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Scotland's United Nations Recognised Regional Centre of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development

Meet our newest, and youngest, blog article writer Heather Cameron

Heather Cameron

Learning for Sustainability Scotland is delighted to introduce the newest member of the Blog article writing team.

Heather is a 16 year old student at Dunbar Grammar School, and a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament for East Lothian. During 2015, she was one of the 15×15 year old Action/2015 ambassadors for the UK, which was a worldwide campaign to raise awareness and support for the new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. She has been involved in charity work at her school and, as a member of her local UNICEF branch, helped to organise a fundraising quiz night last year. Heather is interested in politics and current affairs.

In the first of her blog articles she tells us of her experience of campaigning as part of Action/2015 for the Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. 

The Sustainable Development Goals and Action/2015

Exactly fifteen years ago, at the end of last millennium and the turn of the new, the United Nations introduced a global development programme ratified in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There were 8 goals, ranging from ending global poverty and hunger, to ensuring environmental sustainability, that were given a deadline of 15 years to be completed.

One year ago this deadline ran out. So what was achieved?

Some of the goals were successful. Some were not. Ending poverty was one target of the MDGs. Poverty can be defined in many ways. If extreme poverty is defined as earning less than $1.25 per day, then the number of people living in extreme poverty was almost halved to only 836 million people. Only? That is still 836 million too many.

Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs at the UN, Wu Hongbo, in the UN’s MDG 2015 Report, says, “The successes of the MDG agenda prove that global action works. It is the only path to ensure that the new development agenda leaves no one behind.”

So, then, what is this ‘new development agenda’ that will ‘leave no one behind’?

Enter the Sustainable Development Goals. Enter Action/2015.

Action/2015 was a movement of more than 2000 organisations and charities from all over the world, in partnership for the duration of 2015. Their primary aim was to campaign for ambitious and concrete new goals to be set by the United Nations, as a replacement for the MDGs.

I was lucky to be told about this campaign at the very beginning of 2015, when a teacher at my school offered me the opportunity of being an Action/2015 ambassador. The amazing coincidence was that one of the organisers of the UK launch had lived in Dunbar as a child, so she contacted her hometown to find an ambassador. Had she not done this, I would never have been able to get involved.

On January 15th 2015, I joined other young people from across Britain to make a total of 15×15 year olds to ask support from UK politicians in the UK’s launch of Action/2015, right at the beginning of the year’s campaign. We met Ed Milliband, Nick Clegg, Mary Creagh, then Shadow Secretary of State for International Development; and knocked on Number 10 Downing Street to deliver a signed petition explaining Action/2015. Two of the ambassadors met Prime Minister David Cameron. All over the world at the same time, similar groups of young people were launching Action/2015 to their own politicians; really showing the power people can have when they join together as one, as well as the important role young people had in the campaign.

So, in September, I was excited to organise Dunbar’s own Light the Way march; one last push on the eve of a United Nations summit that was to discuss the global goals. All over the world, other Light the Way marches were organised: candles and torches lighting the way in the darkness to a better future for the planet and its people. Students from my school joined me, along with local figureheads including a councillor and the Chair of the local UNICEF branch; on Belhaven Beach’s Bridge to Nowhere on a gusty and cold autumn night.

With their help, the first aim of Action/2015 was completed: success in getting the UN to endorse the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which encompass more targets that their predecessors the MDGs, and are ambitious in what they aim to achieve.

So, next on Action/2015’s list was for world leaders to commit to the SDGs. Only with commitment could these goals be successful.

To try and help in this aim, I thought locally. How can Scotland’s leaders commit to the SDGs?

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, in her column at the Herald Scotland, wrote, “And…I am delighted to confirm that Scotland has become one of the very first nations on Earth to publicly sign up to these goals [the SDGs] and provide leadership on reducing inequality across the globe.”

How could I be sure that Sturgeon’s government really was committed to these goals? It is an easy commitment to make and one much harder to actually carry out.

2015 was almost over, and I didn’t want the momentum raised during the year to be lost and result in no real changes for Scotland and Scotland’s future.

So, I met with Kezia Dugdale MSP, the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to discuss bringing commitment to the SDGs to Scotland. As the leader of the opposition at the Holyrood Parliament, she was the most powerful voice that could hold the Government to account in their supposed commitment to the SDGs. Therefore she was an important person to get on-board the campaign! She agreed surprisingly quickly and easily, and even agreed to raise a motion in Parliament all about the campaign.

This motion was raised by Iain Gray MSP, my constituency member, on Thursday 4th February 2016, straight after First Minister’s Questions. The motion commended Action/2015’s work, and recognised the role young people and Scotland can have in continuing the campaign for the duration of the SDGs.

Kezia Dugdale, spoke in favour of the motion, and Humza Yousaf, Minister for Europe and External Affairs, did the closing speech. Humza Yousaf agreed to try to implement one of my aims: for young people to be included on the SDG working group in Scotland, and Kezia Dugdale agreed to hold him to account on this issue. However, the parliament has now adjourned for ‘Purdah’, so this will have to be followed up after the elections in May.

I went along to watch the debate, joined by fellow Dunbar Grammar School students, Youth Council members, and local sustainability activists. It was an interesting and informative school trip.

The debate can be watched here: (five points if you spot me…)

http://www.scottishparliament.tv/Archive/Index/5632e7dd-1524-4778-9044-f6a811e1da2e?categoryId=52c4098b-253a-4d7b-a914-9d92ff8b227f&parentCategoryClicked=False&pageNumber=0&orderByField=ScheduledStart&queryOrder=DESC

I am a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, which last year passed a motion in support of Action/2015. This meant that the rest of my SDG campaign could be carried out with the mandate of Scotland’s young people. Young people were one of the focuses of Action/2015.

Why?

Because we are the ones who will inherit the responsibility of looking after this planet, so we should be, and can be, involved in the decisions being made now.

Heather Cameron 2016