Office of the Chief Rabbi

Thought for the Day: Setting new goals to solve global challenges

Hear the Chief Rabbi on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’ reflecting upon the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – successors to the Millennium Development Goals –  and second chances through the prism of Yom Kippur. Transcription below. 

“If you were to draw up a list of the most urgent problems facing humanity, what issues would make it onto your list? Global inequality? Poverty? Hunger? Maybe it’s climate change? Or the need to promote peace and justice in the world?

Imagine that world leaders were gathering at the United Nations to make unprecedented, tangible and measurable commitments to tackling all of these problems. Wouldn’t such a meeting be so remarkable and so historic that it would be on the minds of every citizen of the planet?

Sadly, it seems not.

Global leaders will, in fact, meet in a weeks’ time to adopt what are known as the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’. They are the successor to the Millennium Development Goals agreed by the international community in 2000 and they represent the most realistic and unified approach in human history to tackling these axiomatic crises.

“Our Sages teach that atonement is only achieved through sincere acknowledgment of past failures”

In 2013, a survey revealed that only 4% of people in the UK had heard of the Millennium Development Goals, I fear that a similar survey about this month’s event would show equally disappointing levels of public awareness.

Next week, the Jewish community will observe the fast of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement – the most self-reflective and solemn day on the Jewish calendar.

Our Sages teach that atonement is only achieved through sincere acknowledgment of past failures and a realistic and resolute intention to avoid repeating them. It is a deeply hopeful message. We can, and often do, succeed second time round.

You may never have heard of the failed business named Traf-O-data, but you’re certainly aware of how its founder, Bill Gates, then went on to create Microsoft. And where would Oprah Winfrey be today if she had been deterred at the age of 22, when she was told she was ‘unfit’ for television?

“The Sustainable Development Goals present us with another opportunity to make good on God’s call to us to ‘work the earth and protect it’ “

In the year 2000, the world pledged, among other things, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger and to achieve universal primary education. This was an ambitious and brave undertaking. Unfortunately, we are still far from delivering on these admirable aspirations. The Sustainable Development Goals present us with another opportunity to make good on God’s call to us to ‘work the earth and protect it’.

My prayers are with the Heads of State attending the UN Summit. This time round there is no alternative to success. The future of mankind rests upon their shoulders and ours.

As Nelson Mandela put it, “Millions of people in the world’s poorest countries remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. They are trapped in a prison of poverty. It is time to set them free.” “

 

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