SFU students participate in UN sustainability forum

By: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor – Original Post on “The Peak” website

Between July 13 and 18, SFU students participated in the United Nations (UN) High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development.

After being established in 2012, the forum is conducted for eight days annually. The need and goals for the forum were outlined in “The Future We Want” outcome document which resulted from the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. SFU students Landon Reeves, Dhwani Babla, and Andreea Pirvu attended the forum this year, at New York city, as a part of the unofficial youth delegates of Canada.

Reeves, Babla, and Pirvu had applied to the forum through B.C. Council For International Cooperation (BCCIC) and were accompanied by students from the UBC and UVic, along with working professionals from around the province

Reeves, a third year student of Engineering Physics, shared the group’s experience and achievements in HLPF 2018 in an interview with The Peak. He expressed that their learning experience and role as change-makers began right from the application process.

Protesting the official application process

A notable step of action for Reeves and his team was to protest the federal government’s delayed response in selecting the official student delegates from Canada.

Reeves explained that, as he and his team had applied through BCCIC as self-funded students, they had time to prepare themselves for the forum. “Not all students could afford to fund themselves and being appointed as the official delegates by the government would help them participate, and the delayed selection by the officials created a challenge for those students,” Reeves continued.

Reeves mentioned that with the date of the forum nearing, his team was offered the option to be the official Canadian delegates by the federal government. “We rejected the offer to protest the unresponsiveness of the government,” said Reeves.

“We are pushing for the selection process to be contracted out to external groups, particularly [non-governmental organizations] specializing in youth selection processes so that a more diverse and inclusive team gets to be picked next time, with complete transparency.”

Experiences at the forum

When asked why he chose to participate in the forum, Reeves told The Peak, “In my perception, in the interface of science and policy a lot of decisions are based on political rhetoric. There is a need to incorporate more scientific research into it, and the participation of students from STEM backgrounds in political forums like the HLPF can help bridge the gap.”

Talking about their experience at the forum, Reeves further mentioned that “we learnt to think more critically.” He explained that “Canada is presented as a world leader in UN’s sustainable Development Goals. However, our experiences and home and at the forum shows that we might be lagging behind a bit.

“The forum helped us further understand the contrast.”

The forum was an experiential learning process for Reeves and his team. He and his peers wrote shadow voluntary national reports and participated in additional events. They also met with John Mclaughlin, deputy minister of education and early childhood development New Brunswick, and Antonella Manca-Mangoff,Director of the international unit of the council of ministers of education, to begin work on increasing youth involvement in curriculum development. Reeves stated that he is personally still working on increasing youth engagement with education.

“The UN is often seen as an opaque institution. Participating in the HLPF 2018 helped us understand a bit more about the inner workings of the institution,” said Reeves, in a statement directed at possible future applicants.

“I learnt a lot from my experience, and would strongly recommend attending if you get the opportunity.”

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