Save the world with a message from space, says U.N. advocate

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 2 July 2019 16:14 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A photo taken by Expedition 46 flight engineer Tim Peake of the European Space Agency (ESA) aboard the International Space Station shows Italy, the Alps, and the Mediterranean on January, 25, 2016. REUTERS/NASA/Tim Peake/Handout

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Member nations adopted the goals in 2015 to tackle conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender equality and climate change. Work on promoting their implementation is heating up this summer

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, July 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Want to grab some headlines for the United Nations' global goals to cure world ills like poverty and inequality?

Send them on a rocket into space.

That is the plan devised by Eddie Ndopu, one of the newly appointed goal advocates helping implement the sweeping U.N. agenda by 2030.

Member nations unanimously adopted the 17 goals in 2015, setting out a wide-ranging "to-do" list on such vexing issues as conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender equality and climate change.

But progress has been slow due to an array of factors including conflict, nationalism, protectionism and a need for more funding.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.

Work on promoting their implementation is heating up this summer ahead of a first U.N. summit on the targets, called Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs, in September.

Ndopu is making plans to promote them from outer space, undergoing medical preparations and in talks with Virgin Galactic about his readiness, a spokeswoman said.

Virgin Galactic's goal to fly tourists into space and become the world's first commercial spaceline has been the longtime vision of its founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, and it has been signing up customers for several years.

Viacom Inc's MTV entertainment network has said it would chronicle Ndopu's journey.

"I'm hoping to be the first physically disabled person to travel into space," Ndopu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview from Johannesburg. "I'd deliver a televised address from space to the United Nations."

Ndopu was diagnosed at age 2 with spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects muscle movement, and he was not expected to live long.

Now 28, the South African resident graduated from Britain's University of Oxford and has become an activist, melding his identities as black, having a disability and a rare disorder and being openly gay.

He works as a special advisor at New York-based RTW Investments, which specializes in health and medical research.

"In defying my prognosis, I've used mine to really continue breaking down barriers," he said. "It's also about using my life as an example of what is possible."

From space, he said he plans to send a message to "catch the hearts and minds of millions of people."

"Through my mission to space I hope to share the broadest human mission, which is the SDGs," he said. "Why not?"

Other goals advocates are Brazilian soccer star Marta Vieira da Silva, American actor Forest Whitaker and Indian actress Dia Mirza, who said she had been creating goal-related films, social media content and workshops for schoolchildren.

"I use personal action to draw people's attention," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Mumbai. "We just have to do more and much sooner. 2030 is not that far away."

The U.N. said last month that progress had been made in ending extreme poverty, lowering child mortality rates, improving access to electricity, energy efficiency and labor productivity.

But it reported increases in hunger and greenhouse emissions and said inequality and a lack of safe water and sanitation persisted.

It called for September's summit to kick-start a new phase and asked member nations to arrive not with speeches but with accelerated plans.

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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