Fullerton Lecture: The Global Goals - a Roadmap to a Sustainable, Fair and More Peaceful Future

Published under: Solberg's Government

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Lecture by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Singapore, 13 April 2016.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for welcoming me here in Singapore.

I would also like to thank the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Doctor Huxley for giving me the opportunity to address this distinguished audience.

As Prime Minister of Norway and co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Development Goals Advocacy Group, I have many good reasons to visit Singapore.

When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed this forum in 2012, he said that Singapore has much to give – and the world has much to gain from the Singapore example.

That is one important reason why I am here.

Ban Ki-moon referred to Singapore as an intellectual centre and a financial crossroads. He emphasised the country’s effective policies, and its hard working people. As a result it has achieved strong economic growth and prosperity.

He also said that Singapore has shown the world the dividends that come from investing in education, healthcare and people.

I agree with him.

So I am also here to learn from the people who are busy building this country and innovating every day. Singapore’s sustainable urban development and inclusive economic growth are very impressive.

This evening we will explore what it will take to achieve the global goals and create a sustainable, fair and safer world.

Let me start by highlighting some aspects of Singapore’s development process that are very relevant to the SDG agenda.

First, Singapore has demonstrated that rapid and inclusive growth is possible. Over the last 50 years, the people of Singapore have experienced economic and social progress on a scale that few others have seen.

Second, Singapore has a strong track record on sustainable development through sound management of scarce resources like land, water and nature. One of the many legacies of your late Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew [“li kuan yu”], was his vision of making Singapore a ‘city in a garden’.

Third, and this is a point with a bilateral twist: Although shipping is the most sustainable way to move large quantities of goods around the world, the global merchant fleet remains a major emitter of greenhouse gases. The development of green shipping is an area where Singapore and Norway can work together to make real contributions to a sustainable climate.

As you know, one of the SDGs relates to oceans. Oceans cover 70 % of the world’s surface. Moreover, 80 % of the world’s ocean is more than 3000 metres deep. As much as 90 % has not yet been explored. Healthy oceans represent a vital protein reservoir for the world’s growing population. As advanced maritime nations, Singapore and Norway could become ocean partners, pursuing opportunities that will also benefit the common good.

Fourth, a sustainable future will depend on peace, stability and good governance – both within and between nations. Singapore, like Norway, is a staunch advocate of a predictable international order, governed by law, not by might. The current geopolitical turbulence shows that this is more important than ever.

This brings me directly to the most urgent international challenge, also for the SDG agenda. I am thinking about the crises and conflicts that are forcing millions of people to leave their homes and seek refuge.

SDG 16 promotes just, peaceful and inclusive societies. This is at the very heart of the agenda. We know that it wasn’t possible to achieve the MDGs in areas affected by crisis or conflict.

Just a few years ago, Syria was giving shelter to refugees from other countries. Now, Syria is one of the main reasons why the world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II.

Finding a political solution to any armed conflict is a matter of utmost urgency. In Syria too, the longer this takes, the harder it will be to rebuild the country.

At some point, the neighbouring countries will no longer be able to cope with the ever-increasing number of refugees. Meanwhile, the civilian population in Syria will continue to suffer every day, every night, every hour.

The international community can neither accept nor afford to lose a whole generation. Millions of children and young people are trapped in conflict or refugee situations. And risk being deprived of their right to education. This in turn makes them more vulnerable to destructive elements and extremist propaganda.

If young people are to be the future architects of peace and stability, they must have an education. Together with other partners, Norway is in the process of establishing a fund and coordination mechanism to strengthen education opportunities for children and young people in conflict areas. We aim at launching the fund at the Istanbul Humanitarian Summit in May this year. It will be a concrete contribution to SDG efforts in areas affected by crisis and conflict. And we hope that it will receive broad support.

While events in Syria are very dramatic and receive a lot of international attention, this is only one of several ongoing crises. The whole world is affected. It is therefore vital that all countries and peoples see fragility, crisis and conflict as a common global challenge, and take appropriate action.

Not long ago, few would have believed that 193 countries could agree on 17 ambitious and universal Sustainable Development Goals. Clearly, the geopolitical and humanitarian situation in the period before the SDG summit influenced the process.

We have seen people’s lives being destroyed on a huge scale. Millions have fled their homes. There is widespread destabilisation, which threatens the common global good. At the same time, we have witnessed an increase in violent extremism, growing youth unemployment, and the Ebola epidemic. Global warming had also become an issue of serious concern.

Faced with this cocktail of shocks and challenges, it has become clear that business as usual is not viable. Action has to be taken – urgently.

So, when world leaders met at the UN in New York last September, we faced these facts, and adopted the SDGs with enthusiasm. I think many leaders saw this ambitious set of goals as the best political response available.

Now – the trillion dollar question – what will it take to achieve the SDGs?

The main difference between the SDGs and the MDGs is that the new goals are universal. They apply to every country in the world – rich or poor – and encompass economic, social and environmental progress. We all have work to do at home, as well as beyond our borders – for the common good.

Under this new agenda, all countries are developing countries. It will take some time before this notion sinks in throughout the world.

It is also important to understand that the new set of 17 goals is not something governments can simply deliver to their populations. Achieving the goals will take time.

It will require broad-based partnerships and innovative new approaches.

We are talking about a process – not an instant solution.

The main engine for both national and global development is the business sector. Consumers all over the world are becoming more aware about sustainability issues.

Innovative companies are already aligning their business strategies with the new global goals. With investment models that attract the private sector, financing for sustainable development can be scaled up from millions to trillions.

We can also build on the progress made during the MDG era (from 2000 to 2015). Although some goals were not achieved, others were reached well before the deadline – notably the first goal on halving the number of people living in extreme poverty.

I am pleased that the SDG agenda aims to complete the unfinished business on poverty eradication, education, health and the empowerment of girls and women. Investment in human capital is absolutely fundamental for sustainable development.

There are six points that I consider to be very important for SDG success:

First, progress on any given goal will be faster if we work in partnerships involving governments, the private sector, UN agencies, international development banks, civil society, academia and NGOs. 

The UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child health initiative is an excellent example. It is a partnership between national governments, the UN, the World Bank and the Gates Foundation. Last year I took part in the launch of the Global Financing Facility, which is an innovative financing mechanism for the Every Woman Every Child initiative. 

The Vaccine Alliance – known as Gavi – is another outstanding example of what can be achieved through a good partnership. 

Gavi was created in January 2000, based on a pledge of 750 million US dollars over five years 

Gavi brought together key UN agencies, governments, the vaccine industry, and various private sector and civil society actors. It helped improve childhood immunisation coverage in poor countries and accelerated access to new vaccines. By 2015, Gavi had helped to ensure that 500 million additional children were reached. This prevented more than 7 million deaths. Gavi aims to reach 300 million more children between 2016 and 2020. This will prevent a further 5-6 million deaths. To put these figures in perspective, this is equivalent to the entire population of Norway.

Similar partnerships and financing mechanisms must be established in all the SDG areas.

My Government has set education as its number one development priority. We are doubling Norway’s funding for global education in this parliamentary period. However, more funding is still needed.

At the Oslo Summit on Education in July last year, I launched the International Commission on the Financing of Global Education Opportunities. Under former UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown’s leadership, the commission will report to the UN in September. I look forward to studying its recommendations, and I will be looking for innovative partnership approaches.

Second, the 17 SDGs make up a holistic, sustainable development agenda. We must move away from a sectoral approach and cultivate synergies between the goals. Education for girls correlates strongly and positively with health, with women’s empowerment, and with economic growth. Financing that boosts education for girls will help ensure that girls stay in school longer. This in turn reduces the likelihood of early marriage, early pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. Every extra year of education empowers girls and women and strengthens equal rights.

Economic growth is also boosted due to the increased participation of women in the paid workforce. The positive ripple effects of educating a girl are significant. They will also multiply over generations. When an educated girl grows up and has children of her own, she will transfer her knowledge and values to her children – boys as well as girls.

Similar synergies must be identified and exploited for the rest of the SDGs.

Third, establishing goals will not in itself lift people out of poverty. Unless national governments show the political will and resolve to make progress on any given goal, progress will be limited or non-existent.

SDG efforts must be accompanied by coherent strategies, policies and investments.

For many countries, it will be necessary to improve tax collection, halt illicit financial flows, eliminate tax havens, and actively combat corruption in order to invest in sustainable development.

Fourth, global goals reinforce global norms. The normative aspect of the SDGs will be even more evident in the SDG era, as the agenda is wider and insists that no one is to be left behind.

The MDGs strengthened a global sense of responsibility for ensuring every child’s right to education. Great progress in primary education enrolment was made from 2000 and 2015. One important lesson, however, is that the quality of education services did not always keep up with the increase in enrolment. Unfortunately, millions of children have gone through years of primary school without learning to read and write. Good quality services must be ensured in the SDG campaign.

Fifth, global goals raise expectations within countries and across borders. They add weight to the demands made by grassroots movements and civil society groups. Peer pressure from neighbouring countries can also play a role.  

Sixth, the human rights dimension of women’s empowerment is often on the international agenda. However, the fact that gender equality makes strong economic sense is not receiving enough attention. Gender equality is probably the most underutilised of all the development tools.

The UNDP Gender Inequality Index shows that countries with greater gender equality have a higher per capita gross domestic product. The resources of women and girls are essential for poverty eradication and sustainable development.

There can be no excuse for not achieving gender equality by 2030. 

In conclusion – the SDGs provide the international community with a roadmap to the future we all want. A world where extreme poverty and hunger have been eradicated. A planet where the natural environment and climate are no longer under threat.

We all need maps to see what direction to take to reach a given destination. In the same way, the SDGs show us how to reach economic, social, and environmental sustainability.

If we make the right choices over the next 15 years, we can eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. We can achieve a fair and more peaceful future, where no one is left behind. And we can do all this in a way that safeguards our planet’s natural environment and climate. 

From Singapore to Norway, the road taken between now and 2030 will make all the difference.