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Education for Global Citizenship (The Hankyoreh, May 25, 2016)

From May 30 through June 1 [2016], the city of Gyeongju [South Korea] will host the 66th United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Conference. This will be the first time this conference has been held in Asia. It will see energetic debate on the theme "Education for Global Citizenship: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals Together."

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form the core of the 2030 Agenda adopted last year by the UN. They address multiple challenges including climate change, ecological integrity, disaster risk reduction and energy policy. Their achievement will require the active engagement and collaboration of national governments, international institutions, NGOs and the full spectrum of civil society.

Last September, in a campaign organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), flags representing the 17 SDGs--such as "no poverty" and "gender equality"--were raised in locations around the world as a way of sharing the message of the SDGs with the planet's 7 billion inhabitants. One flag, representing "zero hunger," was hoisted by the Nepalese mountain climber Nimdoma Sherpa in a Himalayan village badly damaged by last April's massive earthquake.

Nimdoma had experienced chronic hunger as a young child, and it was free school meals provided by the UN World Food Programme that enabled her to continue learning and pursue her dreams. She is renowned for having climbed the highest peaks on each of the world's seven continents. Even more impressive, however, is the way that she used her mountaineering skills to reach communities in high-altitude areas impacted by the earthquake, providing emergency relief, as well as her contributions to ending hunger.

She offers an inspiring example of how a person who once suffered from hunger was able to unlock her potential through the power of education and not only realize her own dreams but take concrete action for the sake of others facing the same suffering.

I believe that the achievement of the SDGs will become possible as empowerment through education enables more and more individuals to tap into their limitless potential, propelling ongoing efforts to transform communities and societies.

The UN DPI/NGO Conference will focus on initiatives to harness strategies, expertise and resources across the widest possible spectrum of civil society that ensure inclusive, safe and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all based on Sustainable Development Goal number 4, "quality education."

Education for global citizenship, which is clearly emphasized in the SDGs, will be an indispensable foundation for the achievement of these goals. Fostering global citizenship to resolve the interconnected challenges of the 21st century is one of the three pillars of the Global Education First Initiative, a campaign launched by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2012 with the goal of making education a central priority of the international community.

The Republic of Korea is well known for its proactive efforts in the area of education for global citizenship. I harbor strong hope and expectations for significant outcomes from this conference being held here in Korea.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which reached their target date in 2015, succeeded in reducing by half the number of people living in extreme poverty. The SDGs go further, clearly enunciating the determination to leave no one behind in the effort to tackle global challenges.

In politics, economics and other areas, we see a willingness to sacrifice certain people's interests in the name of realizing the greater happiness of the majority, and it is of great concern to me that this inclination seems to be growing stronger. The climate crisis illustrates the pitfalls of this way of thinking. A readiness to accept other people's sacrifice can erode the foundations for humanity's survival. Even if we ourselves are not at risk at the present moment, over the long run no part of Earth will remain unaffected.

Our rapidly globalizing world is a web of interrelationships in which nothing can be completely disassociated from anything else. Education for global citizenship can encourage a visceral appreciation for the interdependence of all life.

I believe global civil society can serve as the medium for developing a shared, cross-border awareness that there is no happiness that only we enjoy, no suffering that afflicts only others; no peace and prosperity that our own country can enjoy in isolation, no tragedy that impacts only people in other countries.

The work of laying the foundations for such awareness may seem like a long and daunting task. But without this effort, the shared vision of a new global society--the achievement by 2030 of a world in which no one is left behind--cannot be fulfilled.

It is young people who will play the leading role in transforming the era. We must create fresh momentum for education for global citizenship, taking advantage of every opportunity, everywhere, and expanding the solidarity of connections among youth. In this way, civil society can take the initiative and make a real breakthrough toward the realization of the SDGs.

[From an opinion editorial by Daisaku Ikeda carried in the May 25, 2016, issue of The Hankyoreh, an English-language web page published in South Korea]