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Meeting to discuss long-term sustainable development priorities in Belarus
On 15 October, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution «74/4. Political declaration of the high-level political forum on sustainable development convened under the auspices of the General Assembly». This document declares a Decade of Action and achievements for sustainable development.
On 29 January 2020, a meeting was held in Minsk to discuss long-term sustainable development priorities in Belarus in the context of the Decade of Action and achievements for sustainable development.
Joanna Kazana-Wisniowiecki, UN Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Belarus, and Marianna Schetkina, National Coordinator for Sustainable Development Goals, addressed the meeting participants with welcoming speeches.
In her welcoming speech, Joanna Kazana-Wisniowiecki drew attention to three areas that the UN has identified at the global level to improve the effectiveness of the Decade of Action. The first is mobilization: it is necessary to bring the understanding of the Sustainable Development Goals and their promotion, especially among young people, media, community leaders, to a new level. The second is to scale up the Sustainable Development Goals, which means to set even more meaningful goals and scale up action. The third is to find new solutions. The UN Resident Coordinator in the Republic of Belarus also noted that Belarus at the highest level has demonstrated its commitment to the concept of sustainable development and is significantly distinguished at the global and regional levels by the nationalization of the Sustainable Development Goals, i.e. the creation of national institutions to coordinate sustainable development policy and the formation of a system for monitoring the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Belarus' investment in human development provides the country with a stable position among countries with a high level of human development, as a result of which Belarus ranks 50th in the Human Development Index.
Marianna Schetkina noted that it is important to highlight pain points, which our country should work on first of all. Now Belarus is on the 23rd place in the ranking for achieving sustainable development goals. It is important not to lose this position, but, on the contrary, to move upwards. For example, a low birth rate was recorded in 2019, but sustainable development is necessary primarily for the population of the country, people – this is the most important value. Therefore, this demographic problem must be solved. According to the UN data, by 2035 the population over 65 will be 13% – this indicates the future load on health care, labor population and pension funds. This shows the importance of the economic component. Belarus has managed to achieve certain economic success, but there is also something to work on, for example circular economy, cyber security, updating of a number of professions. That is why the role of the educational system comes first in order to respond to the market, to ensure high knowledge-intensive GDP and high labor productivity. Another important condition for sustainable development today is the development of the business environment and the involvement of businesses in achieving their own sustainability and sustainable development goals. At the same time, the involvement of the entire population in achieving the SDG is a large-scale work that is just beginning.
An important part of the meeting was the presentation of the results of the study Peculiarities of Perception and Promotion of Sustainable Development Goals in Belarus.
The study involved 7 focus groups with different levels of education, income and professional affiliation. Evgeniy Krasnyansky, associate partner of CIVITTA Group SATIO, told about them. According to the results of work with focus groups in all regions of Belarus, the understanding of the term sustainable development is still superficial, reflects the desire for both growth and stability. FGD participants call the improvement of urban infrastructure, improvement of technologies, development of civil society as indicators. The participants identified economic prosperity growth, health and education as important Sustainable Development Goals (Goals 3, 8 and 4). The least important for the participants were Goals 10 and 5 (reducing inequalities, gender equality). According to the study, it is not enough to focus only on social advertising or information about the SDGs indicators to promote the SDGs. Information is needed on the simplest steps that everyone can take to make the goal a reality – even a global one, such as climate change. This gives an important sense of ownership. And opinion leaders can only support interest in the SDGs if they themselves provide models of desired behaviour.
The meeting continued with a panel discussion with representatives of the Sustainable Development Partnership Group. The participants discussed the implementation of the principle Leaving no one behind and the results of the presented research.
Irina Alkhovka, Chairwoman of the Board of the international public association Gender Perspectives, Coordinator of the Sustainable Development Partnership Group on social issues, noted that the research is a good opportunity to talk about the challenges we face. When gender equality falls into the last categories of priorities, it is an alarming situation, because the state gender policy was adopted 25 years ago, and now many people call gender equality issues alien to Belarus. At the same time, gender equality is one of the accelerators, contributing to progress in achieving other goals. Therefore, a large-scale state campaign is needed, which will talk about the benefits of gender equality and integrate gender policy into social, demographic and other policies.
Sofia Savelova, Deputy Head of the Coordination Center Education for Sustainable Development of the Belarusian State Pedagogical University, Co-Coordinator of the Sustainable Development Partnership Group on education, explained that the Association of Education for Sustainable Development has been working with sustainable development issues for a long time and understands that the key problem is that the word combination itself is poorly perceived and understood by people. Sustainable development is a reflection of a new stage in civilization where the source of development is peace, not war. For example, the Earth Charter gives the answer to the question of what sustainable development is, describes a new ethics with universal responsibility for all life. This is the basis of the principle Leaving no one behind. All work for sustainable development must be accompanied by educational practices. As a concrete example, Sofia cited a project combining efforts in the university, school and kindergarten in Grodno. Everyone benefits as a result: adults start learning about sustainable development from their children, who talk about it in simple and understandable language. We need to understand that young people are the main agents of change, and we need to let them show their initiatives, let them come out with their initiative and get support.
Yevgeny Shevko, chairman of the NGO Republican organization of the disabled – wheelchair users said that the problems of people with disabilities are not always clear to people who do not have disabilities. People with disabilities are the largest minority. In Belarus, 571,000 people with disabilities are every 17 residents, while every five years they are 35,000 more. It is like a small district center. It is important to make officials and the society understand where these people are, how they live and what to do to make them feel comfortable and worthy and be active members of society. An important point for solving this problem is employment, which allows the socialization and realization of a person. Unfortunately, statistics do not yet allow us to understand how many people with disabilities are employed. Such statistics will help to understand what to do with each group, where there are problems. Another important problem is the absence of a law on discrimination of people with disabilities and a mechanism that would allow to fight against such discrimination.
Darya Chumakova, Deputy Director for Program Activities at the Center for Environmental Solutions, noted that the study is fully consistent with CER's experience. Environmental block of Sustainable Development Goals is in demand and understandable, as people encounter them every time they try to learn how to sort garbage. Many efforts are made in Belarus to achieve these goals and it is important not to reduce ambition. At the same time, the goals of the environmental block are unique as they allow promoting other goals that some focus group participants did not consider relevant. For example, urban infrastructure is linked to transport and mobility, and healthy ecosystems affect the health and well-being of people. Alarmingly, Goal 13 (Combat Climate Change) does not seem to be relevant, but it is understandable: people do not understand that their daily decisions and choices (such as choices about transport or equipment) affect climate change.
During the discussion, the meeting participants once again stressed the need for a new level of information, intergenerational exchange, international cooperation and inclusion of all groups of people in actions to achieve Sustainable Development Goals.