Arendalsuka: Changing the conversation on environment | Olav Kjørven

23 Aug 2013

youth in a consultation in brazil National consultations on the Post-2015 Agenda with Guarani indigenous peoples in Panambizinho, Mato Grosso do Sul state of Brazil. (Photo: Julia Wenceslau/UNDP Brazil)

Arendalsuka. Does it ring a bell? Probably not, unless you are Norwegian.  Arendalsuka is an interesting Norwegian creation: an annual open forum in the city of Arendal where stakeholders in politics and industry meet with citizens to debate public policies and policy development. I had the pleasure of attending and introducing our perspective on integrating environmental sustainability into the next global agenda that will follow the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

As we approach the MDGs' target date of 2015, the United Nations is leading an unprecedented public outreach effort that has so far given voice to almost 1.3 million people in 194 countries on their expectations for the next development goals. This new approach is re-shaping multilateral decision-making by empowering citizens to come together, discuss and take concrete action on pathways to a more sustainable future. Their voices are being heard by Member States and feeding into the process to deliver the next set of development goals.

This “global conversation” has revealed that people believe overwhelmingly that sustainable development needs to be approached in an integrated way – addressing the economic, social and environmental aspects simultaneously. It also indicated that the link between environmental sustainability, income poverty and inequalities has been underestimated. The national consultations held in almost 100 countries show clearly how the unsustainable practices and growth patterns contribute to inequalities and increased insecurity for vulnerable populations. The consultations call for both a goal on environmental sustainability and for sustainability to be considered as a basic principle to be streamlined in all other goals.

These outcomes and the ongoing MyWorld survey demonstrate that environmental sustainability is in the hearts and minds of people around the globe. As we look forward to a bold, yet practical post-2015 agenda, it is clear that we need more than government action to advance sustainability. We need engaged citizens playing an active role to ensure governments take bolder action to address the world’s most urgent challenge of eradicating poverty and protecting the planet’s limited resources.

Citizens’ participation will be fundamental if the new agenda is to reflect more deeply the value of the environment, and how it relates to entrenched challenges like disease, food insecurity and social stability.

The main message I took away from Arendalsuka reinforced my own beliefs that enabling citizens’ participation and creating platforms for citizens to share their expectations for the future are fundamental steps for building the shared global development agenda we so desperately need.

Talk to us: How can we engage citizens to build a sustainable environment & future?

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