Last week the 72nd regular session of the United Nations General Assembly convened in New York City. The General Debate will begin this week, focusing on the topic of Peace and Sustainability. The priorities following this debate will be: making a difference in the lives of ordinary people, preventing and mediating to sustain peace, migration, advancing the Sustainable Development Goals and climate, human rights and equality.
This session builds on the political momentum generated by the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals at the 70th General Assembly two years ago. The goals articulate a framework to achieve Peace and Sustainability in the planet. As previous goals adopted at the United Nations they will provide direction and offer a common language that will enable collective action across the many agencies at the local, national and inter-national level working to advance progress and well being for all.
This assembly, however, convenes at a time when an emerging populism, in the United States and in other countries, challenges the global order created after World War II with the establishment of the United Nations to facilitate cross-national collaboration to sustain Peace and prevent conflict. The sources of this populism are multipronged. They include discontent created by globalization, by the speed at which globalization has transformed communities and nations, dislocating the sense of what was customary and familiar, challenging for many their own identities. They include the resilient economic and social inequalities, and the uncertainty about the future caused by shifting economic conditions resulting from automation and trade. They include also a growing discontent with political institutions, even with institutions more generally, and a growing mistrust of experts and elites. We don’t yet fully know where this re-emergent populism will take us. If history serves us, it will undermine economic and democratic institutions, and in extreme cases it may lead to social instability, violence and the breakdown of democracy.
But global institutions and covenants such as the Sustainable Development Goals, or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will be challenged much earlier than democratic institutions and national Constitutions will. This will imperil the gains achieved since 1947 as a result of global collaboration resulting from the creation of the United Nations. It will also imperil the prospects for Peace and Sustainability.
These risks create a new urgency around educating all people about the Sustainable Development Goals and about the United Nations, its role and history. In the prescient language of the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO: ‘since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed’.
Since the Sustainable Development Goals were adopted two years ago, a number of teaching resources have been developed to assist in the effort of educating students and the public. With a number of collaborators, I developed two comprehensive school curricula, from kindergarten to high school, which are available at no cost from Kindle this week: Empowering Global Citizens and Empowering Students to Improve the World in Sixty Lessons.
Supporting the adoption of programs of this sort at a large scale, will require effective collective leadership, as discussed in the publication Empowering All Students at Scale.
Central to these efforts will be leaders, who can depend on tested leadership lessons in addressing the core challenges of making education relevant, as discussed in the recent book One Student at a Time. Leading the Global Education Movement.
As the General Assembly convenes this week to discuss how to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, let us with renewed urgency plant the seeds of Peace in the minds of people, reminding them of the pain and devastation which were the very reason to create the United Nations, and helping them gain the competencies that will help all advance Peace in our everyday lives.