Speech/statement | Date: 11/02/2021 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (11 February)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's opening statement at the national SDG Conference Bergen initiated by the University of Bergen.
[Check against the delivery]
Ladies and gentlemen,
With fewer than 10 years left before we reach 2030, the world needs urgent collective action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The contributions of the academic world will be essential if we are to succeed.
That’s why I am grateful to have this opportunity to meet with you, even if it has to be virtually.
As Minister of Foreign Affairs, I am acutely aware that the choices we make today in response to climate change, increasing energy needs, lack of access to quality education or attacks on fundamental freedoms – to mention some of the areas covered by the SDGs – will shape the security challenges of tomorrow.
Norway worked hard to achieve the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda back in 2015 because the SDGs promote the shared vision and long-term approach required to address global challenges. The 2030 Agenda represents a commitment on the part of both the developed world and the developing countries. It establishes an agenda for virtually all policy areas, including foreign and security policy. It involves all types of stakeholders, very often in partnership. The organisers of today’s conference have clearly taken this to heart – I am pleased to see that representatives of the private sector, civil society and government have all been invited into this dialogue with the academic world. Because all of you have a vital role to play in achieving the SDGs - nationally and internationally.
Norway is one of few countries that has remained committed to disbursing 1 % of its gross national income to development aid. With the 2030 Agenda as guiding principle, the Norwegian Government has sought to streamline Norway's development portfolio to ensure that we take advantage of existing knowledge and expertise, and promote new digital tools and innovation to enhance efficiency and impact.
It is in its place to highlight Norway’s efforts to promote clean and healthy oceans. The High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy was launched by Prime Minister – and former University of Bergen student – Erna Solberg. In December, the Ocean Panel presented an extensive action agenda. The link between sustainable oceans and reaching the Sustainable Development Goals is obvious. I am, of course, preaching to the converted here! Let me take this opportunity to thank the University of Bergen for taking on a leadership role to advance SDG 14, including as official UN Ocean Science Hub.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Achieving the SDGs was always going to pose a formidable challenge. Over the past years, when we took stock of our progress, the results have at best been mixed. But in many areas, such as access to education and health services, we were at least moving in the right direction, albeit slowly.
And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, plunging the world’s economies into a downward spiral, increasing unemployment, keeping hundreds of millions of children out of school and causing the first rise in global poverty in more than 20 years. Once again, it is the most vulnerable that have been hit the hardest. And across every sphere, we see that the impacts are exacerbated for women and girls.
A recent UN report described the situation in stark terms: ‘The sheer size of the crisis threatens everything that has been achieved in sustainable development over the past five years, and much of the development progress made under the Millennium Development Goals.’ However, the same report also points out that, contrary to the last major global crisis, this time we know what needs to be done. The SDGs offer a blueprint for the recovery. In simpler terms: the SDGs show us the way!
When world leaders rightly stress that the Covid-19 pandemic offers us the opportunity – and the imperative – to build back better, I believe it must also mean we should ‘build back more sustainably.’
We must start with a massive solidarity effort to achieve a global vaccine rollout – an effort Norway is deeply invested in – both politically and financially. Together with South Africa, Norway co-chairs the Facilitation Council for the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, the only global initiative to assure equitable access to vaccines, treatment, and diagnostics. Norway’s total contribution to the ACT Accelerator exceeds 500 million USD – making us by far the biggest contributor per capita.
We are facing a rapidly evolving virus that does not stop at national borders, and it has never been more obvious that leaving anyone behind will be to the detriment of all. We have to get the virus under control if we are to succeed in fighting poverty, eradicating hunger and reducing gender inequality.
Multilateral structures have been under pressure for a long time. The Covid-19 pandemic reminds us of the value of international cooperation, which has always been an inherent part of achieving the SDGs. By design, no country can achieve the 2030 agenda on its own.
We have to come together as a global community of leaders. This is not just a task for government, however, but for the whole of society. Let me underline that the role of the private sector cannot be overstated, and that employment is the single most important measure to help reduce poverty. Reaching the SDGs requires local, national and international partnerships across sectors – focused on a common purpose, rather than shared geography or traditions.
Success will require innovation, and it will require initiative. In this context, I commend the Norwegian institutions responsible for establishing the national committee for cooperation with the 2030 Agenda in the Norwegian university sector. The Norwegian Government is preparing a white paper on sustainable development, focused on our national efforts, which will likely be presented in the spring. I know that the national committee has already provided valuable input to this work.
The pandemic has underlined how critical it is for decision-makers to have access to reliable data and knowledge in order to take the best possible decisions. And we will be just as dependent on new knowledge – knowledge that must be applied, shared and used – to make progress on the SDGs. There is a need for more interdisciplinary research and broader cooperation between universities in developed countries and in poorer parts of the world. This is a challenge I hope you will act upon.
Despite the vastness of the challenges, I choose to be an optimist. An ambitious optimist.
I believe that when it comes to the SDGs, the world cannot afford to compromise. I believe that instead of giving up hope, we need to step up our game.
Moreover, I know that:
when the brightest minds meet,
when citizens, scientists, corporations and governments join forces behind a goal,
the impossible can be made possible – such as the development of a vaccine against a severely contagious disease in record time.
I choose to remain optimistic, not least because I know that I can count on you. Thank you for your important work, and I wish you the best of luck with your conference.