“We are bracing for our final push to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals,” Martin Sajdik, the President of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), said at the first meeting of the High-level Political Forum on sustainable development held under the Council’s auspices.The Forum will be an occasion to reflect on how far the world has advanced in shaping the post-2015 development agenda and the sustainable development goals (SDGs), as well as discuss how to chart the way forward. “A strong forum means faster progress towards sustainable development goals,” said Mr. Sajdik, adding that it should accelerate the shift towards inclusive, equitable and prosperous societies without poverty and a better future for all. The forum will bring together a diverse group of participants over the next 10 days, including ministerial-level and senior representatives from Governments, mayors; parliamentarians; UN officials; civil society groups, and key figures from the private sector and foundations.“The forum can help to instil the concern for poverty eradication and sustainable development on this last leg of our journey to 2015,” stated Mr. Sajdik, who is Austria’s Permanent Representative to the UN. “But most of all it can draw conclusions from the implementation of the MDGs when further shaping its own role in the implementation and the review process of the SDGs. “But, as we know, the key messages for these final one and a half years of MDG implementation will come from ECOSOC.” Agreed by world leaders in 2000, the MDGs – covering a range of poverty, hunger, health, gender equality, education and environmental indicators – have been the most successful global anti-poverty push in history. Several targets have already been met, such as halving the number of people living in extreme poverty, and it is expected that more targets will be reached by the end of 2015. Building on the successes of the MDGs, Member States are currently working on a post-2015 development agenda that will address any unfinished business of the MDGs and new challenges and complexities facing the world with sustainable development at its core and poverty eradication as its highest priority. They will meet at a summit in September 2015 to adopt the post-MDG agenda, including the sustainable development goals. Mr. Sajdik said the current meeting should mark the start of the reflection on the broader post-2015 development agenda. “It might give us – with the presence of our political leaders and of top officials from our capitals – some time to pause and reflect on how far we have come in elaborating this agenda and whether we are on the right track.“The forum can give some input for the future agenda now and set the stage for a robust platform after 2015. Expectations are high and we need to live up to the hopes and aspirations,” he added.As it continues its first day of work under ECOSOC’s auspices, the Forum will hold moderated panel discussions on: “From Rio+20 to post-2015: towards an integrated and universal sustainable development agenda”; “Means of implementation for sustainable development”; “How could sustainable consumption and production contribute to SDGs?”; and a Dialogue with the Chair of the Board of the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production.Inaugurated in September 2013 under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, the Forum replaced the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which was formed after the historic 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to generate action on a range of issues, including energy, oceans and sustainable consumption and production.The Forum itself was conceived in answer to a call made by Member States in the ouctcome of the Earth Summit follow-up conference in 2012, known informally as “Rio+20”, and it is now the main UN platform dealing with sustainable development. It will meet every four years at the level of Heads of State and Government under the auspices of the General Assembly, and every year under the auspices of ECOSOC.The Rio+20 outcome, The Future We Want, also called for the Global Sustainable Development Report, in order to bring together dispersed information and existing assessments and to strengthen the science policy interface at the High-Level Political Forum. A “prototype” report will be introduced tomorrow when the Forum continues its work at Headquarters.
POPE BENEDICT XVI called on the church and its faithful today to “renew themselves” as tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists attended his penultimate Angelus prayers.“The church calls on all its members to renew themselves… which constitutes a fight, a spiritual battle, because the evil spirit wants us to deviate from the road towards God,” he told the crowds from his window overlooking St Peter’s Square.Families with young children, pensioners and nuns packed into the square in the sunshine said they had come to pay their respects to the pope, make their goodbyes or share in a historic event ahead of the 85-year old’s resignation.Groups of scouts held up banners reading “We have loved you so much!” and “We will be with you… always” and said they wanted to show Benedict that his shock decision to stand down on February 28 had not shaken their faith in him.“He has done it for the good of the church, and will keep serving us. He is retiring to pray – and God knows we need his prayers,” said Germana Blaiotta.Viva il papaA serene-looking Benedict waved to the crowds and thanked them for turning out in such large numbers, calling it a “sign of affection and spiritual closeness”, as the onlookers called out “viva il papa” (long live the pope).Benedict’s brother said in an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC published today that the pontiff was seeking greater tranquility with his retirement.“He no longer has strength. He is going through the natural process of aging, as am I. My brother wants more tranquility for his old age. With the advance of his age, his strength is declining,” Georg Ratzinger, 89, said.The Vatican said over 50,000 people had turned out to see the pope for his Sunday Angelus, while local authorities put the number at over 100,000.Benedict, whose surpise announcement last Monday that he would step down after eight years rocked the church, called on the world’s faithful to “refocus on God by disowning pride and egoism”.His words were seem by some as a veiled reference to internal bickering within the church in recent months, as well as the jostle for power as cardinals from all over the world prepare to vote in his successor.“Benedict did everything for the church, he was always in the limelight but they did nothing but criticise him and try and undermine him. Whoever follows him will have to have strong nerves,” said Margherita Yager, 61, from Germany.Christine Renier, a 48-year-old teacher from Paris, said she was in Rome on holiday and had wanted to see the pontiff before he retires to a secluded monastery behind the Vatican walls for a life of contemplation.Losing faith“It is a sad day, but I think Benedict was actually too rigid and lost many faithful among the young. I’m hoping for a pope who can throw out the bureaucracy and get back to the church’s roots, perhaps an African,” she said.Amid speculation over which of the 117 cardinals in the running might snap up the Vatican’s top job, Italian media said Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, was among the favourites backed by Benedict.After meeting the pope Saturday, Scola said Benedict had told him “you have to become a light for everyone”, a phrase pounced on by the media as a clue.“Significant words which will be weighed by everyone,” said the Repubblica, while La Stampa agreed they were “meaningful words”.At St Peter’s Square, tourists snapping souvenir photographs of Benedict on their smart phones said he may have revolutionised the papacy.“This is a moment which will go down in history. He’s opened the door to future resignations and I cannot see anyone suffering through an old age as pope again. From now on they’ll retire,” said Michele Agostino, 66.Later today, the pontiff will start a week-long spiritual retreat and have only very few public engagements before he formally steps down – the first pope to resign because he simply cannot go on in 700 years.Benedict will receive Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on 23 February, celebrate his last Angelus prayer on 24 February and hold a final audience in St Peter’s Square with tens of thousands of followers on 27 February.- © AFP 2013.