Common efforts to eradicate poverty: What the Sustainable Development Goals mean

Litteraturhuset, Oslo, 4 March 2015

Foreign Minister Børge Brende's speech at a meeting in Oslo 4 March 2015 - "From vision to transformation - The next steps towards sustainable development".

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Today we meet to reflect on the next steps towards sustainable development.

It would be an understatement to say that 2015 is an important year for global development, for the UN system and for multilateral cooperation in general.

We are in the final year of the Millennium Development Goals period.

Prime Minister Solberg, who co-chairs UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s MDG Advocacy Group, is very clear on the importance of achieving these goals if we are to be able to deliver on the complex and ambitious

SDG agenda after 2015.

This year, three milestone meetings will stake out the course for global development over the next 15 years:  

  • First, the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July. Norway is playing a leading role in the preparations, together with Guyana.  
  • Second, the UN Summit to adopt the post-2015 development agenda in New York in September. World leaders will adopt the new set
  • of universally applicable sustainable development goals.  
  • Third, The Climate Summit in Paris in December.

In addition, many people would say there is a fourth milestone: the WTO conference in Nairobi in December.

These meetings are all crucial for our efforts to eradicate poverty, transform economies, and protect our natural environment.  

  • Agreement on financing for development in Addis Ababa can pave the way for a constructive SDG Summit in New York.  
  • Agreement on the SDGs will support the process leading to the Paris summit. 
  • Progress on free trade and market access will spur further economic growth and create jobs.  

Let us reflect on some of the important lessons from the MDG process:  

  1. The MDGs were easy to rally around as a common global framework with concrete goals and benchmarks.
  2. The MDGs proved inspiring and easy to communicate.

They have engaged civil society and NGOs.

  1. The MDGs helped guide national plans and budget priorities for poverty reduction and aid.
  2. The MDGs provided more predictability in development finance, especially in the area of health.
  3. The MDGs re-invigorated the UN and re-established its relevance as a development platform and actor.
  4. Last – but not least – the MDGs helped encourage public–private partnerships.

In the time ahead, we must build on these lessons.

In addition, we must integrate sustainability in all its dimensions into the new set of goals, as we agreed in Rio.  

The main idea behind the MDGs was to reduce poverty and disease in developing countries.  

The MDG era led to a great increase in aid programmes, budgets and partnerships - built around the goals and targets.  

Many good results were achieved, especially in the area of health.

And, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been halved.  

Of course, the establishment of goals like the MDGs is not - and cannot in itself be - the main explanation for the progress that has been made.  

Goals without accompanying strategies, policies and investments will never lift a single person out of poverty.

But, when strategies, policies and investments are in place, goals will sharpen our focus and mobilise efforts and resources, increasing the likelihood of achieving positive results.  

For example, the remarkable economic progress in Asia and elsewhere is due to various combinations of the following:

-        market reforms

-        economic growth

-        open trade policies

-        smart regulation

-        foreign investments

China alone has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty.

China’s focus on infrastructure, industry and education in national development plans are key elements in its success. And its accession to the WTO contributed to substantial growth in foreign trade.  

Another successful example is Brazil. Targeted policies and cash transfer programmes for social protection, food security and education have reduced the poverty, hunger and inequality experienced by tens of millions of marginalised people.  

Programmes of this kind have spread across Latin America, where only 6 % of the people now live on less than 1.25 US dollars a day (compared to 12 % in 1990).

China and Brazil represent quite different development models, but both demonstrate the importance of having focused national public policies.

Poverty reduction has been achieved through domestic resource mobilisation.

At the same time, both countries’ policies are in line with the MDG priorities, especially in the areas of health and education.  

As we move beyond 2015, we must look at how LDCs in Africa and elsewhere can apply the lessons learned from emerging economies. 

15 years ago, the World Bank classified 65 countries as low income. Last year this number had fallen to 34. What happened? Half of the graduates found oil, gas, or other resources. The other half either recovered from the economic blows they had experienced in the past, or – they climbed their way out of poverty step by step, institution by institution. In short, they developed good governance.

Economic growth alone cannot explain the reduced incidence of diseases, or the fall in maternal and child mortality rates.

The Vaccine Alliance GAVI and the Global Fund are prominent examples of how governments that provide targeted aid and investments and work in partnership with the private sector and industry can achieve remarkable results, using market mechanisms.

Thanks to GAVI, 550 million children have been vaccinated. Norway will scale up its support for this successful alliance, and contribute 200 million dollars each year for the next 5 years.

Improvements in maternal and child health have had a significant impact on economic growth, employment and development in Asia over the past decades. Leading economists estimate that 12 % of the growth in developing countries from 2000 to 2010 has been due to improved health: It is a virtuous circle.

Education is equally important. Education was not given enough attention during the last decade. Improving rates of secondary school attendance for girls remains a particular challenge.

We are therefore playing a leading role in scaling up efforts in this area.

Norway will double our ODA earmarked for education.  

How do global goals add value? Do common goals make a difference for the end result?

First, the eight MDGs are the world’s first ever set of common global development goals. The adoption of the Millennium Declaration by world leaders at the September 2000 UN Summit paved way for the MDGs and secured top-level political backing for the goals in most countries of the world. The goals were later presented as a package to the UN General Assembly, by the Secretary-General at the time, Kofi Annan. Member states accepted the goals without a negotiation process. Possible mainly because they were based on previous commitments and decisions made by world leaders at several development summits during the 1990s.

In my view,

  • Globally established goals are likely to attract more political and financial attention than the sum of the development objectives of individual countries.  
  • The MDG and SDG processes are opportunities to establish or reinforce global norms. One example: The first decade of the MDG era saw impressive progress in the efforts to achieve universal primary education. This may or may not be a coincidence. The point is that the MDGs strengthened a global sense of responsibility to make sure every child can enjoy their right to education.  
  • Global goals that are well-known and tangible raise expectations both within countries and across borders. They give more weight to the demands made by grassroots movements and civil society. Peer pressure from neighbouring countries can also play a role.  
  • However, global development goals also have their limitations. It is easier to achieve development promises in times of economic growth than during a recession. Moreover, fragile states and populations affected by crisis and conflict lag behind on most of the MDGs.  

Furthermore, unless a country’s government shows the political willand resolve to make progress on a given goal, progress will be limited or non-existent.

Now, to the differences between MDGs and SDGs.

The SDG process differs from its predecessor in several important respects  

The SDGs have a broader scope than the MDGs. They integrate all dimensions of sustainable development.  

Millions of people, including many of you present here today, have been involved in the largest development dialogue the world has ever experienced.

New ground is being broken in an intergovernmental negotiation process.  

In some ways, the SDG process is already a success:

It has enhanced democratic accountability and the active involvement of civil society.  

As we shape the post-2015 development agenda, there is no doubt that education and health will continue to be crucial elements. This is in line with Norway’s priorities.  

We will continue our engagement to accelerate progress towards meeting the targets on maternal and child mortality and sexual and reproductive health.  

We must also focus more - in domestic and development policies – on non-communicable diseases.

We must provide access to primary education for 58 million children, and secondary education for another 60 million who still do not attend school.  

We must contribute to ensuring greater progress on gender equality, including in education.  

This is not only a question of human rights, dignity and combating discrimination. The World Bank and IMF reports document the economic gains that can be made by increasing gender equality and female participation in the labour market.  

The SDGs will be universal and apply to all countries.  

In Norway, various ministries are actively involved in an ongoing effort coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to consider how to follow up the SDGs in Norway’s domestic and development policies.  

The Addis Ababa conference is about whether donors continue their commitment to ODA targets, and whether developing countries make a commitment to mobilise domestic revenue, raise taxes and tackle illicit flows, corruption and bribery.  

In conclusion, as we are preparing for the milestone meetings this year, as we are looking beyond 2015, we must strengthen our focus on sustainability – in the areas of consumption, production, and management of the global commons: oceans, forests, fresh water and biodiversity.  

We must strengthen our focus on equality, inclusive job-creating growth, business investments, economic transformation and good governance.  

And we must strengthen our focus on vulnerability, on fragile nations and populations, on the most marginalised people – and ensure that we leave nobody behind.  

As always, we will consult civil society and listen to your views. I look forward to hearing your questions and comments. Thank you.