DUBAI, 16 January 2021 – The time for action on the Sustainable Developments Goals is critical, with eight years left to build a brighter, more sustainable future by 2030, urged an array of high-level speakers today (January 16) on the opening day of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Global Goals Week, taking place in association with the United Nations until 22 January.
Appearing virtually, Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said: “The SDGs aren’t something we can cram for a night or year before the deadline.”
Gates addressed the audience shortly after ‘Global Goals for All’ – aimed at creating awareness of the SDGs and highlighting increased commitments to deliver on the Decade of Action – got underway this morning at the Nexus for People and Planet in Expo 2020 Dubai’s Opportunity District.
Focusing on SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being), Gates added: “It’s especially true given the pandemic, which has set back progress on many fronts. If we’re going to reach the critical goals by 2030, we need 2022 and every year after to be a year of action. It’s going to take all hands on deck – governments, philanthropies, non-profits and the private sector; a committed focus to working together to reach the SDGs in the next years.”
The World’s To-Do List campaign and narrative was used as a wrapper for the event, framing each session in the context of the SDGs – the most comprehensive to-do list for people and planet.
Speaking shortly afterwards, Rt Hon Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, said: “I encourage everyone who wants to see progress on the SDGs to make their own to-do list and become part of this global movement for a more inclusive and sustainable world, recognising that peace, the rule of law and effective, accountable institutions provide the most solid foundations for that.”
Speaking during the event’s climate-focused session, Jerome Foster II, US climate justice activist and youngest ever White House Climate Advisor, said: “It is so important that in these next eight years we understand that we must live up to our ideals. These are not just goals; this is about survival. This is about what we want our planet to be. Do we want it, in the next 100 years, to be only for the rich and famous, only for people that have access [or] privilege? No.
“[Young people] want real change, we’re tired of real great slogans and hashtags – hashtags mean nothing. We need policy, we need legislation, we need action, because we’ve demanding it for years.”
Driving urgent action served as a key theme across the remaining sessions, including an expert panel that welcomed speakers Her Excellency Mariam Almheiri, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment and Minister of Food Security; Nisreen Elsaim, Chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change; and Lara Rudar, UAE Ambassador for Nature.
Fellow panellist Sanda Ojiambo, Executive Director, UN Global Compact, said: “For me, leadership is not a title. It’s really got to be something that is action-driven and allow other people to similarly take action.
“The third thing around business leadership that I reflect on right now, particularly in this decade of action, is that we really don’t have much time. If there’s one thing that leaders and leadership should do right not is galvanise around the urgency.”
Highlights across the remainder of the event included video messages from decorated writer, film director and UN SDG Advocate Richard Curtis and House of Cards star Robin Wright. Both focused on SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals), with the latter speaking on expanding the reach of her social enterprise sleepwear company Pour Les Femmes – helping more women and children in conflict regions around the world by fostering global partnerships.
An inspiring deep dive into SDG 5 (Gender Equality) featured Indian YouTube star Prajakta Koli and Dr Alaa Murabit, Director of Program Advocacy and Communications, Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and UNigh Level Commissioner for Health Employment and Economic Growth.
Dr Alaa Murabit said: “Number one on everybody’s to-do list should be: ‘OK, but what are you doing What are we doing in our own lives? How are we accountable?’ If you have the privilege to be in particular places, particular platforms, who are you bringing with you into that room? If you have the privilege of holding particular positions, who are you mentoring, teaching, supporting [or] amplifying?
“If you have the privilege of having economic [or] educational resources, who you leveraging that for, how are you opening this space, how are you making that bigger, how are you shifting the conversation? How is your position and presence in a space making it better? Because if you’re just warming a seat, frankly we’re not going to get anywhere.”
For the first time in its history, Global Goals Week has left the UN General Assembly in New York, coming to life at Expo 2020 Dubai from 15-22 January, with 20-plus special events, inspiring activations and a slate of unforgettable visitor experiences.