Addressing the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

A.J. Rohn


The 2016 World Economic Forum took place in Davos, Switzerland from January 20 to 23. The theme of the event was The Fourth Industrial Revolution. It included conferences, debates, and discussions on a wide variety of topics conducted by a great number of people representing organizations, nations, and themselves. These topics include climate change and sustainability, energy, geopolitics and security, global economics, regional studies, culture, and others relevant to geography. A playlist of videos from these conferences can be found on the Forum’s Youtube page.  

As part of the Shaping Davos series, one dialogue titled “A ‘Glocal’ Approach to Sustainable Development” addressed the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs). These goals are quite ambitious, like ending poverty and ensuring food security everywhere. The glocal idea bridges two major philosophies on the scale of sustainability approaches: local and global action, goals, regulation, and legislation. The dialogue featured two panelists in Davos and four local actors via webcam. The local actors work in Rabat, Morocco; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Chandigarh, India; and Mauritius.

The panelists discussed business solutions to poverty and sustainable development. The business approach uses public­private partnerships and foreign investment. One panelist was enthusiastic about a major reformation of business models, and stressed viewing profit as a consequence rather than purely a motivation. Many new companies, he says, are aware of global problems and the power of local actors and solutions. They see SDGs as opportunities, while others see them as impediments. He pointed out that citizens vote for ideas they believe in not only with their money, but also their talents.

The local actors brought up challenges that they face in their work. For India, Venkat Matoory said the lack of comprehension of the decisions made by officials can be an obstacle in public opinion. Perhaps the most important issue he raised was promoting and maintaining quality of life. If development is slowed or shifted, India ­ with its considerable population and population density ­ could suffer quality of life losses. In another article, I highlighted the hurried development and city planning India has undergone to support this massive population. Venkat asks if the world is willing and ready to undergo the serious economic changes necessary to reach SDGs while maintaining quality of life. He later references the gap in GDP between India and the United States, as well as the population gap.

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In Morocco, Sonia Mezzour seemed confident. She referenced the previous Millennium Development Goals, which also seemed ambitious at the time, and the successes Morocco has had in reaching them. She states that “Morocco has done a tremendous work in reforms: economical reforms, in terms of political reforms, in terms of governance”. They have “eradicated poverty” and seen “major achievements” in gender equality. Tony Lee Luen Len, representing the Green Building Council of Mauritius, found organization to be the greatest challenge. Even after financing, the course of action can be known but accomplishing it can still be an obstacle.

Throughout the discussion, the local actors also stressed the importance of the grassroots movement and organized collaboration being key in a partnership. Another powerful statement was given by Amr Almadani, with the King Abdullah Center for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Saudi Arabia. After noting that partnerships and technology are crucial in meeting these goals, he said that empowering individuals is at least as important. All of these pieces play together to overcome the challenges they had mentioned and to work towards a comfortable and balanced future.

This discussion can be viewed here:

Additionally, a discussion on financing these goals can be found here (many more relevant videos can be found on the same playlist):

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About the author
A.J. Rohn
A.J. is a recent graduate of the Geography and Environmental Studies programs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a passion for writing and interests in areas ranging from ecology to geosophy to geopolitics. He enjoys the geography of Wisconsin, be it the north woods or city life in Madison. He loves to read research papers in geography, books by scholars like Yi-Fu Tuan and Bill Cronon (both at UW-Madison), as well as classic fiction writers like Thomas Pynchon and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is very much inspired by the work of all the people he encountered in Madison’s geography department, so expect a wide range of topics when reading his articles here.