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August 2019
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United Nations Relations

UPF Staff Attend UNITAR Rio+20 Forum

New York, USA - In preparation for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, June 20-22, UPF staff participated in a June 4 forum of the New York Office of UNITAR (United Nations Institute for Training and Research). The Organization of Islamic Cooperation helped organize this discussion of ethical considerations in advance of the global gathering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil known as Rio+20.

The forum examined three interconnected pillars of sustainable development - economic, social, and environmental – within the framework of ethical and religious values.

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The two sessions were organized as round table discussions. In the introductory session, Ms. Yvonne Lodico, Head of UNITAR’s New York Office, welcomed the delegates including representatives of governments, international organizations, the United Nations system, civil society, and the private sector. H.E. Mr. Ufuk Gokcen, Permanent Observer for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, delivered Opening Remarks. He outlined the relationship between faith and development in general and said that religion and development cannot be separated; they can be complementary, as long as religion promotes moderation. In fact, he said that religious leaders are brokering human rights issues and play important roles in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.

Other speakers added their perspectives. Mr. Akan Rakhmetullin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations, stated the need to find ways to include the concerns of all countries and all stakeholders in the discourse. He spoke of a future when 10 billion people will have needs to be addressed and urged that priority be given to the disadvantaged. He elaborated on the balance among the three Ps of sustainable development: the planet, profit, and people. All countries want to optimize economic growth, yet models are needed for a workable balance of industrial growth and available resources. He concluded by stressing the need to create a better life for the vulnerable.

Mr. Ahmad Farooq, Counsellor with the Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations and one of the coordinators of G77 negotiations on sustainable development, stated that an institutional framework for sustainable development has already been developed through intergovernmental discussions but that implementation is challenging. He mentioned some of the proposals, including a set of “sustainable development goals” to replace the Millennium Development Goals after 2015, the creation of a stronger and more effective environmental agency to oversee implementation, designation of "green economy" as a framework of action for all countries, and provision of financial resources through international cooperation.

Mr. Shahid Husain, Special Adviser in the Special Unit for South-South Cooperation of the United Nations Development Programme, talked about the exchange of resources, technology, and knowledge among developing countries, sometimes referred to as countries of the global South. South-South cooperation encourages a change of focus from national self-reliance to collective self reliance, which can result in greater cost effectiveness. It is hoped that Rio+20 will help reinforce the emphasis on South-South relations.

The second session, moderated by Mr. Taj Hamad, Secretary General of UPF, talked about the need to balance discussions of the exploitation of natural resources with the ethical and values perspectives of different faiths. Considerations of sustainable development should draw on the wisdom of spiritual traditions, which for many of the world’s peoples is the foundation for ethics.

Dr. Kishore Mandhyan, Deputy Director of Political, Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, began by stating that actions have consequences and that good ideas lead to good actions. He described prevailing paradigms of ecology: deep ecology, which advocates the inherent worth of living beings regardless of whether they serve human needs; feminist ecology, which considers gender a factor in ecological and political relations; spiritual ecology, which explores the intersection between religion, spirituality, and the environment; social ecology, which states that ecological problems are rooted in hierarchical political and social systems; and technological ecology, which pursues innovative technology that can address ecological challenges. He noted that the different approaches have had varying degrees of influence.

Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, President of UPF, addressed the topic of "Ethics and Sustainable Development" by providing a brief overview of various approaches to ethics. Despite important trends in ethics leading toward universalism, there are also trends toward moral and cultural relativism, making it difficult to reach universally agreed upon conclusions. He spoke about the efforts to develop a global ethic, underscoring the common ground that exists among most religions and most peoples, and its potential contribution to sustainable development. Since ethics is generally linked to religious worldviews, interfaith dialogue can make important contributions to a comprehensive ethics of sustainable development.

While participants in the forum agreed, in principle, that sustainable development is a moral good, there is still much work to be done in order to spell out the moral steps to be taken by individuals, governments, the private sector, civil society, and all stakeholders toward achieving that objective.

See also:

UPF's Statement on Sustainable Development
Text of remarks by Mr. Akan Rakhmetullin

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