United Nations Assistant Secretary-General update on SDG progress at CIDT’s 50th anniversary celebration

The University was honoured with a keynote address from the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General as CIDT celebrated its 50th birthday. Executive Director Nikhil Seth of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) commented on the similarity and alignment between the respective missions of UNITAR and CIDT: helping behaviour change through adult learning and the challenge of achieving such change in human behaviour.

From its origins in diplomatic training, Director Seth has restructured UNITAR to reflect the five pillars of the Sustainable Development Goals: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnerships, with a special focus on the most distressed parts of the world.

Director Seth shared progress from the 2024 SDG report, which the Secretary General of the UN had called an outrageous and failing report.  In a world rocked by conflict and the rise of nationalism, he observed an erosion of trust in multilateral institutions. Since the COVID19 pandemic, 93 million people have been pushed back into extreme poverty. Only 17% of the Global Goals are on track, 33% have stalled or regressed and 50% have met only a minimum standard. With 140 million displaced, 2024 has seen the highest ever number of women and girls killed in conflict.

There have been some positive developments – in girl’s education parity, in 21 million lives saved with new HIV responses, in closing the digital divide and the promise of the malaria vaccine. However Director Seth reminded us that without peace, there can be no sustainable development. Without climate action there can be no sustainable development. And without finance – the SDG stimulus package being off-track – there can be no sustainable development.

The keynote was preceded by a presentation from CIDT’s newly appointed Head of Centre, Ella Haruna, who shared examples of key CIDT programmes through the lens of SDG Goal 17: Partnership and looked back at the five development decades and what CIDT did during this time. CIDT colleagues Dani Baur and Habiba Mohamed shared examples of CIDT’s current partners and projects in Somaliland and the Congo, and the input closed with voices of CIDT partners and friends on big picture global sustainability challenges and the role that Universities can play.

This was a theme that Director Seth took up in his keynote, speaking on Why Academia and Research matter in the multi-lateral system and in advancing the SDGs. With the Summit of the Future fast approaching in September 2024, he spoke of how the Summit’s “Pact for the Future” is envisioned to highlight the importance of contributions from civil society, academia, and the private sector. These actors are well positioned to help address complex global challenges that we all face, through evidence-based insights, interdisciplinary research and fostering innovation.

Before joining UNITAR, Nikhil Seth was the Director of the Division for Sustainable Development, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) at the United Nations Secretariat in New York. In this role he served as head of the Rio+20 secretariat and of the secretariat for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States; and led the division supporting the intergovernmental negotiations to reach consensus of 178 nations around the Global Sustainable Development Goals.

Watch the keynote

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