By Victor Weis
Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, developed and endorsed by the United Nations General Assembly by all its member states, is a comprehensive policy plan combining social, economic and environmental objectives and their interactions with an integrative and strategic perspective.
As part of the High Level Political Forum meeting at the “Agenda 2030 – Sustainable Development Goals” held in the United States in New York on July 17, 2019, the State of Israel presented its first inter-ministerial report showing the implementation of its Development Goals (SDGs). That week, the Israeli government approved a government decision that going forward, global sustainable development indices for 2030 will be integrated and embedded into government strategic plans, affecting the long-term planning of the State of Israel.
I was chosen to represent the SDGS Coalition of Social Change Organizations in Israel, that set up in collaboration with the Heschel Center for Sustainability, Civil Leadership (the umbrella organization of the civil society organizations in Israel) and Itach Ma’aki (a women’s rights organization). I joined the Israeli delegation to the United Nations, which included the Minister of Environmental Protection, the Director of the Ministry of Construction and Housing, the Head of Planning, and other government representatives.
The event began with a festive event that included an inspiring speech by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. In his speech, he emphasized that development is not sustainable if it is not fair and egalitarian, and that the effort to ensure that no one is left behind should be at the heart of the effort to implement sustainable development goals. He gave a review of the global situation with great concern about poverty, inequality between countries and within countries, access to health, education, equal opportunities and violence towards women, refugees and more.
He especially related to the issue of climate change, pointing out that climate change is moving faster than humanity’s response rate, the concentration of carbon in the air is the highest since the last 3-4 million years, and in history when the temperature was 3 degrees higher, the sea level was 10-20 meters higher.
In addressing the crisis, he called for cross-sector cooperation, massive investment, and emphasized the central role of the private sector in ensuring prosperity and ensuring the implementation of the sustainable development goals. Finally, the UN Secretary General boldly urged world leaders not to come up with impressive speeches for discussions, but to come up with concrete actions, work plans and a commitment to accelerate the achievement of sustainable development goals and the Paris Agreement.”Citizens of the world do not want to hear empty promises from them, they are demanding dramatic changes that are required in the face of challenges.”
At Israel’s voluntary national report, the presentation featured a video produced for this purpose, starring Lucy Aharish, a media star, who is also an Israeli Arab, followed by Minister of the Environment, Ze’ev Elkin on behalf of the Israeli government, highlighting the contribution of Israeli innovation, ingenuity and technology in helping to achieve sustainable development goals and reducing gaps.
After the Minister’s presentation, I had the privilege of presenting the report written by the Israeli SDGs Coalition, which concludes a year’s work, during which recommendations for principles and mechanisms for integrating civil society into formulating the SDGS goals were formulated. In my speech, I emphasized that the greatest challenge we are facing in Israel is how to ensure prosperity and well-being for all parts of the Israeli population. This can only be achieved by giving equal opportunity to disadvantaged and vulnerable groups in society, to be partners in policy design and finding solutions. The civil society report was attached to a report by the Israeli government and submitted to the United Nations.
Finally, on behalf of his generation, my 15 year-old son, Or Weis made a speech during which he emphasized the young people’s concern for the fate of the earth and urged the governments to take urgent steps to move to a renewable energy-based economy and stop the use of fossil fuels. With a passionate appeal to world leaders, he called for all the necessary steps to ensure his generation has an equal opportunity, and to ensure that they were not left behind.
To view the full report from Israel from the United Nations broadcast channel, you can watch the link from the minute 1:04:40
To view the speech of Heschel Center CEO Victor Weis, and the young generation’s representative, Or Weis can be viewed here link
At the end of Israel’s report, questions were presented by other states. Among those who commented on Israel’s report are representatives of Palestinian affiliated organizations who attacked Israel for its discriminatory policy toward Palestinian civilians, to which Minister Ze’ev Elkin responded that there are no boundaries to issues like environment and sustainability and that he supports cross-border collaborations over these issues.
In the afternoon Israel held an impressive event attended by business companies and civil society organizations presenting technological and social innovation demonstrating the implementation of sustainable development goals. Foreign Ministry officials noted that it was one of the biggest events Israel has produced at the United Nations.
The encounter with the international processes that many read about in the press was fascinating and inspiring. I met with interesting people from all over the world, and real effort was made as well as from the UN to lead change through the framing of the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, but despite the great efforts invested, the pace of change is too slow in the absence of control mechanisms, and significant international enforcement.
In Israel, an initial infrastructure was laid out that maps a preliminary situation, regulating a government decision to build a mechanism for assimilating government policy objectives, but the challenge for civil society representing different strata and sectors in Israeli society is to ensure that it is integrated into the policy-making process and decision-making mechanisms to implement the policy objectives. On the other hand, they also need to monitor how the policy is formulated and implemented and to point out failures and blind spots in the government’s work.