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President Higgins appeals to world leaders to refocus on sustainable development

This article was originally in The Irish Examiner, written by Noel Baker and published on September 25th 2022.

President Michael D Higgins has called on world leaders to reaffirm their commitment to the implementation of UN sustainable development goals, referring to the shadows cast by global climate change and famine in east Africa.

The President made his comments at the end of Global Goals Week, the aim of which is to accelerate action on the sustainable development goals which were first agreed on back in 2015.

That followed a process co-facilitated by Ireland and Kenya, with the 17 goals seen as an urgent call for action by all countries — developed and developing — in a global partnership.

President Higgins said all heads of government and heads of state across the world needed to reaffirm their commitment to accelerating action on those targets, especially amid fears over the impact of climate change, also referencing the Paris Agreement at the COP21 conference.

“We must not allow the shadows which we are living under to defeat what are our best hopes, agreements which have such an intergenerational appeal, particularly among young people,” President Higgins said.

“We are now at a point where world leaders and our global institutions themselves must strongly consider how they can operate in order to ensure that the sustainable development goals are delivered effectively.”

He placed particular emphasis on sustainable development goal 2 — that of zero hunger.

“Surely the most important right which any of us must have is the right to be free from starvation,” he said. “Yet today we find ourselves, once more, in the position of another grave hunger crisis. One of cataclysmic proportions, with a death occurring every 48 seconds in drought-ravaged Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

“The growing impacts of our changing climate — itself the focus of sustainable development goal 13 — together with an unparalleled period of drought, has devastated crops, lost animals, and destroyed livelihoods. These factors are forcing millions of people to leave their homes in search of clean water, food, and farmable land, leading to a huge increase in internally displaced persons. The numbers displaced globally have now surpassed the 100 million threshold for the first time since records began.”

President Higgins welcomed the immediate humanitarian response pledged this past week at the UN in New York, but said “we must be willing to acknowledge that there are structural features, which the most powerful in particular are not recognising or showing willingness to change, which are producing these repeated food insecurities.

“If we are to be authentic in our global response to food security, there are changes in staple food production that we must make. There are dependencies which must be broken on suppliers and markets. There is debt relief we must give. There are regional protections, including grain resources, that we must fund. We must address the reliance on fertilisers. We simply must have diversity in food production, one that is ecologically responsible. We must recognise the immorality of basic foods being defined as a commodity for speculation in international markets. We are required to restructure trade.”

And he urged leaders to finalise a treaty before the end of the year to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development.

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