Global Festival of Ideas in Bonn

Global Festival of Ideas in Bonn

Linnéa and Anastasiya of SDSN Youth recently attended the Global Festival of Ideas in Bonn.

Linnéa reflects on the power of having all stakeholders to the world's future, discuss ideas and new solutions in how to forward Sustainable Development and the SDGs.

Launch of the 2017 Youth Solutions Report

Launch of the 2017 Youth Solutions Report

SDSN Youth launches the first edition of the Youth Solutions Report to provide solutions to address global problems

NEW YORK, January 31 - The first edition of the Youth Solutions Report, which identifies 50 youth-led projects aiming to solve the world’s toughest problems, was released today at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The report, produced by the youth initiative of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN Youth) identifies and celebrates youth-led projects and ground-breaking ideas to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It reflects a growing interest in supporting and scaling innovative solutions to address problems such as poverty, inequality, clean and affordable energy, access to healthcare and education, e-participation and waste.

The report highlights the work of youth-led organisations, such as Liter of Light who bring over 750,000 affordable solar lights to 15 countries; the talented team behind BenBen who operate a Blockchain-based land registry that facilitates secure land transactions to encourage investments and transparent land resource management; FinFighters who run a citizen shark science program to collect genetic data and information from Moroccan fishing ports and market; and the group running the SHAPE project using mobile technology to promote citizens’ e-participation in their city’s public life.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, UN Secretary General’s Adviser on the SDGs, and Minister Karen Ellemann, Danish Minister for Equal Opportunities, launched the report during a two-day forum on youth and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The report was produced in partnership with Ashoka, Sustainia, the Resolution Project and Panorama (joint initiative of IUCN and the German government) and has been reviewed by a panel of experts, comprising leading figures from business, civil society and academia.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, has supported the initiative. “SDSN Youth and its Youth Solutions Report are excellent examples of initiatives crucial for helping young people realize the full potential of their abilities, innovations and solutions.”

“Today we have the largest generation of youth in history - a powerful force for change. 84 percent of millennials are convinced they have a duty to make the world a better place, and many already are, through socially aware businesses and youth-led campaigns in support of the Sustainable Development Goals.” Mr Polman said.

Siamak Sam Loni, Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth, says that young people must be seen as key stakeholders in the sustainable development debate and that there is a pressing need to acknowledge their essential role in achieving the SDGs.

“Young people are already contributing to the implementation of the SDGs but they face common challenges that prevent them from realizing the full potential of their ideas and solutions, including the lack of visibility, limited access to finance, and the lack of training and technical support. The Youth Solutions Report will help investors, donors and supporters better understand the multi-faceted role of young people in sustainable development and give them additional opportunities to showcase and scale their work.” Mr Loni said.

For more information on the Youth Solutions Report visit:

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The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which was launched at UN Headquarters in September 2015 and adopted by 193 member countries of the UN. The SDGs, which are relevant to all countries, aim to achieve social inclusion, economic prosperity and environmental sustainability.

SDSN was launched by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, in 2012 to mobilize global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical problem solving for sustainable development, including the design and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

SDSN Youth is the youth initiative of UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, focused on empowering youth globally to create sustainable development solutions. SDSN Youth educates young people about the challenges of sustainable development and creates opportunities for them to use their creativity and knowledge to pioneer innovative solutions for the SDGs.

2016 - A Year in Review

2016 - A Year in Review

2016 was a year full of action, excitement and surprises in the arena of sustainable development. SDSN launched a new SDG Index and Dashboards, rolled out new courses at the SDG Academy, hosted several successful international conferences and more. Some of the key highlights are summarized below.

  • In the spring of 2016, SDSN, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, the SDG Charter, and the European Economic and Social Committee jointly convened a multi-stakeholder meeting in Brussels to explore the question of how to make the SDGs “Europe’s business” and position the EU as a key leader in sustainable development.
  • The summer got off to a great start with some hot new releases including the SDG Index and Dashboards, launched in partnership with The Bertelsmann Stiftung, one of the largest foundations in Germany. The Index and Dashboards will assist countries in operationalizing the SDGs using data available today.
  • In July, the SDSN, Ford Foundation, the Office of the Mayor of New York City, and 100 Resilient Cities co-convened a workshop on SDG localization. The workshop provided an opportunity to reflect on a range of practical tools to support implementation, including a new SDSN guide for cities getting started with the SDGs.
  • The new SDG 16 Data Initiative, on which SDSN collaborated, showcased currently available data on all SDG 16 targets. The global data compiled and presented on the SDG16 website were selected from a variety of official and nongovernmental sources by specialists from fourteen independent organizations.
  • During the September Leadership Council meeting, the SDG Academy was launched. It now has 10 courses and has reached 125,000 students worldwide.
  • During the same week the 4th Annual International Conference on Sustainable Development featured several high-level speakers, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica and Prime Minister Erna Solberg of Norway. The conference had over 1,000 people in attendance for the second year in a row.
  • Later in the fall of 2016, the global urban community came together in South America for two milestone events: the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders, in Bogota, Colombia, and Habitat III, in Quito, Ecuador. Following the adoption of the SDGs in 2015, Habitat III presented a unique opportunity for the world’s cities to signal their commitment to a more sustainable world and to assert their role in delivering it.
  • In November, the Government of Morocco, SDSN, WBCSD and ICLEI co-hosted the COP22 Low-Emissions Solutions Conference. Cities, business, academics and government came together to scale up solutions for climate action at COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, and accelerate the implementation of the historic Paris Agreement.
  • The Jeffrey Cheah Foundation generously provided a $10 million Gift to SDSN and launched the Jeffrey Sachs Center on Sustainable Development at Sunway University in Malaysia in December of 2016.
  • Finally, SDSN Youth had an instrumental year in the expansion of their network and activities. They are now operating with 60+ core youth, in 40+ countries, on a variety of initiatives including Local Pathways Fellowship, Global Schools Program, Vatican Youth Symposium, TwentyThirty and the Youth Solutions Report

Do We Have Solutions for a Low-Carbon Future?

Do We Have Solutions for a Low-Carbon Future?

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

One couldn’t find a better contemporary context for Winston Churchill’s famous words than the climate victory the world celebrated in Paris, when 193 governments signed on to a commitment to reduce the global temperature rise to well under 2 degrees Celsius. While after long years of failed attempts, the smell of fresh ink on this historic document and the noise of fireworks have made it all seem like a finish line, Paris has only marked the end of a long beginning.

Meeting the global climate target requires countries to submit pledges that must add up to driving CO2 emissions to nearly zero by the 2nd half of the century - a reduction needed to avoid the worst consequences of climate change - from extreme draughts to disruptions in food and water supply. Yet the national pledges submitted so far provide little comfort: cumulative contribution of INDCs nudge the world’s trajectory only slightly relative to where we need to be.

According to United Nations Environmental Program, without more ambitious pledges to rein in carbon emissions, temperatures could rise by around 3.4 degrees Celsius.

Have we just gone too far to fix the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves? Indeed, as difficult as reaching the Paris deal has been, translating intention into action will be a far greater challenge. Why? The short answer is, this is just how heavily dependent we are on fossil fuels.

Since the industrial revolution, fossil fuels have powered economic progress, with carbon emissions going hand in hand with improvements in living standards. With the legitimate aspirations of millions of people to escape poverty and achieve prosperity on an ever-more populous planet, the fundamental challenge of the low-carbon transition is to break the historic link between emissions and economic growth. This link is measured by carbon intensity – how much CO2 is emitted per unit of energy – and energy productivity – how much energy we need for a given output (e.g. a dollar of GDP).

This means the world needs to both learn how to do much more with less energy, and revolutionize the energy system to strip the carbon out of the equation.


[Global Emissions = CO2/unit of energy X energy/unit of GDP X GDP/capita X Population]


Have we signed up for an impossible task?

It may have been a hopeless endeavor, if not for the fact that we are the most technologically gifted generation in history.

In fact, the energy transformation is technologically and economically viable. This is what the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, a project led by SDSN and IDDRI, has demonstrated across 16 economies which together account for 74% of global GHG emissions. The study had national research teams map out sector-by-sector long-term technology pathways for limiting global warming below 2°C. The pathways modeled in all 16 countries, developed and developing alike, have demonstrated that deep decarbonization is feasible with known technologies, is economically affordable and compatible with other unique national priorities.

Each decarbonization pathway will rest on three pillars: energy efficiency, carbon-free electricity and fuels, and fuel switching. Energy efficiency is essential to save energy we can do without, driving improvements in energy productivity (energy/GDP) by installing smart sensors and appliances that switch off the light we don’t need or replacing incandescent lights with LED lamps. The latter two will get us the deep reductions in carbon intensity (CO2/energy): zero-carbon electricity means introducing some mix of solar, wind, nuclear, hydro or any other carbon-free energy source that by 2050 will need to replace the fossil fuel power generation that dominates today’s power grid. Fuel switching will involve electrifying our heating systems and vehicles: instead of burning gasoline in a combustion engine, our cars will be powered by a low-carbon grid.

The DDPP study has not only laid out the practicalities of decarbonizing every sector but also revealed the importance of long-term planning. While existing technologies may be sufficient to achieve the mid-term targets, they may only create a false sense of security in the absence of long-term roadmap. Only a long-term strategy would, for instance, signal the need to make early investments in technologies that may be essential 30 years from now - it may take decades for these to see a breakthrough in the lab, become prototypes and pass the demonstration stage in the field.

It is also clear that the invisible hand alone will not afford us the energy miracle: the speed and scale of change will require an unprecedented amount of mobilization and coordination among governments, donors, academia and the private sector.

Governments must first and foremost spend more on fundamental science: R&D spending has been an item even rich nations like the US have fallen short on. Sometimes inertia and status quo bias is to blame: as Noam Chomsky has pointed out in 2015, the research agenda of MIT, one of US leading research institutions, is still being focused on Cold War defense issues. It is everyone’s hope that Mission Innovation, which will have 20 governments double their research spending on emerging technologies, will help shift attention where its due.

Businesses will be the ones to navigate the myriad investment opportunities the low-carbon transition offers and help bring these new technologies from the testing ground to the market, where they can be deployed at scale and reap the benefits of the experience curve, just what we have seen solar and wind do in the past decades. Through the forces of technological learning and economies of scale, solar photovoltaics and onshore wind have become 80% and almost 40% cheaper respectively since 2009 - it is equally important that these mature technologies continue seeing adoption on a wider scale.

An upsurge in solar spurred a wave of business model innovation, capturing imagination of corporate CEOs and young social entrepreneurs alike; it created space for experimenting with support programs and incentives, providing governments with their own learning experience in what works and what doesn’t. Policy makers will need to continue working in that direction to ensure that ‘the new species’ today become mainstream tomorrow - to challenge the ‘dinosaurs’ - the cheapest and dirtiest sources of energy that dominate today’s energy landscape.

How the energy mix of the future look like and what the next scientific and engineering breakthroughs that will help us get to climate safety will be - is anyone’s guess. What we do know for certain is that this change will be as successful as the political will, dedication, ingenuity and energy humanity will channel into the fight against climate change. And here we’ve got a great hope - as we just happen to have the largest young generation history has ever known. Young engineers, scientists, social entrepreneurs and activists - have always been the biggest source of enthusiasm, wild imagination and bold ideas. If there is one viable solution you can count on, it is them. Governments and business, take note - and do not forget to put them, too, on your investment agenda.

Young engineers, scientists, social entrepreneurs and activists - have always been the biggest source of enthusiasm, wild imagination and bold ideas. If there is one viable solution you can count on, it is them.


Anastasiya Kostomarova is a Project Officer for Research and Policy at SDSN Youth and the Co-Manager of the Local Pathways Project. All opinions expressed on the blog are the opinion of the authors and not of SDSN Youth. 

For more information about Local Pathways, please visit