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Two LIers attend UN conference on climate change, building sustainable communities

Scott Carlin, a geography professor at LIU Post,

Scott Carlin, a geography professor at LIU Post, and Holly Shaw, a professor at Adelphi University, are both participating in the UN's Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City this week. Credit: Composite: Veronique Louis, left / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

UNITED NATIONS — Two Long Island academics are attending a UN conference for nongovernmental organizations in Salt Lake City this week to discuss and find solutions to challenges including climate change and building sustainable communities.

The 68th Civil Society Conference begins Monday with a theme of “building sustainable and inclusive cities and communities,” a marriage of concerns over climate change and urbanization because 55 percent of the world’s 7.6 billion people live in urban areas, by United Nations estimates. 

By the year 2050, some 68 percent of the world will call a city home.

“NGOs should be working in tandem with member states and the UN,” said Scott Carlin, a geography professor at LIU Post in Brookville who helped plan the conference, which runs through Wednesday.

“The goal is to develop a set of action items that provide the greatest leverage for dealing with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as they relate to cities and communities,” he said. 

Holly Shaw, a professor at Adelphi University’s College of Nursing and Public Health is also attending the conference. “It’s really a kind of an unprecedented yearly opportunity for NGO leaders to get together and network and share the work that we have been doing,”  Shaw, the university’s representative to the UN’s Department of Public Information and the UN’s Economic and Social Council, said.

The conference will produce “a whole set of climate action elements” and, ultimately, release its findings and recommendations that will be shared with member states, Carlin said. The UN General Assembly, composed of 193 member states, will decide whether to implement the proposals.

Carlin, of Hampton Bays, who helped craft the conference’s thematic session on climate change, one of 11 such sessions, is one of at least two Long Islanders with significant roles at the conference. It was held in Manhattan last year.

Shaw, of Sea Cliff, will hold a workshop at the conference on explaining the role of civil society, including nongovernmental organizations, at the UN and the NGO’s role.

“It will explain how we can be most effective interacting with the NGO community and the UN community,” she said.

Shaw is also involved in a workshop on education for global citizenship.

At a news conference at UN headquarters in Manhattan Thursday, Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski told reporters through a teleconference that her city is proud to host the conference this year, the first time it has been held in a U.S. city other than New York City.

“We really want the United Nations and civil society to walk away from Salt Lake City with an understanding that this is a place that cares deeply about building sustainable and inclusive communities,” she said. “And we also want Utah to see the unique value of the UN and the global conversation on the sustainability goals.”

Biskupski said the city wanted to “reintroduce” the country to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the broad range of UN-sponsored benchmarks designed to reduce poverty and curb climate change by 2030. One of the goals , however, focuses on cities and reducing their impact in the environment while ensuring access to safe and affordable housing, quality public transportation, and green and public spaces.

“I am particularly excited that this conference is taking place in Salt Lake City,” said Alison Smale, UN undersecretary-general for global communications. “It’s an opportunity for the UN to engage with a whole new American audience and to hear from people everywhere about how they are transforming sustainable development goals into action.”

Carlin praised Salt Lake City for its emphasis on reducing its carbon footprint. The city already boasts two “net-zero” climate-friendly fire departments and is in the process of creating a police department powered fully by renewable energy sources and, by 2032, to have the whole city powered that way.

But he also said, “Long Island is very much a leader in a number of these initiatives partly because of the affluence of our region and high educational achievement of the region and our proximity to New York City.”

He cited Long Island’s activism on the environment, including the initiatives to install wind farms offshore and various projects to make the region more tolerant of climate change’s effects, such as the resilience projects already completed and underway at least since superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012.

They include elevated homes and businesses, raising local residential streets, drainage improvements, installing generators, preserving wetlands, and several more projects.

Both Carlin and Shaw said they are attending the conference with an eye toward sharing and learning of other cities’ initiatives around the world.

“We have very high enthusiastic hopes,” Shaw said.

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