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Sustainability and Empowerment in Social Development

Megan Barry is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!

Empowerment has been a common theme throughout the 52
nd UN Commission on Social Development – empowerment of youth, aging populations, the poor, LGBT communities, women, and others. There were side events devoted to the unique challenges each of these groups face, as well as how to address the things keeping them disempowered. The variables at play are often limitless; the diversity of nations being represented makes the discussions even richer.

Issues affecting empowerment receive varying attention in different nations, depending on political climate, cultural factors, and economic standing. An underlying question we must ask is how to confront established cultural practices that perpetuate inequalities. This question is particularly important when we consider the history of Western-led development and our tendency to impose on other cultures aspects of our lifestyle we view to be unquestionably superior.

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Making Sense of It All

Erik Lampmann is a SustainUS delegate at the 52nd Commission on Social Development at the United Nations in New York. The theme of this year's commission is "Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, and Full Employment and Decent Work for All." Meet the CSocD-52 Delegation, or follow @SustainUS on Twitter and check out the SustainUS Facebook Page to track the delegation's work!

I’ve spent the better part of the past week at the United Nations in New York trying to make sense of my experience serving as a Youth Delegate with SustainUS at the 52nd Commission on Social Development. I’ve been privileged to join SustainUS in the past several months and to be a part of their efforts to change the paradigm around youth engagement within the UN system.

My experience contributing to delegation statements and policy interventions has been nothing short of trailblazing.

Frankly, it’s overwhelming. I’m a second-semester senior taking time away from my last semester at the University of Richmond to fundraise, travel to New York, and speak to the concerns of my generation within these storied halls. No one from my Irish Catholic, working-class family has ever had access to these sorts of spaces – no one that I’ve ever known has had their voice legitimized and accredited by the United Nations, the world’s premier organization working to ensure vibrant and resilient democratic societies.

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Eyes on Environmental Justice: Thoughts going into CSocD-52

Tuesday marked the opening of the 52nd session of the Commission for Social Development, taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. This year’s priority theme is “promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all.” I have cautious hope that progressive decisions will be made over the next two weeks, but I want to highlight one issue in particular. I urge the negotiators and civil society members present at the conference to make the environment, and environmental justice specifically, central to their policy considerations this year.

Environmental justice refers to the equal distribution of environmental benefits and burdens across all people regardless of race, nationality, or income. Environmental justice is becoming increasingly important as nations of the world work to fairly distribute the negative impacts of far-reaching environmental problems such as climate change. However, in arenas like the UN we have seen how easy it is for powerful nations (generally the most wealthy and developed ones) to push for the policies that most benefit them at the expense of less-developed nations. It’s past time for developed nations to take responsibility for the environmental impacts they have, rather than pushing them onto the countries least prepared to handle them.

However, I hope that this year’s CSocD will work to reverse that trend. An emerging issue this year (Item 3 (c) of the agenda) is the “social drivers of sustainable development,” (more info here). In the presentation of this topic, the Secretary-General defines sustainable development as the idea that economic growth, social justice, and environmental stewardship are all necessary factors in policy decisions that will promote development around the world. This type of multilateral approach to policy could have far-reaching benefits. It is important to protect our environment for future generations, but at the same time we need to encourage social development and social justice. The document mentions several strategies for achieving this balance, such as transitions to socially fair green economies and increasing employment “by expanding in low-carbon social service sectors such as education, health, public transport and leisure.”

This type of development, taking environmental justice into account along with developmental strategies, is our best path to a sustainable future. I sincerely hope the conference will follow through with the ideals that have been presented here. The emerging issue was presented and discussed starting Friday morning and I am watching. I encourage civil society members both present and at a distance to do the same.