Panda’s, the Planet and the SDGs

16 Nov 2015

By Patrick Haverman -

Everybody knows them, they are iconic globally - a symbol for China and the environment - but very few get to see them so close. Recently I had the privilege to meet them in person - the Giant Pandas.

UNDP has partnered with the Chengdu Panda Base to adopt two recently born panda twins who will be our newest image ambassadors or “Pambassdors”, and we have started a naming campaign. In the office we have been joking that we should call one “UN” and the other “DP”, or perhaps “SD” and “G”, naming them after the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will guide the world in sustainable development over the next 15 years.

Since the SDGs were adopted by the world leaders, including President Xi, I have been speaking about them a lot. I have come to realize that the more I speak about them, the more I like them and what they represent. I feel it is utterly unique for the world to come together behind one set of goals. While nations may argue and clash over many issues, who can disagree that we want to live in a world without poverty, hunger and inequality. By now I can say I have proudly memorized all 17 goals and as they are going to be with us for the next 15 years I recommend you do the same!

For this special trip down to Chengdu I had some essentials to bring along with me. For a trip to see the panda’s I could hardly go without my family, especially my two little kids. I’m fairly sure my kids have no idea what I do, nor would they usually have any interest in coming along to work with me, but this was a special exception. They, like all children in the world, love pandas.

Bringing my two children along with me to Chengdu, and being able to share my work with them, threw the importance of our work into sharp relief in a way I don’t think about enough.  It may sound a little cheesy but as adults we do have to ask ourselves “what kind of planet will we be leaving behind for the next generation?" And for me, I hope it is a world in which the SDGs are being strived for and achieved.

The second essential to bring along were the 17 SDG signs. These are the colorful signs, representing each of the goals, which can now be seen held up behind the pandas in pictures as they have been spinning around the world’s news outlets. Since the SDGs were adopted I’ve been bringing them along with me everywhere. As these images have gone viral, I’m glad I remembered to pack them.

Globally UNDP has Goodwill ambassadors (GWA) from actors to athletes, including Ronaldo, Maria Sharapova and Antonio Banderas, to use their influence to highlight development issues and help call the world to action to achieve the SDGs. UNDP China is the first to have not just one but two animal ambassadors, to join UNDP National GWA, actress Zhou Xun. I believe UNDP’s panda twins will be more than up to the task.

I have to admit, that while I knew pandas were beloved, I was completely blown away by how much attention they can draw. We made it to the cover of the Global Times in China, multiple national TV channels in both Chinese and English, including CCTV and numerous online new sites around the world from South Africa to Australia.  For this reason I am grateful to have these two panda twins as the UNDP image ambassadors. More than just being cute, they spread the message far and wide of how important it is for us to take care of the planet, not just for us but for also for nature, as it’s the only one we have.

The naming campaign has begun, and if you have a creative idea do submit them to the UNDP, but more importantly pass on the message. That message being that we need to be careful with our fragile planet and that action is needed and together with the decision makers of our countries we can make the SDGs reality!



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