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Jeffrey Sachs to deliver the TD Walter Bean Lecture in Environment

Friday, February 17, 2017

The world’s best-known economist visits Waterloo to discuss sustainable development in an increasingly polarized world

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In 1961 President John F. Kennedy shared his bold aspiration to put a man on the moon. Eight years later his dream was realized as Neil Armstrong took his “giant step for mankind”. For world-renowned economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are the "moonshot of our time". Equally as ambitious and challenging, but equally achievable.

Sachs should know, he served as special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on developing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and previously advised both UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals which preceded them. Widely considered one of the greatest minds in international economic and sustainable development, Sachs has advised dozens of heads of state on economic strategy, written six book, including three best sellers, and has received a host of awards and honors for his work on ending poverty and hunger, overcoming macroeconomic instability and promoting sustainable development. He is Director of both the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which supports the implementation of the SDGS and the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, which aims to translate the SDGS into meaningful practice.

Unanimously adopted by 193 UN member states as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, the goals are a blueprint to address urgent, far-reaching global challenges such as eliminating poverty, protecting the environment and promoting world peace. With 169 targets and 230 indicators, the goals are complex, interrelated and cannot be addressed in isolation. Hunger, for example, cannot be tackled without considering the role of poverty, inequality, and life on land. Progress towards sustainable cities must also consider climate action, responsible consumption and access to clean energy. Decent work in developing countries is often tied to education, which in turn may rely on access to clean water and sanitation.

Chart of 17 Sustainable Development GoalsTo address the challenges facing professionals who work on such intricate and interconnected issues, Sachs co-chaired a year-long commission in 2007-2008 with John W. McArthur. Together with 20 eminent scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines, they worked to develop recommendations to support the emerging field of sustainable development practice. The result was the world’s first Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) program and the creation of the Global Association of Master’s in Development Practice, a network of 30 universities and collaborating organizations around the world. The University of Waterloo was an early partner in the program, launching its MDP program in 2012.

Built on the pillars of natural science, social science, health sciences and management sciences, the MDP program is inherently multidisciplinary. “You cannot separate social issues from environmental issues,” explains Simron Singh, Director of Waterloo’s MDP program. “MDP is training young people to see these problems as interconnected.” By teaching students to ask the right questions, build the right teams and critically look at the root causes of problems across scale,  they are better prepared to tackle the complex and interconnected issues represented by the Sustainable Development Goals. That, he says, is the power of the MDP.

Even with the best training however, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 will be no small fete. Broad and universally inclusive, they declare “No-one must be left behind.” They call on all stakeholders to participate, from the largest nation state to the smallest rural village. And they call on universities, governments, businesses and individual citizens to work together towards a greater good. In an increasingly polarized world, it’s one tall order.

On March 28th, Jeffrey Sachs will be at the University of Waterloo for a panel talk on implementing the SDGs and to present the 2017 TD Walter Bean Lecture in Environment. His talk, Rising Nationalism versus Global Cooperation for Sustainable Development, will explore the dynamic tension between the need for solidarity around the Sustainable Development Goals and the rise of patriotic self-interest that threatens to derail foreign aid, international trade and global progress made towards development and climate change issues.


Interested in learning more about the Sustainable Development Goals? Register now or the TD Walter Bean Lecture in Environment on March 28th and follow Sustainable Development Goals and the Faculty of Environment, our series showcasing a selection of the work students and faculty members are doing to address these global issues.

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