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Student reflections – International Conference on Sustainable Development 2018


In September 2018, six Monash students attended the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD) 2018 at Columbia University in New York.

ISCD is the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s (SDSN) premier annual global gathering and a significant global conference on sustainable development.

Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI), with the support of Monash Abroad, offered four travel scholarships for students to attend ICSD 2018, which ran from September 26 to 28. Two other Monash students self-funded their trip to attend the conference.

Monash student Lachlan Smale shares his experience of attending ICSD2018

ICSD Reflection Piece by Lachlan Smale

During the mid-semester break, I ventured to New York for the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD). After reading, Kofi Annan’s ‘Interventions: A Life in War and Peace’ during high school, I have held, throughout my commerce degrees, an underlying interest in sustainability and the United Nation’s development goals. The week in New York reinforced my passion for sustainability and left me both buoyed and cautious, about the state of the world’s affairs.

After visiting New York fleetingly as a 14 year old, I felt somewhat prepared for the organised chaos that I was about to experience. I soon realised however, that New York during the week of the UN general assembly, was a different beast altogether. A ten car long NYPD convoy would accompany any dignitary from their accommodation to the UN building- with rain, tourists and interminable traffic adding to the logistical nightmare. After receiving numerous spam emails in the lead up, we took a chance and replied to an email from the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative about a side event at the UN building. After breathing a collective sigh of relief once it was affirmed that the event was legitimate, we heard from the Presidents of Panama and Honduras (amongst others) on the multi-faceted nature of poverty. As it was a side-event, the discussion really didn’t scratch beneath the superficial level, however it was encouraging to witness a platform for world unity and problem-solving.

I came across the ICSD and the associated opportunity for Monash students, whilst I was recovering from anterior cruciate ligament surgery. Unlike the majority of my colleagues, I had not undertaken a body of work relating to sustainability during my coursework. One of the conference’s topics; ‘Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience Building in Agriculture’ stood out to me however, as a significant portion of my mum’s family have grown up on or around agricultural environments. My poster presentation on the state of conservational tillage in Victoria evoked an in-depth conversation, particularly with a Kenyan farmer and an Irish farmer. Not having presented a poster at a conference before, it was pleasing to have individuals from two different countries, discussing the importance of my topic and somewhat reiterating my hypothesis. The speakers at the conference were incredibly engaging and if you were to only watch one (as they are publically available on YouTube), I would recommend the Crown Prince Haakon of Norway’s optimistic, yet starkly truthful, discussion on climate change.

This was the prevailing flavour for the week, with numerous speakers proclaiming the global sustainability situation to be concerning, but not beyond the capabilities of humankind. Whilst I am still yet to properly understand tipping (a New York Mets employee refused a tip after helping me for 20 minutes, yet a milk bar employee expected one on top of Gatorade purchase), New York solidified its position in my mind as an experience not to be missed. I encourage anyone reading this who is interested in sustainability and world affairs, to apply for the ICSD in the coming years.