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Counting Down - Accelerating MDG Success and Paving the Way for the SDGs

Keynote Adress by Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Hanoi, Vietnam, 17 April 2015.

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Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, fellow MDG Advocates, distinguished government officials, UN officials, Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here in Vietnam, a country that has shown remarkable results in its work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The poverty reduction and improvements in health and education that have been achieved in Vietnam are not only remarkable in their own right, they are also a source of inspiration for the global development discussion. 

I look forward to visiting areas of Vietnam outside Hanoi tomorrow. This will be a great opportunity for me to meet people and experience more of this country’s beauty.

Today we will discuss issues of direct relevance to the lives of people in Vietnam, in Norway, and all over the world.

2015 is a key year for the UN system, both with regard to global development and international cooperation in general.

This year, four milestone meetings will stake out the course of global efforts to eradicate poverty, transform economies, and protect our natural environment:

  • First, the Financing for Development conference in Addis Ababa in July.
  • Second, the launch of the post-2015 development agenda at a summit in New York in      September, where the new set of sustainable development goals – the SDGs –      will be adopted by world leaders. This will mark the culmination of the      international community’s biggest development dialogue ever, and the goals      will set out a shared vision for the development agenda up to 2030.
  • Third, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December.
  • Fourth, the World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in December.

The order in which these meetings are being held is also important:

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

All these milestone events are part of complex international processes involving a myriad of details. Important as these details are, we must not lose sight of the fundamental issues. We need to take a step back and ask ourselves certain crucial questions. What matters most to us as individual human beings? What is at stake for us as custodians of our planet and its natural environment?

The 132nd Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, successfully hosted by Vietnam a couple of weeks ago, formulated the overarching objectives well. Allow me to quote from the Hanoi declaration:

‘At this critical moment, we, the parliamentarians of the world, reaffirm our vision of a people-centred sustainable development based on the realization of all human rights, to eradicate poverty in all its forms, and eliminate inequalities, thus empowering all individuals to exercise their full potential.’

While parliamentarians are doing what they can to prepare for the launch of the SDGs, governments and other actors must accelerate progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Completing the remaining MDG business is essential if we are to fulfil the complex and ambitious SDG agenda by 2030. As co-chair of the UN Secretary-General’s MDG Advocacy Group, I take every opportunity to urge stakeholders to do their utmost in this regard. Some of my fellow MDG Advocates are present here today and will take part in the panel discussion later.

We now have nearly 15 years of experience from the world’s first ever set of common development goals – the MDGs.  As we prepare for the SDG effort, we must apply the lessons we have learned from the MDG work. Here, I would like to mention six relevant lessons.

First, the MDGs provided direction and mobilised an unprecedented level of resources for development. Globally agreed SDGs are likely to have a similar positive effect on the resources available for sustainable development efforts.

Second, simply establishing goals does not lift people out of poverty. Goals have to be accompanied by coherent strategies, policies and investments. The government and people of Vietnam have successfully combined good strategies with resources, thus lifting 30 million people out of poverty over the last 20 years. We can learn from Vietnam’s example.

Third, the MDG process reinforced global norms. For example, the first decade of the MDG era saw great progress in the area of universal primary education. The MDGs strengthened a global sense of responsibility for ensuring every child’s right to education. This normative aspect will be even more important in the SDG era.

Fourth: Global goals that are well known and tangible serve to 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.  

Fifth: National ownership of globally agreed development goals is crucial. It is very encouraging that parliamentarians from 133 countries at the meeting here in Hanoi emphasised their readiness to promote a sense of national ownership of the SDGs, in parliaments and populations alike. Moreover, and equally important, they made a commitment to translate the goals into enforceable domestic laws and regulations, including through budget processes.

Lastly, there is a need for urgent action in areas affected by crisis and conflict. These areas lag behind on most of the MDGs. We have to change our approach and redouble our efforts in order to make progress in these areas. In our interdependent world, this is also a precondition for achieving the SDGs. The lesson we have learned is that countries and peoples must see fragility, crisis and conflict outside their own borders as common global challenges – and take appropriate action. One example of this kind of approach is the provision of shelter and education for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon and Jordan.

Before concluding, I would like to say a few words about Norway’s approach and activities in the lead-up to the launch of the SDGs. 

We are convinced that education and health will continue to be crucial to development.  Children’s rights remain fundamental.  There is clear evidence that investing in young children is one of the best investments we can make. To quote economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman: ‘One key solution to our economic problems remains the same: investing in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children from birth to age five’.

In order to complete the unfinished MDG business, we must work together to provide access to high quality primary education for 58 million children who still do not attend school. We must secure secondary education for another 60 million. In line with my government’s priorities, Norway will double its funding to global education over the current parliamentary period.  Norway will also host an education summit in Oslo on 7 July this year. Today I had the pleasure of extending an invitation to this summit to His Excellency Prime Minister Mr Ngyuen Tan Dung.

Norway will also give priority to reaching the targets on maternal health, child mortality and sexual and reproductive health.  

Moreover, we will step up our efforts and increase our focus on non-communicable diseases, both in our domestic and development policies.

And we will work to promote gender equality, including in the field of education.  This is not just a question of human rights.  It also makes economic sense. Reports by the World Bank and IMF document the economic gains that are made by increasing gender equality and female participation in the labour market.  

The SDGs will be universal and apply to all countries.  As we look ahead to the time beyond 2015, we need to strengthen our focus on sustainability in a range of areas. This applies to consumption, production, and management of the global commons: oceans, forests, fresh water and biodiversity.  It is our responsibility to leave our planet in a condition that will sustain future generations.

We must intensify our efforts to promote equality, inclusive and job-creating growth, business investments, economic transformation and good governance. 

Finally, in the SDG era we need to strengthen our focus on vulnerable groups, on populations affected by crisis and conflict, on the most marginalised people. This is both a humanitarian imperative and a necessity for sustainable global development.  We must do everything in our power to ensure that no one gets left behind. 

Thank you.

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