February 19, 2016, saw the annual gathering of over 800 U.N. advocates meet at the United Nations Headquarters to hear an assortment of panel discussions from elite list of guest speakers sharing their thoughts on this year’s theme: “From Road Blocks to Building Blocks: Global Crises and the Role of the UN.”
Following remarks from UNA’s Executive Director, Chris Whatley, the day officially began with a formal welcome to the U.N. from Cristina Gallach, Under-Secretary-General, Communications & Public Information. Under-Secretary-General Gallach highlighted many of the successes achieved by the world body during the past year that included the passing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris climate change accord. Moreover, she added, how 193 nations came together with the “energy to transform the world.”
This year’s keynote speaker was Ambassador Sarah Mendelson, U.S. Representative for the Economic and Social Affairs Council, U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Ambassador Mendelson spoke of the World Humanitarian Summit that will take place this May in Istanbul, Turkey. She specifically centered her address on the fact that the global community should be looking at a shift in their organizational culture to a more data-driven approach where data becomes the central point of their work. Ambassador Mendelson contends that this could help to alleviate the relief-development divide. Civil society should play a central role in this approach.
An interesting panel discussion ensued on titled Post-Paris Leadership for Climate Change where one of the guests, Nilda Mesa, Director, New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, remarked that cities are “where the rubber meets the road” when it comes to climate change. She specifically cited four important factors with regard to how cities can play a role in mitigating the effects of global warming: growth, equity, sustainability, and resiliency. New York is now fourth in air quality, which is quite remarkable given the size of the city.
The most poignant discussion of the day came from the panelists on The Refugee Crisis, Fabien Dubuet, Representative to the United Nations from Doctors Without Borders and Sana Mustafa, a student from Bard College and a Syrian refugee. Each gave their personal testimonies in the plight of this crisis. It is a humanitarian crisis of immense proportions. Ms. Mustafa shared of her personal experience of not having seen her father in several years after he was kidnapped by Syrian forces. Her mother and sister were smuggled to Turkey to escape the violence. When you hear of these accounts firsthand it places the crisis in its proper perspective. Finally, Mr. Dubuet commented that the U.N. Security Council is “failing’ and it is overall a “collective failure.”
The youth of our world have a vital role to play and this was never more evident in the panel of U.N. Youth Observers who shared their insights on what their experiences were like at the U.N. They encouraged the many students in attendance to take an active role in global issues and to become more involved in the work of UNA.
Members’ Day never disappoints those who attend this annual event. As we move through 2016, there are equally as many issues that will confront the global body. It is important that each global citizen stay actively involved.