Closing Remarks at SDG Conference

Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein's closing remarks at the national SDG Conference 2019.

Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein at the SDG Conference in Bergen. Credit: Guri Solberg, MFA
Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein at the SDG Conference in Bergen. Credit: Guri Solberg, MFA

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be back in Bergen, my home town.

You have now been here for two days discussing some of the most pressing issues of our time. This conference calls on us to engage in a process of radical ‘re:thinking’. The aim is to strengthening our efforts to realise the 2030 Agenda.

I fully support this call for re:thinking. To use a quote that is often – mistakenly - attributed to Albert Einstein, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’.

It is simply not good enough to think that following the same procedure as last year will do.

The 2030 Agenda calls on us to take action for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

Together, these ‘Five Ps’ form the backbone of the 2030 Agenda. We need to understand that they are interconnected and need to be integrated into practical policy-making, both nationally and internationally.

I would therefore like to commend the organisers of this conference for the pledge you have made to bring the full breadth of the 2030 Agenda into your lecture halls and research programmes. Without the committed participation of the academic community and the students you are educating, we will fail to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The 2030 Agenda brings the world together in an unprecedented manner to combat poverty in all its forms. The commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ goes to the core of our humanity.

The 2030 Agenda has come at a time when we have already seen progress in many areas. Life expectancy is up and infant mortality rates are down. The number of pupils in primary and secondary education has never been higher. Armed conflicts are at an all-time low.

Never before have so many infants and children been vaccinated. The number of people living in extreme poverty has never been lower.

Although much has been achieved, this is not the time for complacency.

That is why UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call to action following the latest IPPC report, which he called an ‘ear-splitting wake-up call’, is appropriate. Guterres has made clear that at the current pace of implementation, the world is not on track to meet the SDGs by 2030. Again, we have to re;think.

Progress is simply too slow. We are being thrown off course by deepening geopolitical divisions, a record number of people on the move in search of safety, and a number of prolonged humanitarian crises.

Politics do matter. But people’s faith in political leaders is often undermined by leaders’ greed and indifference to the fact that lives are being destroyed.

A growing debt crisis is looming in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries.

Many countries are already suffering from the consequences of global warming. The nine warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005. The global economic toll of climate-related disasters has increased by 250 per cent over the last 20 years. By 2030, more than 100 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty as a result of climate change.

Just like the global temperature, inequality is also on the rise. Although globalisation has brought great benefits to the world’s growing middle class, more than 800 million people are still living in extreme poverty. They are being given no opportunity to participate in any form of value creation that could have a positive impact on their lives.

Poverty at this level undermines social cohesion in societies, it heightens the appeal of populists and xenophobes, and it fuels political extremism. Investing in people and ensuring fair globalisation are the best remedies.

Ladies and gentlemen,

In spite of all this, there are reasons to be hopeful. The SDGs are our common roadmap to a fairer, more peaceful and prosperous world. The global framework is in place, with the ownership of all UN member states. That is quite an achievement in itself.

But, unless ownership is translated into action, little will change. I would therefore like to mention five key areas where concerted action could increase the pace of national, regional and global implementation of the 2030 Agenda.


reaching the SDGs will cost money. A lot of money. The UN estimates that the world will need an additional 22 trillion Norwegian kroner annually, or 18 times as much as total global official development assistance. In order to find that money, we need to draw on our experience and be open to new ideas.

We know from the Millennium Development Goals that between 70 and 90 % of the resources must come from public coffers. And it is the developing countries themselves that must carry the lion’s share. National resource mobilisation must therefore be priority number one.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), all countries need tax revenues equivalent to 15% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in order to uphold basic state functions. Many developing countries are unable to achieve this tax-to-GDP ratio.

We are therefore increasing our support to tax policy and tax systems. We are assisting countries in their reform efforts, and we are supporting international cooperation on tax policy.

Research shows that reforms that lead to greater tax predictability and fairness for the private sector stimulate growth, even if this means that the economy is being taxed at a higher rate. In some cases, one dollar spent on developing effective tax systems can yield as much as 100 dollars in increased public income.


we will not be able to reach the SDGs without strong investments in Science, Technology and Innovation (STI). New research-based knowledge is vital for all decision-makers if we are to achieve the progress we need to get on track for 2030.

Universities, along with research institutions and other research actors, play a key role. Over the last two days, you have discussed how knowledge based on high-quality research can help us to reach the SDGs more effectively. It is vital that we find new ways of providing the knowledge we need in order to answer the most challenging questions of our time.

To quote Professor Hans Petter Graver, the new President of the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters: ‘Science cannot solve all the challenges we are facing, but they cannot be solved without science.’


In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries chose ’post-truth’ as its Word of the Year, an adjective describing circumstances in which objective facts have become less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.

Unfortunately, this worrying trend has influenced democracy and political decisions in many countries. Faith in science is under pressure. Trust in public institutions is shrinking.

Our defence against trends like this has to be high-quality, research-based knowledge, combined with closer international cooperation. In other words, re-thinking our efforts to reach the SDGs doesn’t only mean gaining more and better knowledge through research. It also means finding better ways of countering propaganda, fake news, intolerance and populism.

Troll factories are running three shifts. Perhaps we need universities to do the same?


we live in a digitalised world. Technological innovation continues to provide the answers to many pressing challenges. While we know that we cannot digitalise real relationships between people, or politics, we also know that digitalisation is gradually changing our lives, for good.

Not everyone knows that UN Secretary-General Guterres has a background in mathematics and physics and is quite a technology geek. He has been very clear: Without more systematic use of digital solutions in our development efforts, we will not reach the SDGs.


we will be unable to reach any of the goals unless we focus on women and girls. Gender-based violence and harassment are still commonplace in many countries, and they are often met with impunity.

The importance of focusing on women and girls is made clear in the Government’s Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security.

Education, regardless of the level, is not simply a matter of transferring knowledge. Education is the great enabler. It should provide students with the tools they need today in order to shape the world of tomorrow.

For this reason, we have decided to increase our investments in global education. Education for girls and for the most vulnerable is a priority in these investments. We must leave no one behind!


it is a privilege to speak to students. Without your committed participation, the 2030 Agenda is doomed to failure. But the good thing is that the 2030 Agenda provides many opportunities for student action.

More than 40 per cent of the global population is between the ages of 10 and 24. Never before have there been so many young people on the planet.

The world is facing a great many challenges, including food insecurity, limited access to education, inadequate health services, the gender gap, climate change, and increasingly polluted oceans.

My point is simply: it is vital that we all – and not least the world’s many young people – understand the underlying causes of these challenges, how severe they are, and how urgent it is to address them. The rationale for committed action will then be clear to us all.


Yesterday I returned from my first foreign visit as Minister of International Development. I visited Ethiopia. Ethiopia is an extremely complicated country, with a dramatic history, situated in a geographically and geo-politically very challenging region. On the United Nations’ Human Development Index Ethiopia is ranked at place 173.

However, all the people I met underlined the importance of education. Increased efforts in education and research – in line with SDG4 – are essential if Ethiopia is to succeed in feeding its population of 100 million people and secure future development and progress.

I am proud that education is a central topic in Norway’s cooperation with Ethiopia. We are engaged in broad educational collaboration on all levels.

One example is the cooperation between the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and the University of Mekelle. This cooperation dates back to 1996, and has been of great value to both Norway and Ethiopia.

Despite being poor, Ethiopia is a country with a clear sense of direction. The new Prime Minister has introduced a bold reform agenda. The human rights situation is improving. Half of the members of the new cabinet are women. Old and bitter conflicts with neighbouring countries are being settled. Economic reforms are being introduced, high-tech industrial parks are being established. The education sector is being dramatically scaled up. For Ethiopia, the 2030 Agenda is a platform for economic and social transformation.

This also shows how much political leadership matters. Ethiopia has leaders with political vision, political will and political courage.

As we continue our work to achieve the SDGs, we will need leaders with these qualities more than ever.

Thank you.