UN Matters

Psychologists plan contributions to the UN’s post-2015 global agenda on sustainable development

Psychologist participation in the planning, implementation and evaluation of projects that support the U.N.’s Post-2015 Global Agenda are described and highlighted.

By Juneau Gary, PsyD, and Neal S. Rubin, PhD, ABPP

As leaders of the U.N. and its member states look forward, a follow-up agenda has emerged, called Post-2015 Global Agenda, which is dedicated to promoting sustainable development and mitigating the adverse effects of climate change. During the World Economic Forum, Ban Ki-Moon discussed a series of issues to address how to evolve from a “brown economy” (i.e., reduce dependence on carbon-intensive and obsolete technologies) to a “green economy” (i.e., economic growth to “support universal energy access, sustainable cities and well-being for people and the planet” (D.P.I.,U.N., 2014a)). He announced plans to convene a world summit on climate change and sustainable development in September 2014 at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City. His comments signaled the dual emphasis at the U.N. today, which combines ongoing dedication to the MDGs as well as an emerging framework for a Post-2015 Global Agenda on sustainable development (U.N., 2013).

Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development

Recognizing that MDGs in some countries will be achieved while others will fall short of expectations, new efforts have emerged to form strong global partnerships to accelerate progress on sustainable development (U.N., 2014b). Currently in the process of being fleshed out, an ambitious Post-2015 Global Agenda represents plans to expand the success of the MDGs toward achieving prosperity, equity, freedom, dignity and peace for citizens in all regions (U.N., 2014c). As early as September 2010, an MDG Summit initiated a process of addressing the Post-2015 Global Agenda horizon. By June 2012 at a U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, called “Rio+20,” U.N. member states designed inter-governmental consultations to foster global deliberations and planning. Since then, multi-stakeholder partnerships have characterized movement toward the collaboration of governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including academia and business, with the U.N. and its member states.

As of early 2014, the U.N., its member states, agencies and civil society organizations are actively engaged in the Post-2015 Global Agenda planning process while remaining vigilant regarding the need to maintain progress on the MDGs. Currently, these ongoing deliberations and planning sessions are multi-faceted. In February, John W. Ashe (Antigua and Barbuda), president of the General Assembly, convened a briefing for civil society representatives in advance of three high-level meetings scheduled between March and June 2014 (D.P.I., U.N., 2014b). In preparation for the deliberations, he disseminated six concept papers to help frame the dialogue. Numerous topics are scheduled for the deliberations, including human rights, gender equality, peace, water and energy sustainability and global partnerships, among others. Ashe’s approach reflects an ethos of inclusion of multiple stakeholders in formulating robust and potentially effective mechanisms that will facilitate an agenda for successful sustainable development.

Psychologists as Stakeholders in the Post-2015 Global Agenda

Various psychological organizations are stakeholders at the U.N. through our NGO status. We seek opportunities to infuse psychological perspectives on mental health and emotional well-being into deliberations, advocacy and outcomes. Concurrent with the U.N.’s Post-2015 Global Agenda, psychologists have investigated interventions to facilitate behavior change that promotes strengthening of the three pillars of sustainable development. For example, some of these issues were raised in the October 2013 U.N. Matters column on climate change that reviewed how we can use psychological knowledge about behavior change to decrease the adverse effects of climate change, which in turn, compromises the human rights of citizens around the world (Gary & Rubin, 2013). The American Psychologist’s special issue on global climate change (Anderson, 2011) is an important landmark in showing the role of psychology in this context.

However, despite advances within the discipline, the contributions of psychological science to promote sustainable development and alter human behavior are often underappreciated by interdisciplinary boards and world leaders. The contribution of psychologists and our ability to impact advocacy and outcomes will be on display in several U.N. programs in coming months. Those occurring within the next six months include:

  • Psychology NGOs and the Psychology Coalition at the United Nations (PCUN), which consists of representatives of several psychology NGOs, including APA, will co-sponsor program sessions organized by the Commission for Social Development (CSocD). This year’s focus is promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all. CSocD advises ECOSOC and government leaders of member states on a wide range of social policy issues related to development (U.N., 2014d).
  • Psychology NGOs will co-sponsor program sessions organized by the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year’s focus is challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls. CSW is the principle global inter-governmental body focused on gender equality. Associated with ECOSOC, it promotes women’s rights and the empowerment of women worldwide (U.N., 2014e).
  • Psychologists advocate for social justice and the inclusion of psychological principles in consultations with representatives of member states and U.N. staff when planning for the Post-2015 Global Agenda.
  • Psychologists from three psychology NGOs will address the NGO community about global violence, which addresses several MDGs. The program’s title is “Global Violence: Psychological Perspectives, Prevention, and Future Trends.”

In addition, psychology’s contributions to sustainable development will be the focus of this year’s Psychology Day at the United Nations and of APA’s U.N. representation’s presentation at the APA convention.

Psychology Day: Psychology’s Contributions to Sustainable Development: Challenges and Solutions for the Global Agenda

The U.N.’s Post-2015 Global Agenda on sustainable development will be the focus for the Seventh Annual Psychology Day at the United Nations, April 24, 2014. This event is organized solely by psychologists of the many psychology NGOs accredited at the U.N. The program, will connect to the three pillars of sustainable development: economy, environment and social. Speakers will be psychologists and U.N. staff who are fluent in conveying psychological perspectives and research findings that introduce the audience to issues and solutions for the emerging global agenda for sustainable development. The audience is expected to be diverse. It will consist of psychologists and their students as well as representatives of the U.N., its agencies, and member nations who are interested in advocating for social justice using psycho-social knowledge to connect with the three pillars of sustainability (APA OIA, 2014).

APA Convention: Psychological Contributions to the U.N. Global Agenda: Sustainable Development and Social Justice 

Members of APA’s representation at the U.N. will present a symposium at the 2014 APA convention. That will integrate psychological research and behavioral intervention models with the three pillars of sustainability and connect to social justice implications. The first paper will review the overarching theme of poverty and how it affects sustainable development and the rights of children to live healthy lives. The second paper will build on the discussion of social sustainability by examining the psychological effects of globalization and how certain behavioral disorders may be indicators that globalization compromises sustainability. The third paper will explore environmental and social sustainability by addressing psychological well-being. The final paper will present findings from psychological science that facilitate behavioral change to deter the adverse effects of climate change.


Overall, the multi-stakeholder approach to crafting the Post-2015 Global Agenda on sustainable development has created multiple opportunities for psychologists to contribute to the deliberations and advocate for the inclusion of psychological principles and solutions to this complex problem. By sponsoring and co-sponsoring events that identify the relevance of psychological science to the realization of the MGDs and Post-2015 Global Agenda on sustainable development, psychologists are increasing the awareness of world leaders about psychological contributions to today’s complex problems. In doing so, it is our hope that interdisciplinary bodies and world leaders will reserve a “seat at the table” for psychologists when planning, implementing and evaluating changes to improve the lives of us all and the longevity of our planet.


American Psychological Association Office of International Affairs. (2014). Psychology Day at the UN. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/international/united-nations/psych-day.aspx

Anderson, N. (Ed.). (2011). Psychology global climate change [Special Issue]. AmericanPsychologist, 66 (4).

Gary, J., & Rubin, N. S. (2013). Does climate change compromise fundamental human rights? APA Psychology International. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/international/pi/2013/10/un-climate.aspx

UN Department of Public Information. (2014a). Secretary-General, at World Economic Forum in Davos, says addressing climate change, sustainable development ‘mutually supporting.’ Retrieved from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2014/sgsm15611.doc.htm

UN Department of Public Information. (2014b). Save the date: Interactive briefing with civil society. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/ga/president/68/pdf/sts/Save_the_Date.pdf

United Nations. (2014a). We can end poverty: Millennium Development Goals overview. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/beyond2015-overview.shtml

United Nations. (2014b). We can end poverty: Millennium Development Goals and beyond 2015. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/beyond2015-news.shtml

United Nations. (2014c). Millennium Development Goals and Post-2015 Development Agenda. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/about/mdg.shtml

United Nations. (2014d). The Commission for Social Development. Retrieved from http://undesadspd.org/CommissionforSocialDevelopment.aspx

United Nations. (2014e). The Commission on the Status of Women. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/

United Nations. (2013). Renewed global partnership critical for Post-2015 Development Agenda. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=44510&Cr=mdg&Cr1