in New York City where decisions are being made. In fact, what decisions are made by national governments in their own capitals is much more important. Therefore, make sure you let your national leaders know you care about God’s creation as well! Thanks so much for your listening. Advocating for climate justice is such an important ministry, and I’m very glad you’re taking part!

God's peace,

Dustin is currently in his final year of a Masters of Divinity program at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, having recently completed a year as Vicar at the Lutheran Office for World Community and Saint Peter's Church in New York City. While seeking ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, his focus is on the intersection between worship, service and justice in de-centralized faith communities unencumbered by a traditional church building. In his free time, Dustin likes playing frisbee, hiking and pretending to know how to sing.

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