This September, members of SDSN Youth travelled to New York City to witness the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, and participate in numerous side events. Read on to find out what we got up to during that exciting week! 



Photo: Associated Press. Leo DiCaprio second from left. Ellen Dorsey speaking. Justin Rockefeller in yellow tie.

Photo: Associated Press. Leo DiCaprio second from left. Ellen Dorsey speaking. Justin Rockefeller in yellow tie.

An intriguing mixture of figures from across big business, philanthropy and community activism came together on Tuesday 22nd September at a press conference on divestment from fossil fuels - and, more importantly, investment in renewable energies. Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio put in a surprise appearance, hours after pledging to divest his own Foundation and private funds, bringing philanthropic divestment to $10 billion. Also present was Justin Rockefeller, a Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation, which divested its own portfolio over a year ago.

In just one year, the funds committed to divestment has risen by a factor of fifty, from $52 billion to $2.6 trillion. Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund and a driving force in institutional divestment, opened the event with a video address from UNFCCC chief Christiana Figueres urging a rapid transition towards sustainable finance.

This was followed by intriguing remarks from Tom van Dyck, Director of Socially Responsible Investment at RBS’ wealth management arm. Perhaps his most important point: fossil fuel companies are no longer willing to lock in  long-term fixed-price contracts with clients, as the risks are too large. By contrast, solar and renewables companies are jumping at the chance. Companies like Elon Musk’s SolarCity, also represented at the event, will be ploughing $70 billion into solar energy over the next five years.

The select audience also heard from Simon Sheikh, Managing Director of Future Super (Australia’s first fossil free superannuation pension fund), as well as Reverends Fletcher Harper and Lennox Yearwood Jr, advocates for community-level activism on climate change. The former works primarily in multifaith education as Director of Green faith; the latter promotes climate change as a civil rights issue that must be led by both the student movement and people of colour. Kali Akuno of Cooperation Jackson, Mississippi, asked where the $2.6 trillion will be reinvested, stressing the importance of redistribution to the underprivileged and ground-up reinvestment. The conference closed on an optimistic note from May Boeve, Executive Director of divestment campaign group, applauding the astounding progress made in the past 12 months, and calling for continued consolidation of what is fast becoming a truly global movement.


“Youth for Sustainable Development Goals” event was held Columbia University on 22 September 2015. As we all know, Sustainable Development Goals have been gaveled and young people around the world have played an important role in developing Post-2015 Agenda. In this event, activities from #KnowYourGoals campaign was highlighted and the role of youth in implementing the SDGs was examined. Opportunities for collaboration in a shared platform for youth engagement was also identified.

Photo: Prof. Jeffrey Sachs speaking

Photo: Prof. Jeffrey Sachs speaking

The first keynote speaker was Ahmad Alhendawi, who mentioned the role of youth in developing the post-2015 agenda. Accordingly, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs focused on the role of youth in implementing the SDGs and implied that the youth participation is the key for a sustainable future. Noella Richard shared the effective youth engagement strategies. After her, our global coordinator Siamak Sam Loni explained SDSN Youth's #KnowYourGoals campaign and its exceeding results. Further, with the campaign video, participants’ attention was called to the importance of SDGs within the youth perspective. Respectively, Laura Huerta Migus pointed out about Eco Boys and Girls & SDGs program and its remarkable effects. Consequently, Karl Mehta shared a world premiere film screening which provides an introduction to the SDGs.


The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, together with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, hosted an evening of exceptionally high quality music in Broadway’s Symphony Space on September 23rd, featuring the world-renowned Kronos Quartet, the Æon Music Ensemble, and a world premiere of Vladislav Boguinia’s composition Rise, inspired by a grim reality of soaring climate change and increasing temperatures. The evening also included stellar performances of pieces by Syria’s Omar Souleyman and Sudan’s Hamza El Din, as well as In C Minor, a special adaptation of Terry Riley’s famous minimalist work.

In his opening remarks, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs highlighted the significance of 193 countries gathering in New York to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals after an unprecedented effort to agree on the final text months in advance of the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly, and then went on to praise brothers Vladislav and Yuri Boguinia’s impressive work, which draws on data from NOAA and NASA depicting the annual rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration and mean land-ocean temperatures from 1900 to 2015 to give an haunting artistic expression of harmony and contrasts, balance and dissonance.

With each note played by the Ensemble and each number sang by the choir representing numeric values of carbon dioxide and annual temperature, the piece actually grows more distorted as it tunes with the ongoing degradation of the planet, and then ends abruptly in the year 2015 after an intense and cacophonous climax. Speaking to Epoch Times, Vladislav so explained the absence of a coda for the composition:

We as the human race can influence this piece, if you want [CO2 levels] to continue rising and for the music to become more clashing, more chaotic, and more hectic, it’s completely in our hands.