Under normal circumstances, the Decade for Action on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals would have begun in 2020. It aimed to address critical issues such as poverty, education, social inequality, access to water and hygiene, responsible consumption and production, and the safeguarding of peace and justice. However, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these essential metrics worsened due to a lack of direct action.
The Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, in partnership with the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre, organized a videoconference which brought together former heads of state, researchers and representatives of the academic milieu to present their proposals for future approaches to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The proceedings were moderated by Phoebe Koundouri (University of Athens, Chairman of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, co-chair of the Greek branch of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Director of the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Climate Knowledge and Innovation Community (EIT Climate-KIC).
Please find below brief summaries of the participants’ interventions. The debates organized by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization as part of The World Post-COVID-19 Pandemic: a Humanist Vision for Sustainable Development project will later be published in a collected volume.
Professor Phoebe Koundouri, University of Athens, Chairman of the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists:
“The role of the academic environment in implementing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will define how society recovers from the pandemic”
“The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals focus on prosperity, people and the planet, and on necessary measures to be taken towards these lofty ambitions. With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all such efforts were curtailed. We must now evaluate the measures open to us going forward, in order to implement these Objectives.
Emil Constantinescu, President of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Levant Culture and Civilization, President of Romania 1996-2000:
“The current pandemic has highlighted grave deficiencies in the critical fields of healthcare, economics, education, social protection and human rights”
“Throughout the developed world it has become apparent that existing institutions lack advance warning systems that allow for failsafe solutions in times of crisis. Developing countries, for whom the developed world served as role models to aspire to, can now legitimately question their chosen future paths. And, just as legitimately, they can ask the members of the academic environment why they chose to keep their long silence, instead of publicly tackling and exposing these deficiencies which, in only three months, were painfully highlighted by the virus itself. Our answer to the pandemic must not be separated from our endeavours to implement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. We must merely re-evaluate and prioritize those aspects we expect to worsen after the state of pandemic is lifted.”
Professor Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, former Chancellor of the University of Mauritius, President of Mauritius 2015-2018:
“The Sustainable Development Goals each in turn constitute a system that challenges the academic environment and the entire world at once”
“The seventeen Sustainable Development Goals – the most relevant of which, in light of their potential benefits, are food and nutritional security, overcoming gender inequalities, ensuring institutional resilience, providing access to water and regulating water quality, incorporating technology and innovation, and establishing strong partnerships across global society – are, each in turn, systems that challenge both the academic environment and the entire world alike. The data from existing academic inquiries in this regard is equally relevant for countries as for entire regions.”
Garry Jacobs, CEO and Chairman of the World Academy of Art and Science:
“What is the scientific role of the academic environment in managing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?”
“The Goals were not tackled equally during the pandemic. We have squandered many opportunities over the years in our management of numerous crises, such as the economic crisis or in tackling climate change. And I mention these now, as I am afraid that we will make the same mistakes again. Now, we must focus of rapid solutions. […] The academic environment has a responsibility to challenge conventional wisdom on financial and economic orthodoxy which, despites its failures, still governs us today.”
Bujar Nishani, President of Albania 2012-2017:
“Through transparency and communication, we can create a sustainable perspective on the world”
“Through the Sustainable Development Goals, we safeguard the security of our own societies. We are now faced with a crisis of trust in existing political and societal systems. […] Both the traditional and social media were challenged. Communication is extremely important, as it can shape perspectives and allow for the dissemination of knowledge from the academic environment to the population at large. Through transparency and communication, we can create a sustainable perspective on our world.”
Rosalia Arteaga Serrano, former Minister of Education, President of Ecuador 1997:
“This pandemic has brought to light both the best and the worst in us”
“How can the Sustainable Development Goals engage the whole of society? Latin America, heavily affected by the coronavirus pandemic, is bracing for another: an economic pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has brought to the fore the best in us – our solidarity to survive and discover a vaccine – but also the worst – endemic corruption. One important instrument in managing these issues is education, only that it does not provide immediate, tangible results, but rather ones we must wait to see the fruits of. And solidarity must be achieved through collaboration.”
Professor Nikolaos Theodossiou, “Aristotle” University of Thessaloniki, Chairman of the Black Sea branch of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network:
“We can achieve great things, if we aim for global cooperation”
“We must focus our attention on the full half of the glass. COVID-19 has brought both challenges and opportunities in equal measure. We are heading towards a “new normal”, one that, following the global restart, we must make much more sustainable. We can achieve great things, if we aim for global cooperation”.
László Borbély, State Advisor, Coordinator of the Department for Sustainable Development at the Romanian Government, Associate Professor at the “Sapientia” University of Târgu Mureș:
“We must work closely with political leaders in order to design a joint vision”
“Our actions must be focused along three axes: political leadership, engagement and political will. These, in turn, will stimulate the engagement and the vision of all interested parties. We must work closely with political leaders in order to design a joint vision, and together develop ways to implement that desired outcome”.
Rovshan Muradov, Secretary-General of the Nizami Ganjavi International Centre:
“How can we manage a new pandemic wave if, at present, we lack leadership and solidarity?”
“We are quickly losing track of the value of solidarity. Each country is an island in a global ocean – and they do not collaborate between them. How can we manage a new pandemic wave if, at present, we lack leadership and solidarity? In order to achieve these, we must intertwine the roles of the academic environment and politicians together”.