Speech/statement | Date: 09/02/2018 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Minister of International Development Nikolai Astrup (Bergen, 9 February)
Minister of International Development Nikolai Astrup's address at the conference "Knowledge for our common future. Norwegian Universities and the Sustainable Development Goals".
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Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak to you at this milestone conference. The topic – how Norwegian universities can contribute to our efforts to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals – is highly relevant.
First of all, I would like to commend the University of Bergen on including sustainability, with reference to the 2030 Agenda, as a field of study.
The world is changing rapidly. The digital revolution is global, and it is gradually changing our way of life, - both how we commute and how we communicate. Climate change is compelling us to innovative thinking about how to sustain growth and welfare.
We know that financial crises can quickly turn global, and can only be solved through close cross-border cooperation. Access to health and education – privileges many take for granted – are still beyond reach of millions of people.
High unemployment rates and lack of access to skilled jobs, especially for young people, are a ticking bomb in many countries around the globe.
Around 9 % of the world's children do not have access to education. That amounts to about 60 million children, and about half of these children are disabled.
Acidification, overexploitation of fish stocks and rapid concentration of microplastics are threatening the oceans – the largest ecosystem on earth.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The leaders of the world have recognised and are responding to these challenges. In September 2015, they adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as the global platform for transformation to "The Future We Want".
That was quite an achievement. The 2030 Agenda with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals speak to our ability to seek new solutions, by disallowing ourselves to be dictated by the unpredictability of the future.
This optimism is well founded. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has gone down from 28 % to 11 % over the past 20 years. At the same time, infant mortality rate has fallen by 37 %. Although the figures remain high, the arrows are pointing in the right direction. Especially given the fact that the world's population grew by almost 2 billion during this period.
The same positive trends can be seen in education and health. Both are priority sectors for Norway's international development cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The previous set of global goals, the Millennium Development Goals – or the MDGs – provided the world with a common language. They identified the joint actions needed for a global fight against poverty and marginalisation. More than anything, the MDGs confirmed that it is possible to curb negative trends, if there is a political will to act together.
The MDGs provided the foundation for the SDGs. Now the new set of goals must be implemented, and it is up to each UN member state, its institutions and people, to do so. Norway was actively involved in the development of the SDGs, and continues to have a special interest in their implementation, not least due to the leading role of Prime Minister Solberg as co-chair of the group of SDG Advocates.
The 2030 Agenda is a strategic priority for Norway. It brings the world together in an unprecedented manner in a common effort to combat poverty in all its forms. The commitment to 'leave no one behind' goes to the core of our humanity – our willingness and ability to promote equality in rights and dignity for all. Success will hinge on a consistent and accountable follow up by all of us.
The agenda with the SGDs supersedes traditional aid relations. Dividing the world into developing and developed countries has therefore become less meaningful. Hence, the Agenda represents a final break with the view that development is a process primarily dependent on aid.
Meeting all 17 SDGs by 2030 will be a huge challenge. But as is often the case with great challenges, they also offer great opportunities – for new partnerships, new businesses, new policies and new knowledge.
I am convinced that we can make a difference. Norway has the knowledge and the means – and the political will – to be a major contributor in the implementation of the SDGs, both by national efforts as well as internationally. We are also among the top providers of aid in the world, both in terms of percentage of Gross National Income, and in terms of contributions per citizen. Our substantial aid budget gives us many opportunities to develop strategic partnerships based on our foreign and international development priorities.
Private sector development in general and decent employment in particular are crucial for sustainable growth. Progress in this area depends on investment-friendly and predictable policies in our partner countries. Experience shows that in countries with the right policies, the private sector is a driving force for economic development.
Norfund is Norway's development finance institution. It is our most important instrument for supporting the private sector in our partner countries. Over the past 20 years, Norfund's investment capital has increased from NOK 200 million to more than NOK 20 billion.
Its investments support capacity-building and job creation, increases partner countries' domestic resource envelope and enhance electrification. I am encouraged by these achievements. We will continue to build on them.
Without the tax base generated by the private sector, there can be no public sector. National resource mobilisation is fundamental for financing welfare services like health and education. The establishment of sound tax regimes and the ability to stem all forms of illicit financial flows are crucial factors for inclusive development in our partner countries. This area is a high priority in our international cooperation.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our ultimate goal is to ensure quality of life for all people. This means lifting people out of poverty and marginalisation. For some time, Norway has taken a leading role in global health. Our strategic support to vaccination programmes and efforts to prevent pandemics are changing the lives of millions of people.
Norway's support to education is closely related to our global health efforts. We will continue to promote education for all, especially for girls. We will also maintain focus on innovative financing for education, which has become increasingly important as global support to education has stalled.
But our efforts in the field of education do not stop there. Institutions of higher education are already playing an important role. We would like this role to be further strengthened.
It is vital that we have the ability and capacity to adjust policy in response to major global changes. The SDGs have highlighted the need to develop knowledge-based policies.
Partnerships between Norwegian universities and higher education institutions in low-income countries have played an important part in our development cooperation for many years.
This conference is an excellent opportunity to discuss how we can address the SGDs in a coherent manner. We need the best minds to do it. Many of them are here today.
We cannot lean back and assume that we have all the knowledge and insight we need. On the contrary, it is vital to invest in research and knowledge that can inform policy development and decision-making.
This is why it is so important that universities and research institutions develop new knowledge in the many areas that are relevant in this context – not only for Norwegian policy development, but also for all the various actors that joining forces to achieve the SDGs.
In our work to follow up the new global agenda for development, we are engaging in broader political and economic partnerships with low-income countries, and entering into partnerships based on common interests, cooperation, trade and investment. This is in line with the new Government's policy platform.
Norwegian universities and research institutions have extensive expertise in many fields relevant to international development. I am impressed by your networks and your ability to team up with outstanding researchers from other countries.
Communicating this knowledge and maintaining a close dialogue between researchers and practitioners is also essential. We will only be able to reach the SDGs if the knowledge developed is actually used to create better policies and practices.
This conference is an excellent example: The SDGs have already formed new and potent partnerships across very different branches.
It is important that the private sector – both at home and in low-income countries – is included in these partnerships. Knowledge, innovation and technology all need to be harnessed in order to secure progress in all countries – rich and poor.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am confident that we are moving in the right direction. But, before I close, allow me to reiterate three vital tasks for academia in our joint effort to create the future we want:
First: Knowledge is the new global currency. Our implementation of the 2030 Agenda must build on this fact. Several higher education institutions are now exploring what role they can play in these efforts. This in turn is an important incentive for cross-discipline research and multi-stakeholder partnerships.
Second: Good research can help policy makers make good decisions. One of the main objectives of the Research Council of Norway's strategy, Research for Innovation and Sustainability, is to enhance research and innovation with a view to promoting sustainable solutions in society and the business sector. Time is of the essence here – and an integrated approach is a key success factor.
Third: Communication is the key. Knowledge needs to be transferred through effective communication channels in order to bring about change. Our universities have a key role to play in this respect.
Successful implementation of the Agenda will hinge on the communication of knowledge that can be understood and put into practice by the various users.
When the public sector, civil society, universities and private sector all do their part and forge partnerships that pull in the same direction, reaching the SDGs by 2030 will no longer be a vision; it will be reality.