Climate, Power of Youth Leadership and New Corporate Activism: What to Look for at UNGA 2019

The annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is a major global convening, starting in the second half of September. Officially, UNGA will assemble 190 heads of state, ministerial and government delegations in New York for official sessions and deliberations.

For leaders from international organizations, NGOs, academia, media and global companies, this gathering and more than 150 events that will be taking place across the city in a span of 10 days provide a vital opportunity to 1) take stock of progress on 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 2) explore new collaboration opportunities between the public and private sector and 3) reaffirm a broader societal commitment to address some of the more pressing issues we are all facing today – from climate change to refugee crises to ensuring broader economic prosperity and opportunity for all.

There are three broader themes this year that will have broader impact on international policy, business strategy and the global agenda overall:

  • Climate: the UN Secretary General prioritized the need for action on climate change, and will open the UNGA week with the Climate Action Summit. The past four years have been the hottest years on record and carbon dioxide levels recently reached the highest point in human history. UN’s overarching goal is to raise ambition to limit global temperature rise to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. Multiple innovative public and private sector commitments are in the works and will be announced on September 23 and throughout the following week.
  • Power of Youth Leadership: one of the most notable development this year is the novel focus on youth and new leadership. More than ever before, young leaders now have an active and resonant voice, capable of shaping policy and business decisions. One of the leading examples – Greta Thunberg—Swedish high school student and reportedly a Nobel Peace Prize nominee—mobilized hundreds of thousands of students and youth activists around the world to join her School Strike for Climate movement. She recently sailed into New York ahead of UNGA, with a multitude of young leaders expected to join her through a series of events leading up to her speech at the Youth Climate Summit—the largest youth summit organized by the UN to date.
  • SDGs and New Corporate Activism: among the many official and unofficial gatherings on the sidelines of UNGA, three mega events will bring together heads of state, leading CEOs and multilateral leaders—World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Summit, Bloomberg’s Global Business Forum and Concordia’s Annual Summit—will focus on a broad range of topics from food security; 5G and infrastructure development; to circular economy; financial inclusion; fintech and blockchain; mental health and many more – with one common denominator of achieving progress on the SDGs and the broader sustainability agenda.

The emphasis on sustainable development is no longer a top priority just for governments, NGOs and the multilateral world. Several companies – in the US and around the world, have taken a vocal stand over the past year on topics like gun control, gender equality, refugee integration and more. The Business Roundtable—an association representing largest American businesses—recently released its updated statement on corporate purpose, officially moving away from shareholder primacy towards a broader commitment to all stakeholders. The theme of partnership underscores a simple premise that businesses cannot be successful in a failed world—generating long-term value and addressing challenges faced by all stakeholders will result in sustainable, shared prosperity for business and society as a whole.

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