What exactly is the SDG summit?
After nearly three years of open global consultations, fraught negotiations and some high jinks, the proposed sustainable development goals (SDGs) are expected to be adopted by UN member states at a special summit convened at the UN headquarters in New York from 25 to 27 September. The event sits within the programme of the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), which opens on 15 September.
The SDGs will replace the millennium development goals as the new global goals to be accomplished by 2030.
What’s expected to happen?
The whole thing kicks off with a vigil on Thursday night, and then on Friday 25 there will an address by Pope Francis. Once the General Assembly gets underway the three days will feature a mixture of plenary meetings and “interactive dialogues” on the main themes of the SDGs – including ending poverty, tackling inequality and combating climate change.
The “interactive dialogues” are opportunities for non-governmental organisations to address the world leaders gathered for the summit. Amnesty International, Oxfam and Global Campaign for Education are among 24 civil society representatives that have been selected. Details of who is speaking when can be found here.
Who’ll be there?
Heads of state from around the world, representing all the global groupings: the G8, the Brics, the least-developed countries, the Arab group and small island states – Nobel prize winners and Beyoncé (more on that later), as everyone hitches their wagon to what has been billed as “the biggest launch in history”.
Can anyone attend?
The event can be attended by UN delegates, civil society organisations and the media. Accreditation for civil society organisations is now closed, but you can still attend all the side events. Check on the websites of organisations you are interested in as final dates to register differ.
A central list of all side events submitted to the UN is available here, but bear in mind that if your event is within the security zone, you will need to arrange access passes.
The Economic and Social Council chamber will serve as the overflow room for the interactive dialogues. If not attending, you will be able to follow much of the summit from the UN’s own live streaming site.
Will there be areas of New York to avoid if you’re not an attendee?
Seasoned attendees will know that with over 100 heads of state in one place the queues and security can be pretty tricky, but the advice this year is to brace yourself for worse. “Security will be tighter this year than it usually is because of the summit,” explains Dan Shepard, a public information officer at the UN. “The whole area from 2nd avenue to the UN will be closed. This is the security zone.”
Describing the “complex situation” around the UNGA, Thomas Gass, assistant secretary-general for policy coordination in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, says: “Right now they are re-tarring the streets, so everybody is getting ready from an aesthetic point of view. From [the beginning of September] they are going to start putting barricades up and then gradually locking down. There will be special lanes in the street for the motorcades – anything from three to about 25 vehicles.”
To get into the security zone, you will have to present your summit badge at checkpoints on 2nd Ave but Shepard says details of where to pick up passes for official events and side events have not yet been finalised.
Regular guided tours of the United Nations building will be suspended from 4.30pm on Tuesday, 22 September until Tuesday, 6 October.
What else should you be doing?
With a pope and royalty in attendance, it’s tempting to only stick with the official programme but Payal Dalal, an 11-year UNGA veteran, says that the experience is richer if you mix it up. Dalal, who is head of education and girls programmes at Standard Chartered, said: “Don’t just stick with the UN; go to the events you find interesting or where the dynamic people are going.”
“Don’t schedule a ton of bilateral [meetings],” she adds. “The most valuable conversations, in my experience, are the informal meetings in the hallways or at drinks after an event. There are some events that are always good like the Clinton Global Citizens awards or the McKinsey parties.”
If a room full of corporate types sounds like a drag, there will be many other gatherings to choose from. There were well over 200 events during the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa and the SDG summit promises to have equally rich pickings. Here are some big events worth knowing about:
- Climate Week NYC: So far, there are more than 50 events planned for the seventh annual climate week held between 21 and 28 September. Many of them highlight the complementarity between the climate and development agendas.
- Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting: This members-only event, held from 26 to 29 September, attracts the great and the good to speak, among them Virgin founder Richard Branson, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, and of course former US president, Bill Clinton.
- Private Sector Forum 2015: The role of the private sector has been increasingly championed by the UN and this event, organised by UN Global Compact on 26 September, will focus on partnerships.
- Global Citizen Festival: On 26 September Pearl Jam, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay will headline the annual festival for people who earn tickets by completing “actions to end extreme poverty”. Expect pop music with policymakers thrown in: it was at last year’s festival that India’s prime minister Narendra Modi pledged to tackle his country’s sanitation problem. And there,with Wolverine (I mean, actor Hugh Jackman) at his side, Modi’s “toilets before temples” slogan was born.
Need a break from it all?
Director of the post-2015 agenda at the United Nations Development Programme,Paul Ladd cautions against getting caught up in the whirlwind of events. “Go there with a business-like objective, not just for the general circus that is the general assembly,” he says. But Ladd recognises that much of the reason why people attend these events is to network. “Hang around the Vienna cafe [at the UN] to bump into key people,” he adds. The most recent review of the cafe on Foursquare says it’s a “good place to go when the UN gets too stuffy”.
What hashtags are worth following during the summit?
#Action2015: Over 2,000 organisations across the world came together to collectively campaign for more ambitious goals. No doubt many of them will be hosting events in New York.
#GlobalGoals: Making the goals more accessible to the general public has been a challenge from the start. The aim of Global Goals project, spearheaded by film director Richard Curtis, is to encourage general public engagement with the SDGs.
What did we miss?
Got an event in September? Add it to our SDG calendar and in the comment threads below.