Members from NPCA’s New York City affiliate group engaged on key topics at the United Nations, delving into the heart of sustainable development talks.
By Greg Emerson Bocquet
In July, representatives from National Peace Corps Association’s New York City affiliate group attended sessions at the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), a “pre-event” ahead of the SDG Summit in September. The SDG Summit will serve to review the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the halfway point to the target set for implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The event will be the centerpiece of the High-Level Week of the UN General Assembly this year.
Over two weeks in July, the HLPF included meetings and side events covering all aspects of the SDGs, with our representatives focusing on youth and environment-related sessions, as well as ways that groups such as ours can further engage in policy discussions around sustainable development.
A Lack of Progress
All meetings featured candid discussions on global progress in sustainable development, perhaps none more so than a side event attended by Greg Emerson Bocquet (Morocco 2003; Peru 2003–05), titled provocatively “Are we complacent?” Organized by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, the event addressed the 169 indicators of progress toward the SDGs, only 21 of which are on track to be achieved by the deadline of 2030 (down from 26 in last year’s assessment). Even more worrisome is that these indicators are lagging, so while they reflect the global economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they do not include the effects of the refugee crisis in 2021 or the war in Ukraine. This real-talk assessment underscores the need for transformative, bold action that will be a recurring theme at the Summit later this year.
The Role of Volunteers
Karina Casarez (Myanmar 2018-2020) joined a session on volunteering organized by the Volunteers Group Alliance (of which the Peace Corps is a part) to discuss the role of volunteering on advancing sustainable development, of key interest to the RPCV community. Representatives from the UN Volunteers program highlighted the prevalence of volunteer initiatives in the 39 Voluntary National Reviews of progress toward the SDGs that were presented at the HLPF. Fully 31 of 39 reviews mentioned volunteering, and 11 of those countries have formally included volunteering initiatives in their plans and policies to support sustainable development. We expect there to be more focus on the evidence and impact of volunteering programs at the SDG Summit in September and will plan to attend further discussions on the matter.
Our representatives also attended two meetings focusing on the role of youth in supporting sustainable development. Both shared the key takeaway of the importance of engaging students and young people themselves in the decision-making and implementation of sustainable strategies to improve education and other outcomes for young people around the world.
One of the speakers in the event focusing on the role of African youth, hosted by the Kingdom of Morocco and attended by Bocquet, invoked the creator of the Peace Corps, John F. Kennedy, stating, “we have to move from a place where we ask not what we can do for young people, but ask what young people can do for the world, and center them in this conversation.”
Peace Corps Volunteers tend to work closely with young people in the communities where they serve, and it’s key to treat them as partners in, rather than simply targets of, development initiatives.
Kevin Kwok (Mali 2011–12) joined a session on renewable energy and climate action with lessons from Lithuania’s efforts to develop its self-produced electricity market. The International Energy Agency has cited a unique feature of Lithuania’s market as the rapid increase of prosumers (consumers who produce their own energy through solar energy production), who should reach 30% of the total electricity consumers in the country by 2030. A panel discussion focused on how to replicate this scheme in other countries, with specific focus on supporting innovative renewable energy schemes that meet specific social and environmental criteria such as the inclusion of energy poor households, the empowerment of local communities, and the creation of a vibrant industrial solar ecosystem.
Private Sector Initiatives
Finally, Jen Krottinger (Belize 2011–13), attended a meeting with the UN Global Compact, a group she worked with as a volunteer, on best practices for how private sector groups can support and advance the SDGs. While this initiative primarily focuses on efforts by businesses to support sustainable development, it also includes NGOs — like NPCA — and offers another route to participation in partnerships that advance sustainable development.
As these NPCA global leaders continue to engage with the United Nations community on policies and partnerships to advance sustainable development, we invite all affiliate groups or individual members to share their thoughts on where our representatives might focus to maximize our group’s impact. Any affiliate group wishing to contribute to NPCA’s official participation in September’s SDG Summit should send a short statement on its issue of choice by August 31 to [email protected].