Students at the University of Chicago find solutions to ensure no one is left behind

Photo: Jean Lachat/Harris Public Policy
By Rosaly Byrd

New perspectives will be needed to achieve the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The ambitious SDGs cover much new ground and set bold targets to end poverty and hunger and maintain a healthy planet. Improved methods of addressing the integrated and indivisible dimensions of sustainable development (environmental, social, and economic) are crucial, as are innovative forms of exchanging ideas and skills, particularly those of young people with their fresh outlooks and ways of thinking.

The Inter-Policy School Summit hosted by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy is one such event intended to change the way ideas and solutions are formed and exchanged. The Summit, which was entirely organized by Harris School graduate students, is a response to their sense that the conferences they had been attending were leading to no concrete solutions. The Summit took place in Chicago, March 3-5th and brought together 30 students from 11 universities in the United States (including students from 16 different nationalities) to come up with tangible policy outcomes on intricate topics.

The theme at this year’s Summit was based on a complex issue but one that the RIO+ Centre recognizes as being particularly important to leaving no one behind: legal recognition of indigenous rights. The graduate students at University of Chicago used a policy brief produced by a Harris School – International Innovation Corps (IIC) fellow last year in coordination with Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (IPAM) as the basis for the Summit, working off the brief’s recommendations to define questions that could lead to effective responses to indigenous land rights in the Amazon and deforestation.

Latin America is one of the most dangerous places to be indigenous. Indigenous communities are often attacked by powerful entities for simply trying to protect their own livelihoods and land. These communities are also often excluded from discussions regarding their own lives, and face cultural, economic, and political inequalities in addition to suffering disproportionately from impacts of environmental degradation that undermine their health, livelihoods, and dignity. These conflicts do not only put lives at risk and disrupt peace, but ultimately they also hurt our ability to safeguard our environment. Ensuring indigenous rights to land and to natural resources is essential to limiting deforestation and to combatting climate change. As a WRI study highlights, tenure-secure indigenous lands can generate significant social, economic, and environmental benefits for local populations and for the global society as a whole. Bringing these voices into the discourse and into policymaking is necessary for the realization of global frameworks such as the SDGs and even the Paris Agreement.

In addition to supporting in designing the questions and gathering relevant resources in the lead up, the RIO+Centre presented the keynote speech at the Summit, challenging students to keep in mind the 2030 Agenda and its SDGs as they formulated their solutions. The Centre also participated as a mentor by providing relevant insight during the breakout sessions. Students were divided into six groups, each with a designated question. The results were inspiring. After eight hours of intense discussion, students presented their proposed ideas, which included a stakeholder analysis of deforestation and indigenous land rights in the Amazon using game-theory models; a cost-benefit analysis from each stakeholder’s perspective, including the economic, cultural and ecological value of forests; an innovative inclusive market as a way to protect indigenous lands; a technology that involved local communities in helping to defend forests from illegal activities; a communications campaign to raise public awareness on the importance of indigenous lands; and a plan to connect indigenous communities to the often inaccessible but available funds designed foP them.

From the perspective of the RIO+Centre, the Inter-Policy School Summit was an opportunity to open the floor up to youth and to new perspectives. Questioning the adequacy of conventional policymaking is critical, as is developing new techniques that address old questions and that balance the trade-offs that may arise in incorporating the three pillars of sustainable development. Young leaders, with their innovative ideas and thinking, are key to achieving the SDGs. The 2030 Agenda is their agenda, and it is their commitment, motivation and will that is making the changes our world needs to ensure that no one is left behind.

“In the pursuit of inclusive growth and climate action, we must recognize the profound value of securing land rights for those communities who best protect our forests. Rising to the challenge of the climate crisis requires that we find new and sustainable ways to develop and grow.” — Lord Nicholas Stern

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Indigenous protest against impacts of the project Dakota Access Pipeline. Photo: Joe Brusky/Flickr/CC (2016).

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