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Excellence in Education Will Help Achieve SDGs
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Excellence in Education Will Help Achieve SDGs

Entrepreneurship and harnessing young talent gives an important opportunity to Iran to make good economic progress and foster equality, said American economist Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the special advisor to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon on the Sustainable Development Goals, who was in Iran on a three-day visit from June 5-7.

"If Iran's sixth economic development plan (2016-2021) is well-structured with the SDGs, it will also give a good direction," he said at a press conference at the United Nations Office in Tehran on Monday to shed light on the importance and progress of SDGs globally and in Iran.

The SDGs, containing 17 goals with 169 targets and covering a broader range of sustainable development issues including ending poverty and hunger, improving health and education, making cities more sustainable, combating climate change, and protecting oceans and forests, were adopted by all UN member states in September 2015.

In response to how he sees the future and progress of SDGs, Sachs said, "It is a hard process, because it’s easy to agree on things, but hard to implement them, since there are many distractions, including the most destructive distractions of war and unrest in regions."

In spite of the slow pace, Sachs believes SDGs are off to a better start, mainly because the MDGs weren’t negotiated, whereas three years of negotiation from July 2012 to August 2015 went into planning the SDGs.

Although the 8 Millennium Development Goals galvanized efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest, they failed to achieve the targets as the progress was uneven. More than half of the developed countries' aid for achieving the MDGs went towards debt relief and much more for natural disasters and military aid, rather than for promoting much-needed development.

"There was also a lot more ownership from governments, and that means governments are acting earlier than they did on MDGs," he told the Financial Tribune.

However, the SDGs are much harder to achieve, primarily because they are much broader, and the world has to move quickly before the target year 2030.

Environmental goals and equality across the world and in Iran are quite hard to achieve.

"Unfortunately, even if we work very hard, we are going to take 10-20 years to see the real results."

There are also two kinds of difficulties when it comes to inequality, he said.

"One, it’s a long-term process. Because one of the major ways for better equality is quality education especially for poor children so that they can get the skills they need to earn higher income."

The second problem with inequality is that rich people like inequality across the world. When billionaires give money to (political) candidates, they in turn try to do the business of the rich, and forget about the poor. "So inequality is, in fact, part of a corrupt economic system. And I think it’s very important to hold governments accountable for that."

It is not by accident that there is more inequality than before, he pointed out.

Path to Progress

Sachs said he believes in a mixed system of public, private, and governmental cooperation in helping speed up the process of SDGs implementation.

On how Iran is doing with regards to implementation of the SDGs, Sachs said as they were adopted only last September, "so in this sense every country is at the start, because this is a process that will take 15 years."

Governments should have a plan, but that plan must create space for entrepreneurship, new business, and new ideas by the private sector.

Referring to his meeting with a group of scholars and engineers at Tehran's Amir Kabir University, he said he was surprised at the number of technologies available to help implement the SDGs more effectively.

Students in universities such as Amir Kabir University can create new businesses, start new opportunities, and generate new technology and "I think this is part of the solution for any country, including Iran."

"Good economic prosperity and equality more than ever depends on good-skilled, well-trained young people, and the success of universities, the success of the education system, because we’re going to have to rely on brain power as the best input for economic prosperity in the future, and that means a lot of excellence in education," he underlined.

Strong Leadership

"I’m very gratified by the strong leadership that the government of the Islamic Republic has played in helping to devise the SDGs, because Iran was a country that participated actively in the negotiation of these goals, and now the government is putting the goals into operation in a very intensive way, including putting the goals within the context of the sixth plan," Sachs noted.

"I’ve been travelling all around the world meeting with many governments, and I would say that Iran is one of the leaders in putting the SDGs into practice," he noted.

Stating Iran's start as smart, focused, and comprehensive, he said the country is, however, facing a lot of environmental challenges. "SDGs 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 are all about the environment, and I think Iran faces big problems in this regard."

"One is climate change and this is already happening. Iran is a dry country with only about 250 millimeters of rainfall each year and that is going down. This is a big, big threat and challenge," Sachs warned.

One of the things Sachs is keen on is to help bring scientists from around this region together to work together on problems that continue to affect the global population.

"I’m really interested in bringing scientists together as best as I can in my UN capacity, and one of the things I’ve talked about here for the last two days is that Tehran could become an important hub for gathering global scientific expertise and for hosting regional meetings with people coming from all over the region. I would like to help facilitate that, because it’s one of my responsibilities and one of the things that I’ve had a lot of experience doing."

Sachs who is also director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (a worldwide network of universities and think tanks working to help achieve the SDGs), and an academic at Columbia University, was in Tehran at the invitation of the Foreign Ministry's Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS).

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