Report from the 68th UN Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City

Salt Lake City, Utah, August 26 – 28, 2019

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A story by Lance Jay Brown, President of the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU)
 
From the 26th to the 28th of August I represented the CSU at the 68th UN Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City. As noted by the UN “The United Nations Civil Society Conference” is the premier event in the civil society calendar of the United Nations. This year it attracted over 5,000 participants representing over 700 civil society organizations from over 100 countries. Each Conference focuses on a different UN topic of interest related to the work of civil society and NGOs. This year the focus was on Sustainable Development Goal 11: “to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable”. This international forum also brings together senior UN System officials, prominent international civil society organizations, academicians, public opinion makers and international media to discuss issues of global concern.”

LJB with SDG 11 Conference Banner

This conference was the first of its kind to be held in the United States outside of New York since its founding  in 1949. In this regard it was considered a fulfillment of the UN goal of bringing the UN to the people. It was also the largest meeting of the Civil Society organization since its founding and, perhaps most importantly, had by far the greatest participation of youth from around the world.

Two essential outcome documents from the three-day meeting were read aloud by the two committees’ authors and then ratified by the attendees at the closing plenary session. 
The first document, the 25-point Youth Climate Compact is available at this link and is essential reading. https://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/content/youth-climate-compact-0

The second document, the First Draft of 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference Outcome Document begins by stating “We, the participants of the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference, adopt this document to advance the 2030 Global Agenda for Sustainable Development as it builds on the education and global citizenship focus in Gyeongju (2016) and the focus on people-centered multilateralism in New York (2018). This year we concentrate specifically on SDG 11. We do so by highlighting inclusivity, climate change, peace, economic opportunity for our youth, and the development of infrastructure and technology needed to support sustainable growth. For each of these we affirm our beliefs, urge others to partner with us, and commit to action.” The Outcome Document, also essential reading, is available via   https://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/content/uncsc2019-outcome

Salt Lake City set a new bar of hospitality for a conference. From my arrival at the airport to my departure from the city I was constantly aware of how much had been done to host the participants and to make them actually feel welcome. Receptions and performances were held with both traditional Navaho and Modern dance juxtaposed at the welcoming party; a private performance at the Salt Lake City Tabernacle with the celebrated 360 person choir singing in the 21,000 seat hall; and other events throughout and up to the closing.

Native American Dance Company
LJB with Company Leader
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square
LJB with Nicolette Templier, Miss New York Earth USA 2019

Salt Lake City has an impressive record on sustainability, resilience, transportation, and social equity. Current Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski noted that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) parallel the work being done to make Salt Lake City 100 per cent clean-energy powered by 2032. The city claims the first two “net-zero” fire departments in the United States and the Mayor is building the first police department that is 100 per cent renewable-energy driven as well as an energy-neutral international airport. I was also impressed with Salt Lake City’s record on diversity and inclusivity, including the city program’s for refugees and immigrants, as was made evident when I talked to local conference attendees and a group of students and young professionals from the Somali refugee community.

LJB with Somalian Refugee Students
LJB with Colleagues from Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone

So much was happening simultaneously that to report on all would be difficult. However, a few activities left strong after images. I was impressed by  the thematic session on the Salt Lake City region and city titled “Local and Regional Governments Leading the Way to Sustainable Communities”. The session was moderated  by Vicki Bennett, Salt Lake City Sustainability Director and had speakers from the Utah State Legislature, Progressive Park City, the Salt Lake City Food Program, the Salt Lake City Energy Program, and Utah Clean Energy. Clean energy goals, advanced transportation planning and design and other initiatives were detailed and are available for review online.
 
Also impressive were the numerous non-profits that had booths in the Exhibit area, especially the post disaster work of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and the Peace Boat workshop building a 2,000 passenger greenest ocean liner in the world.

LJB in post-disaster discussion with the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation
LJB with the WeLoveU Foundation

The most compelling session was the UN2020 workshop, the last of the three days of meetings. This workshop was preceded by a thematic session on day two entitled “Civil Society Partnerships for the UN We Need”. There was a welcome by Alison Smale, the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications and it was expertly  moderated by Poonam Kumar, of Capital City News (SLCtv). Speakers included: Maruxa Cardama, Chair, the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference, Secretary General of the Partnership on Sustainable and Low Carbon Transport (SLoCaT); Uzma Gul, Asia Pacific Regional Head, the Commonwealth Youth Network for Peace, Fergus Watt, Coordinator, UN2020 Campaign​; Maher Nasser, Director, Outreach Division, UN Department of Global Communications; and  Fabrizio Hochschild, United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Preparations for the Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the United Nations. The workshop asked a series of questions about UN2020 and we await the report that will be shared from this session. I suggested that a series of focus sessions be conducted to engage the thoughts of the lay community and this is likely to be acted upon. The activities of UN2020 and preparations for the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the UN were discussed at length. The CSU will strengthen its work ensuring that SDG 11 will be THE central SDG in 2020.

UN2020 Workshop
LJB with Fergus Watt, Executive Director at World Federalist Movement and UN2020 organizer

One of the most rewarding experiences I had was the first night when I was invited to be the “catalyst” speaker at an off-the-record dinner supported by PMI and organized by Washington, DC’s CollaborateUp. The 20+ dinner guests included: former SLC Mayor Ralph Becker; Christopher Williams, UN-Habitat New York Office Director; State and City officials; a Mormon Church official; the CEO of the National Green Electronics Council; the President of the Women Tech Council; the Strategic Planning Manager for Verizon; and other state, industry, and academic thought leaders. The dinner discussion, including my prompt about how we can rectify what 300 years of industrialization has wrought in only 11 more years, concluded with suggestions to address community needs by working more closely with communities, strengthen communication with people you do not know on challenges and complex issues, and how to simplify language in order to move forward more successfully.

LJB with Chris Williams, Director, UN-Habitat New York Office
The Youth Compact Committee at the closing Plenary

I encourage all to visit the website of the 68th UN Civil Society Conference and discover more about the events that took place. All major addresses are available including the closing address by H. E. Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly. All session and workshop recordings are available as well. Please visit https://outreach.un.org/ngorelations/
 
Lastly, as a relatively new Civil Society NGO, the CSU will seek early involvement during the planning of the 69th UN Civil Society Conference.