Ruben Cantu of Austin, Texas pitches at the World Government Summit

It’s A Future of Government Summit and the Sustainable Development Goals Are Everywhere

(World Government Summit, Dubai) — The World Government Summit is a futuristic event. Some presentations border on science fiction; like the prospect of splicing a jellyfish (the natural world’s most efficient sponge!) with mangrove tree roots (the natural world’s most effective desalinator!) to boost water supplies. On policy issues, some ideas are at the very cutting edge of the discourse: like incorporating “Gross National Happiness” as a scientific indicator to guide public policy decisions.

But woven throughout it all are ideas, concepts and approaches to governance and public policy that are not brand new. They are at least two years old and already embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals. (These are the 17 goals that all the world’s governments agreed upon in 2015 to achieve by 2030, including eradicating poverty, many diseases and promoting clean energy, peace and prosperity for the entire planet.)

Several panels were dedicated to exploring the ways that the private sector, civil society and governments at all levels can begin to devise policies to execute against these goals. Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed described how cities can rapidly implement sustainability projects even as the federal government stalls; Economist Jeff Sachs offered a rousing call to action for what he called “climate security;” and several experts and sustainability enthusiasts coalesced to generate ideas and specific action items around each of the 17 goals.

To be sure, these kinds of solutions oriented conferences are becoming more and more common around the United Nations. But the fact that governments and civil society are having these conversations outside the United Nations and in a region profoundly upended by the effects of climate change and conflict adds a level of authenticity and urgency to crafting viable solutions. “This is going to be the go-to summit for the implementation of the SDGs,” said Kenyan Ambassador to the United Nations Macharia Kemau in a panel discussion.

And even if the SDGs were not explicitely invoked, many of the underlying presentations were shaped by it. For example, UBER CEO Travis Kalanick gave a plenary presentation about the “future of cities” and the role of ride sharing and self-driving cars in decreasing congestion on the streets and pollution in the air.

The fact that the Sustainable Development Goals are providing an organizing principle for the most important future of government summit, held in the heart of the Middle East, is an important reflection of the global impact these goals are already having. The World Government Summit in Dubai is  three day affirmation that the most effective and impactful governments of the future will be the ones that enthusiastically embrace the Sustainable Development Goals.