Standing and marching together for sustainability

By Khaled Diab, EEB, with additional reporting by Tanja Gohlert, GCAP

During the Global Week of Action (20-27 September 2019), which included the Global Climate Strike, the largest climate protest in history, SDG Watch Europe partners and the Make Europe Sustainable for All (MESA) project organised and were involved in actions, activities and events across Europe and beyond.

The action week marked the fourth anniversary of the adoption by the UN of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year marked a new joint mobilisation of the climate and youth movements and a wide range of civil society partners to #StandTogetherNow. The Global Week of Action was a huge success, with over 50 million people in more than 1,000 cities and 125 countries participating. In addition, approximately 7 million people took part in the global climate strike campaign on 20 and 27 September alone. 

In Brussels, which has been the scene of sustained protest for months with the largest climate demonstration drawing 70,000 in January, an estimated 15,000 people marched through the Belgian and EU capital. The Brussels march was spearheaded by the Belgian chapter of Fridays for Future, with the EEB and GCAP as a co-organisers on behalf of SDG Watch Europe.

 The march ended up on Schuman Square, at the very heart of the European quarter, to send a clear message to EU leaders. There, SDG Watch Europe, in an action conceived and executed by the EEB, rallied hundreds of protesters to form three words with symbolic significance for sustainability: ‘climate’, ‘equality’ and ‘voice’.

 In the Czech Republic too, Czechia Against Poverty and Inequalities (MESA’s Czech member) partnered up with the local Fridays for Future movement, joining the climate march on 20 September in Prague, which attracted 3,000 protesters. That same day, MESA took part in the Festival for the Future and Sustainable Development, appearing on the main news programme of the Czech Republic’s most popular TV channel that evening during prime time.

In Germany, MESA partner Forum Umwelt und Entwicklung joined the climate march carrying 17 umbrella boats, one for each of the SDGs, and distributed to protesters postcards with seven SDG-related slogans.


Reaching policymakers

On 24 and 25 September, heads of state and government gathered in New York for the UN  SDG Summit, the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, under the auspices of the UN’s General Assembly. 

GCAP, in cooperation with 21 global and regional partners, organised a parallel People’s Assembly in New York, which brought together 300 civil society representatives at the UN Church Centre. These delegates, from 80 different countries and over 200 organisations, represented thousands of people whose voices would not otherwise be heard, much less given seats at the UN. A key result of the discussions was the People’s Assembly Declaration which calls on governments to adopt more responsive policies and implement radical measures in the economic system to stave off environmental devastation. 

In addition to attending the climate march in Dublin, MESA partner the Irish Environmental Network co-drafted an open letter to Irish officials in advance of their departure to New York and delivered it to Irish parliamentarians. In Spain, Movimiento Por La Paz briefed the Spanish delegation before it left for New York.

Some members of the project, including GCAP Italy and Movimiento Por La Paz in Spain, were in New York for the SDG Summit and People’s Assembly. In Portugal, CPADA carried out an analysis of the programmes of eight political parties from the perspective of the SDGs.

Similarly, MESA partner World Vision Romania sent a letter to the Romanian president before he attended the UN General Assembly urging him to engage Romania in the 2030 Agenda and to commit to combating all forms of violence against children. An event to launch the ‘Stamping out inequalities’ report, organised by World Vision and the Romanian Anti-poverty Network, resulted in more than 40 media appearances, reaching an audience of some 2.5 million. 

Combating inaction

The action week marked the fourth anniversary of the SDGs, the set of 17 ambitious targets agreed at the United Nations which seek, among other things, to eradicate poverty, narrow inequalities, tackle global warming, protect nature and ensure that humanity lives within the boundaries of the planet.

“Four years of inaction have passed: 2020 to 2030 must now be the decade of action in which we change course and lead humanity on the path of sustainability,” said the EEB’s Director of Global Policies and Sustainability Patrizia Heidegger.

To help build the necessary momentum, the Hellenic Platform for Development coordinated the largest awareness-raising campaign in Greece and Cyprus related to the SDGs. Over 17 days, 91 organisations implemented 61 actions, including festivals, children’s workshops, public events, informative workshops, discussions, exhibitions and services in 30 towns and villages, attracting more than 39,000 citizens.

Back to school

During the Sustainable Action Week, the Lithuanian NGDO Platform launched initiatives involving 40 schools and youth centres, which reached over 1,800 young people in Lithuania, and included an SDG Ambassadors initiative and quiz games. CPADA in Portugal also targeted nine schools in Lisbon with its ‘In my school fits a world’ campaign.

In France, more than 5,000 people impressed their handprints on the SDGs wall in Paris, a participative street-art performance created by one of MESA’s French partners, 4D.

SDG Watch Austria, together with UNESCO Austria and the Austrian National Youth Council (Bundesjugendvertretung), organised an SDG Workshop for young people. Over 100 engaged students discussed the complex issues related to sustainability.

Despite progress in some areas, Europe, like most of the world, is way behind on its implementation of the SDGs, both at home and abroad, as reflected in the widening inequalities within Europe and in how the EU exports misery to other parts of the world.

To convince policymakers and politicians of the importance of championing a holistic approach to sustainability, SDG Watch Europe sent out a job ad for ‘Sustainability Heroes’ to members of the European Parliament. The EEB, on behalf of SDG Watch Europe, also took to filmmaking. In a light-hearted animated film, a selection panel inspired by the pantheon of ancient gods interview prospective MEPs for the role of Sustainability Heroes. Watch the video below.

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