News.Sep 29, 2017

“We got the wheels turning on the SDGs”

Peter Thomson, former President of the United Nations General Assembly, made the implementation of the SDGs his priority. Twelve months down the line he can see the efforts having transformed into action.

“Every government that I’ve met has incorporated the SDGs in their national plans. The uptake has been very strong and this has become a world development plan in a way that’s quite inspiring,” he said when WaterFront met him after the opening plenary of World Water Week in August.

In June 2016, Thomson was elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, which has a mandate of twelve months. One of his most prestigious accomplishments has been the Ocean Conference that put the need for ocean work on the same level as climate work. However, Thomson quickly points out that in the development agenda everything is integrated and no one goal can be singled out.

“One is the failure of them all, and likewise a success. Getting meaningful movement on the SDGs, I think, has been the main contribution to world affairs during the past 12 months. We’ve now got proper momentum on the development agenda and the wheels turning on SDGs implementations.”

But creating awareness among govern­ments and academia is insufficient. Thomson would like to see the SDGs be part of the curriculum of every school in the world.
“Not that all children need to learn all the goals, but they should learn the logic behind them. It’s going be the young children that achieve the 2030 Agenda in terms of changing patterns of consumption. Why? Because, the success or failure of the goals will be the success or failure of their life.”

Thomson grew up in Fiji, and learnt to respect water from an early age. He started his career in development in the early 1970s, and became passionate about the life-changing effects that clean water and proper sanitation had in the small villages where he worked.

With climate change and rapid population growth, we need to find new solutions to current water issues, Thomson said.

“Many people would say that World War III will be fought over water, I personally don’t believe that. There is plenty of water to go around on the planet, it’s a matter of how we distribute it,” said Thomson, suggesting there is a need for innovative ideas to solve this, such as using converted oil tankers to transport water.

“We are now exiting the oil age, so why can’t we use those marine tankers and, after having converted them to renewable energy driven vessels, just fill them up with fresh water that we take from wet places to dry places?”

In terms of water challenges, Thomson points out that one of the most pressing issues is infrastructure investment.

“The urbanization rate in Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America is huge, so we must start investing in water infrastructure. That in combination with distribution is critical.”

After having spent decades in the development world, Thomson was starting to lose faith. That was until the emergence of the SDGs, which completely changed his perspective.

“The changes that have occurred because of the sustainable development agenda have made development into something you can pursue with faith that your grand-children are going to be ok, if you succeed. Before we were always trying to do the right thing, but half the time we were just blundering along. The fact that we’ve got the sustainable development agenda in place, is just a massive win for humanity.”