The UN Comes to Lehigh
By Courtney Buchanan ‘13
This November saw a new development in Lehigh University’s partnership with the UN when the university hosted the first UN briefing outside New York on November 8. The briefing called on young people to promote sustainable development.
“It is time for the NGO community, particularly young people, to begin their own role in creating a framework for sustainable development,” said Maher Nasser, director of the Outreach Division of the UN Department of Public Information and the briefing moderator.
Lehigh was among the first universities to be certified as a non-governmental organization by the UN. This means that Lehigh students can serve as delegates to the UN on behalf of NGOs around the world. Many current student delegates attended the briefing alongside members from NGOs, students, professors and virtual audience members.
Sustainable development is an important focus at Lehigh. The university is launching an undergraduate program in the field that integrates disciplines from three colleges. In addition, Lehigh signed the Declaration of the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative for Rio+20.
“We not only need solutions to very serious problems related to sustainable development, but also we need a revolution in the mindset of the next generation,” said Mark Orrs, professor of practice and the director of the new program.
“The challenges of sustainable development are not going to be solved in a couple of years. It’s a generational challenge that must be met with decades of work and we need to start now by hiring the next generation.”
Meghan Dano, a senior at Lehigh who is a UN youth representative for the World Corrosion Organization, asked the briefing panelists how to change the attitude about sustainable development with the younger generation.
Nikhil Seth, director of the Division for Sustainable Development for the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, said the concept needs to be simplified to resonate with younger people. A change in consumption patterns doesn’t mean a worse lifestyle, just different. By changing a small habit, one can leave a much smaller footprint.
“Youth is stubborn, very, very stubborn,” said Dutt. “Unless you can reach out to them and make these problems that we’ve been discussing all day real, I don’t see any way that we can make a change.”
Seth encouraged students to get inspired by sustainable development and to take action. Referring to Gandhi, he said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Lehigh continues to play a role in engaging students in sustainable development through the introduction of the program and incorporating sustainability across departments. Students are not only addressing their impact on the local Bethlehem community, but also the global community.
November 30, 2012