New Bwoggers Alan Wang, Victoria Borlando, and Zach Fisher attended a Keynote speech delivered by Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians during the 2019 World Leaders Conference at Columbia University.

Efficiency and Progress – these two simple words quickly became the theme of an inspirational speech on international sustainability by Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians on September 25, 2019, during the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University. As the leader in the European initiative of enforcing the Sustainability and Development Goals (SDGs), Her Majesty – alongside introductory speakers Patrick Paul Walsh, Chair of the Academic Steering Committee of the Global Association of Masters of Development Practice, and Henriette Gieger, Director, Directorate People and Peace in the Directorate General for Development and Cooperation of the European Commission (DG DEVCO) – strongly urges people around the world to shift their mode of thinking when it comes to sustainability. In order to fully implement these SDGs and reverse the damages of climate change by 2030, people must change how they look at education, social and economic inequality, and business practices.

Introductory speaker Patrick Walsh opens up the open forum with the following words: “We have to move away from this sort of negative story of tipping points where we know what is coming with the signs of increasing carbon emissions and the end of the world…The focus has to be reaching toward the tipping points that are created by science policy.” His message is clear: instead of focusing on the ‘doomsday’ aspect of climate change, such as a terrifying future arriving in 2050, people must focus on finding solutions to these issues as quickly as possible, mainly by trusting the reports made by scientists and specialists in sustainability. Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of the younger generation’s involvement in the activism against climate change, stating that “children are on the scientist’s side.” In other words, the younger generations of the world are leading the effort to end global warming by believing in the proven truth and taking steps to motivate effective policy based on these truths. To him, people must have hope; they must educate themselves and rise up to combat a negative future bound to happen if no action occurs.

Henriette Gieger, who also runs the Erasmus Mundus Scholars Program, continues the conversation with some hopeful statistics about the European effort to enforce the written SDGs and begin rapid improvement of the state of the environment. Echoing the theme of the open conference, Gieger states, “We have to considerably accelerate to meet our targets,” emphasizing the need for rapid, efficient change in regards to international sustainability policies. Therefore, she continued to list several policies the European Union and its member states have enforced as a “firm intention to be a frontrunner for the SDG’s implementation, both at home and abroad.” Such policies include investing €44 billion in African and European neighborhoods and partnering with the United Nations to invest €500 million to eradicate violence against women around the world. Continuing the theme of focusing on the solution to all problems with sustainability, Gieger concludes with the simple yet poignant remark, “We have to remember that the future doesn’t just happen – we all create it.”

Lastly, the keynote speaker of the event, Her Majesty The Queen of the Belgians opens with the following sobering remarks, “Progress is too slow. In some areas, it is even reversing.” The problem of past attempts to solve the sustainability process, according to this leading member of the European initiative to enforce the SDGs, is the lack of efficiency. Her Majesty also warns the audience that “the stakes are higher than ever,” and that we have a little over ten years to complete the SDG’s before it becomes too late. She passionately states, “Urgency should become our motto…A few iconic actions will not be enough. We need to transform radically, and much faster. We need to transform the way we build, and the way we consume. Energy…the way we use resources, the way we use food, the way we treat the oceans and life on the planet.” She urges for a more universal way of thinking about sustainability – to think of each issue not separately but as pieces of a whole, solving them simultaneously. She also makes the point that inclusion is imperative, and no one can be left behind while solving this global issue.

More importantly, Her Majesty calls for action. “Progress needs to be achieved on all fronts,” she demands, “especially changes in the private sector,” emphasizing the socio-economic divides seen between the middle class and those affected by poverty and climate change. She calls upon businesses to implement the SDGs and shift their perception of humanity, to “acknowledge that the major driver of their change is to retain…younger customers with different values.” Lastly, like the speakers before her, Her Majesty affirms the importance of listening to young activists, and how everyone must not invalidate their demands because of their age. “Young people in particular,” she says, “are efficient in advocating for the climate change issue.”

The speech delivered by Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians during the 2019 World Leaders Summit opened up a conversation with many topics to be explored. She considered the effects of sustainability on business, social class, and education. The ‘doomsday mentality’ was questioned, as it prevented past efforts to accelerate change and find real solutions to issues. During the moving closure to her address, she called upon the Columbia students in the audience, the future leaders of the world, to assist the current leaders in making a change. Her Majesty empowered the audience and in her final remark stated that “We need people like you: students, academics, researchers, and practitioners. People excellently equipped to help with the implementation of goals.” As the audience filed out a clear sense of empowerment filled the air, and a hopeful stimulus to take action pervaded the departing crowd.

Her Majesty Delivering Her Keynote Speech via Zach Fisher