On October 15th, USC’s international foreign service fraternity Delta Phi Epsilon hosted its first United Nations Day with Anna Mahalak, a representative from the United Nations Association. Mahalak is a Youth Engagement Manager with UNA-USA and led the discussion about the progress of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, their current focus on climate action and resources and opportunities for students to get involved.
Mahalak began by emphasizing the current tension on youth voices in civil society today. She said there is not one token youth voice, but a variety influencing global movements and enacting change. With 60% of UNA-USA members under the age of 26, Mahalak believes that young people are mobilizing for what they believe in.
Mahalak said UNA-USA’s core mission is to educate and mobilize Americans about the work of the UN to support work such as the SDGs. The network has over 200 chapters across the United States. UNA-USA also hosts a variety of events throughout the year, such as UN Day in October, a Global Engagement Summit at the UN in February and a Leadership Summit in DC in June.
A current focus of UNA-USA is on the progress and completion of the Sustainable Development Goals. Mahalak gave a background on the SDGs and explained their importance to UNA-USA. Adopted in 2015 by all members of the UN with the goal of completion in 2030, the SDGs are comprised of 17 goals for the improvement of the world with 169 targets and indicators of whether these goals have been met. Mahalak challenged students to reflect on USC’s campus to see what steps have been taken, or not taken, to engage in actions that meet these goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals are different from the Millennium Development Goals, which were undertaken from 2000-2015. Whereas the MDGs were mainly targeted at developing nations, SDGs apply to every country, and the United States still has major strides left before meeting the goals by 2030.
“Our Planet. Our Future” is the theme for this year’s United Nations Day and the 74th anniversary of the founding of the UN. Mahalak spoke on how the current climate crisis is impacting the world at alarming rates. Secretary-General António Guterres has said that climate change is the defining issue of our time. UNA-USA has helped chapters across the US implement sustainable changes within their communities. Mahalak emphasized that the government needs to take drastic changes, but activism is making progress.
Mahalak discussed how the SDGs are also interconnected through illustrations such as the connection between climate change and access to clean water, sanitation and achieving zero hunger.
The current US administration has declared that the US will be backing out of the 2017 Paris agreement facilitated by the UN but has not yet officially left. Mahalak encouraged students to engage in local activism and to engage with their politicians to make their voices heard. She pointed out that many youth voices such as Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Villaseñor started their movements alone. The students in communities across USC are not alone and can work together to make change.
Mahalak gave students resources to start taking action immediately. By texting PARIS to 738-674, you can receive a form to fill out to send to your members of Congress asking them to take a stand on the climate crisis and remain in the Paris Climate Agreement. Mahalak said, “Our biggest threat is not climate change, but thinking someone else will fix it.”
To conclude, Mahalak elaborated on the opportunities UNA-USA has for students such as conferences at the UN and professional development. Additionally, UNA-USA and the UN have internship opportunities and applications online for students looking to further get involved.