Hugh Evans highlighted a staggering new statistic to explain why this year’s Global Citizen NOW conference was packed with calls to action and urgent requests for involvement.
The CEO of Global Citizen, who has been fighting against extreme poverty since he was 14, told The Associated Press that climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and a global debt crisis have erased decades of progress in raising people’s quality of life.
“For the first time in my lifetime, we’re making reverse progress on this issue,” Evans said. “When I was born in 1983, 52 per cent of the planet lived in extreme poverty. We got it down to 7 per cent. That was about 690 million people. It’s now increased by hundreds of millions in the last three years.”
This reversal is why Evans turned the two-day Global Citizen NOW conference, which wrapped up Friday night in New York, into a collection of calls to action. Political, business, philanthropic and cultural leaders urged Global Citizen supporters, especially younger generations, to tackle the causes concerning them.
New York Attorney General Letitia James said young people have been responsible for every movement in the world.
“I know that all of you have the power and the compassion and the fire in your belly to make a difference,” she said. “I will be with you, cheering you on and leading the way.”
Some actions were big, such as supporting Global Citizen’s Power Our Planet initiative, which urges supporters to demand global financing reform from political and banking leaders to help speed investments to battle climate change.
French President Emmanuel Macron, addressing the conference virtually from France, offered support for the idea. “We all have to be a part of the reshaping and reinvention,” he said.
The non-profit JUST Capital, which advises companies how to deploy their investments more equitably, announced the creation of the Corporate Care Network, which aims to improve health care benefits for workers.
Singer-songwriter John Legend challenged supporters to pledge to build systems to create record-breaking youth turnout in the 2024 election.
“We want a democracy that’s open to everybody, and one that encourages our leaders to do what’s right because they know that they answer to the people,” Legend said.
Other actions were more personal. A panel of advocates for a more plant-based diet – including Impossible Foods CEO Peter McGuiness and restaurateur Pinky Cole, owner of the Slutty Vegan burger chain – sought promises from the conference’s worldwide audience to eat one plant-based meal a day.
“Food choice is the No. 1 weapon we have to combat climate change,” McGuiness said.
Global Citizen’s Evans said even though his organization remains focused on fighting extreme poverty, that battle cannot be won without addressing climate change and gender equity at the same time.
“We are all interconnected in some ways, whether you like it or not,” he said. “What happens on one side of the planet will affect you. And so we can’t just close our eyes and say, ‘OK, these issues don’t matter to me.’ No nation is an island unto itself.”