Commentary: What happens in Utah can change the world

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Mayor Jackie Biskupski speaks during a press conference on top of the Salt Lake City Public Safety Building Tuesday May 10, 2016. Through the new initiative, Subscriber Solar, the city will nearly double the amount of sustainable energy powering government operations by the end of 2016. Mayor Biskupski has set a 2020 goal to have 50% of municipal operations powered by renewable energy, and 100% by 2032.

In Utah’s biggest international event since the 2002 Olympics, people from around the world will soon gather in Salt Lake City for the United Nations’ annual Civil Society Conference.

The event takes place in August, but the issues on the agenda – from protecting the environment to making cities sustainable – have been on Salt Lake City’s radar for much longer. In fact, the city is a leader on these issues, showing how local action can help solve global challenges.

With the world facing big, urgent problems, the UN is turning to Salt Lake City, governments and citizens from across the globe to help solve them. We have a roadmap to get us to a better future, a set of 17 goals known as the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the UN by 193 countries, including the United States. By 2030, these goals aim to end extreme poverty, fight inequality, protect the planet and ensure no one is left behind – in big and small countries, rich and poor.

It’s ambitious, but achievable. The world today has vast resources and lots of solutions – education, solar power, vaccines, good governing practices and entrepreneurship, to name a few. What we still really need is the collective will to reach the global goals. Each of us can play a part; working with each other and the UN, our efforts can have even greater impact.

Look no further than Utah for inspiration.

Across the state, more than 7,000 citizens have taken action to fight malaria, support girls’ education, stand up for childhood immunizations and defend American leadership in the world. Leaders like Mayor Jackie Biskupski are stepping up action on climate change, addressing homelessness and promoting sustainability. Companies like Cotopaxi combine profits with purpose to support refugees and reduce poverty. And faith communities like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints support UN programs to end hunger.

Utah’s young people are playing their part. For example, students at Utah Valley University, Brigham Young University and other universities aren’t focused on fame and fortune, but on making a difference in the world.

Utah native Michael Scott Peters (Utah State University) represents young Americans on the global stage as the 2018-19 U.S. Youth Observer to the UN. And student leaders from Weber State and the University of Utah have worked through the United Nations Association of the USA to advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals as vital to Utah’s future.

Young people are engaged in leadership roles in planning and programming the August conference, which showcases Salt Lake City as the first American city outside of UN headquarters to host the UN Civil Society Conference.

Some people may question why they should care about international issues when there are problems here in America. It’s simple: We can care about both our own country and the world at the same time. And we should care about both.

The reality is that in today’s world problems like climate change, measles outbreaks and human trafficking don’t stop at borders. What happens in the rest of the world impacts U.S. citizens and vice-versa. Moreover, we share a common humanity. It’s a collective moral failure when a child starves in a world of plenty or a mother dies in childbirth because she doesn’t have a health clinic nearby.

The UN is working with partners in the U.S. and around the world to expand opportunities and improve lives. With the August conference, the citizens of Utah have a unique chance to bring their ideas and skills to the table to help the UN, so it can help more people. After all, the solutions Utahns are striving for at home – from clean air to smarter energy production to affordable housing – are the same solutions the UN and its partners strive for across the world.

The upcoming conference is also a chance to show the world that America continues to be a leader on the global stage. In a recent poll from the Better World Campaign, 88% of Americans agreed it’s important for the United States to maintain an active role at the UN. And in a subsequent poll, young people said that America first shouldn’t mean America alone.

If we work together and with the UN, what starts in Utah can have a global impact. We appeal to all passionate, innovative and engaged residents of Utah – including and especially young people – to join the conference this August. We have the tools, technologies and resources to reach a world where no one is left behind and everyone has the chance to live in dignity – but we need to join forces to get there.

Alison Smale | UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications

Alison Smale is UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications.

Kathy Calvin | president & CEO of the United Nations Foundation

Kathy Calvin is president & CEO of the United Nations Foundation.