Sustainable Development: Is it possible? A conversation with Helen Clark

By- TAMARA, Luisce(UNU-IAS M.Sc Student)

On May 21st, the UNU Headquarters in Tokyo hosted a conversation with Ms. Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme. The event was titled “Sustainable Development: Is It Possible?”. The conversation was facilitated by Mr. Sebastian von Einsiedel, Director of the UNU Centre for Policy Research and the main topic was the implementation challenges of the 2030 Agenda and the steps that governments and the United Nations must take to overcome them. Clark began by briefly reminding the audience of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), their targets and the difference in approach when compared to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Clark highlighted that while the multiple agencies of the United Nations play a key supportive role in development, the substantial reduction in poverty in the past decades was achieved through the remarkable economic growth in India and China. For instance, countries in Africa did not experience such reductions. As a result, support for SDGs is extremely important. Clark then mentioned that a main challenge with SDGs is for developed countries to take the UN seriously and highlighted Germany as an example of a country that does take the SDGs into account when implementing domestic policy. In terms of funding for development, Clark mentioned that the need for both public and private funding is indispensable. Lastly, she called for both developed and developing countries to support capacities for policymakers and bring academia and civil society together.

According to the audience, the question and answer period with Clark was particularly interesting. Among many things, she explained that she sees sustainability as the ability for human progress to occur within planetary boundaries. She then called for further engagement of the private sector in sustainability and highlighted as an example the need for sustainable practices in palm oil production. When asked about education, Clark spoke of the need for a focus on educating well-rounded individuals and to not only focus on STEM subjects. She then spoke of the need for universal health coverage and the promotion of good health. The most celebrated question by the audience was regarding the status of gender equality in the world and within the UN system. Clark made a reference to an analysis of by the World Economic Forum that spoke of the regression in the world in terms of gender equality. She gave examples of these setbacks such as the loss of Hillary Clinton in the US. She spoke about the #metoo movement and how allegations of sexual misconduct have been present within the UN system. She called for the need to have more women in leadership in UN agencies and for next Secretary-General to be a woman, ideally from Latin America.

The event was open to the public and attended by diplomats, students, NGOs, and professionals. Drinks and appetizers were provided after the conversation to encourage networking and further discussions among the audience