The New Urban Agenda (NUA) was created out of the United Nations Conference Habitat III to address the need to focus on the world’s most built environment, namely cities. The focus on cities is pertinent because by the year 2050 two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, according to the United Nations. Within NUA, the focus on sustainable development and reimagining our cities to be inclusive and equitable for all is apparent but I found it interesting that the topic of creating more “smart” cities is only mentioned once. Smart cities or making a city “smart” involve integrating technologies and sustainability and or resilience measures through technology to advance, protect, and make a city more accessible for all. The 66th paragraph in the New Urban Agenda speaks to the “smart city” approach stating:
Paragraph 66: We commit ourselves to adopt a smart-city approach that makes use of opportunities from digitalization, clean energy, and technologies, as well as innovative transport technologies, thus providing options for inhabitants to make more environmentally friendly choices and boost sustainable economic growth and enabling cities to improve their service delivery.
New Urban Agenda, page 19
Ambitious as well as crucially needed for a future impending the harsh ramifications of anthropogenic climate change but does not fully speak to how smart-cities would be inclusive if implemented in cities. I believe that the integration of inclusive smart cities in the future and pertinent to address in this way as to not leave any person behind in its development. For instance, how can making a city smart involve inclusivity measures for out low-income areas, update urban services and disaster risk management plans, accessibility measures for persons with disabilities and older persons, as well as overall increasing the ability for people to choose as a developmental framework? Washington D.C. is attempting the rout of making itself a smart city and has yet to fully address the inclusivity measures that a smart city can have and therefore underutilizing the potential of integrated technologies to make the District smart. This is a lost opportunity that moving forward must be addressed and implemented in tandem with inclusivity measures for everyone as the city will be holding out the world’s future generations.
The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is a United Nations platform created in 2013 to deal exclusively with sustainable development. Under the Economic and Social Council, the HLPF meets every year to assess the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 grand challenges that are time-bound and overarching for our world to achieve. According to the UN, the SDGs were created to proceed with the 8 Millennium Development Goals that lacked more modern inclusivity measures and resiliency aspects for a world charged in addressing the negative impacts of climate change for instances. The expansive, inclusive, and resilient SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which address all forms of development – inclusive, universal, integrated, locally-focused, and technology-driven development. The goal-based planning approached that the SDGs are created on, claim that well-crafted goals are able to accomplish guiding the public’s understanding of complex challenges, unite the global community, promote integrated thinking, support long-term approaches, and define responsibilities as well as foster accountability. The SDGs are meant to have positive impacts and to turn our world for the better however multiple critiques have come out against the intent or potential impact of the SDGs. One London School of Economics posts critiqued the SDG framework for creating this agenda on a failing economic model. A Quartz article claimed that the SDGs undermine democracy due to the dictatorship governed countries apart of working groups created to monitoring and implementing of the SDGs. Lastly, Dr. Michelle M.L. Lim of the University of Adelaide claims that the SDGs goals approach should shift from goals to an integrative approach to prevent “cherry-picking” components of the SDGs in countries. Many critiques raised rank respectively in merit and in concern. However, it is my thought that only time will either confirm or deny these concerns raised against the SDGs. I think it is better to have some overarching global framework for sustainable development in place than none at all and the buy-in from nations to willingly want sustainable development for their nations, their citizens, our collective future generations is what will make the difference outside of the SDGs and the HLPF. By the year 2030, the HLPF will assess whether the SDGs were met globally and whether these concerns and the intention of every nation for wanting sustainable development will be revealed.
The term “Grand Challenges,” although I had not yet fully read the definition, reminded me of a constant focus in my study – material industries. Believed to be covered under the wings of the SDGs, our global economy is large if not entirely consistent in the material. Textiles and apparel, food and agriculture, and technology being the major three industries that are the nucleus of all material industries. Their respective supply chains cover every issue from climate change to human rights and are abundant in challenges.
For example, in the fashion industry effects and perpetuates environmental degradation, human rights violations, and tamper in good governance practices globally so that anyone could buy a $5 t-shirt and a $15 pair of jeans before it even makes it to the sale rack. I use this to preface that a “Grand Challenge” is just as Branscomb defines as a “technically complex societal problem(s) that have stubbornly defied solution.” To want to solve the challenge of restructuring material economies and industries to do better by the environment, foster job creation that is positive, and aid in good governance practices is a lofty goal to want to reach. According to the United Nation Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, the clothing and textile industry contributes 2.4 trillion dollars to global manufacturing, employs 75 million people worldwide who are mostly women, are responsible for 8-10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, 20% of industrial wastewater pollution worldwide originates from the fashion industry, and 500 billion dollars is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and lack of recycling. The fashion industry has an implication on almost all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and therefore I and others agree that the industry itself is a Grand Challenge.
Solutions for this industry and other material economies are not simple by any means. How do we reshape how consumers interact with material economies, how do we restructure economies to be more circular, if circularity is even the answer or a short-term solution, and how would this affect vulnerable populations in the transition periods and in the long-term are all questions that have multiple avenues for foreseeable positive impact if addressed in some collaborative fashion. But, with any Grand Challenge, if industry, government, and other stakeholders are willing to come and work together to use their expert judgment to synthesizes disparate and often conflicting sources of information from their perspectives to produce an integrated picture of success by producing viable solutions the concept of a Grand Challenge may not seem so grand anymore.
According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4: Quality Education, a quality education is the “foundation to creating sustainable development.” It is largely understood that education is one of the most important factors in reducing poverty and improving quality of life. While the world has seen great strides in increasing enrollment, literacy rates, and access to education, there is one important factor that still has not received the attention it deserves in the education sector: inclusive education. An estimated 15% of the world’s population is persons with disabilities, which accounts for over one billion people, yet inclusive education is still greatly lacking in many countries. Education is the key to social and economic development, and without inclusive education, sustainable development efforts cannot be fully achieved.
In 2003, UNICEF released a study on Inclusive Education Initiatives for Children with Disabilities: Lessons from the East Asia and Pacific Region which was a pivotal study in the disability-inclusive education field. Through studying policies and programs throughout Southeast Asia and China, the report made a number of recommendations that have been instrumental in creating and improving inclusive education initiatives around the world. While the study had a long list of recommendations for improving various aspects of inclusive education, some of the fundamental recommendations included improving and funding inclusive education training for teachers, increasing community participation, advocating for better understanding of children with disabilities and inclusive education both in schools and the community, and creating more flexible curricula and assessment procedures. These are the types of changes that need to be implemented in order to achieve SDG 4 of inclusive and equitable quality education and improving quality of life for everyone.
Since the UNICEF study back in 2003, there have been many changes in the possibilities for inclusive education specifically in regard to information and communication technologies (ICTs). In 2014, UNESCO and the Global Initiative for Inclusive Information and Communication Technologies (G3ICT) published a model policy for Inclusive ICTs in Education for Persons with Disabilities. The advancements of ICTs have created numerous opportunities for improving education, especially for persons with disabilities. In my view, investing in inclusive education is ultimately an investment in a better future for everyone and should be a top priority.
In 2016, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) occurred in Quito, Ecuador to discuss the future of sustainable urbanization. Around 30,000 people participated in the conference, representing member states, civil society, organizations with accreditation from the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and the General Assembly of Partners (GAP) which includes members from the Major Groups and other Stakeholders (MGoS). There was also an emphasis on having representatives from local and regional governments as these are key actors when considering urbanization.
The outcome of Habitat III was the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The purpose of NUA is to act as a guide for the next 20 years of sustainable urban development. There are several key concepts that NUA addresses as vital to a successful sustainable urban development framework. First, NUA emphasizes the importance of acknowledging all aspects of sustainable development in order to work effectively. The framework makes references to and is meant to work in conjunction with other frameworks related to sustainable development including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Paris Climate Agreement. Understanding the intersectionality between all sectors of sustainable development is the key to creating a successful structure to address it.
Another important element in NUA is the endorsement of the smart-city model. A smart city is an urban area that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs), such as sensors, to create a more efficient, accessible and overall better city. NUA encourages the adoption of the smart-city approach which encourages clean energy use, digitalization, and innovative transportation technologies to improve environmental sustainability, economic growth, and overall quality of life for residents. NUA also puts forward a new vision for cities, referred to as the “right to the city”, which essentially makes equal access to the use and enjoyment of cities a human right. Especially in a smart city, this would mean that both the built environment and the technological environment of the city must be accessible for everyone. The idea of the “right to the city” is an incredibly important step towards creating a more inclusive and accessible world. Future meetings and documents should continue to focus on the idea of the “right to the city” and promote it among local and regional governments around the world. I believe if cities are developed using this mindset, cities in the future will be far more accessible and inclusive for all residents.
When incorporating disability and development together, we run across the “Grand Challenge”. This is a challenge but also an opportunity for the world in which all people with disability are and feel included. Currently, more than one billion people in the world live with some form of disability which, in fact, is about 15% of every country’s population in the world. There may be physical impairment, but there are other components to disability like mobility and blind or visually or deaf or hard-of-hearing impaired barriers that people face. This goes to show that at any point in time, anyone can be become disabled. These barriers to such physical impairment can hinder their everyday actions regarding transportation, education, ICTs, employment, and political representation. Grand challenges are very difficult to resolve but they are very important problems.
We should care for this because of the moral rationality to this, because it is the right thing to do. Also, there is an economic rationale which is an universal design and provides accessibility that benefits everyone. Economically, there may be job creation and economic development opportunities are made by addressing the “Grand Challenge”. Additionally, there are legal and policy rationales that incorporates the CRPD—UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This is one of the fastest-growing human rights treaty in history. This factors in human rights instruments and development (socioeconomic) instrument. There are many articles within CRPD that demonstrates the shift become medical model to the social justice rights-based model. The United States has not ratified the CRPD and therefore, this becomes a critical time in the United States for people to have a paradigm shift.
The “Grand Challenges” are pretty time-bound and they seem to be ambitious goals but achievable. They aren’t impossible so we should strive to reach these goals. One thing that I’ve learned from this capstone class and about inclusive sustainable development is the fact that this study is very multidisciplinary. From Obama’s administration, there was a shift and from his administration, there was more of a focus on science and technology—a mobilization of our goals. Goals are so pertinent to achieving the global challenge, especially if they are attainable and achievable.
There are many actors involved in achieving the “Grand Challenge” and the UN DESA (Department of Education and Social Affairs), the Office of the High Commission of Human Rights within the Committee on the Rights of Disabilities. The MDGs were started as goals without persons with disabilities. Therefore, SDGs had goals that included the persons with disabilities. Since we saw that there is a high correlation between disability and poverty, we can have development for people with disabilities, but it should definitely include persons with disabilities. The study of inclusive sustainable development is such an interdisciplinary field of study where we find the relationships between these subject matters and need to consider various components and stakeholders for achieving these initiatives and goals.
Between the ever-worsening impacts of climate change and rapid urbanization around the world, the risks posed by natural disasters increase every day. Now more than ever before, disaster risk reduction is vitally important for protecting infrastructure, the economy, and most importantly, human lives. Since the 1990s, the United Nations has promoted disaster risk reduction as a crucial part of sustainable development. In 2015, the United Nations held the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan. At this conference, participants approved the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction as the successor to the Hyogo Framework. Because of the UN’s emphasis on the intersection of sustainable development and disaster risk reduction, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also include specific references to disaster risk reduction. It is very important that the UN continues to push this relationship between disaster risk reduction and sustainable development, especially as it relates to urbanization and the environment.
In recent years, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) has become a role model to other international organizations for their heavy focus on accessibility to their conferences and inclusion of persons with disabilities in their documents. The WCDRR in Sendai is considered by many the first international meeting to create a highly accessible environment, which allowed many persons with disabilities to participate in the conference. The Sendai Conference did an excellent job of leading by example on disability inclusion. It is very significant that the disaster risk reduction field has made such strides in inclusion and realized that they cannot achieve their goals without considering and including persons with disabilities, a population that makes up around 15% of the world’s population.
Luckily, the UNDRR did not stop there. In 2017, they held the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico, as a way to continue the work and check the progress of the Sendai Framework. This meeting also emphasized accessibility in many ways including having International Sign Language interpreters, accessible documentation, accessible transportation, and allowing remote participation through web-conferencing, remote hubs, and telepresence robots. The UNDRR should continue setting the example for disability-inclusion in international meetings, and other groups should begin instituting similar accessibility requirements for their respective meetings. In order for the UN to fully achieve any of its goals, it cannot forget to include and consult 15% of the world population.