In our second briefing on the first day of our Study Tour we had the privilege to be welcomed by two experts in the field of sustainable development, Dr. Thora Herrmann and Mr. Massimo Toschi.
Both work for the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD) in the United Nations Secretariat’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). The DSD provides leadership and is an authoritative source of expertise on sustainable development within the United Nations system. As the substantive secretariat to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), it promotes sustainable development through technical cooperation and capacity building at international, regional and national levels. The context for the Division’s work is the implementation of the Agenda 21, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation and the Barbados Programme of Action for Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. Within the DSD, Ms. Herrmann and Mr. Toschi are employed in the “Water, Natural Resources and Small Island Developing States” branch.
Our briefing with Ms. Herrmann and Mr. Toschi was extraordinary and unconventional. First of all, they sponsored our active participation by inviting us to ask questions and to interrupt them whenever we wanted. After that, Mr. Toschi explained that they did not want to talk only about sustainable development, but also about us! Foreseeing that some of us might want to work for the United Nations one day or do an internship in New York, they provided us with useful information on how to achieve these goals. Moreover, they virtually opened their doors to us by inviting us to their offices if we needed any information or simply wanted to talk to them. Some of us did that and enjoyed the experts’ open attitude and collaborative spirit. Giving us such outstanding opportunities deserves special thanks from our group. Dear Ms. Herrmann and dear Mr. Toschi: Thank you so much!
During the briefing, the two experts laid down their opinion on what sustainable development is, and which factors really ensure sustainability within all kinds of development processes. According to their point of view, the sustainable development approach is the only one that can effectively fight poverty. Not only does it deal with environmental issues and the protection of natural resources, but includes social and cultural aspects as well. In order to reach sustainable solutions, it is indispensable to integrate all stakeholders, i.e. all persons or groups involved, in the working and decision making process. Further, a sine qua non for the success of sustainable solutions is the implementation in the legislation. Without legally binding agreements, integral development cannot be attained. Ms. Herrmann illustrated and highlighted these fundamental thoughts by an example from her experience from living with the indigenous population of the Andean mountains in Chile.
During our conversation, another very interesting question arose: What approaches can one find within the United Nations system that look for the coordination of different departments working on crosscutting issues such as sustainable development? The two experts revealed that, in reality, no comprehensive approach exists and that, on the contrary, lacking communication between different agencies of the United Nations constitutes a significant problem. There are many different rivalling perspectives on sustainable development and coordination remains weak.
These are only some of the many topics discussed in our lively briefing with Ms. Herrmann and Mr. Toschi. Although it did not provide us with the amount of overall information about the role of sustainable development at the United Nations some of our group had hoped for, the briefing was very productive and informative. Sustainable indeed! On behalf of the Delegation from the Freie Universität Berlin I would like to thank Ms. Herrmann and Mr. Toschi for their engagement, their enthusiasm and especially for giving us an insight to their work, which went far beyond our expectations.